Thursday, June 9, 2011

Braves relief situation...

Another Craig Kimbrel blown save last night has people all over town wondering why Jonny Venters hasn't taken over the closers role for the Braves. Venters has been unreal all season and looks like a sure-fire All-Star as a middle reliever with a 0.48 ERA in a league-leading 34 games so far. I think Venters would make an outstanding closer, but making him the Braves closer now is definitely not the answer.

Most baseball fans do not understand the role of a manager in baseball. They believe that anyone that knows baseball at all could write the names of the Yankees on a lineup card and let CC Sabathia go throw every 5th day and win 90+ games easily. In fact, managing professional baseball players over the course of 9 months is a lot of work. The decision to move Dan Uggla down in the order, moving McLouth around, and most other day-to-day decisions a big-league manager makes is discussed in great depth.

Managers must consider player personalities, egos, and other situations that may come out of each and every lineup move and pitching change throughout the season. Getting Eric Hinske enough at-bats to remain content, George Sherrill enough innings, and keeping Brooks Conrad fresh are all difficult things to deal with.

Which brings us to Kimbrel and Venters...We know from last year that Venters is an elite set-up man. The franchise believes that Kimbrel is the closer of the future and he was given the first shot at the job this year. Taking that job from Kimbrel could cause major issues to a bullpen that has been arguably the best in the major leagues so far this season.

First, conventional wisdom says that if Venters became the closer, then Kimbrel could then work as the 8th inning guy. But what about his psyche after being demoted? Kimbrel is a young power pitcher that relies on challenging hitters and having a dominant mound presence. What if he loses that when moved to a 7th or 8th inning role?

Second, we don't know how Venters would react to becoming a full-time closer for the first time. Plenty of guys have been lights-out as set up men and then flopped when given the closers role. On the other hand, many young closers have bombed out after being moved out of the closers role. Switching the 2 right now may seem easy, but what if it doesn't work and you want to switch back?

Plus, it is not as if Kimbrel has been terrible this year. He ranks 2nd in the league in WAR and is 18/23 in save situations with 47 K's in 31 innings. That projects to 45+ saves for the season, and even if his blown saves are near the top of the league, that's a pretty good season for a 23 year old rookie.

This Braves team has issues, but they are not related to pitching. Getting Heyward and McLouth back and getting Dan Uggla going are definitely much more pressing issues. That being said, they are sitting at 34-28 with the 3rd best run-differential in the league.

With 30 games left until the All-Star break, this team is in pretty good shape right now. They will always be in games with their pitching (especially when Moylan, Beachy, and Medlen return) and they get series with last place clubs Baltimore, Houston, and San Diego.

Get healthy, keep pitching, and let Fredi manage his club as he sees fit, and this is still a 90+ win playoff team...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

MLB Draft thoughts...

There were certainly some interesting stories to come out of the MLB Draft so far, especially at the top of the 1st round. There were 2 starting pitchers from UCLA taken in the top 3, 2 high school pitchers from Oklahoma taken in the top 7, and the Royals taking the home-state guy in Bubba Starling at #5.

Biggest surprises in Round 1 in my eyes were Cory Spangenberg from Indian River State CC at #10. A solid bat and pretty versatile, but not the type of talent you want in the top 10. Also, the Mets taking Brandon Nimmo at #13 was a bit of a surprise as he wasn't viewed by most as a top 25 prospect.

The Braves also had a surprising pick at #28 in FSU LHP Sean Gilmartin, likely due to Robert Stephenson being taken by the Reds the pick before. I was hoping for Mikie Mahtook, who had dropped when a few unlikely pitchers jumped into the 1st round. Hopefully, Gilmartin will work out like Mike Minor, a pick I questioned as well.

That same draft was when the curious decision by Matt Purke was made after he was the 14th pick by Texas. Purke turned down 4 million to go to TCU and struggled this year with velocity and injuries, and was drafted by Washington in the 3rd round. He will likely be looking for a multi-million dollar contract, even at pick 96, or head back to TCU for another year and hope to get his stock back up if the money isn't there.

