For the first time in almost two decades, the Atlanta Braves were facing a legitimate rebuild.Â
The 2008 squad finished the season 72-90, the first 90-loss season for the club since 1990. The optimism of the â€œBaby Bravesâ€ from 2005 had faded, and the franchise was really lacking direction in a division that now featured the world champion Philadelphia Phillies.
General Manager Frank Wren decided to go the veteran route to patch the holes in the roster. His big signing was Derek Lowe from the Dodgers, who joined the club on a four-year/$60 million deal. He also signed Kenshin Kawakami from Japan, and brought in a pair of experienced position players in David Ross and Garret Anderson.
A trade that would ironically send future Brave Tyler Flowers and three others to the White Sox for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan added even more experience to the team, and just like that the Braves were ready to go for the 2009 campaign.
The season started off with a bang as the Braves beat the Phillies 4-1 in front of a national audience behind eight innings of two-hit baseball from Derek Lowe and a trio of homers from Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur and Jordan Schafer.
Despite that brief moment of optimism, the team really struggled out of the gate, especially at Turner Field. Bobby Coxâ€™s club went 6-11 in its first 17 home games of the season, and that theme continued all summer. The Braves got an All-Star season from McCann behind the plate; the budding star hit .281 with 21 home runs and 94 RBIs. Chipper Jones didnâ€™t match the heights of his 2008 batting title, but he still hit .264 with an on base percentage of .388.
The veteran pitching experiment returned mostly positive returns. Vazquez in particular joined Jair Jurrjens as the co-staff ace; the former finished the season with a 2.87 ERA and the latter clocked in at 2.60. Both starters ate up over 200 innings as part of a rotation that stayed mostly healthy all season. Kawakami had a 3.86 ERA in his first season in the league, but was snake bitten by bad offense and finished with just a 7-12 record. Lowe on the other hand had a 4.67 ERA, but got the benefit of some timely offense and finished with a 15-10 mark.
But the story of the rotation had to be Tommy Hanson. The former 22nd round draft pick made his MLB debut on Jun. 7 against Milwaukee. He allowed six earned runs in as many innings, but he was given another opportunity. And thatâ€™s when he took off. Hanson pitched 23 more innings in June, allowing only two runs and leading the Braves to a 4-0 record in those starts. From there he was entrenched in the rotation, going on to finish the season with a 2.89 ERA.
But even with all of the individual success and positive momentum, the team spend most of the season treading around the .500 line. They were never fully out of contention, but a lack of consistency prevented any serious charge up the standings. It looked like the Braves were finally putting a run together when they closed August with a 16-8 spurt, but a five-game losing streak in early September halted the momentum from that.
But the Braves werenâ€™t done. A pair of seven-game winning streaks bookended a 15-2 run in September, bringing the season record to 86-70 and drawing them within just two games of the wild card in the final week of the season. This team without any expectations going into the season was somehow still alive after 156 games, and that alone made the year a success.
But that was the high-water mark.
That trademark inconsistency came back up at the worst possible time, as the Braves lost six consecutive games to close the season. The Colorado Rockies finished six games ahead of the Braves after that, so Atlanta wouldâ€™ve needed to win out in the final week even to force a tiebreaker.
It was a disappointing end to the year, but the September push and positive developments helped lay the groundwork for the next successful run of Braves baseball. 2009 would be the last season before 2014 where the Braves werenâ€™t either in the playoffs or still alive for a spot on the final day of the regular season.
If 2008 was a low point for the post-streak Braves, 2009 marked the beginning of the climb back up.
You write well, Mr. Cole. Thank you.
The better time to discuss would be if there were to be a recap of the 2010 season, but Kawakami wins my award for Most Puzzling Brave, less in his performance (he has a lot of competition there) than in the way he seemed to be treated by the Braves. Like Newcomb and Folty, you get the sense that there’s a lot that management knows but suppresses (for obvious reasons, but still….)
