Thinking About This Slightly-Better-Than-Average Team

The 2014 Atlanta Braves are, as Sam pointed out here, very probably one of the five best teams in the league. Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs’ Cool Standings give us something like a 64% chance of making the playoffs, either by winning the division or taking one of the two Wild Card spots, and that seems about right.

This is a really weak division in a really weak league, and the Braves have a very good shot at limping into the playoffs. The Giants and Brewers are looking like paper tigers, the Pirates aren’t as lucky as they were last year, the Cardinals and Dodgers are good but not transcendent, and the Nationals are their own worst enemies. In that company, the Braves can’t exactly hold their heads high, but they can certainly hold their own.

It’s not the most exciting team to watch, I’ll give you that. Andrelton Simmons followed up arguably the greatest defensive season of all time by being merely the best defensive shortstop in baseball, and Jason Heyward came into his own as something like Mike Cameron: transcendent defense, tons of strikeouts, and the occasional walk and occasional homer. (This is high praise. Cameron was always one of Mac’s favorite players, and he’s from LaGrange.) And then… well, Chris Johnson sucks, B.J. Upton sucks, Justin Upton’s good but streaky, Evan Gattis is good but injured, our bench is a tire fire, and Dan Uggla got 145 unholy plate appearances before the Braves called up Tommy La Stella and got treated to the rare pleasure of seeing what a league-average second baseman looks like.

The pitching staff has done yeoman’s work. The Braves’ 3.36 team ERA is pretty impressive, especially considering that three separate Braves starters have gone down with Tommy John surgeries, and Mike Minor missed a month and really hasn’t been right all year. For that matter, neither have Luis Avilan nor David Carpenter, and those were three of our best pitchers last year.

Julio Teheran is an All-Star, though, and no damn wonder. He’s 23, and seven years after we signed him in high school, he’s put the team on his back and carried us. Freddie Freeman has been about the only person we can reliably count on to be the Offense, and Craig Kimbrel has been the same old Kraken. Thus far, those three have been $210 million well spent.

But no dollar was better spent than the million they paid to Aaron Harang, the miraculous 36-year-old Big Handsome, who has given the Braves 19 starts of above-average work after posting a cumulative 4.41 ERA and 90 ERA+ from 2008 to 2013.

Now, far be it from me to throw cold water on all of that or to say “Regression” or anything so churlish as that. But there is a reasonable chance that Harang will not be quite this good in the second half. To wit:

April-May: 11 starts, 3.29 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 71/19 K/BB
June-July: 8 starts, 3.83 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 24 K/25 BB

That is what you’d call a trendline in the wrong direction. But absolutely everything that Harang has given the Braves has been a gift. After losing three pitchers to TJ, Harang has been the innings-eater that they paid him to be, and the stopper they’d never dreamed he could be. Sure, he hits the wall in the 7th inning and Fredi really ought to have a quicker hook with him, but nitpicking his performance is a bit like nitpicking a $20 bill that you found on the street. This guy is found money.

And so is Shae Simmons, who has basically been 2013 David Carpenter, even while 2014 David Carpenter has basically been 2003 Roberto Hernandez. (AKA Boom-Boom Bobby.) In all, the bullpen was very shaky until Fredi realized that he couldn’t ever rely on Avilan or Carpenter, and started giving as many meaningful innings as he could to Simmons and Jordan Walden. Juan Jaime and Ryan Buchter have also had promising cups of coffee, and it’s a good bet that we’ll see more of them in the future, particularly if David Hale spends any more time in the rotation.

That said, Hale has had a wonderful year so far, though his 25/23 K/BB is really hard to swallow; his success is largely driven by an unsustainably low homer rate. Still, it’s been very nice to see his success. I just hope we don’t have to look this gift horse in the mouth.

Alex Wood, on the other hand, has answered the questions about whether he’s an above-average major league starter. He is. He strikes out nearly a man an inning, keeps his walks down — not as well as Teheran but decently well — and can crank up his fastball to 94 when needed, which combined with his deceptive motion can get on hitters in a hurry. Through 163 1/3 career innings, he actually has a slight reverse platoon split — .665 OPS against righties, .701 against lefties.

The big questions for the second half:

1) Is Chris Johnson capable of being at least a league-average hitter?
2) Can the Braves bring themselves to jettison Uggla and actually get a decent bench bat?
3) Can Aaron Harang and David Hale manage to hold down the fifth starter position for the rest of the regular season?
4) Will any or all of Simmons, B.J. Upton, and Heyward improve on their first-half performance? If not, can the Braves score enough runs to remain competitive?
5) What the hell is wrong with Mike Minor?

This is a pretty good team, and the odds are pretty good that they’ll play on past the 162nd game, at which point anything can happen, or so we’re told. Anyway, that’s why they play the games.

