Off Day Thread–Putting it in Perspective

We are two games shy of the halfway point of the season. After 79 games, the Braves are 45-34 and leading the NL East.

What have we learned so far? Freddie is the best hitter in the league. No surprise there, but the big difference over last year is that when he got hit on the hand, it didn’t break; that may be the biggest factor in the team’s success. Kakes is improbably having a career year at age 34. Flowzuki is (are?) improbably replicating their success of a year ago. Ozzie is a star, improbably leading the league in extra base hits. Folty and Newk have both taken big strides forward. Anibal Sanchez, when healthy, is pitching like it’s 2013. Dan Winkler, even with a couple of shaky outings recently, has been as good as any reliever in the league.

Will the Braves sustain this success in the second half? How the hell should I know? We’ve already cited Yogi for the difficulty of prognostication. Really, though, this Braves team is especially tough to predict. There aren’t that many veterans with proven track records. And you know, even proven veterans can surprise. See, e.g., Markakis—he was the most consistent hitter in the league for several years; nothing great, but you knew what you’d get. And now, for at least half a season, he’s better than he’s ever been.

But the big uncertainty is the young players. Will Albies keep this up? Until the last several games, he was in a slump, then he catches fire again. Will Newk and Folty maintain their success? I don’t know about you, but both of them keep me on the edge of anxiety in every start—but the results are terrific. Is Swanson the hitter he was in 2016 and in April 2018? Or the hitter he was in 2017 and May 2018? Is Camargo’s new plate discipline for real, and when his BABIP luck turns he will be an .850 OPS guy? Or is he really just a ,240 hitter with a little power? And what will Acuna do going forward now that he’s back? (that’s the one I’m most excited to see)

How predictive is that fact that the Braves are 11 games over .500 and in first place? Let’s look at some other Braves seasons. I looked for ones in which the record was pretty similar after 79 games. The 2011 squad was 44-35; as you may recall, they finished 89-73 and just missed the playoffs. That was the awful September collapse year—81-55 on 9/1, but they went 8-18 the rest of the way. The year before, in Bobby’s last year, the Braves were 46-33, finished 91-71, and made the wild card.

One season with an identical record to this year after 79 games was 1993. The difference is that the Braves were way behind the Bonds-led Giants. But they traded for Crime Dog, the press box burned, and after a thrilling pennant race they won 104 games and the division by one game. I don’t expect the 2018 Braves to go 59-24 the rest of the way, but fortunately they won’t need to. Many have compared this year to 1991 (you know, terrible for several years, but all of a sudden a young team gets good). The 91 team was 39-40 at this point. That happened to be the exact time that the team went on a tear, making up nine games in the standings in a couple of weeks. They had a second half of 55-28. Again, that shouldn’t be necessary this year to win the division.

Here are a couple of cautionary tales. The 1983 team was 48-31, but had a miserable last five weeks and finished 88-74, just out of the playoffs. Similarly, the next year they were 43-36, but finished the season 80-82 (and cost Joe Torre his job).

The 1982 division winners were 49-30 after 79 (thanks largely to the 13 game streak to start the season), and finished 89-73, which was just good enough to edge the Dodgers. You might assume that they limped across the finish line, but actually, after losing 19 out of 21 in August, the team had a strong September to come from behind to win. That team is the ultimate in proving that streaks of a couple or three weeks don’t by themselves determine success or failure in a long season.

What do we glean from this? Just the obvious, I suppose. It’s a long season, and fortunes can turn pretty dramatically in a few weeks, in either direction.

How many of us on this board predicted that the Braves would be this good? Well, I looked back at the predictions post and thread from last March, and Coop and Adam R deserve credit for predicting the Braves to win the division—but there may have been a good bit of tongue in their cheeks as they typed.

By the way, here is what I wrote in that thread:
“Look, I know the Braves’ win total is likely to be somewhere in the 70’s. But it’s March, and I’m entitled to dream big dreams (see,e.g., UMBC over UVA). In my dream, it’s 1991 all over again. The starting pitching is dominant (Folty, Newk, Gohara, Fried make dramatic leaps forward, McCarthy is this year’s Leibrandt), the defense is much improved over last year,and several hitters have career years.
I’ll see your 91 or 92 wins, Coop and Adam R, and raise it. 94 wins!…Or none of that could happen and they win 67.”

