“After all, what difference does it make?”

To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether tis nobler to endure the booing and harassment of outrageous play in the regular season, or in the postseason. Yay, may death become this team.

I intended to be brave (Oh no. Not that word. I don’t mean being “A BRAVE” because who would want to be one of those?) and watch so that I could fill my knightly (once a week “nightly”) duty to the faithful. I had pledged my fealty to Lord Alex of Remington and must continue to meet my chivalric duty.

But then I remembered what my ancestors of such profession did. They pledged fealty to the king, but when John started trying to push the barons around, they put a threat on John and had him sign Magna Charta, thus enabling a family tradition of rejection of knightly duty when faced with moronic incompetence.

I tried to watch some. By the time I turned it on, the Nats were batting in the second and Joe and Chip were talking about Ervin Santana being able to hold it together after the Nats batted around in the first. Really? No early magic for Ervin. He gave up 4 in the first, and 2 more later, one unearned.

This spell has almost (not quite, I am a very non PC person) made me want to join the movement to change this team’s name. Nothing it does is brave. Although I have no discernible portion of Chuckchi heritage, I can understand why their descendants would not want to be connected to this debacle.

They didn’t totally give up. They finally got 4. But, “After all, what difference does it make?”

76 thoughts on ““After all, what difference does it make?””

  1. I sort of watched last night, between napping and internet surfing. I tried to blog here a little. Crickets. Then some other diehards came out of the wood work. I’m a Braves guy all the way but the current product on the field is just terrible. I did a cursory glance and we may be the only team that starts 3 or 4 of our 8 guys with OBPs under .300. And hell we aren’t even starting BJ anymore.

    For all the talk of his defensive brilliance, Simmons is a black hole in the offense. He is just horrible. I know the numbers don’t show it but it seems like he is more of a drag on the offense than he is contributing on defense. The metrics like him, I get it, they say he is a net contributor but I have to wonder if a more well rounded player would be more beneficial, say a guy with a decent bat that can make the routine plays.

    At least Simmons is an outstanding catcher of the damn ball. Johnson apparently can’t do anything. Chris Johnson is a horrible professional baseball player.

    If anything positive comes out of this season, it will be some grim realization at the top of the organization that the team just isn’t that good. We still have a pretty good core of young players, but unfortunately pretty good isn’t good enough when the supporting cast is just so terrible. I really think that Wren and company will have to do some soul searching about what to do this off season. Try to acquire a better supporting cast to put around Teheran, Wood, the good Minor, Kimbrell, Freeman, JUpton and Simmons? Or start over. Tweaking the team will be very difficult. The FA class looks very very weak. From what I’ve seen there isn’t an impact bat in there at all. If the team decides to improve around the core, we as fans will have to watch some of our favorite players get traded. Count me in as hoping the FO will try to build around the core, again. I don’t want to relive the 80’s. I don’t want to be a Cubs fan.

    Finally, for all the talk about how pitching and defense wins championships, we have a great pitching staff and two of the best defenders at their positions in the game. And yet here we are.

  2. Andrelton’s offense has completely cancelled out his defensive contributions, in terms of fWAR. He’s at -0.4 fWAR or something now.

  3. The Braves, as a team, are actually very average defensively. Heyward and Simmons are cancelled out by the bad defenders elsewhere.

    We have a decent core and I don’t want them to blow it up. I just don’t know how we’re going to add around it given that we’re going to be spending a large percentage of our budget to pay guys not to play. I think this will be the problem for future management.

  4. @2, no, he isn’t. He’s at 1.7 fWAR. That’s entirely because of the positional adjustment and replacement-level bonus — essentially, it is of value to a team to have a warm body at a position rather than a cold one — but even though his -18 batting runs cancel out his +18 fielding runs, he’s been essentially a league-average 2-WAR player this year.

  5. After some consideration, I think the problem here is that this team was built to compete in 2007’s MLB, and simply doesn’t work in 2014’s MLB.