After a huge run on GA high school players in the 1st round the past few years, the only one taken in the 1st round this year was the final pick of the round, Kevin Matthews. Again, a bit of a surprise as Larry Greene or Dwight Smith were thought to be the 1st GA HS players on most boards. But, Matthews is a big lefty with a 90+ fastball, and will probably never make it to UVA now.

An interesting article today by Tom Verducci talks about some of the great draft classes of all-time, with 2005 coming in #1. A more recent class, though, has a chance to get into the top 5 in the next few years, the draft class of 2009.

That class already has had 4 starting pitchers make their debut and show signs of becoming a front line starter (Strasburg, Minor, Alex White, and Mike Leake). Drew Storen and Aaron Crow are dominant relievers, while #6 pick Zach Wheeler is rapidly moving through the Giants system. As for hitters, Dustin Ackley will be at the top of the Mariners batting order soon and Mike Trout, arguably the top prospect in the game was the 25th pick in '09.

Andrew Oliver and DJ LeMahieu have also made their big-league debuts as 2nd round picks, and many other HS players (Donovan Tate, Jacob Turner, and Tyler Maztek) all have been as advertised in the minors.

One final note that was a bit odd was all the college players the Braves took. After taking so many High Schoolers with their 1st few picks over the years (Chipper, Freeman, Heyward, McCann, etc), Atlanta took a college player with their 1st 11 picks this year...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Top 5 Centers

With Shaq retiring, there has been a debate on TV and the interwebs about the top 5 centers of all-time. The word used to describe Shaq the most often during his career was "dominant," and Shaq was certainly that.

I have a problem with Bill Russell being mentioned as #1 by some people because you can't just look at the 9 championships. He is certainly a top 5 guy as he was the best defensive center of all-time and owned the glass, but not #1. Having the greatest GM/Coach of all-time, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Sam Jones, and others around him along with there just being 8 franchises competing for a ring keeps him out of the top spot.

Some guys need rings to solidify their place in history. Kobe Bryant desperately needed to win a title without Shaq because he hadn't done it as "the man." There were at least a dozen players that would have won titles with the dominant Shaq from 00-02. LeBron needs one, but the number of titles doesn't mean you were a greater player than someone with a few less. However, I think you do need at least 1 to get into the discussion of greatest of all-time (see Dirk right now).

5. Hakeem Olajuwon - Hakeem has 2 rings (Finals MVP in both) and is top 10 all-time in points and just outside the top 10 in rebounds. He is considered the blocks leader, but blocks were not a calculated stat until the mid-70's. Olajuwon edged out George Mikan for the 5th spot due to his level of competition at the center position in the late 40's-mid 50's even though Mikan's 5 titles trump Hakeem's 2.

4. Shaquille O'Neal - Shaq gets on the list at #4 after winning 4 titles (3 MVP's) and finishing 5th all time in scoring. He is also 12th in rebounds and his run from 93-03 was the most dominant 10 year stretch anyone produced since the Russell/Wilt era.

3. Bill Russell - The greatest defensive center of all-time, Russell was a mammoth on the boards with over 20,000 career. Russell won 9 rings and was the force in the paint that the Celtics of the early to mid 50's lacked. He is 2nd all-time in rebounds and a 5 time MVP.

2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar - Kareem won 6 titles (2 MVP's) and 6 MVP awards en route to becoming the league's all-time leading scorer. He also is 3rd on the all-time list in rebounds and blocks.

1. Wilt Chamberlain - Wilt only won 2 titles, but that was mostly because he went up against Russell and his All-NBA teammates throughout his career. Swap Wilt with Russell and he wins at least a dozen championships. He was both a defensive presence, dominant offensive force, and all-around freak athlete. He is the NBA all-time leader in rebounds, 4 time MVP, 4th in points, and once led the league in assists just because naysayers said he didn't pass enough.