Mid-Season Progress Report

Well, we’ve got a half season in the books. The Braves sit six games up on the Nationals and six and a half up on the Phillies. Austin Riley has hit 16 home runs and is playing a solid left field, Dansby Swanson is on pace for over 30 home runs, and Mike Soroka has the most wins, WAR, and the lowest ERA. Oh, and Mike Foltynewicz is in AAA. So we’ve been given an interesting and unpredictable season to enjoy.

I’m going to hand out grades to each unit, and give you some thoughts about what to expect in the second half.

The Offense

Grade: A

Nothing really to be unhappy about here. Just about everybody has taken the next step. As mentioned, Dansby has turned into almost a middle-of-the-order bat. Ozzie Albies is on pace for almost a 4.5 fWAR season. Austin Riley came on strong in his big league debut. Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson have been 3 of the big lineup-leaders in the league. For very little money and no prospects given up, the catching unit has been more than enough (5th in the NL in fWAR). It’s deep, it’s powerful, it’s got speed, and the bench has been stellar too. If they find a way to figure out Johan Camargo‘s usage, and they find a solution to the Ender Inciarte situation, this team could get even better at the plate.

The Defense

Grade: C+

The defense has taken a step back from last year. With less of an offensive presence, a big part of the Braves’ success last year was their defense. They were 4th in MLB in defensive runs saved last year, which undoubtedly helped the young pitching staff and helped fuel the team to a division title. This year, they’ve traded a little bit of defense for a lot of offense. For the bulk of the year, Ender Inciarte has been replaced by Austin Riley. Johan Camargo has been replaced by Josh Donaldson. As a result, the Braves sit 12th in MLB in defensive runs saved. Do you need great defense to win a championship? Yes, so this is why I think the Braves will find a spot for Ender Inciarte to get a few more plays made in the outfield, and as the season drags on, I think Camargo spells Donaldson in the field a little more often.

The Rotation

Grade: C+

It’s fair to say that the starting pitching has been both a disappointment and a source of optimism for the future. And that’s what happens when you acquire Dallas Keuchel a third of the way through the season. But the starting pitching started out as a huge disappointment to start the year. The unit’s ERA approached 5 in the first month of the year, and the team has gotten nothing from Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman. If you had told me that those guys would both have ERAs over 6 at the All-Star break, I would think this season had gone off the rails. Thanks, offense.

But a rotation core of Mike Soroka, Dallas Keuchel, Max Fried, and Julio Teheran has kept the team’s head above water. They’ll continue to try to figure out the 5th member of the rotation, as they’ve used 6 other starters this year to try to figure this out.

The Bullpen

Grade: B

Yeah, a B. The bullpen has provided lots of frustration and gnashing of teeth, but this has been the best bullpen in baseball per ERA since the beginning of June. In the past month and change, the Braves have rid Anthony Swarzak, Luke Jackson, Jacob Webb, Sean Newcomb, Jerry Blevins, and Josh Tomlin pretty hard, and it’s resulted in unexpectedly great work. Brian Snitker deserves a lot of credit for what he’s gotten out of the pen with how seemingly little talent there has been.

I would have given them an even higher grade if not for two issues: the team still lacks a true closer, and they were pretty terrible in the first month and a half of the season. The first issue can be solved in the trade market, and the Braves have plenty to trade to fill the need. The second part is not really an issue going forward. What’s done is done. The Braves clearly did not feel like there was a 105-game winner in this division. They did not feel like losing 4-5 additional games in April and May while they figured out their roster was going to end the season before it really began. Give the front office a lot of credit for being willing to mix and match and figure out what to do here by properly projecting that the division would not be as good as the talkers were saying. By doing so, they have found — at least for now — a bullpen unit that has become a strength for the team.

What to Expect in the Second Half

First off, I know a lot of people are printing playoff tickets, but I’m not quite there on that. We were told all offseason that Philly was the team to beat, and that has proven to not be true. But there was also the expectation that Washington would be a formidable foe, and early on, that did not prove to be true. But in the last month, their team has started to resemble what they were hoping it would be. Their #1 in MLB in starter ERA, and more importantly, their starters are leading the league in innings pitched. That’s significant since their bullpen has been a dumpster fire, and that’s given them a much-needed break. A return to health has also helped their pen. So after having an ERA over 6 in the first two months of the season, their bullpen ERA has gone down a full two runs a game in the last month and a half. Still not a great pen, but when you are losing games simply because your bullpen can’t get anybody out, the better starting pitching performance coupled with serviceable relief work has them winning a lot of games. For me, they are the team in the second half to watch out for.

