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Are Sweeping Changes Coming for the Braves?

Sep 22, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez during the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

This article was co-authored by Fred Owens and myself. After much discussion, we have some speculative theories about things we’ve all been seeing lately with the Braves.  Purely a speculative piece, we wonder if recent changes, hires, etc., coupled together with the planned move to Cobb County, are just the start of an overall evolution of the baseball culture and philosophy in Atlanta.  If you’re intrigued, read on….

 

We learned recently of the Atlanta Braves hiring John Hart as the organization’s new Senior Advisor, and we introduced you to him.  We now know that the Atlanta Braves have hired four more to various positions in the organization.

Former Philadelphia Phillies’ pitching coach Rich Dubee was hired recently to be the Braves’ new minor league pitching coordinator, and takes the place of Dave Wallace who recently left the position to be the pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles.

The other hires are Ronnie Ortegon as Minor League hitting coordinator, Rick Williams as special assistant to the general manager/pitching development and special assignment, and Bobby Mitchell as Minor League roving outfield and base running instructor.

Ortegon will be replacing Don Long who left to become the Cincinnati Red’s hitting coach.  Williams was reportedly hired to replace Dom Chiti, and Bobby Mitchell will take over for Doug Dascenzo who was recently promoted to be the Atlanta Brave’s 3B coach.

When Frank Wren was asked about the hires, he said….

We think the number of Braves Minor League personnel who have been recently promoted to Major League jobs speaks volumes about our player development program.  We are proud that they had opportunities within Major League Baseball, and we are also very excited about the quality of the four men we are announcing today.

You have to have good people in place, so Wren’s answer makes sense.  That said, two of these additions got our collective wheels turning; Harts hiring followed so quickly by that of Rick Williams.  Williams has been an MLB scout for the New York Yankees for the past seven seasons, was a pitching coach for the Rays from 1998 to 2000 before being promoted as a special assistant in the Ray’s organization.  As a former scout and pitching coach, Williams obviously brings a wealth of experience to the job of helping select and develop good pitchers.

The Braves pitching development program is supposed to be good however, so why do we suddenly need a special assistant to the GM for that, and a special assistant for baseball operations like Hart? When John Schuerholz resigned as General Manager in 2007, Terry McGuirk (then the Atlanta Braves’ President) created a position of Chairman for himself and gave Scheurholz the title of President.  It’s difficult to see why we need both positions since Shuerholz’ position was supposed to be largely as figurehead – a familiar face people had known.

Fred and I have discussed all this at length, and we wonder if this situation compares to the situation in Cincinnati when Walt Jocketty was brought in a special assistant in 2008, and a few months later became General Manager.  We have to wonder if the accumulation of bad signings and marginal trades in the Braves’ organization is causing enough concern that Braves’ Chairman Terry McGuirk might be acting like an unhappy owner and preparing for a change.

President John Schuerholtz is 73 years young.  When he resigned as GM he indicated he wanted to take things a touch easier, but has instead been seen actively advising General Manager Frank Wren over the past three seasons.  Has Schuerholtz told McGuirk he’s going to retire for real this time, and is McGuirk sufficiently disenchanted enough with what he considers problems in the front office, to give Hart and Williams more control and perhaps give one of them a better title?

Williams has been close with Yankees Assistant General Manager Billy Eppler for a few years now.  Eppler is a sabermetrics oriented AGM and it’s reasonable to assume that Williams is as well. The Yankees sent Williams to Japan to watch and evaluate Masahiro Tanaka and when the Yankees were scouting Yoenis Cespedes, Williams was there as well, which indicates they had confidence in his all around judgment.  The Yankees have said the 38 year old Eppler would be a GM one day.  Is it unreasonable to think his right hand man – perhaps with guidance from Hart – might make a good one as well?

Fred and I know this is pure speculation, but we like to entertain speculation at times.  I have said for many years that I think the baseball philosophy, strategy, and culture in Atlanta needs to change.  We have to wonder with all these coaching changes and new hires, whether things are going on that no one would really be privy to at this point, even the so-called reporting insiders.

What’s your take? Do you feel like even more sweeping changes are on the horizon in the front office? Are these small moves leading to a subtle change in baseball philosophy, culture, and strategy?  Are the Braves looking to take more of a sabermetric approach in years to come? If any of this true, what’s your take on this speculative new direction for Atlanta?

Topics: Atlanta Braves, FanSided

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  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    I just checked to see if the news reports confirmed what I thought I knew about Rick Williams, and they do: he’s been the top scout of the Yankees and was therefore in place to revamp their prospects. That means both an upgrade for Atlanta in addition to having a guy used to the idea of drafting later in each round :).