97 thoughts on “Thinking About This Slightly-Better-Than-Average Team”

  1. Very fair assessment Alex. I’m not so sure Fredi has internalized the importance of avoiding Avilan with sub-blowout leads or deficits. I think Wren’s going to have to give him a better left-handed option or we’ll keep seeing Avilan in bad spots.

    I’m betting on an August/September JUpton hot streak, a power surge from Heyward, the return of Gattis, and maybe Minor figuring out his home run issues like as he did after the first half of 2012 to at least keep the pace of the first half and narrowly win the division.

  2. I think the Braves win a Wild Card spot, and lose in the WC game in either a bizarre or heartbreaking fashion, because that’s what the Braves do in the playoffs. It’s been 13 long years since the Braves actually won a playoff series.

  3. So if we win the play-in game, does that constitute winning a playoff series?

    Nice summary, Alex. Much appreciated.

    What happened to lefty reliever Ian Smith? Thought he did some good work while he was here.

  4. Spot on Alex.

    I think Mike Minor’s issues have gone overlooked. We really need him to be our number two starter. There has been talk of moving a starter to upgrade other areas of the team. Could Minor be the one we move? He wasn’t locked in like the other young guys were.

    I think Johnson will have a better second half as will BJ and Simmons. Both of those guys have actually not looked like AAAA players at the top of the order.

    We need a lefty in the pen and probably two bench bats. That shouldn’t be too hard to get.

  5. A big part of Minor’s problem is that he has been unlucky with his home run to flyball ratio. He is always going to give up more homers than average, but his walks and strikeouts are about the same as last year. The difference is that more flyballs are leaving the park.

  6. Alex, I really loved your write-up.

    But I have a nit to pick. It’s about (surprise, surprise) Jason Heyward.

    Jason Heyward and “tons of strikeouts” do not go together, not this year anyway (unless you’re comparing him to baseball history, in which case most of the players in the league have tons of strikeouts.) I assume you were really describing Cameron’s game more than Heyward’s there, but I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.

    Heyward has struck out 67 times, which is the 73rd most out of 160 qualified players. But he’s also got the 14th most plate appearances of anybody in baseball, and his k-rate of 16.1% ranks 95th highest compared to the same group.

    For scale, BJ Upton has struck out 116 times(!!!) for a 30.2% K-rate(!). Chris Johnson has struck out 95 times for a 25.5% K-rate. Freddie Freeman has struck out 81 times for a 19.2% K-rate.

    Of course, if you change “tons of strikeouts” to “tons of groundball outs” then you’ve got Heyward, so far in 2014, in a nutshell. Put ’em in the air, Heyward.

  7. Great write-up Alex. I’ll only add that as I predicted back in May when they were being written off, Cincinnati is going to win the Central. If Votto makes it back healthy by, say, the first week of August, they will win it walking away.

  8. @10

    That could happen, but the Brewers would have to cool off. They have been very good so far.

  9. @7,

    I think it’s too easy to say Minor has been “unlucky” with home runs. Fly balls don’t just magically leave the park. I’m not saying there isn’t some bad luck involved; sometimes bad pitches get hit, sometimes they don’t. But I’m not sure how much luck is involved in giving up home runs.

    The Brewers have already cooled off. They lost 11 of 13 before the break.

  10. I feel like this is the worst “good” Braves team I’ve ever seen. Might be cosmic justice if we can luck our way through the playoffs and see some headlines like “BJ Upton World Series MVP”.

  11. Mike’s big question answers:

    1) Capable? Yes. Likely? I’m doubtful of even that modest task. Among qualified NL 3rd basemen Johnson has the fewest walks (11), most strikeouts (95) and 2nd-lowest SLG (.378 just beats out Martin Prado).

    2) They will dump Uggla, but the bench bat they replace him with will disappoint.

    3) I’d better be the Harangutan. He can keep more innings off the bullpen. Hale doesn’t look ready.

    4)Even if all 3 improve, this offense might still fall short of playoff-caliber. Most likely more power from Simmons and overall improvement from Heyward. BJ is useless.

    5) His control needed to improve and instead it got worse this year. Lingering effects of injury?

  12. Since taking over leadoff in Houston, BJ Upton is hitting 260/296/390. That is not “good” per se, but comparatively speaking…

  13. I have to vent about BA for a second. I’ve been a subscriber for years and always buy the prospect handbook. They put out a lot of great content. So in the past few days they have been tweeting to promote their midseason update of every teams top 10 prospects and the links take you to website where it asks you to download the content on iTunes for $4.99.

    Am I wrong to be infuriated by this? BA is already not cheap ($70 a year or so) and the preseason top 10s are part of the subscription. I know it’s just $5 but I’ve since cancelled my subscription. It may be the packaging that ticked me off the most. As if this was a magazine on the rack I wouldn’t think anything about it, but being directed to the website where a subscriber is used to having all access just feels wrong.