Just noticed that KK managed to go 8-22 in his MLB career but with an ERA of 4.32. His ERA+ is fairly close to league average.
That’s hard to do.
Kawakami might have benefitted from changes in the game that occurred after he exited the scene. He pitched into the sixth inning in 27 of his 41 career starts, but his career sixth-inning ERA was 7.67. Current-day strategy might have gotten him out of the game before he had the chance to cough up some leads. He might not have won many more games, but he probably would have lost fewer.
Vazquez was awesome that year. My favorite part of a frustrating season was watching him pitch.
I seem to remember things a little differently as I don’t recall this being a “team without expectations.” The narrative at the time was Wren had rebuilt the rotation and finally acquired the “ace” they needed in Lowe (ha!).
The team got better after finally jettisoning Francoeur mid season.
Great stuff, Alan. Really enjoy your writing.
Y’all, they’re playing baseball today. Spring has sprung.
Spring Training Baseball! Ender walking in the first official AB and quickly steals second. Does not matter at all, I know. Just excited to have baseball back. Go Braves!
Wright gonna Wright…
@9 and Newk gonna Newk
Not a very encouraging beginning. I don’t think we need the DH for Ozuna. We need the DH for Bryce Ball.
Wright and Newcomb off to flyin’ starts… 🙂
How about that Shea? Sure can throw.
Wright had a very good spring last year and then was lousy in July and August. Maybe today’s start is a good sign.
Edwards and Davidson did OK.
It’s really frustrating with Newcomb. So much talent. He’s now 28 years old, and he simply cannot throw strikes. What do you do if he still can’t find the strike zone through the spring? I think he has an option, but what will more time do? You would have to be thinking about DFA’ing him.
Jake Lamb getting the start today at 1B. Ervin in LF. Camargo at SS. Shewmake at DH. Ynoa on the bump. I take those particular lineup decisions as an indication of who they might be considering for roster spots (and where, in the case of Camargo).
How magical would it be for their recent 1st rounders — Shewmake and Wright — to actually turn into major leaguers? And yet, I am an Atlanta Braves fan, so I will condition myself for impending disappointment.
Here are the Braves financials: https://www.ajc.com/sports/atlanta-braves/braves-revenue-fell-by-298-million-last-year-liberty-media-says/QJ5UKP3BIJGIBLLU4SXXDGRM3I/
According to the figures the team cited in its public filings, revenue fell by about $300 million; costs fell by a bunch too. Ultimately, the team went from about a $50 million profit in 2019 to about a $50 million loss in 2020.
I expect the figures will be seen in different ways by different people. My initial reaction was “losing $50 million doesn’t seem so bad.” (If all 30 teams lost $50 million, that’d be $1.5 billion. Rob Manfred claimed the sport lost $3 billion, which seemed hard to believe at the time and seems harder to believe now. But we don’t know the other 29 teams’ financials.)
I agree, Alex. All things considered, when essentially every source of revenue for a baseball club has been nearly destroyed, how they come out with a loss equivalent to the previous year’s gain is pretty interesting. Because money is a completely made up notion nowadays, hearing that revenues fell $300M may not seem that crazy to the average fan when you hear the word “billions” thrown around constantly. But revenues fell from $476M in 2019 to $178M in 2020, a 63% drop. To me, that puts it more in context just how much the 2020 was a disaster for the 30 clubs. I would think the Battery runs at such a high profit margin that it mitigated the losses that a 63% drop in revenue would otherwise dictate. There’s no doubt that Liberty Media also took PPP loans to offset some of the revenue decreases, but I have no idea how that shows up on their financials.
No tears shed for billion dollar corporations who have a bad year financially while so many people had life-shattering years financially, but I am happy that there wasn’t a concoction of events that could have led to a more seismic change in the sports landscape. In the amateur world, there are some college sports programs that didn’t survive all of this, so it could have been worse if not for the overall health of professional sports before all this happened.
