Before I focus on the Braves roster and how I believe we might improve it in 2012, I thought I’d pass along a few habits I feel we need to break before next year. Herewith my top ten (with apologies to David Letterman of course.)
10) Signing injury rehab cases
Last year we signed or re-signed players coming off multiple missed seasons due to injury. They were promoted to the Braves and flopped, cost us wins that would have been important in September. No more Scott Proctor / Joe Mather types with the big team. If we must mine for gold in the trash keep them in the minors until they actually succeed – and by that I mean are ripping up obviously inferior players – consistently. If they don’t perform, cut them or – if you must keep them for some reason no one but you understands – relegate them to making up the numbers for the minor league team and visit them on weekends and holidays.
- P. S. If they failed last year and pitched/hit/fielded so badly in spring training they get cut again, don’t resign them. They’re done.
9) Signing “Wish List” Players
Everybody has a wish list, things they say “If I ever get the chance I’m going to…” So do GMs it appears. The Reds for example signed Junior Griffey because Jim Bowden always wanted him back in Cincinnati. It was a mistake. On a smaller scale last year we signed Rodrigo Lopez – who has the distinction of being one of the five worst pitchers of the decade statistically – for the second time. He didn’t make it to Atlanta the first time nor did he make it this time. In a staff replete with pitching signing anything other than a proven pitcher to stabilize the big league staff is a mistake we must not repeat. After trying multiple times to trade for Joe Mather he finally became a Brave and promptly flopped. These signings wasted time, games and money. Choose low level free agents based on production and need rather than the talent you once admired.
8.) Signing “Veteran Presence” Players
Veterans are essential to the player mix. Veterans who are in rapid statistical decline and show no signs or improving are not called veteran presence, they’re called washed up. Scott Linebrink had been in decline and a replacement level player or less for five seasons. This year Fangraphs calculated the dollar value of his season at (–$1); he should have paid us a million bucks to have him on the roster; that’s bad, bad, bad. He blew three holds and a save. Winning even two of those four games changes our October. Similarly George Sherrill had declined rapidly after his career year in Baltimore. Sherrill finished okay but there were many better LOOGYs available when we signed Sherrill. Reports are the Phillies wanted him before we signed him, dang shame they didn’t get him.
We also for reasons known only to those who made the deal, signed Julio Lugo and exiled Diory Hernandez to the minors. Lugo – out of the MLB & MiLB system since he was cut in 2010 by the Orioles – was long past being major league ready. He flopped too. If Hernandez wasn’t acceptable, Brandon Hicks ws available or we could have (should have) moved earlier to get a Jack Wilson type player. More wasted time and lost focus.
Waiting until the ship is sinking and the pumps failing to bring in more people to help bail out the bilge. While the trade for Michael Bourn was a perfect deadline injection of new life, waiting until the end of August to bring on the right handed bat and backup shortstop we needed was painful and unnecessary procrastination.
6) Price Over Value
Bringing on those extra hands because they cheap rather than the best available is simply false economy. Matt Diaz is a great guy, his fielding however is below average and in his 16 games he had 10 hits and drove in one run. Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe had more home runs this season. David DeJesus cleared waivers at the same time and in the corresponding 16 games he had 13 hits, two homers, drove in seven had two sac flies and stole one base. I’m not implying he could have done that in Atlanta, just that better options were out there and we went for a warm and fuzzy cheap reunion. We have Diaz for another year, I’m not convinced he’s worth having at all.
5) Being Reactive not Proactive.
It was apparent to everyone not named Fredi Gonzalez or Frank Wren by midyear that Larry Parrish had little idea how to be a hitting coach. His philosophy made us an impatient club at the plate and he said publicly he had no idea how to help Dan Uggla or Jason Heyward. When the guy you hire to do a job admits in an interview he doesn’t know how, reassign or fire him. Waiting until the season’s over doesn’t save money and ended up hurting the team badly.
