Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves

The Braves are regressing badly

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The Braves were 12-1 after their victory over the Royals on April 16. They had just rattled off ten consecutive wins, due to an incredibly potent offense and unhittable pitching. The Braves hit three or more home runs in three of their first five games with Justin Upton hitting one just about every night. In fact, of their 29 games on the season, they have hit multiple home runs in 11 of them. Word quickly spread that the Braves were the presumptive heir to the slow-starting Nationals’ throne atop the NL East.

Problem was, it was never going to last. Justin was never going to continue his 97-homer pace. Paul Maholm, with a career 4.23 ERA, wasn’t going to go the whole season without giving up a run as he did in his first 26 innings. They weren’t going to avoid injuries all year. The struggles of Dan Uggla, Andrelton Simmons, and B.J. Upton couldn’t continue to be swept under the rug.

Since April 17, the Braves are 5-11. They’re still in first place, but tenuously so as they nurse a 2.5-game lead over the second-place Nationals. They have averaged 3.25 runs per game, scoring three or fewer runs nine times in 16 games while striking out 156 times in 590 plate appearances (26%).

The Braves have had the second-fewest opportunities with runners in scoring position (236 PA) in the National League. In those scant opportunities, they are hitting .230. Despite the team’s prodigious power, their .316 on-base percentage is only two points better than the NL average. They steal bases both infrequently and with poor efficiency, making them baseball’s fifth-worst base-stealing team according to Baseball Prospectus.

This isn’t to say the Braves are a sham, but they will sure look like one every time they enter their bust cycle shortly after the boom. They can pitch with the best of them, but their homer-reliant offense will make their hurlers a nonfactor in every drought. The good news, though, is that they play in the same division as the Marlins, Mets, and Phillies, so they’ll have plenty of opportunities to pick up cheap wins as they keep the Nationals in their crosshairs.

The Marlins have made a “monster offer” for Kenley Jansen

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the eighth inning of game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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OXON HILL, MD — The morning after Aroldis Chapman signed for a record $86 million, the Miami Marlins are reported to have made similarly lucrative offer to the other top free agent closer, Kenley Jansen.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo says that the Marlins have made “a monster offer” of five years and more than $80 million to Jansen. This despite the fact that the club is coming off of a 79-win season and, tragically, lost their top pitcher Jose Fernandez in a fatal boating accident, which will substantially harm their competitive prospects. While it seems like a stretch to say that the Yankees will compete for a playoff spot, thereby making such an historically large investment in a closer a bit suspect, the Marlins doing so is even more questionable.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are said to be interested in Jansen as well, though Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post says the Nats are “uncomfortable” with the financial commitment signing him would require.

Jansen most recently pitched for the Dodgers and there have been no reports that they’re totally out on him, but there has been nothing to suggest that they are pushing hard for him either.

Jansen, 29, finished this past season with 47 saves, a 1.83 ERA, and a 104/11 K/BB ratio in 68.2 innings. That’s not quite Aroldis Chapman good, but he seems poised to collect something close to Aroldis Chapman money.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.