Two kinds of Braves reunions

MCCANN

The Atlanta Braves made MLB offseason headlines yesterday with two short-term free-agent acquisitions that find the team taking calculated chances on former stars.

First, with Kurt Suzuki leaving in free agency, the Braves sought out a familiar face in Brian McCann to serve as a veteran backup to presumptive starting catcher Tyler Flowers. McCann made his major-league debut with the Braves in 2005 and quickly and consistently achieved success, earning all-star honors in all but one of his eight full-time seasons in Atlanta and tacking on silver-slugger recognition five times and down-ballot MVP votes once. As one would expect, McCann did this by being one of the best offensive and defensive catchers in baseball over that stretch. The following table notes his yearly offensive (by wRC+) and defensive (by FRAA) rankings among fellow catchers from 2006-2013.

mccann braves ranks

A pretty nice run indeed. McCann’s departure after the 2013 season, which marked Atlanta’s last appearance in the postseason before this year’s surprise early return, marked the beginning of the Braves’ dismantling of their last promising, young, cheap core. (Remember when Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, the Upton brothers, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and Alex Wood all played for the same team?)

Now Atlanta has another promising, young, cheap core to which McCann returns to provide his brand of veteran leadership. His bat settled down to “decidedly average” status during his five years away (three in the Bronx, then two in Houston), still nice for a catcher, though his 82 wRC+ in 2018 marked a low point in his career, and his 216 plate appearances were his fewest of any season save his ’05 debut, a reflection of his new, backup status. McCann also hasn’t been an above-average defender since 2016. At one year and $2 million, though, the Braves probably aren’t too worried about those trends and instead are banking as much on McCann’s perceived intangible contributions as they are on those that register more explicitly in modern stat books.

Baseball Prospectus sees good things on the horizon for McCann as a backup in his return to Atlanta, and FanGraphs also is optimistic, though it reminds us about the two months McCann missed last season as a result of a knee injury. For the team and the player it seems that this signing came down to a mutual desire for a homecoming:

Here’s hoping it’s a happy return.

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The bigger news from yesterday was Atlanta’s Josh Donaldson signing. It too was a one-year agreement, though for about ten times as much money ($23 million, to be exact), and a reunion of sorts, though not with the Braves per se but their general manager, Alex Anthopolous, who previously brought Donaldson to the Blue Jays. As they are with McCann, the Braves are banking on a rebound by Donaldson, who fell apart last year, just three seasons removed from an MVP-winning campaign. Predicated on that perennial proviso, “if healthy,” BP likes the gamble:

Donaldson offers a much more dynamic risk profile, but a simpler one. If he stays healthy, there’s no reason not to expect him to rake. Even when he played last year, his power was seriously sapped (a still-impressive .203 ISO represented a major step back from the .274 he averaged in his first three seasons with the Jays), and that presents a real risk that simple projection systems will underrate. However, if the Braves believe that decrease in pop stemmed from the compromised state of Donaldson’s lower half, and if he’s going to be healthy going into 2019, then he could easily bounce back in that department.

He’s no longer a plus with the glove or on the bases, and he’s not going to be the MVP again. There’s tons of room, though, between his decidedly average 2018 and his peak performance, which is why BP ranked him as the no. 3 free agent available this offseason. If healthy, he fits nicely into the middle of the Atlanta batting order.

The Braves still have more money to spend on 2019 payroll, and they already look to be in excellent shape to contend in what again should be a competitive division. (It is as I foretold.)

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Upton Abbey – Episode 8 – Director’s Commentary

upton abbey banner

I have been running this Upton Abbey feature on this site since April. Brendan helped me with the name, and I created the headline graphic that has accompanied each post. Readers with a careful eye have noticed that that graphic includes B.J., Justin, and Kate Upton.

The folks at Sports Illustrated are dedicated fans of this series, and they’re using the cover of next week’s issue to acknowledge ALDLAND’s influence on their work:

While the SI editors have not expressly acknowledged this site by name, I did begin receiving free copies of the magazine in the mail a few weeks ago, which is good enough for me.