  14. Nice work, Alex.

    Obviously, this season hasn’t been nearly as much fun as last season. When a team has trouble scoring, that’s tough to watch. Of course, I’d rather have a no-hit/good-pitch team than the other way around.

    Hopefully, this post-season will surprise us. Let’s just make the tournament & see what happens. Best-case scenario: the 2010 Giants.

  15. Other primary leadoff men in the NL (current):

    Really good:
    Carlos Gomez: 304/370/510
    Matt Carpenter: 283/377/382

    Notably better than BJ Upton to date:
    Dee Gordon: 292/344/398
    Hunter Pence: 297/355/465

    Not really outperforming BJ Upton as a leadoff hitter, per se:
    Billy Hamilton: 285/319/423
    Greg Polanco: 285/319/423
    Denard Span: 269/319/385
    Eric Young: 236/316/310

  16. Good point — Heyward has cut down on strikeouts some, but it looks like he’s really sacrificed power to do so. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind trading strikeouts for homers, because his ISO is 50 points lower than it was when he came up. Going by career numbers, the comparison makes a lot more sense, but if this is the hitter he is now, then he’s a low-average singles and doubles hitter who can steal bases and play transcendent defense.

  17. Honest question: Does it have to be a trade-off with him, do you think?

    Ted Williams didn’t have to strike out to hit home runs. What do you see with Heyward that makes you think he can’t model himself more off the Splinter–though, obviously not to that extreme?

  18. @22,

    Well, how about the fact that he hasn’t done it so far? That’s not dispositive but I think Alex was simply positing IF this is the hitter he is, not necessarily that that’s all he can be.

    Edward, I know you (and others) will accuse me of hating Jason-which isn’t true-but the guy has 8 home runs at the All-Star break, a low BA, and only fair OBP. I don’t see much Splinter-like there so far.

  19. If Heyward could go on a run like Andruw did from ’99-’06, it would be terrific.

  20. Minor and Uggla for a hot dog or two. The catch? Ya gotta take all of Dan’s payroll.

    Alex has proven (to me, at least) that he can be our lefty starter. I know it seems like a total waste, but I’d be willing to bet Minor will want far more than he has proven when time comes for his next deal.


    @8 – thanks! Any hope for Venters?

  21. @23

    The Ted Williams thing was not meant as a comparison between the two players, and you know it–Heyward will neither hit with as much power with as much power as Willaims nor even begin to approach his low strikeout totals. (Besides, Ted Williams only bothered with defense only once every few days, from the look of things. So you’re right: not much Splinter-like.)

    So without the Ted Williams thing: can a hitter these days hit for power without making a trade-off in increased strikeouts? I guess I could do a little research later when I have some more time. But it’d be easier if somebody else already has some ideas.

    As far as “he hasn’t done it so far”–you’re right, mostly. He struck out much more often (>20% K-rate) while hitting for power. Last year, though, he posted a marginally higher K-rate of 16.9% paired with an ISO of .173, which, considering his current ISO of .121, would be a pretty nice improvement. I think that’s what I’m looking for with his production for the rest of the year, and it gives me up–although, no real surefire forecasting–that there’s room for improvement in one area without much of a decline in another.

  22. Hewyard is steadily trending positive at the plate. I’m willing to write off the horrid April as time spent getting his groove back after last year’s beaning. If he can go on a tear similar to his second half last year (before he got hit) then that will really really help our chances.

  23. I remember hearing the Mets announcers (Keith Hernandez I think) claiming that Heyward’s swing hasn’t been the same since his shoulder injury, started pointing out how he was pulling his arms across his body or something like that.
    Has anyone done a video comparison of his swing now vs then.
    Heyward’s swing looked a lot more impressive then than it looks now, which is why Hernandez’ comment resonated.

  24. @29, aside from the fact that no one can live up to Ted Williams’s example, one major difference is that in those days, pitchers threw a lot more innings and often completed their own games, so in order to conserve their stamina, they typically did not throw max effort on all pitches, or even on most of them. They pitched to contact and didn’t try to strike batters out. Batters, likewise, frequently hit for contact and didn’t try to swing from their shoetops on every pitch.

    Nowadays, with pitcher specialization, everyone throws max effort all the time and gets lifted for a 95-throwing reliever in the 6th or 7th and gets Tommy John surgery after a few seasons. With all those max effort pitches, it’s awfully hard to generate a lot of power without also risking a lot of swings and misses.

    Albert Pujols is really the only recent hitter who has been able to do so — but, again, he’s one of the greatest hitters who ever lived.

  25. @29 and 32, only slightly farther back, but Gary Sheffield had a great ratio of homeruns to strikeouts. I remember Pete Van Wieren doing his radio piece on that one day. As I remember (and Pujols probably hadn’t reached this level then which was around 2005 maybe) Sheffield was the only player whose career started since World War II who had over 300 home runs and whose strikeouts were less than 100 more than his home runs.