I’ll stand by my preseason prediction. They will win 94 and the division, or maybe they’ll win 67. The good news is, at the halfway point the former is a good deal more likely than the latter. I’m doing my best to enjoy the ride and not worry too much about Snit’s game decisions or AA’s trade intentions.

Very tough stretch of games coming up, starting Friday evening in St. Louis. We’ll have a better idea of where we stand at the All Star Break in a couple of weeks—or will we?

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66 thoughts on “Off Day Thread–Putting it in Perspective”

  1. Nicely done, tfloyd. I predict 162-0 at the start of every year, and 162-L, where L is losses to date, every day after that. And yet I wonder why people don’t take me seriously.

    128 wins… now that’s a good year.

  2. Thank you. What a wonderful post!

    I would feel better if either we got better relievers or the starters went deep enough to give the pen ample rest. I’d prefer the latter, but the former would work.

    Thanks again, and GO BRAVES!

  3. This is a really great post, tfloyd. Thank you for going through the history!

    The bottom line is, coming into the year I saw us as a fourth-place team that could sneak into third. We’re a first-place team that could limp into second. There are a lot of open questions, but if half our guys improve and the other half regress, we’re still one of the four best teams in the league, and if our offense does its best impression of April again, we could punch a whole lot of higher-payroll teams in the mouth.

    I won’t count out the Nats till they’re dead and buried — they’ve got too much talent to feel comfortable — but bless their hearts, they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

  4. tfloyd
    thanks to you we are no longer paranoid
    your flowing reminisces
    all latent fears and doubts instantaneously dismisses.

  5. the Cardinelles
    tonight, once more, the sight of these haggard belles
    red, fat and always husband seeking
    misogyny’s reborn, we have to watch this litany of lust excreting.

  6. Edgar Allen Poe
    Used The Raven as his title just for show,
    The truly hated avian head words:
    “Here are the St. Louis Redbirds”

  7. I don’t know if it will make sense for the Braves, but I want them to acquire a staff ace. Like if Madison Bumgarner hits the trade block, I’d like the Braves to go get him.

  8. A staff ace will be incredibly expensive. Just for comparison, when Alex Anthopoulos got David Price at the trade deadline in 2015, he acquired two months of an ace for the price of Daniel Norris — a top-20 prospect in baseball — plus two additional live arms, Jairo Labourt and Matthew Boyd.

    Are you willing to trade our top pitching prospect plus additional assets for a guy who will be gone in a couple of months?

  9. Bumgarner does come with a team option for 2019 at $12 mill. His lack of health would be the main concern, but perhaps it would drive the price down a smidge.

  10. Love the post. Something will happen. It’s hard to have patience when you see winnable games slipping away. It’s true we’re still in first with all the potential in the world. I thought this would be the time of the year when more of the prospects would be getting into games to test what we have internally before going outside. Give guys like Dustin, Reed, Allard, Phillips, Fried, etc… every opportunity when we have inevitable injuries or slumps. Keeping guys like Santana, Bourjos, Flaherty, Moylan, Freeman, etc… around for the sole reason that they have no options leaves us in a position where talent is not being evaluated and the team is just hanging on in games and we don’t get prepared for the deadline to find out what we really need.

    In my opinion Fried is the guy getting the worst shaft. He has thrived in every situation where he gets regular starts (sans blisters) and pitched like an ace.

  11. We’re 10+ games ahead of where I thought we’d be. Can’t complain about that one bit. Looking forward to Acuna again.

  12. @9, If we could assess which three players in our system would perform like those three (live arms that haven’t really lit up the league with their talents), I’d trade ’em in a second for this year’s David Price.

  13. I’d love to acquire Bumgarner. I love that guy. We could go back to batting a second lead-off guy in the nine-slot in his starts, although in Bumgarner’s case we could put him in the clean-up spot.

  14. Smoltz redux.

    Eighty Five
    he says his sense of hope still very much alive
    it better be, today
    one seventy does not suggest a happy weekend stay.

  15. If you use Sickels’ grades for the 2015 pre-season, then the comparable package would be Gohara, Freddy Tarnok, and Patrick Weigel, but that’s using exact grade-for-grade comparables. You could easily say Mike Soroka, Kyle Muller, and Patrick Weigel. Grades can be tough.

