Maybe I’m Amazed: Braves 12, IWOTM 4

Like you, I bet, I went to bed Wednesday night convinced that the Baseball Gods will not allow the Braves to have nice things. If you were watching as Freddie got plunked on the wrist and immediately walked to the clubhouse in disgust, and then watched the repeated replays of that HBP alongside the almost identical HBP in May 2017, you just knew that the promising start to 2018 was heading toward 2015-17 territory.

Were you as stunned as I was to see Freddie in the starting lineup Thursday? There were so many nice things in Thursday’s game, it’s easy to lose sight of the best thing of all: Freeman’s wrist is OK. Freddie not only played, he had a sac fly RBI his first time up, and followed up with 2 hits and a run scored.

Although not as significant for the fate of the 2018 Braves, the most amazing thing about Thursday was the start turned in by Matt Wisler. Who among us predicted a month ago that among all the starters, Matt Wisler would put in the best start of the first month? Even that tiny band of us who still think Wisler can be a productive ML pitcher could never have foreseen this. He went seven strong innings (first starter to do that this year), giving up only 2 hits, 1 run, 8 K’s, and 0(!) walks. Folty and Newk, pay attention, especially to that last number.

It was the best Braves start so far, but it’s not like the Braves starters have been crapping the bed. Last night was the 11th straight game in which the starter gave up 2 or fewer earned runs (at least that’s what Rob keeps telling us and I’d never question our leader). Pretty amazing.

More things that are not just nice, but amazing:

Preston Tucker, with 5 RBI’s on the night, is tied for the league lead with some guy who plays for the Gnats. Ryan Flaherty came into the game leading the league in BA. Kurt Suzuki had a dinger and 2 doubles on the night; he’s crushing any fastball in the zone. He continues to hit in 2018 like it’s 2017—levels that he had never approached before last year.

The play of Tucker and Flaherty is great fun, but they won’t keep this up. (That’s not to say they can’t be valuable players for the Braves going forward.) But the most exciting thing about this new season is the play of Albies and Swanson. Ozzie has 2 more hits and scored three times, and Dansby had another hit and RBI. So far, no sign of a sophomore slump for Ozzie, and Captain Dans appears to have recovered from his. These two could be exciting us together for years to come.

Of course it wouldn’t be the 2018 Braves without the bullpen giving us a scare. Visions of last Saturday at Wrigley came crashing in in the 8th. Lucas Sims gave up 3 walks and 3 runs before Sam Freeman bailed him out. I think that’s the last we’ll see of Sims in ATL for a while.

Do you remember how good Matt Harvey was in 2012-13 before his Tommy John surgery? He was as good as any starter in the game, looking like a perennial Cy Young candidate for years to come. That didn’t quite work out. Man, did he stink it up on Thursday. If it wasn’t the Mets, I’d almost feel sorry for him.

And that, of course, is a cautionary note. Be amazed at the wonderful things the Baseball Gods give you in the moment, but don’t think you have the future figured out.

(Even so, did you see that Austin Riley had three more hits at AA last night, and his OPS is 1.259. In high A, Joey Wentz went 5 scoreless innings striking out 6; his ERA is 0.64.)

Tonight Sean Newcomb faces Noah Syndergaard. The odds favor the Mets in that matchup, but I’m not making any predictions.

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76 thoughts on “Maybe I’m Amazed: Braves 12, IWOTM 4”

  1. Excellent recap. Thank you. This team is so much fun to watch. Swanson was second in BA coming into the game last night btw, trailing only Flaherty.

    And except for Ender – who is starting to heat up – all Braves hitters have an OPS of 800 and better.

  2. I’m probably super late to the party, but I’ve added seamheads.com to my baseball blogosphere rota and I am really enjoying it.

    If you enjoy the Negro Leagues, this is the best repository of information that is extant.

  3. Wisler’s curve was devastating. If he can keep throwing that along with this above average fastball, he might just work out.

  4. Until proven otherwise I am going to assume Thoppy is magic and all of this is for really reals. Like, until something bad happens, I’m just going to assume Matt Wisler did the Charlie Morton “I just decided to try and throw harder” thing and now he’s a CYA candidate. And if Jose Bautista can automagically transform from a Punch and Judy journeyman backup middle infielder at 29 then hell, let’s start polishing up MVP votes for Ryan Flaherty at 31…

  5. I hadn’t looked in to Preston Tucker until this morning. I’d been assuming we’d claimed him off waivers. Nope, got him from Houston for a PTBNL. He’s got good minors numbers, and a good pedigree out of UF. (And his nickname is Bamm-Bamm!) He could be an actual valuable piece going forward (maybe even a starting left fielder?). Nice acquisition by AA.