  26. I think the stigma associated with lots of strikeouts, or conversely the praise of being a ‘contact-hitter’, mostly comes from eras long past where defenses were relatively crappy when compared to today’s. Advances in equipment and athleticism have made the “just put it in play” strategy pretty much a losing one. These days you have to try to the the ball hard somewhere. Otherwise you’re out.

  27. What krussel said at 34. Today’s game is the best defensive baseball the world has ever known. Bigger, faster, more athletic players, getting to more balls, making bigger throws on the infield, chasing down more balls in the OF. If it’s not on a line somewhere, it’s not likely to fall for a hit.

  28. the dimensions of the old fields helped as well, they were deep, but also had more real estate so hitting to contact should allow for more hits but maybe less power.

  29. When I watch high-level college baseball the one huge glaring difference is the quality of your average college defense. Even the defense played by the teams that make it to the CWS is just completely terrible when compared to what goes on during your average MLB game. I tend to think that defenses from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s would probably stack up as bad, or even worse. Shit, just look at the gloves they used to use. It’s almost not even the same sport.

  30. @29,

    Edward, you keep accusing me of knowing what you are saying regardless of what you write. I realize you did not mean to suggest Heyward would be as good as Ted Williams, but I was responding to your suggestion that his career could be modeled on Williams’ in terms of few strikeouts and lots of power and you asked why not? I merely said that he hasn’t done it so far. The part about “there is nothing Splinter-like” was a rhetorical affectation as I’m sure you were aware. I’m not expecting Heyward to be Ted Williams but it would be nice if his numbers were a tiny bit closer.

    But your idea seems to be that Heyward is already a great player and that anyone that doesn’t agree is simply anti-Heyward or, presumably, knows nothing about baseball. I’m sorry but I don’t see where this love affair comes from. I acknowledge that Jason has great baserunning skills, is a great outfielder and fine baserunner and the Braves are better off with him than without him. Beyond that, I find it difficult to see why he is considered so good. He clearly has significant flaws in his swing, has trouble hitting lefties, and has shown minimal power this year. His on-base skills are nice but, at this point, he is more like what Alex said, a low-average, low-power hitter who plays great defense. A valuable player, certainly, but nothing to get excited about.

    Every time someone brings up a “comparison” between Jason Heyward and some other player, you get bent out of shape, whether it’s Mike Trout or Ted Williams (a comparision which you made actually). But your standards seem to be pretty low. At this point, he isn’t even better than Jason Werth, at least as a hitter.

    IMO, Heyward is a slightly above average hitter, with a significantly flawed swing and no indication, after five years in the majors, that it’s going to get better. His only real offensive skill-and I grant it’s important-is an ability to draw walks. But even there, his OBP isn’t that great. And, frankly, I don’t see how his admittedly premier defense compensates sufficiently for that in a corner outfielder.

    I’m not anti-Heyward but I just don’t see-to this point-much special about him. Yes, I am disappointed. I wish the Braves had Mike Trout instead of Jason Heyward.

  31. Well, I wish we had Clayton Kershaw instead of Luis Avilan. I mean, I kinda wish we had Giancarlo Stanton instead of Jordan Schafer.

    Are you aware that every fan of every team, and for that matter, every general manger of every team, wishes they had Mike Trout instead of any single player on their team? Does that sound like a rational complaint to you?

    You acknowledge his premier defense, and then you proceed to pretend it doesn’t factor at all in to what you need out of a baseball player.

    According the fWAR he’s the 3rd best right fielder in baseball this year, and he hasn’t even hit yet. Last year he was the 10th best right fielder in baseball. In 2012 he was the very best right fielder in baseball.

    Think what you will about defensive valuation versus offensive valuation, but he’s clearly a good ball player. We can quibble over the meaning of “special,” but I’d say the fact that you use “he’s not Mike Trout” as a reason he disappoints you, should tell you that maybe, as you said about Andrelton Simmons, that he might be suffering from grossly irrational expectations.

  32. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s your choice whether you like a guy. But the case for Jason Heyward goes like this:

    • Offense is down across the league. So, while the guy is not a good hitter right now, he’s put up two quite good offensive seasons (2010 and 2012) and right now he’s basically league average. Ignore how low the numbers look, because a lot of how we think about offensive numbers is affected by the steroid era.
    • A league average player is worth two wins above replacement, because as we learned from swapping Dan Uggla for Tommy La Stella, there’s a great deal of value to be had by just having someone who doesn’t suck eggs.
    • Jason Heyward is a transcendent defender and a terrific baserunner. In fact, he is so good at defense that he is essentially having the same season that Andrelton Simmons had last year.
    • In-season defensive stats and WAR are ridiculous and bad and you shouldn’t trust them so take this with a grain of salt, but, Jason Heyward has produced 4.0 rWAR thus far this year. That is sixth in the NL.

