It’s The Surprise Seasons, Not The Prospects

I was going to do a side-by-side summary of how players have performed compared to their projections, but this Talking Chop post tackled a lot of what I was going to say very well. I’ve read a lot that the team is “early”, that they’re ahead of their perceived developmental timeline, and I don’t think that’s true. It’s more about surprise seasons from unlikely sources that has put us where we are.

If we had a development timeline that hinged on prospect performance ahead of expected timeline, then I think we would have had a disappointing season. The actual “prospects of the rebuild”, players acquired via the draft and trade, have largely not beaten projections. Sean Newcomb‘s been disappointing (literally no better than last year), same with Dansby Swanson. While Ender is not a “prospect”, he was acquired via trade and has disappointed this year. Though not drafted or traded for in the “rebuilding” efforts, Ozzie Albies beat his projections, but I don’t think his season is overly surprising. Dan Winkler, Ronald Acuna, and Mike Foltynewicz are the prospects that have been the biggest surprises, and even Acuna, like Albies, was not acquired in the activities of the rebuild. I disagree with the projections for AJ Minter, so I don’t really consider him to be a pleasant surprise, and some are actually disappointed with him. You can make the case that the reason Minter is viewed as a disappointed is because he was billed as the acquisition of The Rebuild(TM) that would get us our very own Craig Kimbrel 2.0, and that hasn’t happened yet. So in some ways, the only prospects that have made a season-changing dent on the outcome are Folty and Acuna.

It’s really just the seasons that have come out of nowhere that have made the biggest impact. Anibal Sanchez, Nick Markakis, Charlie Culberson, Julio Teheran, Shane Carle, Jesse Biddle, non-heralded prospect Johan Camargo, and the deadline acquisition of a seemingly struggling Kevin Gausman have carried the freight to provide the bulk of the performance that has exceeded projections.

I’m sure if you were asked at the beginning of the season what happened to lead to a potential division crown, you may have said that Dansby, Ender, Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara, Max Fried, and other top pitching prospects developed and contributed key performances. But we sit in September and the currency of the rebuild — high-end pitching prospects acquired via trade and better draft position — have actually contributed very little to the surprise performance of the team, save Folty. That isn’t to say Newcomb hasn’t been a stable, innings-eating addition to the rotation or AJ Minter hasn’t been a perfectly serviceable closer, however. It’s not that we’re early. It’s that we’ve had a surprise season of unexpected contributors that coincides with a body of talent that is sure to continue to develop.

Switching gears, I’m throwing out some select college football picks:

Florida 35, Colorado State 14
Auburn 27, LSU 24
Georgia 49, MTSU 3
Alabama 20, Ole Miss 13
Missouri 24, Purdue 17
UTEP 94, Tennessee 2

75 thoughts on “It’s The Surprise Seasons, Not The Prospects”

  1. I look forward to clinching the division, so that the “OH MY GOD…WE’RE GONNA BLOW THIS DIVISION LEAD!!! THE NATS ARE REALLY HOT, AND HAVE ALWAYS BEEN BETTER THAN US THIS YEAR ANYWAY!!! PLUS WE’VE GOT SEVEN GAMES AGAINST THE PHILLIES, SO THEY COULD PASS US, TOO!!!” people turn into “WE’RE GONNA GET SWEPT IN THE DIVISION SERIES!!! DOESN’T MATTER WHO WE PLAY, THIS TEAM IS A FRAUD!!!” people.

  2. @2
    I’ll be excited when we hear, “OH NO! WE DON’T WANT NAY PART OF (INSERT AL TEAM)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THIS BRAVES TEAM BACKED INTO THE WORLD SERISE!!!!!!!!!!

    -or-

    “I CAN’T BELEIVE THEY ARE GIVING THIS TEAM A PARADE. THE FACT THE (INSERT AL TEAM) FORCED THEM INTO A GAME FIVE WAS A TRAVISTY!!!!!! TRADE FOLTY NOW!!!! HIS COMPLETE GAME SHUTOUT WAS SMOKE AND MIRRORS!!!!

    I also like LSU +10 and the under in that game.

    Can the Gators score 35?

  3. Well, they scored 53 against Charleston Southern, so they can, but they’re also not good at playing football, so there’s that too. The line is -20, and that’s a doozy.

  4. I don’t think Ole Miss moves the ball much on Bama. You’re right, though, that Bama may very well score more than 20. All my other scores were vanilla, and I could see that game being close.

