Braves On Top As April Ends

standings4-30-12As April ends the Braves are still hot and after beating the Bucs today are tied with the Nats who lost to the Dodgers. This is a real turn around after having our ass handed to us by the Mets to start the year. Watching my Twitter TL during this run of success raised a few topics I wanted to address but that in themselves didn’t warrant a post all their own. Herewith an opportunity fix that.

Tim Hudson

While today wasn’t vintage “I’ve got my best stuff give me a run and relax” Hudson it was vintage keep your team in it and give them a chance to win Hudson. I’m not sure what one expects from a 36 year old pitcher coming back off of back surgery but I thought it was pretty danged good. Huddy will get better as he finds his major league groove. No amount of minor league starts can get you all the way back. That brings me to the next topic, JJ.

Jair Jurrjens

Twitter and my RSS feeds are all ecstatic that Jurrjens with seven innings at Gwinnett, striking out four while giving up only one run and throwing only 93 pitches. I’m happy that he did well too. However,  it isn’t time to recall him yet. JJ was wild. While he only walked three batters just 58% of his pitches were strikes (54). That’s a ratio of 1.38 to 1. That’s not bad per se, it’s the same as Randall Delgado in his last start but, Delgado is our fifth starter.  By comparison in Mike Minor’s starts this year had him at 59.6% (1.41/1) , 67.6% (2.09/1), 67.8% (2.11/1) and 70.8% (2.43/1).  During JJ’s fantastic start to 2011 he averaged a strike ratio of 2.01. So yes I am happy he pitched seven innings but no, he’s not ready to come back. Sorry.

Chad Durbin and Livan Hernandez

After a rough start the two men I believe were brought in because leadership were afraid our starters would be five inning men again this year, have been pretty good of late. Durbin’s outing today was his sixth without giving up a run. Of course only one was close to a high leverage situation and this seems the best place to keep him; away from game critical situations. He’s also kept the ball inside the park lately but his history says that since he gave up starting he allows a homer every 9 innings so don’t be surprised if he gives a few more up. If you’d like a comforting thought to go on  with, Durbin seems be good better every other year and this would be one of his up years. . . . if you believe in that sort of thing.

Livan seems to have settled in as one o four three multi-inning relievers alongside Cristhian Martinez and Kris Medlen. He did give up a run in his fourth inning of relief against the Dodgers but it didn’t really hurt anything. Livan knows how to pitch and if he can continue to bamboozle hitters with his slow, slower and backwards stuff he too may remain useful with the same caveat as Durbin; no high leverage situations.

Tyler Pastornicky

Last year as I reviewed or shortstop options I said, “. . .I believe he will hit. My question is whether he can field well enough to be a top tier shortstop at the major league level. . . .” After a bit of a slump Rev as he’s come to be known has shown that he can not only hit but hit in high leverage situations (see I didn’t say clutch) .  Rev’s current numbers after Sunday’s game are .263/.323/.386/.709 and while the batting title may not be in reach, if we had said in November that’s what he’d do, most would have been satisfied. In the field he’s been better than some scouts notes indicated but not a top tier guy yet. So congratulations Rev on the good start. Keep it up!

Freddie Freeman

There’s been a lot of discussion about Freddie and first pitch swinging. I saw him compared to Jeff Francoeur and that comparison isn’t far off. In some ways his numbers are worse.  I have a graph – prepared before Sunday’s game – giving us a snapshot of those numbers. I wen t back to 2007 for Frenchy’s numbers for the first 20 games of the year. That gave him a similar number of plate appearances as Freddie. Just for fun I threw Jason Heyward’s numbers in the mix too. You see some of the loud complaining about Freeman came from the folks who make excuses for Jason. Just so you know I’ve said many times I think Jason should be hitting third instead of Freddie so I am not anti Jason  in any way.

Here’s a look at their first pitch swing numbers.

While both Jason and Freddie swing at first pitches in numbers similar to Francoeur’s 2007 games, Freeman has produced much better results both last year overall and so far this year. Unlike Frenchy, Freeman hasn’t fallen in love with his publicity, he listens to his coaches and he will go the opposite way as often as he pulls the ball. All of these indicate that any comparison with Francoeur in the long term is probably an inaccurate projection of his career.

That’s A Wrap

The Braves current hot streak lifted them to a tie for first in the East. Washington has suffered injuries to key players and I’ve said since the season began that I believe their pitching will fade come August. The Phillies cannot generate offense to go with their pitching (sound familiar?) but their pitching is so good that they will recover some momentum. I don’t think it will be enough to win the East. The Marlins were always the joker in the deck. Like the Angels they signed a bunch of talent and have not had a good start to the year. The Angels didn’t sign a closer and the Marlin’s closer hasn’t been effective. Both will cost wins.  The Marlins started the year with Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison nursing bad knees while the man they hired to ignite their offense has an OBP of .286. As if they didn;t hav eenough trouble, the manager they hired to bring them closer to the fan base opened his mouth an alienated half of it. They are a talented team but the mix doesn’t look right yet. All of that leads me to the conclusion that the Braves are now favorites in the East.  That’s not to say it will be easy or that I think the bench and rotation can handle multiple injuries or slumps.

Dale Murphy said on the broadcast last weekend that streaks follow streaks. We will cool down at some point and others will surge. For now enjoy the ride, it’s fun watching them win and the team seems to be full of energy fired up every night. Heck we even got the Skipper out of the dugout twice in one week to argue. Thing really are looking up.

If you have questions or comments about this post or anything Braves related please let me know what’s on your mind.  You can follow me – @fredeowens – on Twitter and don’t forget to sign up for the RSS feed so you never miss a Tomahawk Take  post.

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Tags: Freddie Freeman Jair Jurrjens Tim Hudson

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