Binary thinking

Stewing over some things going on in the comments…

1. There is a tendency — we all have it — to create dichotomies. One case are the beliefs that Bobby Cox either doesn’t play young players, or that he does play young players. The fact is that the truth lies somewhere in between.

In 2001, I wrote that Bobby, after the initial burst of 1990-91 when he turned the roster over, would

usually get about one [first year] player a year into the lineup. Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, Chipper Jones, Jermaine Dye, Andruw Jones, and Rafael Furcal were among the hitters, Kevin Millwood, John Rocker, Kerry Ligtenberg, and Jason Marquis among the pitchers.

Since then, you can add Marcus Giles and Adam LaRoche to the hitters, plus a failed attempt with Mark DeRosa, and Horacio Ramirez, Damian Moss (briefly), and Kevin Gryboski to the pitchers. (My standard is at least a 2/3 of the time role in the lineup, a spot in the rotation or as the closer, or a reliever spending several years in the bullpen.)

Now, most of those hitters are players with obvious star ability. I think that all except DeRosa and LaRoche have made at least one all-star team, and LaRoche might make one under the right circumstances though he really isn’t the “all-star” type of player. (DeRosa, meanwhile, was sort of a “default” player who only got the third base job because there wasn’t anyone else.) That’s where the line is. “Bobby” — meaning, really, the Braves’ brain trust that includes Schuerholz, probably Frank Wren, and one or two others — will give a job to a young player with star ability. They generally won’t to a player who will merely be average to good, preferring to go with a “known” commodity.

Also, the team has been very careful with players they think will be regulars, preferring to get them regular playing time in AAA rather than part time work on the major league bench. As I also mentioned in the 2001 article, the Braves don’t sit young players on their bench unless it’s September or a player they think of as a long-term bench player. Hence, Kelly Johnson stays in AAA. This may be bad news for Ryan Langerhans, evidence that they think of him as a fourth outfielder. What this all means is that it’s not particularly surprising that the Braves would go with a Jordan and a Mondesi, despite their obvious faults, at the expense of a player like Langerhans.

10. Why does Rafael Furcal get (generally) a free pass, while anything dealing with Andruw turns into the Battle of Stalingrad? It makes no sense. Furcal, not Andruw and not even Mondesi, has been the biggest drag on the Braves’ lineup this season. Obviously there’s a difference between a shortstop and a centerfielder (even a mediocre-to-poor shortstop and a gold glove centerfielder). But Andruw’s OPS is more than 100 points higher than Furcal’s and all his elements are higher too: .247/.324/.433 for Andruw, .239/.287/.354 for Furcal. (Andruw actually has the second-best OPS in the everyday lineup after Marcus’ slump.) But Andruw got kicked down the lineup, while Furcal’s still up there making outs at the top of the order. Jordan and Mondesi have been slightly worse than Furcal overall, but they aren’t leading off. And while Langerhans has struggled, Pete Orr, the top infield reserve, is hitting .304/.333/.478. I don’t think he’s really a better hitter than Furcal, but right now he is.

11. There seems to be general agreement that the Braves need to ditch a reliever. It’s a little less pressing if Chipper’s back in the lineup. When he was out, the Braves were stuck with one infield reserve and one outfield reserve, because he couldn’t play the field and the rest of the bench was one guy who only plays first and one guy who only plays catcher. While I’d like for the Braves to call up Kelly Johnson and give him right field, if it’s a bench role they had in mind either Billy McCarthy or Scott Thorman would be a better choice. Johnson can sort-of play several different positions, which is a good thing to have on your bench, but I think he’s a long-term regular and so not someone you want sitting around.

28 thoughts on “Binary thinking”

  1. Hey, wait … I get it … you are counting in binary.

    Color me oblivious to the joke!

  2. Great analysis, Mac. About the only thing I would add is to the Furcal/Jones debate.

    Perhaps part of the reason Furcal gets away with more is that:

    (1) he makes a lot less money ($3.7M vs. $12.5M for Andruw;

    (2) no one ever said Furcal was going to be the next Willie Mays;

    and

    (3) while Furcal has been generally terrible this year, he hasn’t gone into the protracted offensive slumps we’ve seen from Andruw just about every year.

    Not saying any of that’s justified, but those are probably a few of the reasons.