    With that said, C+ prospects would be tough for me to avoid trading, and the two live arms in the David Price deal were C+/B- and C+ at the beginning of that season. Drew Harrington was a C+ this year, and we released him. Akeel Morris was a C+, and we traded him for a PTBNL. C+’s, in some cases, seem to have not been very valuable.

    But Soroka had a lower pre-season grade this year than Daniel Norris, the centerpiece in the David Price trade, so you can see how touchy this is. Do you “give up on” Gohara, a higher rated prospect, because of his current struggles vs. Soroka who has already seen big league action. And of course, I don’t want to speak disparagingly of Maple Maddux, but he’s now on his second DL stint of the year, so what do you have there exactly? Pitching prospects can be uber-exciting until they have a touchy shoulder twice in one year, and then it violently reminds you that TINSTAAPP.

  16. @9 Re: Gone in a couple of months.

    It has since been pointed out that he comes with a team option, but furthermore if this team isn’t willing to substantially increase payroll and pay for a Bumgarner then I think we’re going to find it incredibly difficult to return to sustained prominence. We need to be able afford this.

    So I guess my answer is no, I wouldn’t pay that steep price for a 2-month rental, but then I probably just give up on the Braves if Liberty Media’s plan is for this team to continue with a payroll of $120 million. What do you think next year’s payroll will be?

  17. I may have jumped to conclusions regarding the “2 months and gone” comment considering the trade as discussed would be for 2 months of rights and then they’d have to try to sign him to an extension.

    I took the comment to mean the Braves are probably not even in the market for players of that expense, which they may not be. I just hope it’s not due to payroll constraints since the team ought to be seeing increases in revenue (new ballpark, new first place team, etc).

  18. Same, though I don’t think Gohara has nearly as much trade value as Daniel Norris had then. (Of course, Soroka doesn’t either, considering that he’s on the 60-day DL.)

    And given that MadBum has another year on his contract, and along with Posey he’s been the face of the Giants for most of the past decade, that still might not be enough.

  19. @20-21 That’s why I included two different versions with the grades being very similar. At the end of last year, after Gohara had 5 strong MLB starts and Soroka was still in AA, would you have said the same?

  20. @22, Gohara’s always been a more polarizing prospect than Norris — some people (like Keith Law) love him but others are more uncertain. AFAIK Norris had more consensus as a blue-chip top 20, while Gohara had people who saw him more as top 50.

  21. 11 — Fried may be getting his chance to make a couple of starts and see if he can do better than McCarthy.

    I get the feeling the Braves want to use McCarthy as a reliever. They have had a really quick hook on him with his starts. He rarely makes 90 pitches when he starts.

  22. Yeah, while I get what you’re saying, wording it like that makes it sound like an insincere effort. No, they’re trying to win, but the parent company isn’t trying to win as hard as the biggest spenders in the league.

    https://www.myajc.com/sports/braves-mcguirk-not-yet-time-for-payroll-increase/6EXS793HWowKbMeZYFzI9K/

    According to McGuirk, very few teams will have as much room to spend as the Braves this offseason. That says nothing about what the team’s payroll will be, as I don’t imagine most teams are walking into the offseason at $60 million minimum payroll and $40 million to $60 million in room to spend (which will it be??).

    I have a hard time believing McGuirk, but he’s what we’ve got. I hope they manage to spend $130 million at least.

  23. I think a workable deal would be Gohara, Pache and a relief prospect like Troy Bacon for Bumgarner and $4M. We then give him a 4 year extension for $80M (tearing up the $12M option)

  24. @29 No, not really. Just fans of other teams pining for Bumgarner to hit the trade block. We’re probably actually more likely to have a shot at DeGrom than MadBum.

    The Braves have a need in the rotation and all the means to address it, but it just doesn’t look realistic at this time.

  25. On a professional/personal note, my Ga CPA firm is having issues with a Missouri state board (they are being ridiculous), so this would really be a nice time for a sweep of the hated Cardinals.