  6. Also, to Edward @42 from the last thread, 1) Newman isn’t a toolbag. He’s a good guy, and I appreciate the work he does to integrate saber with scouting. 2) The reason that he brought up Morse is, of course, Morse came up to the majors as a shortstop, and sucked tremendously. That’s why he plays a different position now. He is essentially being rewarded for sucking because he plays a position that is graded on a far lower curve.

    This is essentially a model for the argument that Mike is making. Suppose that in a particular high school, there are two tracks: gifted and remedial. All of the kids who flunk out of gifted go into remedial. There’s a flat negative GPA adjustment that gets given to every kid who goes into remedial, and tests are graded on a curve. But because there are a lot of really poor students in remedial — and no poor students in gifted — the smartest kid in remedial has an easier path to a good GPA than a lot of the kids in gifted.

    I think Newman wants to reward players for being better athletes, because only the best athletes are capable of playing the most physically demanding defensive positions. Because at the end of the day, if a run’s a run, we ought to be able to figure out the math for who has actually contributed more runs to his team’s bottom line. But that’s not really how models work: models are nothing more than hypotheses infused with the biases of the people who postulate them. Should Heyward and Gordon be rewarded for sticking out like a sore thumb at an outfield position filled with statues with cannon arms? How do we figure out exactly how much to reward them?

  7. on WAR,

    One thing that keeps getting missed is it DOES NOT measure ACTUAL runs, it measures how the offensive performance of that one player SHOULD affect the team.

    I ran across a good article on this during this season that a given linear weight is more valuable on a good offensive team because there is more chance of ACTUAL runs scoring.

    Another thing is that a RUN SAVED (and I know we all have concerns over how accurately this is measured) is WORTH MORE than a run scored. Now, some of you will think that is crazy, but a simple exercise shows this.

    2002, sample team. Scored 800 runs, gave up 700 runs.

    1913, sample team. Scored 500 runs, gave up 400 runs.

    Which team likely finished with a better record and why?

  8. I was kinda liking Newman’s points that questioned why we compare hitters to every other hitter but only compare defenders to their positional peers. I thought that was pretty persuasive. Heyward sticks out like a gifted kid in the remedial classes defensively…but a lot of those kids in the remedial class can out-slug him. He gets compared to the other statues in RF for defense, but for offense he gets compared to the whole pool of players (which includes middle infielders and CF’s). Why is one calculation limited to a small pool of peers while the other calculation is the entire universe of players?

  9. @7

    “Another thing is that a RUN SAVED (and I know we all have concerns over how accurately this is measured) is WORTH MORE than a run scored.”

    Right. The marginal utility of each run decreases as you move upward, so a run saved keeps you closer to the optimal zero.

  10. @7, the 500/400 has a better pythagorean win total, presumably because their run-differential of 100 is “better” than the other team’s 100 due to the runs being more precious in a lower run environment.

    The problem with RUN SAVED is that it’s mostly a function of good pitching. Measuring defense independent of pitching seems like a monumentally hard problem.

  11. An good example at the extreme is Kershaw. He’s so good that balls are rarely even hit to the outfield when he pitches. He gets a lot of poor contact that results in easy plays. He also strikes out double-digits on a regular basis. To me he is 75% of the defense when he pitches. How do you exactly quantify it?

  12. krussell @ 10,

    I am not saying it is not hard, but think about how much work on DIPS and SIERA and all of that goes to find out how far pitching influences things. On a team level, defensive efficiency is easy to see and calculate. Then, if the 9 on the field back check into that defensive efficiency, you must be fairly accurate, correct?

    And, with enough years, even minimal data seem to come to a consensus on accuracy. Like how the WAR totals for Brooks Robinson and Eddie Matthews have a defensive component. Some brave researchers took as much play by play and “old stat measures” (Total Chances, Assists, Put Outs, Errors) as they could find and were able to extract a component that is fairly accurate. And, when you compare “amateur eye test” and “scouting” and “defensive WAR from the old days, they primarily converge. WAR seems to like Mark Belanger and Andruw Jones a little more than the other methods and seems to dislike Willie Mays compared to rep (still very good, but not otherworldly like Andruw). But basically they end up with a similar cast of characters in closely the same order.