  3. 1 2 3 in binary, dan :)

    good points, mac. one other thought (since you’re suggesting thorman) might be james jurries. he sucks in the field, but he can hit a little bit; afaik, thorman only plays first base as well (and is a level below jurries).

    by the way, chuck james thus far this year:

    35.2 IP, 12.65 K/9IP, 1.26 BB/9IP, 10.0 K/BB, 4.29 H/IP. Wow.

  4. Kyle, Jurries is in the midst of a 15-game suspension for steroid use. Can’t imagine the major league Braves would touch him right now until he proves he can hit without the juice.

  5. Jurries was suspended for steroid use; I think he’s still serving it. I don’t see the Braves rewarding a minor leaguer caught cheating.

  6. addendum: jurries might still be suspended for steroids; and james has allowed 1 hit in the 36 at bats lefties have faced him. now THAT’S a loogy. except that he gets everyone out.

  7. Thanks. I’ll go to China to find out if there’s a cure.

    Nope.

    (Non Family Guy fans won’t get that).

  8. Heard on local ATL radio that Andruw was a scratch for the game. No explanation.

  9. I have a theory for why the Braves are 16-11 and I’m sure people will shoot it full of holes like they love to do. Are you ready for this?
    They are playing as a team.
    Nobody is setting the world on fire offensively except Chipper, but the Braves have 7 players with more than 10 RBIs. Furcal has 12, so somebody at the bottom of the lineup must be getting on base. In spite of the low batting avgs, they are making plays when needed. The only real weak spot is their avg. with RISP, which was .207 coming into tonight (If not for Jordan being 9-30 with RISP, it would be sub .200).

    The pitching has been very consistant this year and kept them in most games.

    Why do I come to this conclusion? Look at Houston. They lead the Braves in every offensive statistical category and most every pitching category except ERA, where they are 1/2 run worse. Houston is 4 games under .500 and the Braves 5 games over. Errors are even. Houston is woeful on the road (1-12 after tonight). So, in spite of what some may think of Mondesi or Jordan or even Kolb, Bobby Cox has all of them playing good team baseball.

    Interesting stat lines. Chipper has 4 Plate Appearances this year with the bases loaded. He has walked all 4 times including once tonight. He also has a better fielding % than Scott Rolen at this point in the season with only one error to two committed.

  10. One area I think may be overlooked is Furcal’s defense. He made his second error tonight, but going into the game he has been thoroughly dominating those defensive statistics we have access to (FP%, RF, ZR). Takes some of the edge off his slow start with the bat — we’ve longed for consistent defense from Furcal as a compliment to his range and arm, and so far he’s delivered on that count.

  11. I agree with what everyone says about Furcal. Although he had a spectacular rookie year there were no superstar expectations put on him. It says a lot about Bobby that he continues to give Furcal the most at bats on the team. Bobby is still in the ‘have to have speed at the top of the order school’. My frustration with him is the lack of discipline. Ok so he isn’t going to have a .390 OBP again but I sure wish he’d stop swinging from the heels in crucial RBI situations.

    I think that Langerhans lack of playing time is a result of his poor spring. He needed to have a spectacular spring to earn the starting position. Can anyone think of a Brave that the braintrust has pegged as a reserve that has left the team and flourished?

  12. Look at the bright side of Furcal playing lousy this *contract* year… it means that we might still be able to afford another contract with him *IF* we want to.

    Increasing your options is never a bad thing.

  13. Can anyone think of a Brave that the braintrust has pegged as a reserve that has left the team and flourished?

    That Castilla kid did ok for a while…

  14. Can anyone think of a Brave that the braintrust has pegged as a reserve that has left the team and flourished?

    Jermaine Dye did awfully well until breaking his leg. Ryan Klesko wasn’t exactly a reserve, but he was considered a pure platoon player and thrived in his first few seasons in sunny San Diego. Reggie Sanders lost a starting job in Atlanta to BJ Surhoff, but has gone on to be an everyday OF on two league championship teams since then. There are others.

  15. How did we score nine runs with that outfield in the line-up? I wonder how often a starting outfield has batted 6th, 7th, and 8th in a line-up, other than little league…if Hampton had been pitching would he have hit 6th and knocked those three down a spot each?

  16. I have been saying that Furcal has played some good D this year. I think we need to give some props to LaRoach too. He should win a gold glove this year. A good first baseman will save you at least one run every game.