And like I said, I think the rotation going forward will continue to be better than in the beginning of the year. I expect there to be a push to acquire a starter before the deadline, but I don’t know if I expect there to actually be an acquisition, which I think will disappoint a lot of fans. But I think you’ll be hearing about Gausman and Folty progressing nicely, you’ll see some decent starts from Bryse Wilson, and you might see one of Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright, or Kolby Allard establish themselves as a rotation option. So I think they will use that 5th spot to continue to audition guys that will earn a right to audition.

And then as we get into August, I think we’ll see some form of a 6-man rotation so that Soroka and Fried can limit their innings down the stretch. For me, the ideal world would be for Soroka and Fried to leave some games early, have some starts skipped, and they work towards a situation where they end the regular season around the 160-170 IP mark, leaving them with plenty of room for a postseason run. I expect the Braves to actively limit their innings and keep them below 200 IP, including the postseason.

Also, I expect the Braves to add at least one reliever, and that’s an expectation I think every Braves fan shares. As it gets deep into the season, I think one more even more significant move will occur: someone who has not appeared in a big league game this year will have a big impact on the pen. That could be Ian Anderson. That could the big lefty Kyle Muller coming in and being a force. That could be Patrick Weigel or Luiz Gohara seeing health and showing up strong in the pen. Jasseel De La Cruz absolutely factors in here.

Regardless of what exactly occurs, this team will be getting a lot of buzz as a team that should be gearing up to win the first playoff series since the beginning of the century.

What do you expect in the second half?

64 thoughts on “Mid-Season Progress Report”

  1. From the last thread:

    If there’s a deal for Zack Greinke centered around Drew Waters, I think you’d have to really look at that. You’d obviously need some salary to come back to Atlanta, so it would have to be Drew Waters++, but I think that’s a deal you gotta make.

  2. JC’d:

    FYI – Keith Law had Pache up to #6 on his mid-season top 50 and Anderson at 36. No other Braves are in the top 50 though Wright and Wilson on included in the 6 honorable mentions (meaning Waters is not in his top 56).

  3. Indeed.

    Some context for other sites mid season rankings:

    Player (MLB.com rank/BA rank/FG rank)

    Pache (14/30/14)
    Anderson (26/28/33)
    Wright (25/55/42)
    Waters (44/38/35)
    Wilson (73/64/70)
    Contreras (NR/81/45)
    Gohara (NR/NR/62)
    Muller (NR/79/NR)

  4. Again, for me it’s Greinke or Bauer or just focus on the bullpen.

    If one of those are available and you can hang on to Pache and Anderson, I say go for it. It’s highly unlikely the offense will ever be better than this. Might be able to achieve the same level, but it really does seem the time to go for it.

  5. I’m setting myself up for the disappointment that we won’t give up one of our top 5 guys for Greinke, but I would love to get him. I’ve been on the Greinke train for a while. But he’s owed $34.5M this year, and $35M each of the next two years. So one, do we have the cash to swing that, and two, if we get enough cash thrown back to us, how much is that going to increase the prospect haul?

    For the D-Backs side, are they going to do the deal where someone takes Greinke for almost nothing because of his salary? Or are they going to want to have something to show for him, teams aren’t willing to deal the prospects, and he just stays put? That’s why Bumgarner is so popular as a trade chip; perspective teams don’t have to deal with that dynamic. He’s cheap, he’s a rental, and people can just make their best offers.

  6. Yeah, I think they won’t deal Greinke for nothing but salary relief, especially as they’re in serious wild card contention, but I’ve been salivating over his baseball card stats for years now, and if “financial flexibility” means anything, it should mean getting a guy like that who’s being paid what he’s worth.

    FWIW, I’d also be very very interested in Bauer or Kluber, but I don’t know that Cleveland can actually afford to trade either of them midyear as they’re in their own wild card push.

  7. Greinke is the guy you need to advance in October. A rotation of:

    Greinke
    Keuchel
    Soroka
    Julio /Fried

    That gives you a chance against the Dodgers. If we pulled that off, I would move Folty to the pen in AAA and see what he could do.

  8. I’d certainly take Greinke, but they wouldn’t be getting Waters in that deal. That’s a hard pass for me. Greinke is a mid 30s pitcher with a salary close to his age, which just isn’t premium worthy, in my estimation. Kyle Wright ++ is as high as I’d go, and with tremendous reluctance.