It was apparent as well that Derek Lowe was fading fast. I know that his run support wasn’t good and his FIP was but, he was consistently being hit hard and leaving early. Yet he was still in the rotation on the last week of the season in our most critical games. Waiting that long to fix an obvious deficiency is unacceptable. Leaders make changes before the problem becomes a disaster.
4) Five Inning Starters.
Starters not named Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson or Jair Jurrjens averaged around five innings a start. If you’re looking for a reason the bullpen was exhausted start there. Stop reading the press releases about the depth of the pitching staff and our bright future and take steps to solve the immediate problem. All pitchers, no matter how talented, must learn to mange their pitch count so that they can last at least six, preferably seven innings. Learning at the big league might be ok for one pitcher with a strong mental attitude who can go out every fifth day not thinking the weight of the teams success depends on him. When it becomes two or worse three pitchers, it is a road map to disaster. Keep those undoubtedly fine arms in the minors until they learn how to pitch. Otherwise we risk ruining them before they can mature into that great pitcher they project to become and maybe injuring young arms in the process. Remember the promising 2003 Tigers’ starting staff? How many of those guys still pitching?
3) Defending the Indefensible.
At the news conferences after the games and in interviews tell the fans the truth. No more obfuscating and acting like a bad game is a state secret. The fans aren’t stupid, they know poor play when they see it. Don’t tell us how outstanding a player was going 0-4 with four strikeouts or that a pitcher had good stuff when he gave up 5 runs in 3 innings. We know they’re only 25 guys and they are trying to play well, stop blowing smoke up the fans kilt and tell the truth. We’re committed to supporting the Braves, commit the Braves to being honest with us.
2) Tipping Your Hat.
Don’t tip your collective hat every time the Braves lose. Tipping your hat is a sign of acquiescence to the other team’s superiority. Doormen tip their hats to clients, servants curtsey or tip their hat to the master of the house. If you get one hit on 100 pitches, that’s a hat tip. If a homer’s pulled back from over the wall the hitter tips his cap. If you left 12 men on base and didn’t score, if the fielders can’t hold on to the ball or hitters forget how to bunt, that’s not a hat tip that’s an ass kick. I’m not asking you to publicly humiliate or call out anyone or throw anyone under a bus. Just stop genuflecting to the other team. Get angry. Be resolved to improve performance. If however you want to tip you hat, get a job as doorman at the Hilton.
1) Absence of Passion
I know that not getting too high or too low, keeping an even keel, is a good thing. Passion is a good thing too. Looking down the bench this year in August and early September it was impossible to tell we were in a pennant race. Watching in particular the Cardinals, Brewers and Diamondbacks it was easy to see they wanted every game and every player was involved and cared. Players were up at the rail in the late innings cheering teammates on in every critical game. I rarely saw that in the Braves’ dugout. To a committed fan, living and dying with each pitch, it appears no one cares as much as they do.
For Skipper Fredi G specifically, stop taking every bad call as part of the game. Yes, I know it is and decisions don’t often get reversed but for goodness sake, show some passion instead of idly chewing your gum. Bark at bad strike calls, argue close calls on the bases, particularly when your player is visibly upset. If Brain McCann is so frustrated with calls he feels the need to stand up and argue with an umpire you’ve waited too long. When Bourn is called out at third and clearly believes he was safe (he was) get off your tail and go have a word – or a few words -with the umpire. You probably wont get that call changed but it may wake the umpires up and get them to pay closer attention. I’m not asking you to be the young Bobby Cox but it would be nice to see someone resembling the older one – the one who always put himself between the player and the umpire and earned the respect of his players and the fans in the process – make an appearance now and then. If you don’t show that you care the fans can’t be sure. Eventually the players will grow to believe you don’t have their backs and they won’t care. Ask Terry Francona what happens then.
These are of course just my opinions after watching 145 or so games last year and following every move the Braves made. You might have other ideas. Let me know by commenting below.
Next I’ll look at where we go from here.