  6. I just looked at our poll in the upper right quad and I think we’re wrong. Seems to me Nick is the first one that’s turned back into his normal self – a .280 singles hitter who can take a walk. I think he just had less distance to travel down than the other two. Tucker is coming down very slowly, but he may establish a new expected norm. How will we know when he’s down if we’ve never seen him “up” until now? As far as Flaherty goes, he may pull a Suzuki to some extent but, considering his current BABIP, it’s gonna hurt when he falls. I am ecstatic he’s kept it up this long. I really hope that when he comes back down to his normal self that people don’t start bashing him as a bum and appreciate that he has given way more than expected already.

    I have bashed AA a lot recently but, if he gets a couple of BABIP infused months from Flaherty at 3B and another couple of BABIP infused months from Bautista at 3B and maybe some solid play from Camargo at 3B – he may be cobbling together a perfectly decent interim 3B solution along the lines of Flowzuki at C. Riley is looking unbelievable at AA and I have to believe that he will go up to AAA as soon as Bautista is promoted. If he comes in at September and does a little bashing, all this gnashing of teeth over 3B may be for naught and I will be the first to stand up and say so (assuming the positive results above). At least it seems like a plan with enough moving parts to make it work.

    With regards to Wisler, he’s always had potential and has flashed it a few times. I just don’t think he’s going to rise to the level of one of our five best pitchers. I have been hoping that Wisler, Blair, and Sims would do well enough to be valuable trade pieces but maybe only Wisler will get there. Sims may too if he can straighten himself out. There have to be several other organizations that would make good use of these three.

  7. Having all these guys contributing to the big squad can also translate to something else: valuable trade pieces. I imagine the Braves could pull off a good trade this year.

  8. Players Alex Anthopoulos has acquired mid-career, who have then blossomed into All-Star and MVP candidates: Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Smoak

    Players currently on that same track in Atlanta: Ryan Flaherty, Preston Tucker

    I’m not predicting that Ryan Flaherty is going to pull of the transformation to a better defending version of Jose Bautista in Toronto. But there’s a real track record there of Thoppy finding gold in the thrash and discard pile.

  9. @9 I’ve come around on Tucker as a big league hitter. He may regress, but there’s no precedence for it yet. His last shot with the big league club in Houston was his sophomore stint. Even at 27, he has only appeared in 164 games. Maybe last season at AAA did him some good, and now we reap the benefits. We really don’t know what normal is for the guy though.

    Bare minimum, I’d like to think Tucker vs RHP in a platoon would be really good for this season if he doesn’t turn into another Jose Bautista, of course!

  10. Snitker shouldn’t be fired if it would deflate the clubhouse. But let’s be real. He’s not the reason some of our role-players are overperforming. And his name on here is literally synonymous with baffling decisions.

    If it turns out the Braves are playoff-bound, where bullpening and keeping brainfarts to a minimum are both extremely important, then he’s among the more obvious places on the team where we can make a real marginal improvement.

  11. Tucker had pretty good minor league numbers, but they may have been diminished by coming from the PCL.

  12. …Look at how much hard contact Flaherty is making. A 25% line drive rate. He actually stopped hitting the ball in the air, and it’s working.

    Of course, he can’t sustain a .429 BABIP, but a little of the underlying numbers show something’s happening that could be for real.

  13. @12 I find this line of thinking problematic for one main reason: We say that Snitker deserves little if none of the credit for player performance, but then we assign all responsibility for poor in-game decisions to him.

    Here’s a piece of the pattern of my rationale for absolving Snitker of blame for bad decisions. For one, you wouldn’t assign credit for defender placement to Snitker, right? That stuff requires a full team of highly trained and dedicated personnel. Do we really believe that we’re applying analytics to only some parts of the game and leaving it all up to Snitker to draw bullpen names from a hat? Let’s be realistic: if AA is going to go to the lengths that he has to establish the team infrastructure to use analytics, would he not also set and enforce the expectation that his manager would receive and use the same kinds of data to support his in-game decisions? I’m talking about the personnel that have Snitker’s eyes and ears who are there to keep him informed as the game is happening. It takes more than one person in any business, no matter the field, to consume and understand data (ie. market trends, finances, sales), so I won’t assume that they’re piping in a pile of stats directly to Snitker and he’s simply choosing to roll the dice on gut feelings.