  5. The Ole Miss defense just gave up 41 to Southern Illinois, Bama is going to walk right through them. We scored 66 on OM with Hurts playing QB last year, what could we put up if we had Tua the whole game?

  6. Yeah, the spread is -21 and the over/under is 69.5. I want a do-over on this one. Can’t believe Ole Miss would get boat raced at home like that.

    All my other picks are 100% accurate. Take ’em to the bank.

  7. Love the UTEP pick….

    ALA-Ole Miss will be more like 49-28. Bama’s defense is pretty raw too. But the Bama offense vs the Ole Miss def might as well be Arkansas State (which is not a true patsy). Bama will cover the spread and the over/under easily.

  8. I understand your logic, Rob, but I completely disagree with your characterization of who “belongs” to the rebuild. If you’re specifically critiquing the performance of those who were “traded for” during the rebuild then OK. But the rebuild was designed to have parts coming from many different sources including draft, trades, international, waiver claims, and Rule 5. We made our worst trade of the rebuild (Olivera) including sending Peraza because of the existence of Albies. So Albies is definitely included as a rebuild guy. And Winkler via Rule 5. And Biddle via waiver (along with Lindgren). Also, strategic FA signings are have to be considered part of rebuilding the team – Flowers, Suzuki, Sanchez (like Colon, Dickey, Garcia before him). Kemp was obviously part of the rebuild and thus Culby and McCarthy were too. And Culby has been one of the most impactful surprises of all. Wouldn’t the first set of under-the-radar trades that AA made be part of the rebuild? That would include Carle (and Tucker) who was an absolutely essential surprise early in the season. Culby and Carle are my particular favorites because I argued at any point in time early that both were the 25th man on the roster and likely to go soon. Very glad I was wrong.

    One could also argue that Markakis is included too as he was likely thought of as a Heyward replacement back when the rebuild was a “re-tool”.

    I also think you should give an asterisk to Minter because the “surprise” with him is more about how many innings he pitched as opposed to how much he overperformed.

    Another thing to note is that the Braves specifically targeted former #1s in their dealings. Guys like Folty, Newk, Biddle, Lindgren, Fried, and Swanson not to mention the Braves own #1s. That’s effectively like 10-12 #1 picks in three years.

    I agree overall with your premise, though ,that this year’s success has not necessarily been driven by top prospects but also by solid veterans on “up” years and fringe players having spectacular debuts or breakouts.

  9. Another point I’d like to make is that this team was showing competitive potential last year, too. They were around .500 at the end of July and the team’s decision to sell last year cost several wins by the ML team. I think they were ultimately correct about last year (not sure how much better it would have been to be a .500 non-playoff team vs what we ended up as).

  10. Albies – Whether they were rebuilding or not, they made a decision to improve the team based on the way they felt about Albies and Peraza. You didn’t have to rebuild to have that decision to make, so I don’t think Albies “belongs” to the rebuild.

    Winkler/Biddle/Lindgren – This gets down to how many spots on the 40-man a contending, AA-led team will dedicate to prospects and projects. We’re exceptionally top-heavy with prospects on the 40-man at the moment, so it’s hard to say, but you’re right that the strategy of stockpiling those guys because you have fairly worthless spots on the 40-man was definitely a rebuild strategy. But could we have claimed those guys off waivers and Rule V if we were contenders, and would we be willing to allocate 40-man spots? No way of knowing.

    I’m pretty sure any team could acquire Culberson, Carle, Tucker, Dayton, Whitley, all the different early AA guys if you decided to acquire them regardless of your outlook of competitiveness. So I’m really not putting those guys into the rebuild bucket. If you wanted those guys, you could get those guys any time. Waiver order helps but I don’t think there’s any way of knowing if a guy like Tucker falls to a contending teams’ waiver order.

    Nick – No, there’s no way you can say that his magical season was anything other than blind luck. He was signed because they were rebuilding, yes, but that’s where the connection is. They made a bad contract, and they got really lucky in the right year.

    But as for the upward trend of the org, you’re definitely dovetailing a point that I’ve been making on here for a while that we had long stretches of competitiveness even during the rebuild. I don’t have time to look it up, but I’m pretty sure there was a stretch between the second half of ’16 and the first half of ’17 where we were close to a .500 ballclub, and they were bookended by periods where the FO was not only not trying to compete, but actively scrapping off the ML team for other purposes. I’m still not quite sure we decided to ride into 2016 with such a terrible roster, rebuilding or not.

