The yard sale at Upton Abbey continues

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It’s been a while– too long– since the last dispatch from Upton Abbey, but today’s news commands an update.

The Braves’ offseason has been one filled with departures. First, they allowed a number of their free-agent pitchers– Ervin Santana, Kris Medlen, and Brandon Beachy, among others– to walk, along with role player Tommy La Stella (via trade). Then came the biggest move of all: Atlanta traded Jason Heyward, its best player and a fan favorite by virtue of his abilities and history in the Braves’ farm system, to the hated Cardinals for some mystery meat.

Now Justin Upton is departing for San Diego, the latest of the Padres’ marquee offseason acquisitions. In exchange for the younger Upton, who is heading into the last year of his contract, the Braves will receive four minor leaguers, including Max Fried, which sounds like a selection on the Popeye’s menu but actually is just a twenty-year-old pitcher who’s already had Tommy John surgery, and something called Mallex Smith. If you can stomach that sort of writing, here are scouting reports on these prospects.

Braves fans can be forgiven for feeling like they’ve been whipsawed. After competing for a playoff spot two years ago and combining the high-profile acquisition of the Upton brothers with contract extensions for most of their infield, it looked like Atlanta was really building something.

As it turns out, the Braves are building something, but it isn’t a good baseball team. The construction of the new Cobb County stadium– much reviled in these e-pages— is the lens through which these moves can be understood. It now is clear that new general manager John Hart has his marching orders: deliver a team that will be competitive in 2017, the year the new park opens. “And not a moment sooner,” fans might add.

There’s nothing wrong with rebuilding. Every team not named the Yankees and (now) the Dodgers has to do it from time to time. What’s likely to trouble baseball fans in Atlanta is the sudden downshift into rebuilding mode apparently for the sole purpose of optics: the Braves organization wants to unveil its new– and, again, controversial and probably illegal– park with a competitive, if unrecognizable, team on the field. The timing was off. The best way to arrive in 2017 with a good team is to sell off your assets that are valuable in 2014. Expect to see Craig Kimbrel traded during the 2015 season. That’s what’s happening now.

Were the Braves of 2013-14 world-beaters? Obviously not, and the 2014 season exposed flaws that everybody chose to pretend didn’t also exist in 2013. But there was a framework there. The team didn’t cry out to be blown up. My strong suspicion is that it wouldn’t have been, even with a new GM in place, absent the construction of the new park. And that’s a stupid reason to hit the restart button.

Upton Abbey – S2E1 – April Showers

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As planned, ALDLAND conducted a show of force during the Braves’ home-opening week, making our presence felt during game three of each series, which were played against the Mets and Nationals.

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Although Atlanta lost that game and the series to the Mets that Thursday night, the game was a sign of things to come for the Braves. Continue reading

Upton Abbey: Episode 7 – Dessert Seized

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There will be extra baseball in Atlanta this year. The Braves clinched the NL East title over the weekend, ensuring themselves a postseason berth. With a few days left in the regular season, their potential playoff opponents include the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates(!), and Dodgers.

The good news: Jason Heyward is back in the lineup sooner than expected– thirty days after a New York Met fastball broke his jaw. In the last twenty-two games Heyward played before the injury, Atlanta was 18-4. They were 13-13 in the twenty-six games without him. Heyward may not be fully healed, but the team needs him back in the lineup, and bringing him back for these last few regular season games was the only way they could allow him to get back into playing mode before the playoffs begin.

Heyward_Braves_baseballThe odd news: As part of its remodeling effort, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution began offering a live, online feature for Braves games called Gametracker. It’s similar to ESPN’s online Gamecast product. Gametracker is a nice way to keep track of Braves games, but it seems odd that, as of last week, it would think relief pitcher Luis Ayala plays for the Orioles. First, Gametracker only tracks Braves games. Second, while Ayala did appear in two games for Baltimore this season, he’s appeared in thirty-five for the Braves, the team he joined in April of this year.

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Finally, third baseman Chris Johnson has been having a nice year at the plate. Way nicer than anyone expected or really can explain, in fact. One concern entering the playoffs is that, with the offense sputtering and his awareness of his potentially fluky success and the increased importance of that success to the team’s success, Johnson will start to overthink his plate appearances and squelch his offensive proficiency.

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Previously
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

Upton Abbey: Episode 3 – Hosting Royalty

upton abbey bannerI attended my first Atlanta Braves game last night, with the then-AL-Central-leading Kansas City Royals in town for the first of two games in thirty-six hours.

Getting to Turner Field via public transportation is easy, particularly considering Atlanta’s bad reputation for transit. The park itself is nice and clean, with three escalators ferrying us to the top level, where we were sitting. Originally constructed as part of the 1996 Olympic complex (it cannot in any way be overstated how much Atlanta loves the ’96 Games), it does not show its age, even if the third escalator broke down while we were on it, bringing to mind Mitch Hedberg’s bit. But let’s not dwell on the notion of being too lazy to take the stairs on one’s way to sitting and watching three hours of baseball. Instead, let’s note that Turner Field has roving Chick-fil-A vendors and a nice view of the downtown skyline.turner field 4-16-13With a seating capacity of roughly 50,000, it actually is bigger than Comerica Park, but even sitting in the top section, I felt closer to the game than one might at some technically smaller parks, and there didn’t look to be a bad seat in the house.

It was good that we were closer to the game, too, because Continue reading