Atlanta Braves: Evaluating the Team's Offseason and In-Season Roster Moves
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The 2010 Atlanta Braves ended their season with a line-up that had seven different starters from the one that ended the 2009 season.
Brain McCann was the only stable.
Through off-season trades, signings and in-season trades, Braves General Manager Frank Wren, significantly redesigned the team's roster.
Combined with strong hold overs from 2009 and surprising performances this season, enough of those moves worked (or were overcome) that the Braves are headed back to the post-season for the first time since 2005.
Let's take a look at how the front office and the team did with those transaction moves.
I'm going to look only at how the transactions affected the Braves this year as they drove towards the playoffs. Some trades will be evaluated differently in the future because of the development of the prospects that switched hands. Players also aren't the only factor in a trade; money counts too. Yunel Escobar and Alex Gonzalez had similar second halfs, but Gonzalez is going to end up costing the Braves about 4 million dollars more than Escobar over the next two seasons. These evaluations do not take these factors into account. It is focused on on-field performance and how it affected Atlanta in 2010.
December 22nd, 2009
Javy Vazquez was one of the five best pitchers in the National League last year. This year, he couldn't hold down a place in the Yankees starting rotation.
Melky Cabrera was just as bad. In 509 plate appearances Cabrera produced a .671 OPS, 83 points lower than the one he had in New York last year. Cabrera had a few big hits for Atlanta, but he was not very good 95% of the time. His wins above replacement was a negative 0.4. It was a serviceable 1.7 last year.
Vazquez had one of the most dramatic collapses in recent baseball history. After dominating the National League in 2009 with a 2.87 ERA, 9.8 strikeouts per nine and a 1.03 WHIP, Vazquez was a disaster in the stronger hitting American League in 2010.
In 26 starts and four relief appearances, Vazquez posted a .500 record with a 5.32 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. He had more walks, 65, and home runs allowed, 32, than he did in Atlanta last year, 44 walks and 20 home runs, in nearly 30% fewer innings.
His strikeout to walk rate feel nearly 300%, from 5.41 to 1.86. Vazquez had a WAR of 0.1
The Braves would have probably been better off if they had kept Vazquez because Cabrera was even worse.
While it's difficult to explain how Cabrera regressed when moving to the weaker league, it's reasonable to expect that had Vazquez remained there he might have had a performance closer to his 2009 numbers.
It almost certainly would not have been as bad as his season in New York.
In addition the Braves could have used him. With the injuries to Jair Jurrjens and Kris Medlen and the disappearance of Kenshin Kawakami the Braves were left with two rookie starters, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy for most of the stretch run. Beachy had to start two major games down the stretch and is now the team’s fourth starter in the post-season.
Even an average Vazquez would have been a strong stable for the Braves rotation during the season. Vazquez has not had a DL stint since 1999 and has started 32 or more games in every season since then.
December 3rd, 2009
Signed Free Agent Takashi Saito - SUCCESS
The 40-year old Saito was a pleasant surprise for the Braves. He posted a 2.83 ERA in 56 appearances and was the third most important reliever in the Braves bullpen. He struck out batters at a rate of more than 11 per nine innings and had 17 holds.
A late season injury sidelined him after September 17th. He tried to comeback on October 2nd against Philadelphia but allowed two earned runs in just one-third of an inning. There is considerable doubt if he will be able to pitch in the NLDS or NLCS.
December 2nd, 2009
Signed free agent Billy Wagner - GREAT SUCCESS
December 11th, 2009
Traded Rafael Soriano to Tampa Rays for Jesse Chavez - EPIC FAIL
You can't look at these transactions separately. While Wagner was great for the Braves, saving 37 games and striking out more than 100 hitters in 70 innings, Soriano was just as good for the Rays.
Soriano saved 45 games and posted a 1.73 ERA. His strikeout rate was a bit lower, but still excellent and he walked batters at a lower rate than Wagner.
Soriano converted 94% of his save chances to Wagner's 84% conversion rate (Soriano blew 3 saves, Wagner 7). One could argue that if Soriano had had the same save percentage in Atlanta, the Braves might have clinched a playoff berth earlier this week.
Wagner barely topped Soriano in WAR, 2.7 to 2.6.
Jesse Chavez is also part of this mix and he did not make Atlanta a better team this year. Before being traded at the deadline, Chavez had a WAR of -0.4 in just less than 37 innings.
He had a 5.88 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 32 appearances and was used mostly in mop up situations and blowouts. He was actually even worse after being traded to Kansas City but we'll get to that part.
This series of transactions is essentially a WASH. While Wagner was very good, the Braves would have been just as well off with Soriano and might have been able to use the 7 million dollars used to sign Wagner to address other needs. Trading Soriano and getting what turned out to be nothing in return, arguably makes this sequences of moves a wash for the Braves. Soriano was worth much, much more than Jesse Chavez.