I can’t help but think that Sean Newcomb’s outing yesterday received a collective eye roll from the Braves FO and manager. 1 IP, 1 HR, 2BB, 2K, 1 ER. He was sitting 95 which is amazing for his first outing but more of the same from a guy that has struggled hard with control.
I’m not terribly concerned about Kyle Wright because they could have him working on pitches he struggles to locate.
I’m also not confident in Sean Newcomb. He’s never shown he can throw a consistent strike after all these years.
Newcomb seems to need a change of scenery. I wonder what we could get back in return for that change in scenery. He was blessed at birth with a proclivity to use his left hand when he grabbed his rattle, so he has that going for him. And us too, hopefully.
@18 I feel there are at least two points of view on a business with a $50 million operating loss. In one case, there are businesses who are locked into growing and investing back into the company (commonly, start ups who rely on venture capital investing). These companies show positive revenue growth but almost always spend more than they earn because of growth. The other point of view, there are businesses who make cuts and report an operating loss. After the personnel the Braves let loose at end of last season, I’m afraid this one did sting the organization. We can only hope that the Braves had bigger plans and that the personnel loss was something we were prepared to absorb as we further “modernize” (??).
Normally, I would say it doesn’t really matter because Liberty Media can afford to scratch itself for $50M, but the team is a whole separate entity. It’s definitely never difficult for baseball teams to present net losses. They’ve done it before even under congressional review when we WEREN’T dealing with a pandemic. So, I feel that the only really telling sign here is that the Braves cut some workforce.
Sean Newcomb likely has little value to any team, unless it’s someone that values pedigree. At this point, the Braves couldn’t even include him in an Ender trade to offset salary.
On another note, Camargo is starting at SS today and has apparently dropped a lot of extra weight he was carrying in 2019. His best shot at making this team is if he can prove that he’s a capable backup SS. Color me skeptical. His footspeed is painfully slow.
I’m generally skeptical of any partial financials presented from a company that may have a motive for showing more “loss.” Even if the Braves took a hit in line with the rest of MLB, it’s still not a total excuse for cutting payroll. I’ve got to imagine the Dodgers, Padres, Mets, etc. all showed a loss in 2020 too.
@24 It’s just another excuse, but… difference in broadcasting agreements. The Braves don’t earn what they should via the TV deal. The Dodgers certainly may not have lost much.
@23 – So would you say that Camargo is in the best shape of his life?
“His footspeed is painfully slow.”
It is? Maybe it is. He’s impressed me with his range as a third baseman, although admittedly that’s not been a traditional strength of the team.
Touki looks ready for the season. Nice inning.
He has a quick twitch which makes him ideal for 3B, but footspeed? With Flowers not on the team, Camargo might be the slowest man on the field.
I didn’t see any gun readings, but that fastball looked LIT! I’m 100% here for max effort 1-inning Touki.
Yes, Ryan, hope Touki opens the season in the bullpen.
He started like an Assyrian lancer .. perfecto
ended unable to throw a strike…ugh
not sure they didn’t have to bail him/us out under that 20 pitch rule.
and..can someone name our CF in the last innings who dropped a routine catch with a minimum stretch factor?
and…did we all notice Paches’ oppo drive which had to be hauled back from over the fence? Very encouraging…
and … Noah looked good – great shame there was no gun on offer*. Huascar – no, you ask her.
5 errors for the Sox, awful to watch. Jerry Remy and Dave O’Brien in the Sox booth get my vote even over the the Mets crew…self deprecation always fun in stories told while we all have to hang around and wait. Baseball, kids even, if you’re good.
*Quantifying purposes only.
One and One.
What did I get wrong – nothing, surely?
Have always been a big Camargo fan after I heard Chipper expound on the sounds he made, bat on ball. Today though he hit nothing hard. Hate to lose him – I remember his homer last year into the second deck at Yankee Stadium – he looked on in awe as it soared up there, couldn’t believe it, where it had happened. Additionally, to watch him throw across the diamond is a sensual pleasure that never grows old.