    Regardless of any bigger picture, this looks like a great hire for the Braves.. one likely to pay big dividends over the next 5-10 years at least.

  • Jesus

    please give evidence of these “marginal trades” you speak of, and no cherry picking, list all the trades Wren has made and show how marginal they are.

    Free agents are a crap shoot, and the history of free agency and baseball bares that out, all you can do is try, no guarantee of success . I think Fredi needs to go, but Wren is one of the top 5 GM’s in the game.

    • Lee Trocinski

      I defend Wren more than most, but he is not a top 5 GM. While the collapses of Lowe and McLouth were mostly unlucky, Uggla and B.J. were not good long-term targets. It was nearly impossible to see them being this bad, but the bust potential was there.

      Wren has been good on the waiver wire and with minor trades and signings, which has kept the team afloat. The player development system, while not expecting it to be where it was 3-5 years ago, is still further down than it should be. I think Wren is a middle-of-the-road level GM, shouldn’t be replaced but not a difference maker.

      • Jesus

        lol, the trades he has made have been generally spectacular. BJ WAS a good long term target (unless you are one of those people who only looks at batting avg). He was only 28 and had been a pretty consistent 4 win player. Uggla was a top 10 hitting 2B before 2013 as well. Last year was awful for both, but you can’t take one season and be dismissive. That’s lazy analysis… no scratch that, it’s plumb BAD analysis. and the farm is down because we graduated a ton of guys to the big club. when you have that happen,of course you will have a few down seasons. still rank 10th in MLB which is pretty impressive considering how many guys are no in Atlanta. I find your argument less than persuasive.

        • Lee Trocinski

          B.J. was coming off a season where his in-zone contact rate dipped significantly, a strong sign of future decline. He was trading walks for HR, and sacrificed his swing during the process. I wrote that he could work out, but while he had consistent value, it was not a consistent method, which to me is inconsistency. I still have some hope for him, but he’s going to have to show some willingness to admit failure and completely change his mechanics and mindset, something I’m not sure he can do.

          Uggla was a 30-year-old “maybe” adequate defensive 2B who’s only ever had old-man skills. These are the guys who do not age well. His defense is now unbearable, and his swing is even longer than B.J.’s. I would have rather had Infante the past 3 years, and now there are 2 more years of money committed.

          As far as the farm system goes, that BA ranking system I assume you are going off is flawed at best. It’s a good start, but moving through the minors and injuries can throw off such empirical systems. 15-20 is probably a more accurate portrayal of the Braves system. They have no impact bats and only two possible big-impact arms. I wasn’t expecting the Heyward-Freeman level, but they should be better.

          I feel like I’m debating with a fiestier version of myself here…

          • Jesus

            no, just older, and wiser! lol

            You are forgetting the context of the Uggla trade/extension. The team was in dire need of right handed power. They had plenty of rug rat type bats and our only pop was from the left side. I think it was a good move. sure the last 2 years may not be so hot. but it’s not like we signed a free agent for even more at age 32+ .

            BJ was forced into a HR type of role due to some injuries on the Rays, they had zero power threats except for him, so he did what he was called on to do. His numbers from last year aall look very flukey to me, and perhaps teaming him with his brother wasn’t too good of a plan after all… but, we shall see, I anticipate positive WAR numbers from both BJ and Uggla next year.

          • Lee Trocinski

            But they did essentially sign a 32-year-old FA in extending Uggla. They also picked the worst RH hitter against LHP of the power options, and the big reverse platoon split has present 2 of the 3 years, negating much of his “purpose.” Sometimes it’s just better to work with what you have. Reds scored this year with BP hitting 4th, Pedroia lost his power with a thumb injury, yet BOS scored plenty of runs with him hitting 3rd. They might be so feared, but if they can get on base, they can hit anywhere.

            Regarding B.J., nobody gets forced into a HR role on a team. And if there were such a thing, that guy wouldn’t be hitting 2nd during his hot stretch. His OBP stabilized at .300 at the end of June, but he hit 18 of his 28 HR after August 11, hitting 2nd 41 of the 48 starts. He was just hitting worse until a strong finish, and Longoria was healthy during that stretch. I do agree that Justin’s scorching start was probably the worst thing that could have happened for B.J., but you can’t decline the trade that clearly worked in ATL’s favor.

            The problem is that no matter how many numbers you crunch, that whole variability thing strikes every time, and you just have to hope it’s on the good end.

          • Jesus

            umm, yeah, he got forced into that role, and he got moved to hitting 3rd or 4th that year around late july if I recall correctly. It was also discussed a fair bit online… anyway.

            my argument is sample size, to assume BJ is “done” and won’t ever be a 3 or 4 win player again, you have to only look at 2013 and ignore the previous data. That’s not a wise way to use statistics.