January 5th, 2010
Signed free agent Eric Hinske – SUCCESS
Hinske filled in at first base and left field numerous times for the Braves this year. He hit for some power (11 home runs) and had a .793 OPS.
Hinske did just what the Braves signed him to do, provide left-handed power off the bench and play well when called upon to start.
January 5th, 2010
Signed free agent Troy Glaus - WASH
After getting off to a slow start Glaus, helped carry the Braves offense during their hot streak in May and June. After that though he had a lot of useless at bats and was left in the starting line-up for much too long.
That's not his fault though. During the six weeks he was hitting, he was fantastic. His final numbers, 16 home runs, 71 RBI and an OPS of .744 don't look great but it's about what the Braves probably expected from Glaus.
The downside was that Glaus was completely useless down the stretch run because of injury. His injuries and non-production necessitated the Derrek Lee deal in late August. Glaus was relegated to a pinch-hitting role from there on.
But the wins in May and June count just as much as the ones in September. As it turned out the Braves needed every single one this year, and during Glaus' hot streak he helped the team acquire a few of those.
March 22nd, 2010
Named Jason Heyward the team's starting right-fielder - GREAT SUCCESS
Naming Jason Heyward the Braves starting right-fielder, coming out of Spring Training, was one of the most significant decisions of the baseball season. Minus a DL-stint in June, Heyward was one of the stables in an ever changing Braves line-up.
He drew walks, hit for power and played above average defense all season long. He had five game-winning hits, helped electrify the fan base and injected the team with a strong sense of enthusiasm. Heyward could have been brought along slowly or been called up mid-season, however the decision to start Heyward on opening day sent a clear message - the Braves were ready to win now.
Heyward helped them do so in spectacular fashion. Heyward finished fourth in the NL in .OBP and walks and was worth 3 to 4 wins for the Braves this year, third best among National League outfielders.
July 14th, 2010
Traded Yunel Escobar to the Toronto Blue Jays for Alex Gonzalez - FAIL
The day after the All-Star game, Frank Wren pulled of his first of many mid-season trades. Gonzalez had played well above his career norm during the first half. He hit 17 first half home runs, had a decent OPS of .781 and a WAR of exactly 2.0.
Yunel Escobar had had a very disappointing first half.
Injuries and a general feeling of malaise led Escobar to just a .238 batting average and no home runs. He still played some of the best defense in the NL, but his non-production and bad attitude quickly saw him fall out of favor in Atlanta.
When he was dealt to Toronto he seemed to quickly turn things around, hitting his first home runs of the season in his first two games north of the border. For the second half Escobar batted a decent .275 with a .762 OPS, while continuing to play fantastic defense.
In his 75 games in Atlanta he had a WAR of 0.9. In 60 games for Toronto he had a WAR of 1.0
Gonzalez meanwhile played in 72 games for Atlanta this year and had a WAR of 0.9. His power numbers did not translate to the Turner Field and the NL as hit just six home runs for Atlanta (Escobar hit four in Toronto). Gonzalez hit .240 and had a measly .291 on-base percentage.
When the Braves needed him the most, in the season's final week, Gonzalez went 1 for 27 to finish the 2010 season.
Escobar was not happy in Atlanta and the Braves were not happy with him, but had he given the Braves the average second half performance which he had in Toronto, they would have been just as well off as with Gonzalez.
This trade was not the injection of offense that the Braves had hoped for.
July 31st, 2010
Traded Gregor Blanco and Jesse Chavez to the Kansas City Royals for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth - FAIL
The Braves acquired Ankiel to fill the hole left in centerfield by the struggles and subsequent demotion of opening-day centerfielder Nate McLouth. The Braves might have been better sticking with McLouth.
Ankiel only played in 27 games for the Royals. In those games he had a .784 OPS and had played better during the two weeks leading up to his trade. His hot streak ended when he reached Atlanta.
Ankiel appeared in 47 games for the Braves and had a dreadful line of .210/.324/.338. He hit only two home runs, half as many as he did in Kansas City. He did play excellent centerfield and displayed his stellar throwing arm on a number of occasions.
Kyle Farnsworth was brought in to help bolster an already deep Braves bullpen. He wasn't used much, only recording 20 innings during his second stop in Atlanta. He 5.40 ERA did not shine very brightly, especially when compared to the 2.42 one he had in KC.
Farnsworth blew a number of games for the Braves, including one in Washington on the second to last weekend of the season.
At this point Farnsworth is probably the last man out of the bullpen for the post-season.
Upon arriving in Kansas City, Gregor Blanco achieved the role of an everyday player.