    To put it another way, you wouldn’t just hand your grandmother a laptop and direct her to start investing in the stock market with her life savings. That would be asking for failure if done to most people. If you are going to expect her to invest, you’re going to give her the best consultant(s) to walk with her. Most people are fairly smart, especially when given the right information to make decisions with.

    My second point is that Snitker is a manager. To be a good manager, he doesn’t need to know more than everyone else about hitting, pitching, or fielding. He simply needs to know how to keep the players on his roster at their best. Contrary to what I’ve read on here, some data-driven analytics expert is not going to make the best baseball manager. You still need someone who commands the authority and respect of those around him to organize 25 players to go play baseball among the numerous other things that managers do.

    The TLDR; of what I’m saying is that data analytics requires the organizational structure to support and use it, and its use goes far beyond that of any baseball manager sitting in a dugout. If they’re not delivering him a range of potential decisions along with some easy to understand probabilities, then they’re failing at doing data.

  14. John R. it’s a long season. The safe bet is to expect change. It’s worth noting that last season, the Braves have hung around .500 till the break, so it’s not like they came out of the gate looking awful.

    If they hang near first place through the first half, there’s a decent possibility that they get better (via promotions, trades) as opposed to folding in the second half.

  15. My take: the Braves offense is bound to regress some going forward, even with the addition of Acuna. Our success this season will hinge on the production we get from the pitching staff – if it’s bad like last season we’ll fade. If some of these early season breakouts stick the Braves may sneak into wildcard fringe territory.

  16. I remember the first year of the teardown, 2015, when on July 7 the Braves had a 42-42 record and were only 4 games out of first, having picked up three games in the standings in the week prior. Revisionist history condemns that team (indeed, they would only win 25 more games from then on), but I recall falling in love with that scrappy team playing way over their heads: Jace Peterson, Cameron Maybin, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, AJ Pierzynski having a nice year, a young and full of hope Shelby Miller. Alas…

    Sure we’re a lot more talented, but every team no matter how fundamentally bad can build up a big head of steam and dazzle over a short timespan. I’m still hanging on to hope that we’re a .500 team. But maybe we’re better than that, we’ll see. Here’s hoping!

  17. One thing Flaherty and Tucker have in common is that they were awesome in college. Another thing they have in common is that I expected them to be good pros.

    A thing they might finally have in common is that they are good pros!

  18. @15

    I think Snit is an okay manager. I think he bungled the Chicago game last week.

    However, I think he also get a lot out of his guys. None of his teams have ever quit. He’s way better than Freddy Gonzalez.

    Are there better guys out there we could get? Totally. Is he the best guy to manage this part of the rebuild? Maybe.

    If we keep playing well, he should get a shot at keeping the job. But if we could get in on a guy like Buck Schowalter or Bruce Bochy, we would be foolish not to.

  19. 21—I thought he’d be solid, but I was (and am) highly suspicious of the bats UGA was using during that era.

    I thought Mikie Mahtook was going to be great…

  20. @15 is fair and pretty persuasive IF we see this process, the way it’s described, bear out on the field. I’m not totally convinced yet that Snitker fits well with management driven more by analytics, and I still remember some questionable moves from last season.

    I’ll concede that Snitker has been pretty good so far this season — for me, he’s in the “Everybody makes mistakes sometimes” territory, if we’re only counting right now. Overall, I’m with @22. I would still upgrade now if we could.

  21. @24 Isn’t this the first year of the Braves actually employing the use of analytics on the field? I thought I read that in coming to the Braves, Anthoploulos was also bringing the Dodgers’ blueprint with him. The Dodgers are why I suspect the Braves’ approach to require so much support staff and additional structure. I would have to believe they’ve added a whole new department to the organization whose sole purpose is constructing a data lake of baseball data and providing the useful bits in a consumable format.

    https://www.myajc.com/sports/baseball/braves-getting-next-level-analytics-with-new-and-staff/EkNHMvYDGM9SQxZOWI23uK/

    Something interesting I didn’t realize is that for Dodgers’ players, their use of the data is up to them. I wonder if AA’s arrival has anything to do with changes we’ve seen from a number of players this season…

  22. Noah Syndergaard
    best show a little regaard
    for the Atlanta Braves
    who will come at him in a series of waaves.

  23. back home in the Viking league
    they called him Odin
    but he still insists the National League
    is the coldest he’s ever throwed in.