  9. 12 – Greinke is a top 8 pitcher in the game right now. The Braves don’t currently have a pitcher in the top 25. Greinke is a difference maker and absolutely worth Waters++ depending on salary relief. There are only so many aces to go around and the Braves currently have zero of them (though Soroka has potential to be one IMO).

  10. @15 Yes, but how long will Greinke be an ace for? I’m not saying he’s not good at all. I’m not trading a part of a future Braves OF that could be really special though for a starter who will be due a decline when Waters starts to enter his prime years. That’s not worth Waters ++ for my money.

    The only two guys, based off of age and performance history, that I’m trading Waters away for are Bauer and Syndergaard because both are 20 somethings with a track record. I’d also do Cole, but he’s realistically not an option. If I’m trading a core piece however, I want a guy who I could reasonably project to pitch well for 4-5 seasons.

  11. One other aside, if you trade for Greinke, next year that’s likely all they roll with because of payroll unless Arizona picks up a major chunk of the tab. You can’t QO Donaldson because if he accepts, you’re almost 80 million in on Greinke, Donaldson and Freeman. So you lose the pick potential there. Even if you let Donaldson go without an offer and O’Day comes off, you’re heading in with about the same payroll as this year to start. Will the Braves jump payroll? I doubt it myself.

  12. I was a prospect hoarder last deadline and in the offseason. I am ready to deal.

    You could start with a first round of lower end 40 man roster types for some lower level lottery tickets. Then, some of those tickets, might be what will get you something.

    Realistically, I only see Stroman and Bumgarner as “available” and worth it. Despite being bad the Mets probably won’t deal and probably won’t with the Braves. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Texas are all too close. Braves don’t need their trade going through on July 26. They need to figure the move and make it. Also, Stroman and Bumgarner have contract ending good relievers on roster as well. That justifies a higher level prospect so that the second and third are not as good.

    I agree that neither is a true 1. However, one of them, plus one near elite reliever, does make you more likely to win the division and more likely to finish with second best record and more likely to advance in the post season. THEN if “really good Folty” or “really good Gausman shows up, you are good enough to actually compete with the Dodgers.

  13. You could also see Fried doing a 1991 Steve Avery before your eyes. Maybe Touki does that. Lots of upside plays.

  14. If you all don’t think the Braves can afford Greinke’s annual salary, then there’s not much need in discussing his $60 million in deferred money that’s due within 5 years of his contract expiring…

  15. Great piece, Rob. Good discussion.

    People are pipe-dreaming on Greinke/Bauer. Neither CLE or ARI are selling. Right now, there’s no knowing if Kluber is going to be an asset the rest of this year – any more than we know about Folty/Gausman. Also, not getting Minor – zero chance. I also don’t see the Mets doing much dealing either. Van Wagenan’s ego won’t let him admit defeat. No way he trades Thor as he will undoubtedly overvalue him as a former client. Maybe Wheeler. And he won’t trade Wheeler for prospects – only major league performers.

    I also don’t think AA will deal from any of the prospects one might consider untouchable. He has not shown any propensity to do so. I do hope he will be willing to deal from anyone but the top 5. It will take someone from our top 15 to get MadBum/Smith or Stroman/Giles. AA got the Gausman/O’Day/Brach deal done last year so we can hope for a combo deal. I also think the Jays might want more prospect return whereas the Giants might take some current major league performers.

    Another thing to watch out for. What if AA goes back to the well and deals lower level prospects for something like Cashner or Bundy and Givens? Personally, I don’t want to see that trade. It does not move the needle for me.

    I really don’t want to see the Braves dealing any prospect bats. We still have our prospect excess in pitching and should be dealing from pitching. If we deal any bats, it should be of the Duvall/Inciarte variety.

  16. Man, the Giants should be one pitching hungry team. Their 25-man doesn’t have anyone younger than 25 and only 2 less than 27. MadBum is one of the younger guys…. Their 2019 draft was all bats until round 11. None of their best prospects have gotten past A+. Their best pitching prospect is on a 80 game suspension for PEDs. If we can’t deal with these guys then it’s hopeless. Any one of our top 10 pitchers would probably be the #1 pitcher in their system.

  17. Are we ever going to get to see another real baseball game again? This whole week has been the ultimate drag, thus the surfeit of trading hypotheses.

    It makes it even worse that when we do get to Friday the game does not actually start till Saturday morning. Totally, unnecessarily long break full of boring tittle tattle – IT HAS DRAGGED. Let’s play real baseball, again..