            I bet Uggla is a 2.5-3 win guy this year btw, looking at his numbers, he tends to be good every other year. and I have no idea why, but hopefully his eyesight being fixed will payoff for him. trading him and eating 75% of his $$ is a stupid idea

          • Lee Trocinski

            He did get moved to the middle of the order for a month starting in mid-June, but that doesn’t mean he’s supposed to change his hitting style. My Pedroia and Phillips examples show that production (wOBA) is what matters, not power. If he made himself a worse hitter by changing, he hurt the team’s scoring chances. If B.J. can limit his moving parts and be more direct to the ball, he can rebound to a 2-3 win player, but there is a lot of work to make that happen.

            Uggla can’t play the defense necessary to be an above-average player now, but if he shortens his swing without losing much power, he could be a 1-2 win guy too. Again, that’s a big if and nowhere near a guarantee. You rarely see players with such big jumps in K% turn it around, but the best Braves fans can do is hope lightning strikes twice here.

          • Jesus

            I’m not saying it was a smart move, but he was trying much harder to hit homers that year, be it via the move or he was trying to cash in…

    • Bryan Allen

      I agree with ya on Fredi going. In the World Series, Kimbrel wanted to go in an inning early, but Fredi said no.Hell, this is the World Series & your facing elimination.This is what ya busted your ass all summer to get to, & Fredi flat out miss-managed the bullpen.The result? Well ya don’t see the Braves as champions now do you? I’ll always be a Braves fan, but you are so right, he has to go.

    • fireboss

      To answer that requires a post not a comment and I have the data so I’ll work on it but work has me by the neck the rest of the week, Top 5 GMs? No he’s not, off the top of my head and in no particular order Beane, Friedman, Mozeliak, Cherrington, Daniels, Drombowski, Theo/Hoyer, Huntington, Jocketty, and probably Duquette.

      Free agents are more a horse race than a crap shoot, studying the field gives you a better chance of success and his track record there says that if his saber guys are helping him he either needs new guys or should start listening.

      • Jesus

        no they are a crap shoot……….. there is ample evidence to support that long term investments of players is more likely than not to be bad in the long run… there are exceptions, but not as many as you would think. in fact, I bet most GM’S KNOW that they aren’t going to end up getting full value on deals longer than 2 years, but they hope it works out at least as close to “break even” as possible.

        Duquette got run out of the game before, Cherington hasn’t been there long enough to judge, (neither have Hoyer and Theo) Dombrowski is a total moron, like bottom 5 moron, his inclusion is a laughable joke, (the guy who signed Prince to that awful contract then 2 years later has to pay a buttload of $$$ to get rid of him is “good”?) Jocketty? BWAHAHAHAHA!! yer kidding right?
        I’d take Beane,Friedman,Huntington,Mozeliak and maybe Daniels over Frank. But his trades for Jurrjens,Bourn , Walden, Justin Upton and Javier Vasquez were all just hwy robbery. Uggla was a need filled , the trade was good, I think the extension was 1 yr too long. Free agents (as mentioned above) are hard to gauge as nobody knows when a guy will start to decline. (and perhaps his number one plus is he has not hamstrung the team with any of those awful 8 yr $130m+ deals like so many other teams have)

        • Jesus

          just to add to the Dmbrowski DERP!! he just traded one of the top 12 pitchers in baseball to the Nationals for party favors and chex mix….

          • Lee Trocinski

            He basically cancels out every extreme move he does. Gave Prince too much money, but got rid of him for not that much money and a good 2B. Stole Fister from Seattle, and now gives him to the Nats. Definition of average right there.

          • Jesus

            there has got to be $$$ moving or something… Lombardozzi, Karol and some A-level reliver?

          • Jesus

            oops, Ray is a starter, my bad

          • Lee Trocinski

            The other guy is Robbie Ray, the best piece of the deal, but nowhere near enough for a very good pitcher. They tried to dump more salary to sign Scherzer and made their team a lot worse.

          • Jesus

            maybe they would send us Porcello and Castellanos(and prospects) for Kimbrel and CJ

          • Lee Trocinski

            I wouldn’t go that far yet. Porcello may be another Nolasco, never getting the results DIPS theory says he should get. Castellanos may be another Joey T, good minor league hitter who really can’t play third base. Plus, I’d hold on to Kimbrel one more year.

          • Jesus

            I was being silly. Though I don’t think CJ will ever hit that well again. His BABIP was ridiculously high

        • fireboss

          Drombowski is Wren’s mentor, he’s said as much often. He’s done a good job in Detroit and if Illich comes to you and says go sign Prince you pretty well have to do it. The Fister trade like the Prince trade is designed to free up money for Cabrera and Scherzer. Like all teams that try to buy championships that works only in the short term.