    He certainly isn’t a great hitter at this point in his career and it is tremendously frustrating that he appears to have regressed. But thanks to his other skills, he is inarguably a very good player, regardless of whether you want to consider him “great.” He has a lot of still-untapped offensive potential — a lot like Andruw Jones did, and he was equally frustrating to a lot of fans who couldn’t appreciate who he was because they couldn’t let go of who they wished he could be. But Jason Heyward, right now, is a very good baseball player and he is a big reason that we’re in first place in the NL East. There are a lot of ways to criticize him for who he isn’t, but it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate him for who he is.

  33. @40 – Yeeeeeeeah, I gueeeeeeessss…. but can’t we just get Roberto Clemente instead?

  34. What is so damn controversial about wanting our RF to hit better than low 700s OPS?

  35. The fact that if you traded him for any RF in baseball, besides Yasiel Puig and Giancarlo Stanton, you’d be actively making your baseball team worse.

  36. @43, only if you fully buy into the non-offensive components of WAR. Heyward isn’t even in the conversation if you only look at offense. If you include everything else then it boils down how you think you should weight defense and baserunning vs offense. I think there’s quite a bit of room for debate there.

  37. I mean, do I want Heyward to hit better than league average? Yes. Do I want a different guy just because he hits, but doesn’t actually improve the team? No. Jason’s defensive season has been that good.

    Here are the top 10 RF in baseball in 2014, with their fWAR and their wRC+

    1 Giancarlo Stanton 3.8 154
    2 Yasiel Puig 3.5 160
    3 Jason Heyward 3.3 104
    4 Hunter Pence 3.3 136
    5 Jose Bautista 3.1 151
    6 Jayson Werth 2.4 130
    7 Seth Smith 2.2 155
    8 Ryan Braun 2.1 136
    9 Charlie Blackmon 2.0 115
    10 Curtis Granderson 1.8 122

    Jason’s wRC is an outlier there, but by total value, at total contribution to the team, he’s 3rd in the league. You want to swap his season out for Jayson Werth’s? The Braves would have been a worse team. Swap Jason’s season out for Jose Bautista’s? For Ryan Braun’s? The Braves would be a worse team than they are.

    I mean, we have a living example on our own team in Justin Upton. We watch both of these guys every single day. Do you want another Justin Upton in RF? Justin’s got a wRC+ of 136, but he’s been worth a full win less than Jason, at 2.3. Every single game we complain about Justin’s outfield play. That’s exactly what you’d get if you had, say, Ryan Braun playing RF.

    You can’t just assume a guy SHOULD be able to play the position. He actually has to do it.

    Jason isn’t raking. He’s having the second worst offensive season of his short career… But he’s still having the third best season of all RF in baseball. If he had hit to his own career norms, he’d be the best RF in baseball.

    And he still might. Those other guys might hit even better than they have, or they might miraculously become better defenders. But I see no reason I’d want any of them, except Yasiel Puig or Giancarlo Stanton, or a George Springer who we’d get extra years of control with.

    This might be a case of the guys you’re imagining just not being in the league anymore.

  38. If the Braves make the wild card game, there is no guarantee a single ball is hit to right field. Everyone in the lineup is guaranteed three at bats. Give me offense.

  39. He’s nearly the worst hitting RF in baseball…I want more offense from RF. I would take a JUpton clone in RF in a heartbeat. You get way more plate appearances during the season than opportunities to make non-routine plays in RF that require absurd skills.

    My ideal outfield would be Klesko clones at the corners and someone similar to (but hopefully a tad better than) BJ Upton in CF.

  40. Making the outfield better really depends on having someone in center field who can A. catch the balls he can get to, B. Get to those the majority of other major league center fielders do get to and C. Hit above .240 for the season.

    At least with Dan, we know his time is short. The other albatross currently hanging around Frank Wren’s and by extension, the team’s collective necks is starting to make the signings of the likes of Dan Kolb and Mike Hampton look like strokes of genius.

  41. #45… that statement assumes that the current defensive rating systems are the final word on player value. I understand that chances converted outside of the normal zone are worth more, etc, but Jason Heyward has converted 10 more balls in play into outs than Marlon Byrd. How is that worth more than three wins over replacement?

    Or put another way, Jason Heyward has been, thanks to his defense alone, worth .2 WAR above replacement more than Freddie Freeman. Independent of WAR, what do you really think has contributed more to Braves’ wins this season, Freddie’s bat 4-5 time a game or Jason’s glove 2.5 times a game? To me there’s no question.

  42. Remember that while the offense aspect of WAR is situation-neutral, the defensive aspect is situation-dependent. Heyward has had a lot of run-saving defensive opportunities this year — his valuation reflects that he’s the RF we’ve needed so far. But he’ll have to hit better going forward, or else he’s bound to descend that chart a few slots. Recent results are at least somewhat promising.