  18. Blazon, I miss it too, buddy. I mean, I was so bored yesterday I watched a James Bond movie. And not even a good one.

  19. The Giants could be employing that theory that you should draft the opposite of what your ballpark is conducive to. So since they’re a pitcher’s park, draft hitters. Draftees don’t have a choice, and free agent hitters won’t choose you. That’s why people think the Braves focused on pitching knowing they were opening a ballpark conducive to hitters. And here we are with an elite, cheap offense and waiting for the pitching to get here.

  20. The Mariners website is floating the possibility of Mike Leake to Atlanta for Tucker Davidson. Why bother? I think we could do better with Bryse Wilson.

  21. There’s something to be said about getting some rotation depth should we go to a 6-man rotation, but Mike Leake is basically Julio Teheran.

  22. Waters 3/5 tonight with a stolen base. .338 avg and OPS.896 for the season and 12/17 in steals.
    In old Braves farmhand news, former 1st Rd pick Matt Lipka, 27 yrs old now, hit for the cycle for the Yankees AAA team. Had no idea where he was much less he’d made it to AAA. Listed as a RF but still only .699 OPS for the year.

  23. There’s something to be said about getting some rotation depth, and that something in particular (at least to me) is getting guys who have actually pitched into late August and September and October. Our most productive starters this year mostly haven’t fit that criteria.

    So I’m all for acquiring another starter. I really don’t think we’d regret it once playoff time started.

  24. Leake has a certain amount of value, but that’s mainly in shoring up the #4/#5 spots from the uncertainty and poor results of the Gaus/Folty/Wilson/Touki/Newcomb/Wright crowd. (Folty didn’t know he was a #5, but he fits into that crew at this point.)

    So he’d strictly be regular season support. He doesn’t do anything to make the stretch run roster more imposing.

  25. “Just Julio” is basically the same age as “Fabulous Folty.” Teheran has a decade long history of being a fairly competent MLB starter. Folty had a good year. One has high expectations; the other, massive criticism.

    Question: at what point is production better than promise?

  26. @31

    Finding it hard to grasp that Wilson who pitched so tidily and confidently against the Marlins last weekend could go back down and give up 9 ER in 2.2 innings. After much review there can only be one explanation, he was sulking, he was where he didn’t deserve to be. A convenience for the Braves, with no thought to the individual.

    It’s a mad, mad world. Don’t confuse it with logic. But double the number of shrinks we carry.

  27. Sounds like the Braves may also have interest in the Tigers’ Matthew Boyd. As do the Dodgers, Astros, Red Sox, and others.

    Some interesting options not many would be discussing otherwise, but it makes sense given the departures from the rotation and, something that can’t be overlooked, Fried’s last 7 starts (6.13 ERA). They clearly need someone who can maybe eat innings while not allowing as many runs.

    That doesn’t move the needle, but depending on how the market shapes up for the deadline, our best bet for a needle mover might have to be Folty.

  28. It’s disappointing how Fried has cooled off. His sporadic bouts of wildness seem to be the culprit.

  29. The age on a pitcher’s arm has nothing to do with the age on his driver’s license. Julio’s thrown a hell of a lot more pitches than Folty’s has. He’s not the man he once was, which was an All-Star top-of-the-rotation starter. Instead, he’s the man he currently is, which is a slop-throwing crafty righty who is still pretty effective but gives you a heart attack every time he goes to a full count on the pitcher.

    Folty may never be an ace again, but I can tell you for a fact that 88-mile-an-hour Julio never again will be.

  30. After much review there can only be one explanation, he was sulking, he was where he didn’t deserve to be.

    I absolutely, resolutely, firmly disagree that there can be only one explanation.

    Some days you just can’t find your pitches. Some days you just don’t have it. I don’t think it’s remotely fair to blame a pitcher’s motives when so much of baseball is just sheer, pure, dumb, unpredictable, random chance.

  31. Will Folty ever be even an effective big league starter again?

    Hopefully, but you know what Mac said about hope. 100 mph fastballs and wipeout sliders aren’t worth a lot if they’re not close enough to the strike zone to induce swings.

  32. @42

    It’s true that there can be more than one explanation, but sulking (or if you want to put it more charitably, just a general malaise from being back down in the minors) is pretty high up there on the probability matrix. Not only is it a thing that happens, it’s a natural thing.

    Or it could be that in combo with not having great feel that night.