He took to the role as well as can be expected, posting a .348 OPB and stealing 10 bases. He had four times as many plate appearances in Kansas City as he did in Atlanta, so it's hard to say how he would have done had he continued to fulfill a utility role in Atlanta.
Given that, his line in Kansas City was still considerable better than Ankiel's line in Atlanta, though Ankiel played better defense.
Blanco had WAR of 0.7 while in Kansas City. Ankiel's was 0.5 in Atlanta and Farnsworth's was -0.2.
Jesse Chavez was also a part of this trade. Like in Atlanta, he was awful in KC. Chavez posted a near identical ERA in KC, 5.88 to 5.89, in 10 fewer innings.
This trade simply shouldn't have happened. The Braves traded a light hitting outfielder with good speed for a light hitting outfielder with a good throwing arm. In the long arc of the season there's not much difference there.
Farnsworth was not needed because of the emergence of Michael Dunn and Craig Kimbrel and the return of Eric O'Flaherty.
August 4th, 2010
Allowed the Pittsburgh Pirates to acquire Chris Resop off of Waivers, no compensation requested - FAIL
On August 4th the Braves could not have known that they would desperately need Resop's right arm down the stretch.
Resop had spent most of 2010 in triple-A Gwinnett. He was an ace there, going 6-3 with a 2.09 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.
The Braves could have used a measure of that performance from a starter. But rather than pay him and because they didn't think they needed another starter, the Braves essentially released Resop and let him go to Pittsburgh for nothing.
In Pittsburgh, pitching only in relief, Resop recorded a 1.89 ERA in 22 relief appearances.
Given that he did pitch well when give a chance in the majors, it's reasonable to assume Resop would have been of value to the Braves once Medlen and Jurrjens got hurt.
Ironically Medlen got hurt the night of August 4th, the day the Braves let Resop go (Medlen's injury was diagnosed as requiring season-ending surgery on August 6th).
Had the Braves not made the playoffs, I would have viewed this move as one of the small, unseen decisions that might have cost them a post-season berth. Even know Resop might be a better option as the team's fourth playoff starter over rookie Brandon Beachy.
What was the Braves best roster move over the past year?
Frank Wren would be wise to remember that you can never have too much starting pitcher depth.
August 18th, 2010
Acquired Derrek Lee from the Chicago Cubs for three minor leaguers – SUCCESS
Finally a trade brought the Braves a player who performed well for them. Given that though, Lee made no difference in the Braves success down the stretch.
Lee played very well during his short, 33 game stint, in Atlanta. He had a higher .OBP and .SLG percentage than he did in Chicago. He only hit three homeruns, but had an above average .849 OPS and a WAR of 0.8 (the exact same WAR he had in Chicago in 70 more games).
He did not turn the Braves into a winner though. After they acquired Lee the Braves played under .500 ball for the rest of the season and lost eight and half games in the standings. This can't be blamed on Lee, but he also can’t be credited with helping the Braves improve.
Lee, however, will be absolutely essentially to the Braves post-season success because of the injury to Prado. For that reason, the acquisition of his bat, makes this trade potentially the most important one for Atlanta in 2010.
In conclusion it appears the Braves won despite the front offices wheelings and dealings.
The Vazquez/Cabrera trade didn’t help anybody and Vazquez might not have self-destructed in Atlanta.
Signing Wagner and trading Soriano for nothing, is a wash. It ended up costing the Braves 7 million dollars though, which might have been better used paying to keep Vazquez.
The Glaus signing looked good in June, but they pay ball players to play all season. Glaus is now useless and has been since July. Had he played well all season, the Braves would not have needed to replace him with Lee and perhaps could have further strengthened their line-up by acquiring a bat in the outfield.
The Ankiel, Farnworth, Blanco deal was a waste of time for everyone involved. The Gonzalez/Escobar one was also, if we can reasonably argue that Escobar would have been able to produce his very average second-half while playing in Atlanta.
The Braves best signings were a utility player, Hinske, and a middle reliever, Saito. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the front office.
Derrek Lee played well after his trade, but the he didn’t spark the team as hoped. In all he was acquired for just 150 at-bats. One or two big post season at-bats might make this deal worth it though.
Because of trades and injuries the Braves enter the postseason with a different player at every infield position than the one they had on opening day. Nate McLouth and Matt Diaz’s platoon roles in the outfield provide the only vestige of the Braves outfield from 2009.
It’s hard to argue that the front office did much to improve this team. Strong performances from role players like Omar Infante, Brooks Conrad, a career year from Martin Prado, a break out performance from Jason Heyward and dominate pitching is what gave the Braves a play-off berth.
Frank Wren and the Braves front office might consider slowing down in the future and taking a longer look at the players they are trading away, signing and releasing.
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