  24. Nice recap, tfloyd.

    One of the great pleasures of living in the New York metro area is the ability to listen to a one hour postgame talkfest after every Mets loss to the Braves. Last night was a classic of the genre… The new consensus is that Matt Harvey is a whiny crybaby who should be in AAA. It was brutal good fun.

  25. I noticed in a game the other night an outfielder (maybe Tucker or Adams) had made a play so the camera was still on them when they pulled a card out of their back pocket which obviously had stuff written on it. Whoever it was consulted the card and then immediately changed their position on the field. That was the first time I could recall a player apparently consulting some kind of notes for positioning. Just speculation on my part, but I thought it was probably a list of opposition players with positioning information driven by some hit placement analysis. Seems like we are being a little more analytics driven.

  26. A big problem with the Schuerholz era is not that the Braves were stone-age dumb about analytics — it’s that they were impossibly self-righteous about how they knew the right stats and everyone else used the wrong stats, as though only they understood how championship ball was played and how nobody else had anything else to teach them. It’s how they managed to go from being ten years ahead to ten years behind.

  27. Did we ever discuss The Only Rule Is It Has to Work on here? Great baseball book that has a lot of lessons on management and implementing new and radical changes in an organization. Some really good examples of how it is hard to implement new ideas, especially in a work culture like baseball with long-established traditions and norms. It’s funny and insightful and good.

  28. Last night made it look like Matt Wisler is making the same adjustment that Patrick Corbin has made. Flaherty all of a sudden becoming a LD machine…these things aren’t accidents, and if we continue being successful, AA catching us up on analytics will be a big story this season even if it doesn’t get covered like it is.

    I get that the right team around Snitker can make him better, but Snitker’s golly-gosh attitude towards changes with analytics in Spring Training makes me doubtful that he’s the best person for the job. Maybe he can learn. He still may do a fine job. I bet AA can find someone for whom this stuff will click more easily and who can also do all the leadership and staff management parts well too.

  29. @37 The great thing about a guy like Anthopoulos is that if he’s as sharp as we suspect he is, then he’ll have KPI’s for grading Snitker since simple W-L is not a great way to judge a manager of a team that lost 89 games a year ago. If the feeling is that Snitker is costing this team wins, you can bet he’ll be out of the manager’s role after this season.

  30. @37 and @38 (and Hap @32)
    Saw this article the other day, it confirms what Hap was saying (and it specifically quotes Snitker as being on-board), and gives hope that the culture is changing for the better. Not just a “gosh we have to be numbers driven” (the nerd living in mom’s basement stereotype) but truly finding what works. It’s early so we don’t know if it does “truly” work, but I think it shows a willingness to try to find things that legitimately help/improve the team.

    https://www.mlb.com/braves/news/braves-paying-attention-to-analytics-data/c-272604954

  31. The idea that men who get paid millions of dollars to win baseball games are going to ignore practical and proven methods of winning baseball games, all because they’re “anti-stats,” is your naivety showing.

  32. People have blamed Snitker on a couple of occasions this year, namely the collapse in Chicago. I find it hard to blame Snitker for that one because he can’t use his high leverage arms every game (remember what happened to Venters and O’Flaherty?) and at some point he has to ask other guys in the bullpen to get important outs. Sam Freeman has appeared in like 70% of our games so far. AJ Minter, Arodys Vizcaino, and Dan Winkler all have injury histories so he has to be careful with them.

  33. @39 Jonathan, Snitker’s remarks smacked to me of “I play baseball; what do I need to study math for?” Imagine what Berra or Stengel would say about analytics. Snitker seems old school to me. I think the players love him and he’s a good motivator but I have ongoing suspicions about his ability to make the correct decisions in a critical situation. I get what Sam’s saying @40 but it may not be easy to get through to some players and coaches. Last year, I read about how Adam Jones was finally convinced to stop playing so shallow when they showed him a ream of data showing him what he was sacrificing. Good, smart players and coaches (and lots of other people) have trouble with someone “proving” that they’re wrong.

    It’s frustrating watching the things one wishes could be fixed by yelling at the TV screen and it’s true that it will happen to all managers sometimes. I do believe what the sabermetricians say that managers do not win or lose very many games, so I am not hard over about Snitker going or staying. I just want the team to win and if there’s a consistent problem then it might justify something being done about the manager.