    On positional adjustment, that was originally an assumption that over the eons of baseball and the thousands of managerial decisions of who to play where, that some rationality would ultimately control. That say Ty Cobb would have been moved to left when increasing fielding in center would offset any net value loss in left, etc. Then, ASSUMING that it was rational, the average offensive difference position to position would be reflected in the offensive statistics.

  13. Since I am bereft of any hope this is my off season check list for the Braves FO.

    1. Trade, cut or otherwise detach BJ Upton from the team, don’t worry about the sunk costs at all, just end the relationship.
    2. Dangle Gattis as trade bait to see what can be gotten in return. Shoot for a corner OF’er that can at least hit with some power.
    3. Dangle any pitcher not named Teheran or Wood to see what can be gotten in return. Yes, I’m saying the Braves should see what either Kimbrell or Minor are worth. See above.
    4. Make 3b and 2b a competition between Gosselin, maybe Kubitza, LaStella, maybe Perez and Johnson.
    5. Hold your nose and give Bethancourt a shot at starting catcher. Get a backup catcher.
    6. Tell Heyward he is the CF’er.

  14. @6

    Alright, I take back everything I said about Newman’s character.

    But I think your metaphor doesn’t match up to the discussion we’re having. It’s more like the difference between kids at the super-athletic but not real creative football school and the kids at the super-artsy but pretty scrawny painting school. (These are not real. I know we are a world of fabulously burly, coordinated, creative, and dedicated people.) It would be easy for any old football player to be the best football player at the art school if he transferred. It would also be easy for one of the artists to be the best artist at the football school if he transferred.

    So yes, Mike Morse is rewarded for sucking at a difficult position. But (and this is what I was trying to get at in the other thread) Crawford is rewarded for sucking at hitting. They’re both incomplete players, and they’re both rated like incomplete players. And they’re both athletic. And WAR likes the shortstop a little better, and I think that, in their case, it’s right on the money.

  15. @8

    I think it would be impossible to compare an outfielder to an infielder because the nature of the positions are so different. I don’t think a corner infielder can be treated the same as a middle infielder. Catchers and pitchers aren’t like anybody. At bats, on the other hand, are essentially the same for every player and are easy to compare.

    So in theory the right way to compare them would be to look at all defense everywhere, but if the data points you’re using are actual batted balls, I’m not sure there’s a way around it. (But it might be possible to compare all outfielders together.)

  16. @12, I’m not trying to discount any of the work that’s tried to do it (though they are usually coming at it from the other angle – measuring pitcher value independent of the defense behind him). I just think that whatever number you come up with for a position player’s defense needs to be weighted less than it is now when computing overall player’s value, especially for corner OF.

    My layman’s take on it is that you start by assuming that team offense and defense can be weighted equally. I think that’s probably not too controversial, but even that might be debatable. From there you subdivide offense into hitting and base-running components. And you subdivide defense into pitching vs fielding. Again I’m talking team here, not individuals. I’d say pitching should be weighted 66% to 75% of team defense. Again, debatable, but at least not too crazy. The player’s individual contribution to team defense is dependent on where he plays and the number of chances, but any individual contribution is still dwarfed by the pitching component.

    I want to use measures that tell me how to construct good teams. I could care less about comparing Wade Boggs to Ty Cobb. I want to know where to spend my money and where to cut corners. I’ll never be convinced that a 5 WAR right fielder with 90% of it being defense is more valuable than a 4 WAR right fielder with 90% of it coming from offense. I think there’s room for improvement.

  17. This comment is by JonathanF, who emailed it to me:

    But that’s not really how models work: models are nothing more than hypotheses infused with the biases of the people who postulate them. Should Heyward and Gordon be rewarded for sticking out like a sore thumb at an outfield position filled with statues with cannon arms? How do we figure out exactly how much to reward them?

