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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The (Walking) Death of Sports on Earth

soe

Last month, in a story that was poorly reported to the then-staff of the site Sports on Earth, to say nothing of the general public, it snuck out that, in some order, USA Today had pulled out of its partnership with MLB that supported the site and ninety-five percent of the site’s staff had been let go. The soldiering-on of “senior writer” Will Leitch (which is far from nothing) aside, SoE exists today at best as a sort of undead shell of the vibrant self Leitch and its former staff had built in what I called an important “second chapter” of the site’s history.

As David Roth, Keith Olbermann, and even Leitch himself have commented, the whole thing came as a surprise even to the writers, many of whom found out about the great “unwinding” for the first time on Twitter.

We have tracked the rise of Sports on Earth since its birth, and we’ve highlighted plenty of their many well-done stories in the past. From a technical standpoint, SoE was designed for optimal reading on a tablet, and, for me, it held the position of go-to breakfast-table reading for a long time.

I was just a reader. For The Classical’s David Roth, the whole thing was more personal, as he was friends and colleagues of many of the dispatched writers, many of whom also had written for The Classical. I learned about Sports on Earth’s demise from Roth’s extended obituary, which also expounds upon the challenges of sustaining and supporting interesting sports writing in today’s media landscape.   Continue reading

Socializing endurance athletics

The Wall Street Journal has a sports section, something that came along with, or at least greatly expanded following, News Corp.’s takeover of the paper in 2007. It’s sort of what you might expect: a mixed-bag of quality in writing and presentation with more emphasis on tennis and sailing than other sports pages. It features writing from some really smart, talented people like Jason Gay and, formerly, David Roth (of Classical fame and now in an expanded role at SB Nation), and we try to feature those smart articles on this site. Because the paper doesn’t have to uphold a reputation as a source for sports– the move to expand sports coverage appears to be aimed at increasing website clicks– its “sports writers” might be more likely to come to their sports articles with varying backgrounds and varying levels of commitment to the sports world. Once in a while, it even feels like the WSJ’s editorial board drops in on the sports section, and that’s the feeling I had when I read last week’s article about running.

A “generational battle is raging in endurance athletics,” the article announces. “Old-timers are suggesting that performance-related apathy [exists] among young amateur athletes,” which “helps explain why America hasn’t won an Olympic marathon medal since 2004,” among other things.

There are numbers that support the conclusion that “kids these days [are] just not very fast.” At this year’s Chicago Triathlon, for example, older runners, as a group, did better than younger runners. Younger American runners are not surpassing older ones in world competition.  Continue reading

Picking at the Scabs: Week 4

The NFL’s replacement official charade certainly has become a tired to quite tired act. The volume of written responsive outrage is headed that way, too. While it’s good that the media is heeding Jim Leyland’s call for them to hold officials accountable, there’s only so much complaining you can or want to read. This new, weekly feature takes care of the latter problem for you. Each week, we’ll sift through the glut of hyperbolic, whining responses and pull out the best snippets for you.
As we all know, the real NFL referees were back in action for all of Week 4, meaning that this is yet another of ALDLAND’s short-lived features, though we prefer to think last week’s edition was the precipitating factor for their return. Here’s a sendoff to the replacement officials and this feature, presented, as before, without comment.

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David Roth:

But there is, finally, only one thing to find at the bottom of all this, and it’s worth repeating. This whole florid thing springs from a cold—and, it seems so far, astute—calculation on the part of the NFL’s Rand-oid ownership class. That calculation, which is not precisely new but has a new manifestation over these last three weeks, is that people will watch NFL games no matter what, no matter how slow or poor or wrong or off or dangerous things are allowed to become on the field. . . . That [the owners] haven’t and won’t pay up to make their hugely profitable product palatable says a good deal about them. It says a lot more about how they think of us, and of the game that enriches them.

Lingerie Football League:

Because of the LFL’s perception it is that much more critical for us to hire officiating crews that are competent, not only for the credibility of our game but to keep our athletes safer. Due to several on-field incompetent officiating we chose to part ways with with a couple crews which apparently are now officiating in the NFL. We have a lot of respect for our officials but we felt the officiating was not in line with our expectations.

We have not made public comment to date because we felt it was not our place to do so. However in light of tonight’s event, we felt it was only fair that NFL fans knew the truth as to who are officiating these games.

Foot Locker:

Despite recent allegations, our employees have spent the last few weeks at our stores and not [working as replacement referees] at NFL games.

Mike Florio:

Some have suggested that Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the officials lockout should result in the termination of his employment.  The more accurate position is that he should get a raise.

Roger Goodell:

We are sorry to have to put our fans through that, but it is something that in the short term you sometimes have to do to make sure you get the right kind of deal for the long term and make sure you continue to grow the game.

Pacman Jones:

Guys are going to have to play with a lot of technique now [that the real officials are back].

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Previously
Week 3