  33. @42

    Alex, I stand corrected then but you are the only person who could convince me of that logic. I am not aware of any other area of professional life where there can be such wild swings in the way you perform your job. It’s a noble explanation. I want to believe it though. For you, alone.

  34. I would think the Braves are still looking for upside in their rotation spots. Teheran and Leake would be a significant lack of upside in a 5-man rotation. With that said, right, you’re getting some protectable results. You know what you’re getting, which has a lot of value. And let’s be honest; the Braves will find a spot for 2018 Folty should that enigma re-emerge or if Gausman rebounds. Last night’s outing is definitely encouraging.

    Don’t look now, but Folty has pitched 12.2 IP in his 2 starts for Gwinnett, giving up 4 runs. If he throws 2 more good outings, it could get noisy.

  35. Blazon, it’s all a question of what you measure, and baseball’s a game of failure. We *don’t* have good measures of the things that are actually affected by how much they care:

    • How much time they spend in the batting cage, or working on their defense with coaches like Eric Young
    • How much time they spend in the video room
    • How much time they spend picking veterans’ brains
    • How much they get down on themselves when they fail (like whenever Alex Gonzalez would strike out, despite the fact that he did it twice a day)
    • How much it gnaws at them when they try to get to sleep that night

    There are a lot of ways to go 0-4. You cannot possibly know that a guy didn’t care about it.

  36. Bradford Doolittle at ESPN is proposing a trade of Bauer for Newcomb, Allard and one more players outside the Braves top 10. Thoughts?

  37. Also it was an entire week since Wilson’s last start. One would have to imagine that would have a negative effect on his command.

  38. And Charlotte is the 4th highest offensive in environment in all of the minors, not to mention the mickey mouse ball. (Not that any of this helped Ender do any better than 0-5 ind you).

    Edit: I don’t even follow Ender but I think he will somehow find a way to block me on Twitter for this comment.

  39. Um, no on that trade? Newcomb is more valuable than Bauer by himself. Last year I make that trade in a heartbeat.

  40. @50 That’s an easy “yes” for me, if Cleveland would take that deal. I’m not entirely sure that gets it done, though.

  41. 53 and 54 – I’m in the middle of you two. I think I’d do the deal, but Newcomb would give me pause as he has shown TOR potential, but never the consistancy that Bauer has.

  42. Just to play devli’s advocate……

    What keeps Pache from being Billy Hamilton 2.0?

    What keeps Langeliers from going the way of Lucas Herbert?

  43. Catchers are weird and their development paths are weird. What prevents him from going the way of Kade Scivicque? No idea.

    Pache’s fast and has power, he doesn’t walk enough, and his hit tool is a little questionable though scouts think he can improve it enough. So he’s maybe something sort of like young Carlos Gomez — the Carlos Gomez with the Twins, the one they got back in the Johan Santana trade, who had a great glove but couldn’t really hit.

    Then, he went to Milwaukee and unlocked all of his potential. With his glove, Pache could be a punchless center fielder in the league, fall out of bed and hit .230 and have value to the team. But if he can do all that and get to his power, he could be a multiple All-Star. Easily.

  44. Cleveland has specifically said that they will be aggressive listeners (whatever that means) on Bauer and I was referencing a proposal written up on ESPN. I think it’s a fair thing to discuss. A trade may be unlikely but certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

  45. @57 – Hamilton is listed 6’ and 160 pounds. From doing a really quick search, it looks like his annual ISO, in both the minors and majors, hovered around .100.

    Pache is currently listed at 6’2” and 185 pounds. For several years now, a fair number of scouts have predicted that he’d gain power as he filled out. And now, it seems they seems they are correct. His ISO was .62 in 2017 it was .131 last year, and this year, it’s .224. And, as has been pointed out several tones, he’s doing it as one of the youngest players in the game, in one of the tougher hitting environments.

    He’s also walking more and striking out less. The indicative stats, on his development graph, have been hearded in the right direction for several years now.

    I also think that Pache’s hit-tool is better than Hamilton’s. For the most part, Hamilton seems to have been a one-trick pony, who never found away to maximize his speed. Pache’s skillset is much broader and he’s simply bigger and stronger than Hamilton.

    Or, just see what Alex said above.

  46. I’m interested to see all of the trade proposals come in. I would think that just about every trade proposal is going to include somebody you think will either be an All-Star CF (Pache and Waters) or someone that’s at least in AA and has TOR potential (Anderson, Newcomb, Touki, Wright, etc.). And the Braves will undoubtedly not want to do that. I couldn’t tell you if they actually will.

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