    The answer to your question is: you use economics. We don’t reward athletes (or any other profession for that matter) for the absolute level of skills, but for the marginal level of skills above the next best alternative. That’s the reason for WAR — replacement level players are the marginal players, and the skill level above that is what you pay for. Just to amke that clear, replacement-level players are FANTASTIC baseball players, just like the guys on the Web.com tour are GREAT golfers.

    Now the same thing happens at positions. We compensate right fielders based on their incremental benefit above other right fielders and shortstops based on their incremental benefit over other shortstops. We here confront an obvious issue: the position you play is endogenous. Anybody can play any position, just not necessarily that well. We now come to the question: who should play what position? Fortunately, economics has an answer for that one as well, derived by David Ricardo in 1817: comparative advantage. You put players on the field to maximize their relative advantage.

    If WAR is correctely calculated, and if GMs and managers follow comparative advantage, you in fact do reward Heyward for being better than others at a weaker position, because his relative advantage at the harder positions is so much less. It is certainly possible for GMs to make mistakes and not play people where their comparative advantage is highest. For example, BJs comparative advantage is apparently as a roving concessions salesman, but the Braves refuse to play heim there. But if Heyward’s highest and best use is as a right fielder, then that must be because moving him to center field and replacing him with Doumit in RF makes the team worse. Smilarly, Simmons could probably play RF better than anybody on the team other than Heyward, but that doesn’t mean you make him the backup right fielder, no matter how many runs he saves out there — his comparative advantage is at shortstop.

  18. @17 ‘I’ll never be convinced that a 5 WAR right fielder with 90% of it being defense is more valuable than a 4 WAR right fielder with 90% of it coming from offense. I think there’s room for improvement.’

    Seconded. As of now BRef has Stanton and Heyward tied at 6.3 WAR. Heyward is greater than McCutcheon. I simply cannot get my brain wrapped around that at all.

    I’m not a Luddite, and I embrace the modern player evaluation tools but its a little too much to ask an old guy to say that this guy: .288/.395/.556/.951 160 OPS+ = This guy .273/.353/.393/.746 109 OPS+

  19. @JonathanF/18

    I bet BJ could really cover some ground out in section 147.

    @17

    Your layman’s on the percentage of defense made up by pitching is what the statisticians think, too.

  20. @19

    You’re forgetting that WAR takes intangibles into account and that by any measure of character Jason Heyward is the greatest human ever to have lived. Meanwhile, Stanton is villainous scum who changes his name so that his crimes don’t catch up with him.

  21. The implication of what JonathanF is saying, though, is this: the common axis along which all players are measured is, effectively, dollar value. So WAR is a measure not of player “goodness,” which is what Newman wants, but of player market value. Which makes us see them all as walking dollar figures, which makes us essentially see ourselves as agents of our pennypinching owners, which makes us evaluate them not on whether they’re good players but merely on whether they are living up to the dollar value of the contracts they signed.

    That’s basically what WCG wrote about last offseason.

    OPS is a lot less dehumanizing, even though it’s a lot less precise.

  22. @22, it’s hard to ignore dollar value when your team is mid-market, but I don’t immediately think of dollars when I see players ranked by WAR. I see Stanton and Heyward at the same ranking, and from there I then might wonder if I’d give them the same contract offers.

    Team A buys Stanton and team B buys Heyward. WAR says the price tag should be close to the same. My Luddite baseball background makes me think that Stanton compares to Heyward like Kimbrel compares to Avilan. In my mind the value isn’t even in the same galaxy – at least not this year.

    It might be a moot point because my team probably can’t buy either of them. But, say we do buy Heyward and he gets best-player-in-the-game money…what does that mean for the rest of our ability to field a team that can score runs and pitch well?

    This isn’t about not liking Heyward. It’s about the game theory involved in building a full team.

  23. This might be elementary, but if WAR can equate to dollar value, what does a payroll need to be to field a 100-win team?