    But yes, the overall idea of the post is to briefly challenge the viewpoint that we’ve arrived early at our destination, which isn’t completely true unless they began this path to eventually do things like sign Anibal Sanchez in the Spring Training of 2018, something you could do… any year. And hope you get lucky.

  11. Viz activated. Clever Braves made room by putting Gohara on 60 day DL (Gohara gets a few days of ML pay out of it).

  12. We had enough going on heading into the last offseason that we could make additions where the upside could propel us to where we currently are and the downside wouldn’t prevent us from making future improvements. It’s a fine line, and we walked it.

    It does put in perspective why we held onto our prospects at the deadline. We are going to have some holes to fill soon. Staying on top once you get there seems to be challenging even for the Cubs/Dodgers of the world. We won’t have as much margin for error.

  13. What made the Cubs and Dodgers more vulnerable? I don’t have an informed perspective, but I’d say you have to assume a higher degree of volatility from your starters from year to year and act accordingly. I suppose that can be hard if you already spent a lot on that rotation.

    Anybody see Alex Wood and his 2.5 WAR are headed to the bullpen once again?

  14. I think the Dodgers are mismanaged on the field and that’s why they aren’t two time defending champs.

    The Cubs invested in old pitching and it is breaking down.

  15. Watching the year Ben Zobrist, age 37, is having makes me wonder how many good years Kakes has left in the tank? Zobrist had a bad year in 2017, but he found a way to bounce back. I wouldn’t offer Kakes more than a one-year contract even though he’s a sentimental favorite.

  16. @19 I think it’s a combination of as you said (too many starters) and, believe it or not, limiting Wood’s innings. He currently leads their staff with 148 IP and hasn’t thrown more than 152 IP since 2015.

    So if they figured to have four guys with fewer innings that they would rather throw plus a 38 year old Rich Hill as the fifth starter, they could pitch Wood from the pen and potentially get more value as opposed to pitching Hill from the pen. Wood has a good track record out of the pen.

  17. 21 — Hopefully we can upgrade on Markakis. If not, then we should have Austin Riley learn the outfield. Obviously, we can’t expect a repeat of Neck’s performance going forward.

  18. I like Auburn by at least three touchdowns. Will be there as a neutral third-party observer, should be hot and loud at JH.

  19. I don’t care if Nick hits .500 in the whole playoffs and hits a walk-off home run in game 7 of the Series, I don’t want them to and I doubt the Braves re-sign him barring a seismic change in the position player core that would allow them to carry a 2.5 WAR player in RF.

  20. I doubt the Braves will be victors in their pursuit of any Cuban ballplayers.

    I’m sure that’s been worn out on Twitter but I swear I haven’t seen it anywhere and want to make the joke. Sue me.

  21. Soto got walked after not being called out on the previous pitch. I don’t think there is a way to measure this, but I’d like to see a summary of wrong calls against Acuna vs favorable calls for soto (for the year).

    Might be my imagination, but I always see soto getting a veterans strike zone calls.

    And I’d like to see the clear and convincing evidence that just cost us a run. Replay is a joke.

  22. Quite the difference between the Nationals’ second and third and no one out situation this inning and the Braves’.

  23. I luv these guys. Seems like we have really come out of our slump now. Freddie hit the ball hard earlier, too.

    Scherzer may not last five tonight. The Braves are really working him hard.

  24. I think it’s good to see Dansby fouling off the sliders now rather than missing them all the time. He’s going to get it all together one year.

  25. I wonder if they’re having trouble gripping the ball. Biddle’s pitches look totally off like they’re coming out of his hand wrong.

  26. They said on the radio that the highest Scherzer’s ERA has been all year is 2.43. It is now 2.53.

    On another note, I turned on the TV and GSN was running an episode of Match Game 1977. One of the panelists was a thin guy with a very curly, almost afro hairstyle. He was our very own Don Sutton.

  27. @63 – No. I just took the day off and turned the TV on for a few minutes while I was resting. Sometimes they run the shows in order so he could be on the show again on Monday.

  28. The very small flicker of hope that the Nats had is basically dim after this game. After the Nats swept the Phillies and considering Scherzer was on the mound I was ready to concede this game. It is shocking that we pounded Scherzer for 6 runs.

  29. @71

    Yeah, the best they’re gonna do now is get out of town down 7.5 games…and they’ve now dropped two games behind the Phillies, on top of that.

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