  43. Independent of WAR, what do you really think has contributed more to Braves’ wins this season, Freddie’s bat 4-5 time a game or Jason’s glove 2.5 times a game? To me there’s no question.

    I see no reason to take your gut instinct over someone else’s nebulous formula on the matter.

  44. People are acting as if I’m saying he is the worst player in baseball. I acknowledge he is a good player and his defense his valuable. But, as others here have stated, I don’t think great defense from a corner outfielder is a valuable as offense. If he was a CF, that would be different.

    I’ve said he is a valuable player. I just don’t think he is as good as some on here think. The remark about wanting Mike Trout rather than Jason Heyward was in jest but I would like a RF who can at least hit as well as Jason Werth. Whenever anyone says something like that, the response is, well, look at his defense.

    Here is a question I have: assuming Heyward is the same player he is now when he hits free agency, how much would you pay him?

  45. People are acting as if I’m saying he is the worst player in baseball. I acknowledge he is a good player and his defense his valuable. But, as others here have stated, I don’t think great defense from a corner outfielder is a valuable as offense. If he was a CF, that would be different.

    I’ve said he is a valuable player. I just don’t think he is as good as some on here think. The remark about wanting Mike Trout rather than Jason Heyward was in jest but I would like a RF who can at least hit as well as Jason Werth. Whenever anyone says something like that, the response is, well, look at his defense.

    Here is a question I have: assuming Heyward is the same player he is now when he hits free agency, how much would you pay him?

  46. But, as others here have stated, I don’t think great defense from a corner outfielder is a valuable as offense. If he was a CF, that would be different.

    Fly balls converted to outs in RF are as valuable as fly balls converted to outs in center.

  47. Jason Heyward is going to make piles of money in free agency, because, despite krussell’s philosophy, no one building a team wants two Ryan Kleskos and an Otis Nixon.

  48. @44
    Well let’s hope Fredi doesn’t play him at DH.

    Really? I would do Williams, Mays, Aaron left-to-right, personally.

  49. As far as the argument is going right now about about value to OF spots. I have always been told that with little league you stick your weakest player in RF. This does not hold true as you advance through the levels. RF is supposedly one of the hardest positions to play according to all the analyst. I wouldn’t know because I was always an infielder, but I do know from watching baseball their is always a premium put on great defensive right fielders with great arms. Jason Heyward fits that mold.

    Another thing about Heyward is the fact that he is the best CF on our team but doesn’t play there because teams do put a premium on RF. The only thing that truly makes Heyward look so bad is the fact that we have two OFs who are performing average to well below in the outfield with B.J. and Heyward offensively. It is to obvious to complain constantly about B.J., so Heyward is the next candidate.

    It would almost be a guarantee that if B.J. was performing to his career numbers that most of you all would forget that Heyward is performing just average because it would mean our out would be better than average than just average with the way J. Upton, Heyward, and B.J. Upton are performing currently. Basically, the discussion would be how our OF was so strong even with Heyward’s average offensive performance. Sadly, B.J. does not even come close to his career numbers at the moment, and he might not ever again. Thus, we have an average outfield.

  50. Wow, did that graphic just say that Jeter has only played one game in which his team was mathematically eliminated? That’s unbelievable.

  51. You think the researcher who found that has been sitting on it for like a year or something just so he could put it up in a big moment?

  52. Well, it kind of looks like the American League will have the home field advantage this world series, and we are not even past the 1st inning.

  53. “It would be hard for Wainwright to get through this without giving up anything.”

    Well, you could maybe start with not throwing meatballs from the very first pitch.

  54. If the all star game decided home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs, I would probably be a little upset about now.

    Edit: Nevermind.. That doesn’t actually make any sense

  55. @62 – Yeah, but I feel you. I can’t make myself believe the outcome of this game is going to effect my life in any way.

  56. @55, when he goes to another team they’ll put him in CF. Nobody is going to pay 150M or more for a RF that can’t out slug Billy Hamilton.

  57. Maybe? I think he’d have had a pretty good shot on the one to Puig. Not sure about the one over Trout’s head.

    But those are the types of plays that can change a game when they’re made. We just saw what happens when they aren’t.

  58. I’m not watching, so I can’t say. But I can say it doesn’t matter, because bo one hits the ball to right field. Or if they do, it doesn’t count. Or something.

  59. A fly ball to center is eithe a single or a double. It has to be misplayed into a triple. A fly ball to rf is either a single double or triple.

  60. Yeah, the extreme angle of the twins camera makes it tough to judge the height of the strike zone.

  61. In the UZR all-star game nobody would ever score…and then we’d have Bud Selig declare the game a tie, making home field advantage indeterminate, and they’d have to cancel the world series. Nobody wants that.