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The Braves begin the playoffs tomorrow night, when they host the first game of their divisional series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. L.A. had a great second half to their season, while the Braves spent September looking to regain their rhythm. Another thing they spent September doing was vigorously enforcing baseball’s “unwritten rules.” Brian McCann and Chris Johnson took the lead on this Quixotic initiative, and Braves fans certainly have to hope that their team can drop what is less than a non-issue and return their focus to the task at hand. The Dodgers look to be in a good spot right now, and late-September’s Braves will have a hard time beating them.

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Previously
Episode 7 – Dessert Seized
Episode 6 – I Can See Clearly Now?
Episode 5 – Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner
Episode 4 – A Three-Course Meal
Episode 3 – Hosting Royalty
Episode 2 – Lords of the Mannor
Episode 1 – Beginning, as we must, with Chipper

Upton Abbey: Episode 6 – I Can See Clearly Now?

upton abbey bannerYesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Dan Uggla, Braves second baseman, would be placed on the disabled list in order for him to undergo Lasik eye surgery:

In the midst of the worst season of his career, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla will have Lasik eye surgery that will keep him out of the lineup for at least the next two weeks.

Uggla was placed on the 15-day disabled list and Tyler Pastornicky was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett and will start Tuesday night’s game against the Phillies at Turner Field.

Uggla will have surgery in two or three days, and the Braves think he’ll be able to recover quickly, play in a few minor league games and return to the active roster in 15 days or shortly thereafter.

“It was a mutual decision,” said Uggla, who ranks second among Braves with 21 home runs and leads the team with 62 walks, but has the lowest average (.186) among major league qualifiers and most strikeouts (146) in the National League. “Obviously I don’t want to go on the DL whatsoever, but at the same time you’ve got to do what’s best for the team right now.

“I’ve been struggling pretty bad and battling with the contacts and grinding with those things day in and day out. I think the best thing to do is just go ahead and do it now.”

The full story is available here. Uggla can be a lightning rod for criticism, and the fact that his home runs and walks are up at the same time he has baseball’s worst batting average (supplanting teammate B.J. Upton) and is leading the National League in strikeouts sounds to me like a very Uggla season. With the team continuing to be beset by seemingly critical injuries (and succeeding in spite of that), the question is whether Lasik– which sounds a bit dog-ate-my-homework-esque– can help Uggla.

The idea here is that Uggla’s having trouble hitting the ball because he’s having trouble seeing the ball, and that having corrective eye surgery would improve his ability to see, and therefore hit, the ball. That AJC story includes an apparent testimonial from Uggla’s teammate, catcher Brian McCann, who battled vision problems and is having a great season at the plate this year.

But a 2005 study found “no statistically significant or practically significant difference . . . between the presurgery and postsurgery means on either on-base percentage, batting average, slugging percentage, or on-base plus slugging of any major league baseball players.”

Fangraphs’ Chad Young thinks there’s good reason to believe that study is flawed, however. His article raises three primary issues with the study: 1) it fails to account for player age; 2) it does not place player output in historical context; and 3) it utilizes rigid, narrow sample windows.

Young attempted to crunch the numbers himself in a way that addressed the flaws he saw in the study’s methodology, leading to a number of conclusions, including: a) offensive contribution increased significantly in the year following surgery, and b) players in Uggla’s age range saw an increase in offensive contribution, while older players saw a decrease, something Young attributes to age independent of eye surgery. In other words, “when we account for age and league context, the picture gets quite a bit rosier. Maybe the way I am looking at the data suggests I need the surgery more than Uggla does, but I am not ruling out the possibility that we will see noticeable gains once Uggla can see.”

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Uggla may be having trouble seeing the game right now, but we certainly did not, as our last trip to Turner Field found us in what may be the best seats I’ve ever had for a baseball game.

rockies braves august 2013I have yet to see the Braves lose in Atlanta this season (a streak that will be put to the test again tonight), and this particular game was the most emphatic victory yet. Continue reading

Upton Abbey: Episode 5 – Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner

upton abbey bannerDinner is a popular event at the Abbey, and after last episode’s three-course meal, it seems it’s supper time again.

This episode presents a baseball-themed inversion of a classic dinner trope, as there was no dinner guest to be found when the paternalistic Braves arrived in Queens this week to dine with the Mets:

Continue reading