  24. I think what hurts the WAR defense argument is how many difficult or above replacement player attempts will a player get a game?

    Heyward might make one or two of those plays a week. Most guys can handle a ball hit right to them. Hey ward is going to get 21-30 ABs a week. I bet he doesn’t catch that many balls in a week on average.

  25. If WAR is a measure of player market value then its being ignored by GMs around both leagues. The highest paid position players are paid for their bats and not their gloves. If Heyward reaches free agency, it’ll be interesting to see if the market values defense heavy WAR as much as the blog o sphere does.

    Personally, I hope the Braves sign Heyward long term as a CF’er.

  26. Rob at 26,

    Replacement level is based on a theoretical 47 win team (I think that is it). So, if a team wins 100, it needs to come up with 53 WAR.

    You have 5 starting pitcher “slots” (may use more than 5 actual parties) 8 position player “slots” with at least 1 / 4 of your catcher work by a back up. Bench and bullpen otherwise don’t play so much unless there are injuries or a bad starting rotation.

    Let’s just “assume” that all bench players total 5 WAR, backup catcher is .5, and all bullpen equals 5 WAR. Each of those is on the high side, but how else do you get to 100 wins? Then, you need 42. 5 out of everybody else.

    Then, let’s split that 45 pitching / 55 position players (40 offense ratio to 15 defense). That leaves 21.625 in 5 starting pitchers, like this.

    1. 7.5 WAR
    2. 5.5 WAR
    3. 4.5 WAR
    4. 3 WAR
    5. 1.125 WAR

    Then, catcher is 3 / 4 time so if you have a “best era Brian McCann / Javy Lopez” You are looking at 5 at top.

    Remaining 7 need to produce 18.375 which is a little over 2.6 WAR per position player averaged out. If catcher is league average (1.5 because 3 / 4 time) then make it average 3.1 on the remaining 7.

    90’s Braves probably got a little more out of starting pitching and a little less out of position players.

    So, if you buy WAR on the open market and pay 7 mill per, you need 350 mill plus payroll to get 53 WAR.

  27. @27 – Agreed. Heyward makes a few plays in RF, most routine. Only 1 or 2 of which are plays that mere mortals cannot make. And that makes him equal in Wins Above Replacement to arguably the best offensive player in the NL? maybe even MLB?

  28. This is one of my favorite bref things:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/NL/2014.shtml

    Scroll down to the table titled “2014 NL Wins Above Avg By Position” and select the Braves from the dropdown.

    At a glance it shows what we already know, that we need help at 2B, 3B, and CF. But it also shows that those three are so bad that they more than cancel out the good guys we have at 1B, LF, and RF. C is somewhat skewed because of the 200+ ABs given to Laird and Bethancourt, but even there we’re at least pretty average.

  29. And, another way to look at it.

    A league average team needs 81 wins. That takes 34 WAR. So, the “extra WAR” to get to 100 is 19. So, almost 2 / 3rd of the WAR to 100 is just used to get you to mediocre, which is where this team finds itself. So, with a skillfully utilized 150 million more in payroll, a good GM could assure a team that most years would win 100.

  30. The critical thing for Wren this offseason is not to get caught in between. The team as it stands is very clearly not good enough to make the playoffs in 2015. The team as it stands minus Harang and Santana, plus a couple of veteran starters who got cut from better teams, plus ~80 healthy, effective innings from Bris Bealen, is probably even further from the playoffs. Under these circumstances, standing pat would be the worst possible move. You either go big–patch two of your three gaping positional holes, plus somehow stabilize the starting pitching at this year’s level–or you go 2017: attempt to work out extensions with Heyward and/or J. Upton, trade them if you can’t reach an agreement, trade Gattis, and trade Kimbrel.

    I think going big is basically impossible with the Braves’ payroll and garbage farm. Thus, I want to see Gattis and Kimbrel in some other team’s uniforms next spring, and a few of those other teams’ talented prospects playing for the Braves. If Wren stands pat, this team is gonna be out of the playoffs for four years, easy.