  17. I think bwarrend is right about this playing as a team buissiness. If you look at the Phillies, for example, you see a glaring absence of “team spirit” despite the natural talent in their line-up. Last August, they went 1-9 in homestand and essentially doused any hope of a post season; the press, fans, and even some of the players, were calling for Bowa’s head. The only one who stood up for him and said in essence “lets quit griping and play baseball” was Palanco. Thome, their undisputed marquee player, said basically “I am not the team captain, don’t look to me to lead this team”.
    Conversely, when Beltran came to spring training this year, he very quietly took some of the younger players like Reyes and Matsui under his wing and asked them to work out with him and his private trainer; Pedro apperently has nick names for everyone and teases and praises them.
    When you look in the Braves dugout, you see a bunch of guys who appear to love playing baseball together. Whoever is at bat, you can hear Bobby shouting “C’mon (player’s nickname)! Atta boy! Good Rip!!”
    In a sport with such radical income dispairity, comraderie is an invluable commodity.

    Jeter said last year after the Yankee’s (glorious) collapse : “We’ve had a lot of guys come through her in the last few years, but we haven’t had a team in a long time”.

  18. I think bwarrend is right about this playing as a team buissiness.

    Yep, those Gas House Gang Cardinals, Reggie Jackson A’s, Billy Martin Yankees, Bonds/Kent Giants, 2004 Boston Red Sox et al would have all benefitted from a little more “chatter.” Seriously though, the “team play” concept just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. There are just too many examples of either extreme performing well to make a case for team spirited v. non-team spirited clubs

  19. How many World Series have the Giants been to, let alone win? The 2004 Red Sox played as a team and won. They weren’t fighting themsleves, they were beating up on the Yankees. Not of the common sense things hold up to your scrutiny like wins RBIs or Saves or playing as a team. What is it, talent? The Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2000. I don’t remember a Bonds/Kent team ever winning it. Billy Martin only won 2 pennants and 1 World Series. Bad Examples. You gotta be a fan of some other team than the Braves.

  20. I like the analysis, Mac, but I have to disagree with the labelling of Furcal as a mediocre-to-poor shortstop. Especially this season, Furcal has demonstrated tremendous growth at the position. The only problem I’ve seen this season is the amount times LaRoche has to dig out Furcal’s low throws. But given his arm strength and the close plays that this occurs on, it doesn’t seem like Furcal’s making bad throws.

  21. You gotta be a fan of some other team than the Braves.

    Let me start by apologizing to Mac before I even say this, but I’m saying it anyway.

    I hate this damn crap! Criticizing the quality of a fan’s loyalty to a team because he or she disagrees with your analysis whether faulty or accurate is a load of steaming donkey shit.

    Mac has a wonderful site because people who enjoy baseball generally and the Braves specifically can exchange ideas without a group think mentality being required; this gets dragged down into the gutter the moment crap like the above gets posted.

  22. The 2004 Red Sox played as a team and won. They weren’t fighting themsleves

    I’m not even going to bother refuting this. Which baseball team were you watching?

    The Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2000.

    So, they weren’t playing like a team in 95, they were in 96, forgot again in 97, remembered for three years, and then forgot for the last 5? Onhhhkayyyy.

    Not of the common sense things hold up to your scrutiny like wins RBIs or Saves or playing as a team

    Assuming there is a sentance in here, yes I am skeptical of things that don’t seem to be reproducible skills. Rey Ordonez had 60 RBI in 1999, and never got within 25% of that number again. Maybe he just forgot or something, huh? I guess a pitcher’s win total has nothing to do with his run support or anything like that. They all just “pitch to the score” right? In 2002, Smoltz had FIFTY FIVE saves…with an ERA of 3.49. Remlinger and Hammy with their 1.94 and .99 ERAs but no saves sure weren’t as good as Smoltzie. So yeah, “team chemistry” seems to be one of those things that is only detectable after the fact, and seemingly hard to do from year to year.

    You gotta be a fan of some other team than the Braves.

    Ah jeez, not this again. I’ve been a season ticket holder since ’90 – Sec 103, Row 17. In case you haven’t been to the stadium, that’s right behind home plate. It sure does cost me a lot to watch a team I hate. But, I am not a fan of rabid fanboys who can’t seem to have a rational discussion. Baseball is a great game – you might enjoy it even more if you could expand your horizons past tired cliches and the Harold Reynolds’ of the world.

  23. Bamadan, have you been watching his posts? The way he bashes the Braves without saying a single positive thing would give one the impression that either he isn’t a fan or he just likes to complain.

    This is a team with a limited bench and guaranteed crap at two offensive positions. They’ve been doing it with a bit of smoke and mirrors, some starting ERA’s that ain’t gonna last, and a lot of 1 run games.

    That’s one of the nicer things he said about the Braves’ current situation. We’re all entitled to our opinions, but sometimes one gets tired of getting beat on when they are making rational (although not complete sentences) posts.

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