  34. You know, with Ravin replacing Sims, I was looking at the roster and I’m not sure I see anything obviously bad at this point. Flowers comes back and Perez goes – that much is a no brainer. But when Gohara comes back, who goes? If Ravin and Biddle pitch well, then there is no one obvious to go out especially if Wisler’s next start is as good as his last one. And when Acuna is brought up the only choices will be Bourjos and Culberson. I guess either could go. The other would go when Bautista needs to be activated. After that, if guys like Fried, Soroka, Riley need to be promoted (or even Ramirez, Sanchez, or Whitley come off the DL), there is going to be quite a roster crunch.

  35. @7

    Yes, the winner of the poll should have been Kakes who has returned to his norm of a .750-ish OPS.

  36. From Braves pre-game show, KC Royals are zero and 14 when their opponent scores. Things could be worse.

  37. Ozzie’s not exactly the Juan Pierre type who will have the bat knocked out of his hands. 100 mph and he crushed it.

  38. Having the guy in the dugout be an “old school guy” who is on board with the front office nerds but still takes care of his soldiers on the field isn’t a “bad” thing.

  39. I listened to AA’s 45 minute interview on Executive Access, a podcast with Mark Feinsand. It was timely considering Wisler’s performance last night that he said, “We can quantify everything. We can quantify a guy’s curveball.” Many have noted the different pitch mixes, especially from starters whose performance has improved. I think it’s safe to say that AA has been a set of data measuring that is having an impact on the organization. And I do think that what Sam alluded to is correct. Snit seems to be doing a good job of hearing what the new FO is saying about strategy, approach, and statistical impressions, and he’s finding a way to trickle that down to the guys on the field. Nothing not to love there…

  40. I’m a little disappointed that none of you predicted at the beginning of the season that Shane Carle would be 7th in MLB in WAR by a reliever.

  41. Two straw men: no one is saying Snitker is hostile to analytics (@40), and no one is saying the old school guy who gets the new school approach isn’t good (@54).

    If AA can do better, nothing should stop him from doing better. There’s no glaring need to be searching for a manager now; in fact, there’s vast downside to be doing so, but in the future, under certain circumstances, it shouldn’t be off the table. 2018’s “you can never fire the manager if the team is doing well” is 2015’s “you can never bring the closer in unless it’s the 9th inning.”

  42. The 2017 Yankees certainly agree. “Even if we won the ALCS, we’d have still fired Girardi.”

    Cold.

  43. We’ll be 1-4 in extra innings after tonight, but I can’t blame the bullpen for that, the offense just goes ice cold in late innings every time the game is close.

  44. Wet newspapers – I hope not but it sure looked like it. Defensively too with that new guard.
    Ozzie’s blast off his first pitch was magnificent.FU.
    Minter is approaching one walk per inning. And that with throwing very few offspeed pitches. Send him back down to learn, there are plenty more we would like to see.
    Sometimes the visitors show up with a no-name rookie just called up to fill an injured spot. You watch for a few innings and you lust. Realmuto who?

  45. @65 Rob, I know. I looked at the BAs and Freddie is second lowest of the starters right now (only better than Ender). One good game but I bet the hand is bothering him.

    As much as I hate to lose, I cannot find a scapegoat in this. You have to take the positive that Braves worked Thor all night long and got 3 runs and he left after six. Newcomb, for all his inefficiency, matched Thor pitch-for-pitch. Not any one thing to be angry about.

    The only complaint I had was that Ender didn’t try to steal when he led off with a walk. He stole after Freddie made the second out. If he had stolen when Ozzie was up or during Freddie’s at bat, Freddie’s fly would have been a sac fly. The Mets played small ball much better tonight. I think several Braves are still playing like rookies (including Ozzie). They’re still learning how to win.

  46. It’s April 21, and it’s only one promising start for Wisler. But “Newcomb” is the answer if the question is “Who goes down to make room for Wisler?” I guess that’s also if Gohara really re-emerges. There’s no rush, maybe.

    Guys, I traded Gohara in my keeper league. For Lewis Brinson. I’ll turn in my Gohara fan card at the front desk :(

  47. Syndergaard is fascinating. Imagine knowing you can blow away any lineup on any day if you really let it loose. You’re Aroldis Chapman for five innings at a time…but you also know you’ll get hurt sooner rather than later.

    This is true of many pitchers, but Syndergaard is such an extreme. It’s so interesting to watch him hold back.

  48. 73 — Actually, I would think the answer to that is that Sanchez would hypothetically go to the bullpen.

    If everyone keeps pitching well and stays healthy Gohara can get some more experience pitching at Triple A. I’d like him to refine his secondary pitches more.

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