  62. Yeah, sure, but if your CF doesn’t catch it its worse than if your RF doesn’t catch it. Because something.

  63. So, Wainwright admits he grooved a fastball for Jeter in his first AB. In an exhibition game, I don’t mind stuff like that, but it highlights the problem with the whole CountsTM thing. Making this affect the World Series is just ridiculous.

  64. Cardinals pitching hasn’t exactly shined tonight. And now Tyler Clippard enters. LOL.

  65. This reminds me of the old days where you stayed up late to to see if the one Brave on the roster got on the field.

  66. @mlbbowman: J.D. Drew completed his career without surrendering a home run to Miguel Cabrera.

  67. @83

    That reminds me of 1987. Ozzie Virgil was not the only Brave in the game (Murph took his last ASG bow that year), but I remember being disturbingly excited (of course, I was elementary-school-age) at the fact that he got the NL’s two-run “explosion” in the top of the 13th started with a leadoff single to left.

  68. Not to get too cute, but, 4 of the top 5 right fielders, by fWAR got at-bats tonight, Jason Heyward, at number 3, being the exception. (That’s Giancarlo Stanton and Yasiel Puig and 1 and 2, Hunter Pence who’s tied for 3, and Jose Bautista. Plus Charlie Blackmon, who comes in at number 9)

    Those 5 who played went a collective 0 for 11 with 6 k’s.

    But that 1st inning triple over Puig’s head… Jason probably makes that play. For Bautista’s part, he dropped an easy fly foul ball by mistiming his little hop, and he made a horrible relay throw that allowed Gordon to score a run without a play. (And yeah, it’s a reach to criticize Bautista’s arm, as he generally excels there.)

    And like I said, I’m not trying to be cute here. But defense isn’t “batter vs. fielder” the way hitting is “batter vs. pitcher.” Good pitching can give anybody an 0’fer. Good hitters don’t give outfielders more trouble than bad hitters. A slider is harder to hit when Felix Hernandez throws it. A line drive isn’t harder to catch just because Mike Trout hit it.

    All those RF’s have had better offensive seasons than Jason Heyward, yet it would be literally impossible for Jason to have done worse at the plate than they did, facing the best pitchers in the American league. But Jason might have kept a run off the board in that first inning, and who knows how that inning plays out if Wainwright doesn’t take a 1 – 2 punch to the gut before he’s taken a breath.

    And to krussell’s point above, about Jason being a CF… First of all, saying a RF could defensively handle CF is no way to insult him. Second, it might be fair to “only” value him if you planned to play him at CF, if you actually EXPECTED him to hit for a 100 OPS+. Coming in to this season, however, he’d hit for a 115 OPS+. You can’t just take what a guy has done for half a season and declare him to be that player. Or you can, but you’d be flat out unreasonable.

    And here are a few corrections: 1.) He can out slug Billy Hamilton. I know this because I seem to recall him doing so, oh, last season. He isn’t right now. He has, and I’m betting he will again. 2.) He’s not a RF who can only hit in the low .700’s OPS. He’s got a career OPS of .782. He came in to the season at .794. He’s a RF who’s OPS’ed low .700’s for the first 90 games of this season. 3.) He’s not “nearly the worst hitting RF in baseball.” This season, a season that sees him 80 flipping points below his career OPS coming in, there are 13 qualifying RF’s hitting better than he is, and 8 qualifiers hitting worse than he is. That certainly isn’t good. But that isn’t “nearly the worst.” That’s middle of the pack. And that’s even allowing you to paint him as being the player his numbers at present indicate. Allow that, and you’re still drastically over playing your hand.

    But beyond those things being factually untrue, the sentiment is silly. You can’t just take the things he’s done for the last 90 games and say he’s that player now. Not when the player’s track record is better than his current production, and not when the player is in his age 24 season. (He’s younger than Tommy La Stella for Christ’s sake.) And you can’t do all that while hand-waving away his best-in-baseball defensive abilities because you think their proportion is “debatable.”

    My point about defense is, you can quibble with the defensive value as compared to the offensive value. But you can’t have it both ways. If you want Jayson Werth, you get his defense. If you want Ryan Braun, you get his defense. You can’t say Jason Heyward isn’t as good as the numbers show, and also Justin Upton isn’t as bad. The numbers are the numbers. To say WAR gives too much weight to the defensive metrics is not to say that the metrics don’t measure how good one outfielder is compared to another. And as far as quibbling the weights, like Sam said, I see no reason to accept a message-board poster’s gut feeling, over the evaluation of a professional who has considered every angle he can imagine. In short, the valuations available to us are hell of a lot closer to true valuations than they are to junk.