  26. It’s always a good time to sweep the Redbirds, but it doesn’t hurt to have more motivation.

  27. My sense is that the Braves are valuing long term over short term. The worst scenario for them is to get a guy with a huge salary who either bombs or stays injured. Jason Heyward (26 mIl until 2023), Albert Pujols ( 27 mil until 2021), and Felix Hernadez, ( 27 mil, signed from 2013 til 2019, (last good year, 2015)) , are examples of why huge payoffs don’t always pay huge dividends

  28. Freddie Freeman. How long before we ask tough questions? Of him as well as others.

    Are you unwell/injured? On any medications? Is it your position that the last three weeks or so is just a ‘normal slump for you Some of us, huge admirers, don’t necessarily think so.

    I don’t understand why we pussyfoot around these issues. Like BMac and his eyes and he was half the producer that Freddie is.

    In the awful 14 game recent stretch when we were a little above .500 I would bet the ranch at least 2 if not more of our 6 losses were down to him. He was a LIABILITY throughout them. Even his defense was poor.

    What is going on? Are we to understand this is normal? Are you well? Ask him. He’s as accountable as anyone else.

    Love the guy!

  29. You may very well be right that Freddie has an injury or other problem that’s hampering his performance at the moment. On the other hand, it is perfectly normal for even the best players who are otherwise having great seasons to go through pretty deep slumps for a few weeks. Just a slight hitch in mechanics or timing can make the best hitters look pretty bad. You know he’s working on it, but it can take a while to work your way out of it.
    I’d like to think that the team is monitoring his health and asking him regularly if he’s ok.

  30. I don’t really understand your post Blazon. Freeman has been in a slump for about 10 games. If you include this 10 game slump, he has a. 308 BA and a .931 OPS over the last month. I’m sure coaches are working with him daily and I bet he’ll break out of it in the next 5 games. If there’s a bigger problem I’m sure we’ll find that out soon, but I don’t see anything that suggests a lack of accountability. What is your point? Slumps happen.

  31. Bryce Harper is bating .204 with a .702 ops over his last 30 games. Do you think the Nats aren’t holding him accountable and not asking the hard questions?

  32. I am more hopeful about the Cards series than I was about the Reds. Cards don’t hit as well as the Reds and they have the worst defense in the league. They can’t throw out basestealers (4 caught all year). We match up better with our decent but shaky pitching and our speed and good hitting. If we can steal every base we can, we should be able to take advantage of their faults. And the Cards are not hot (5-5 in last ten), whereas the Reds were.

  33. Once upon a time, a Braves pitcher threw strikes. Apparently those days are gone.

    Julio escaped unscathed. How I do not know.

  34. I don’t know who makes the decision to challenge plays, if it’s Snitker or Weiss or someone upstairs, but they need to re-evaluate. That was a poor challenge. It seems like the philosophy is to challenge anything that looks close, when it should be to challenge it if it is obviously wrong.

  35. Julio found the strike zone and is pitching pretty good. Probably due to Sanchez the pitcher whisperer. Braves need to steal a base.

  36. @45 that one may have been worthwhile. Didn’t have a good angle on TV but it sure looked like his foot may have come off the base.

  37. Julio Teheran walks first two hitters, nowhere near.

    Dugout extended animated dialog, Anibal

    Julio Teheran 10 up 10 down.

    How difficult is it to grasp this.

    Teacher earned 18 million last year.

  38. Um, well, I guess THAT works. His BA Against lefties was .381 anyway so I guess he figured hitting him was better than pitching to him……

  39. Danny Santana pinch-hitting with Moylan warning up. Santana gets a hit, and watch Moylan pitch a scoreless inning. Because baseball.

  40. That was pitiful. Ozzie was overmatched, and Freddie ain’t Freddie right now. Oh, well, hold ’em, pen.

  41. Hmm, I think we should hold off on trading for third base help. The Johan has been getting better all year.

    Oh and Acuna should be in AAA….(flame shield activated).

  42. I’m scared to admit it, but Chip actually had a line tonight that I enjoyed. On the ground ball that went off Camargo’s glove to Dansby, who got the out at first: something like “In the brew city, the hops should go your way”.

  43. Luke Jackson
    in search of a little action
    decided to load them up
    a play at every base, you risk averse schlup.

  44. Anibal Academy
    with our aim to banish anomie
    provides measured hourly dugout instruction
    always including total psyche reconstruction.

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