          Duquette being run out of the game years back doesn’t make him awful now, Everyone gets fired and perhaps the firing was because he wasn’t good then but since arriving in Baltimore he’s turned a floundering franchise into a pennant contender in spite of an interfering owner who drove a long list of respected GMs away.
          If firing is criteria remember Wren was fired after one year in Baltimore where he the highlight was signing Albert Belle to a 5 year 62M deal. In 99 that was a lot more money than we think it is now. He was hired in Atlanta after Drombowski called JS and ask him to give Wren another chance.

          Cheringtion took over a mess, turned the Red Sox around and won a world series without spending a fortune or emptying his minor league system.
          The Reds were spiraling down when Jocketty took over and made them contenders again.

          Theo/Hoyer got rid of the dregs Jon Hendry left in the bottom of the pot and restocked their farm system by dumping their big contracts and writing off the sunken cost that wasn’t going to return them anything useful. That isn’t an overnight process but they have turned the corner.
          Wren’s first real trade was Teixera for Kotchman, it gained the Braves nothing and cost them a draft pick in 2009. Still on the table after th eBraves took Minor were Shelby Miller and Mike Trout among others. That was a complete bust. He got Jurrjens in that trade because thankfully Drombowski wouldn’t let him have Andrew Miller so that’s a win. He got Infante because Drombowsky called and told him the Cubs and Hendry didn’t know what they had another win. He won the Vasquez trade when Kenny Williams tried to pacify his idiot manager by trading the guy who wasn’t a big game pitcher. Vasquez was a 6 WAR pitcher that year so Wren traded him for Melky, a replacement level reliever and a young pitcher with a history of arm trouble. He lost AJ Burnett to the Yankees and was shocked. So when the Mets threatened to sign Lowe out from under him he surrendered an extra year and $10, Lowe’s whole time with the Braves resulted in 1.8 WAR.
          All GM’s make mistakes and bad deals. If the deal works to get the team to the World Series a couple of times it’s probably worth it even if as you say they hate the back end of the contract. Only one of his FA signings came close to doing that; Billy Wagner. Lowe, KK, the Uggla extension and so far BJ have been expensive disappointments.

          It was relatively easy to see that BJ wasn’t going to be the guy Wren thought he was. The myth that he goes and get it with the best in center field is simply wrong. His defense according to DRS has been below average since 2010. UZR makes him just average. he had his career year in 2008 and since then has been just an average player who strikes out way too much. Except for a small bump in 2011 BJ’s overall contact rate has dropped from 80% in 2008 to 66.9% this season. At the same time his swinging strike rate is up. He’s getting less pitches in the zone and missing more of them. He’s either not seeing the ball well or is in decline. His walks are dropping and his strikeouts climbing. The data was there but it was ignored

          The Uggla trade was fine but the extension was a bad idea. I think Uggla can be useful if he just tries ot hit like he did when he was on that impossible streak, taking what the pitcher gave him and driving it. It appeared this season though that he wanted to prove he was a slugger. Justin started strong Gattis did too, Freddie was there all year and the more they did the harder he tried to be one of them. That’s a recipe for failure.
          We aren’t going to agree so I’m going to leave it at that

  • Jesus

    oh and the Braves DO have saber folks on staff (I know as one of their old metrics interns used to write articles for capitol ave club before they merged with talking chop) . JS doesn’t buy into it, so if we could ditch him and Fredi , that would go a long way towards fixing things. (that aren’t really even that broken as the front office can’t play the games for the players)

    • Matt Talbert

      I think you have to use a combination of gut instinct, matchups, and number analyzing when making choices out there.

  • Bryan Allen

    Not so sure about all the front office & coach moves N such. But what I do know is, if the Braves are to ever win a world series again, there gonna need to start paying players more money or else there gonna continue to walk away as free agents. Ya pay cheap, ya are cheap. That’s the way all sports are anymore.To many times they have over paid a ballplayer who turned out to be a bust.And no I’m not talking about Dolly Parton either. I know there not a big market team, but maybe with some of these moves they made, they’ll be more smarter on how they handle the talent.Ya gotta do more than get to the playoffs.Ya gotta start winning the World Series. I will always be a Braves fan.But for as many times as they have been to the playoffs in recent years, they have very little to show for it.Obviously some changes need to be made.

    • Jesus

      playoffs are very luck based once you reach them, there is no recipe for success, no way to predict who will win year in and year out cuz it’s winning 3 straight series. all a team can do is put themselves in a position to win by making the playoffs consistently. though a higher payroll would be nice

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