  31. @30

    No. Heyward’s defense has been worth 3 wins above replacement according to B-Ref. He’s as valuable as Stanton because he is also a good hitter, whereas Stanton, who is a spectacular (and dastardly!) hitter, has not been a good fielder at all. You might still think that’s wrong, but Heyward has been glove-first this season, not glove only. So the choice isn’t “Stanton’s offense v. Heyward’s defense”–if that were the choice you take Stanton’s offense every time without batting an eye–it’s Stanton as a player v. Heyward as a player.

    Anyway, Stanton is awesome, but he isn’t the best hitter in baseball (that’s Trout, and McCutchen is better too). And some of the secondary things bring him down just a little. He’s striking out a monstrous rate–169 entering play today. And he has grounded into 16 double plays. 16 extra outs makes a huge difference. I’m nitpicking, but WAR is nitpicking. Little things add up there, just like they do in games.

  32. 1. Cut BJ
    2. Trade Justin to someone who is willing to unload several top hitting prospects
    3. Trade Johnson for bargain middle relief/bench player
    4. Trade Kimbrel for prospects
    5. Trade Minor for prospects
    6. Trade Gattis for prospects
    7. Fire Fredi
    8. Enter rebuilding mode

  33. @36

    9. Prospects don’t pan out.
    10. Team becomes complete dog crap for next 10 years.
    11. New ballpark opening is a disaster.
    12. Braves lose a ton of money.
    13. Braves move to Montreal.

    EDIT: By the way, I left a post about this on the other thread accidentally and don’t feel like going to retrive it, but for the people who want to tank to improve draft position, here’s the gist: Tanking in football and basketball is stupid enough. Tanking in baseball may, in fact, be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. And tanking when you’re within a game and a half of the playoffs is dumber even still.

  34. @37

    I just moved from Montreal to Florida, so if #13 happens I would be willing to take one for the team and move back.

  35. To show how out of it with this team I am, I just realized I was off a day and should have done Monday’s game.

    Oh well, at least they looked like they had a chance Monday.

    But Mac would say “hope if the most cruel of all of what was emitted from Pandora’s Box.”

  36. @31- About what we should’ve known. 3B, CF, and 2B suck. PHs suck. Our pitching and corner OFs were pretty good.

    Pretty simple, really. Get league-average production from two of three awful starting spots, and this is team would’ve been right there with the Nats.

    And yes, tanking in baseball is REALLY dumb. All you do is save money for ownership. The draft benefit is negligible and very long-term. Much better to just spend money more wisely, and also spend more money.

  37. Spending money wisely has been a problem most of my life. I spend most of my money on wine, women and song; but the rest I just piss away.

  38. so coop in his dotage confesses
    the standards to which he professes
    have met with resistance
    but all his persistence
    we honor as still he transgresses.

    cheers!

  39. you wonder how it was pre-WAR
    what might we all have done before?
    evaluate by eye?
    i kinda like this guy
    those numbers, such a soulless bore.

  40. Looks like our offense is off to its typical tricks today. A recap will be up late tonight—the length will depend entirely on how inspired I feel by the team’s performance today.

  41. And if you didn’t have the GIDP machine in the 5-hole, such foolhardiness would not be necessary.

  42. Innings like this are the reason that I think most of us are so frustrated with this team a lot of times. It is obvious that they are more than capable of putting good solid swings on balls without having to hit it over the fence. They make it look almost easy sometimes, but the other 75% of the time they can’t touch a pitch. It is maddening.

    Good inning guys.

  43. So Handsome!

    Yeah, what happened with Andrelton at the end there? I was so happy to see him get a hit. I think he’s pissed off about something and acting like a bonehead.

  44. There’s a lot of down talk on here, and most of it is justified. But tonight, let’s raise our glasses and toast THE BIG HANDSOME. Aaron Harang has had a truly nice season for the Braves. Here’s to you,Big Man!

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