    But back to the offense. If you want to take a guy who is 24 years old, has already posted a 6 WAR season, (bWar and fWar each credit him with a 6 win season, but they disagree as to which season it was) has already had a 27 HR season, has already posted a season of better than 130 OPS+ and wRC+, and does all that while being the best defensive RF in the game, and say he’s sub optimal, because he’s been batted league average for the last 90 games, then there’s no arguing with you.

    For reference: David Justice was 24 when he won the rookie of the year. Mike Cameron’s 6th place ROY finish? Age 24. Kirby Puckett’s third place ROY campaign? Age 24. Those guys were plugging away in the minor leagues at the ages that Jason was posting his 115 OPS+ that you’re pretending never happened. And those guys turned out okay.

    How about a guy who, like Jason Heyward, already had a few AB’s under his belt by his age 24 season? Jason debuted at 20, and had an OPS+ of 115 before his age 24 season. Barry Bonds debuted at 21, and going in to his age 24 season, he had a career OPS+ of 123.

    Jason Heyward may not win MVP awards the way they told us he would when he was the number 1 prospect in baseball. Or he might. But you’re crazy if you think you’re going to find better RF’s just hanging on trees. This isn’t the same league that had Gary Sheffield, Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Manny Ramirez, Larry Walker and Vlad Guerrero, all with their primes overlapping.

    What’s absolutely crazy to me is, if this guy turns in to David Justice, with a 15 year career and 300+ HRs, and a handful of top 5 MVP finishes, people are going to be disappointed that he wasn’t Barry Bonds.

    I mean, Andruw Jones left Atlanta with a 113 OPS+ and 368 HR, having played the best defense anyone has ever played, and people still remember him as a disappointment. And since he left in 2008, we’ve run out Mark Kotsay, Jordan Schafer, Nate McLouth, Michael Bourn (who’s remembered fondly despite his 96 OPS+ as a Brave) and BJ Upton… And STILL some people don’t appreciate what Andruw was, rather regret that he was only Dale Murphy and not the Willie Mays they thought was owed them.

    It’s just crazy to me.

  69. There are probably 5-10 RFs I’d take over Jason Heyward going forward for this season only.

    That means he’s good. Are we really that far apart here?

  70. Do we need to put more emphasis on the fact that the guy’s trying to come back from having his face shattered by a baseball? Because his face was pretty recently shattered. By a baseball.

    Despite that, since OPS is apparently the only stat worth trusting, take a look at Heyward’s May and June OPS. He seems to have recovered to previous, above-low-700-OPS norms.

    He’s quite a good/valuable player, and so not worth complaining about. It’s not his fault (or Bryce Harper’s) that media/blog/fantasy prospect fetishization is a thing.

  71. I’m not anti-Heyward. He’s a great player. Easily the most exciting player on this pretty bland team. I’m definitely anti-WAR, at least as it currently stands (I love the idea overall, but don’t agree with offense/defense weightings). Heyward just tends to be the focal point of that discussion because of his severe offense/defense splits.

    I think we have a very tough decision coming up with respect to retaining Heyward and making him the cornerstone of the franchise. If things hold steady I would lean towards not breaking the bank for him because I don’t think his 4 or 5 WAR is actually as valuable if it’s 90% defense.

    Here’s the thing…things probably won’t hold steady…he will probably hit a lot better at some point. But, if he doesn’t, then it’s going to be a tough call. Someone is going to dump a truckload of money on him because of the potential and the young age, regardless of whether he hits or not.

    Perhaps it’s not worth worrying about because odds are that we won’t be able to afford him even if he doesn’t improve at the plate.

  72. Puig

    After that I can make a case for


    and I guess Blackmon.

    I’ll take Heyward for post-2014 over everyone but the first three. *sigh* and probably Harper.

  73. I know I shouldn’t be surprised at the script FOX and MLB followed last night, but I was a little surprised that no one on the national stage mentioned that Kimbrel struck out the side, either when it happened or later. I mean, at an All-Star game, isn’t that slightly impressive? When FOX didn’t mention it at the end of the inning I thought that maybe I had missed a ground out or something, but a quick glance at the box score confirmed I was right. I mean, couldn’t they have at least said “Kimbrel strikes out the side and we’re headed to the 8th” while they showed Jeter sitting in the dugout before they cut to a commercial break? After the game MLB was tweeting all sorts of story lines (mostly Jeter and Trout stuff, but also including McCutchen’s speed, Kershaw’s inning that included a strikeout, Goldschmidt’s defense, Cabrera’s homer…), and yet there wasn’t even a mention of what Kimbrel did.

    Also, I think MLB really should have done something to honor Tony Gwynn and all the All-Star games he played in. Taking 15 seconds to show a highlight or two or a graphic of what he accomplished wouldn’t have detracted too much from the Jeter gushing, would it?

    The two days after the All-Star break are the worst. There’s only so much rehashing of the first half you can do before it gets old, and we’ve already had two days without real baseball in which to rehash. How do I ever survive the offseason?

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