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Nate McLouth And The Hole In Atlanta’s Lineup

It’s June 1st and I have an alarming stat for Braves fans—this year’s primary starting pitchers (Hanson, Hudson, Kawakami, Lowe and Medlen) are having a more successful year at the plate than the starting centerfielder, Nate McLouth. Through 51 games (nearly a third of the year!) the pitchers are hitting .184 and McClouth is hitting .179 with no signs of coming out of his slump. In fact, it’s hard for me to even call what’s happening with McLouth a slump at this point.


The Braves have straightened out most of their issues in the lineup—Yunel Escobar, Melky Cabrera and Chipper Jones have heated up while Jason Heyward, Martin Prado and Troy Glaus are still more than holding up their ends of the bargain. McLouth is the lone holdout and has seemed allergic to any kind of success at the plate, save the one dramatic walk-off home run earlier in the year.


So what is there to do? The Braves have five options in the outfield—Heyward, Cabrera, McLouth, Eric Hinske and Gregor Blanco—and I think they need to shift the hierarchy, which is something Bobby Cox has been notoriously slow to do in the past. But in order to really take advantage of what’s possible for the team this year (a playoff berth and beyond) it is completely necessary and needs to happen sooner rather than later. 


Right now Heyward and McLouth play every day in right field and center field, respectively, with a rotating cast in left field. Heyward is entrenched in right field, but it’s time to see what Cabrera can do on a full-time basis.


I propose that Cox start an outfield of Heyward, Cabrera and Hinske as the primary lineup. Hinske has exactly the same number of hits as McLouth in almost half the at-bats and has proven himself as a quality ballplayer over the years.


On days when Hinske needs a rest or there’s bad pitching matchup for him, put McLouth in center and shift Cabrera to left. It may seem drastic and crazy to use McLouth as a fourth outfield considering his salary, but something needs to happen. The Braves are playing well right now and Cox needs to strike while the iron is hot. 


Two other options would be to use Blanco on a more regular basis (but he seems to have settled in as a pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement) or to bring up Jordan Schafer from triple-A. I happen to believe that the Cabrera/Hinske option is superior to this, but if you disagree please let me know in the comments. 

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Quick Thoughts On Wins As A Statistic

Just to prove how random, and therefore essentially worthless, wins are as a statistic, check out the numbers of two pitchers below.

Pitcher #1 – 4.86 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 35 strikeouts, 29 walks and 63 innings pitched in 11 starts.

Pitcher #2 – 4.66 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 32 strikeouts, 15 walks and 56 innings pitched in 10 starts.

Pitcher #1 is Derek Lowe, owner of a 7-4 record, and pitcher #2 is Kenshin Kawakami, who currently sits atop an 0-7 record.  On the same team with across-the-board worse stats, Lowe is having a far superior year if you put much stock in wins as a viable stat.  What do you all think about this?  Do you think wins are overvalued or am I way off-base here? 

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Atlanta Braves First Quarter Report: Relievers

The Braves are through 44 games, which puts them over a quarter of the way through the season, and you know what that means.

That’s right—it’s time to hand out some grades and make some early judgments on how the season is going so far.

I’m looking at the bullpen today and will get to the lineup regulars next. Check out my report on the starting pitchers here.

Eric O’Flaherty

With an ERA below 2.00 and a WHIP below 1.00, O’Flaherty has been superb for the Braves so far. The fact that he’s pitched in half of Atlanta’s games so far is troubling, but he’s only worked 19 innings total, so hopefully the quantity of games is nullified by his short appearances.

First Quarter Grade: A

Peter Moylan

Moylan has been rock solid out of the ‘pen in 2010. His sidearm delivery presents a different look for hitters, and he really has the confidence of the team and the Atlanta fans. Moylan has also appeared in 22 games, and the Braves need to be careful with him since he has been seriously injured in the recent past.

First Quarter Grade: A

Billy Wagner

At first glance, Wagner hasn’t had a very impressive year: five saves to go along with two blown saves. But this is Wagner’s first full year after major surgery, and it seems that he’s still getting into the swing of things. He has a low WHIP and ERA to go along with a very good strikeout/walk ratio (25/7) so I think the best is yet to come for Billy Wagner with the Braves in 2010.

First Quarter Grade: B

Takashi Saito

Saito has been a bit of a disappointment for the Braves so far. He’s not nearly on the level of his countryman Kenshin “7.3 mil, 0 wins” Kawakami, but he hasn’t been the fantastic setup man he was advertised as when he signed with the Braves this winter. Saito’s ERA this season (3.72) is more than a run higher than his previous season high (2.49 in 2008 with the Dodgers) so there’s reason to think he will improve as the year goes on.

First Quarter Grade: C+

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Braves First Quarter Report: Starting Pitchers

The Braves just finished their 44th game, which puts them over a quarter of the way through the season, and you know what that means: that’s right, it’s time to hand out some grades and make some early judgments on how the season is going so far. 

I won’t mention every single player who’s seen action, but I’ll make sure to touch on the main players in the lineup, starting rotation and bullpen.  The starting pitchers are up today, with reports on the bullpen and lineup regulars in the very near future.

Starting Pitchers

Tim Hudson: Hudson has clearly been the premier starter for the Braves so far this year and will definitely be in the running for the Cy Young Award if he keeps this up. He has gone eight innings in each of his last two starts and has really looked sharp all year.  With an ERA (2.09) and WHIP (1.09) in the top ten of qualified National League starters, Hudson has been on the top of his game in 2010.  

First Quarter Grade: A

Tommy Hanson: At first glance, Hanson’s year looks pretty pedestrian – a 3-3 record to go with a 4.18 ERA.  But in reality he has pitched really, really well so far.  After removing one horrible start that is clearly an outlier, Hanson has 56 strikeouts compared to only 13 walks, a 2.88 ERA and has averaged over six innings per start.  He’s only 23 years old and has the look of a top of the rotation starter for years to come.

First Quarter Grade: A-

Kris Medlen: Medlen has filled in very nicely for Jair Jurrgens.  Originally counted on as the spot-starter and long reliever, Medlen has made three starts in May and has acquitted himself nicely in each one.  The Braves are 2-1 in games he’s started and he hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of them.  He hasn’t pitched deep into games, but he’s given the Braves a chance to win each time and he really looks like a keeper for the future.

First Quarter Grade: B

Derek Lowe: Lowe has started ten games this year and has earned a decision each time out (6-4).  Despite the winning record, his numbers really aren’t that good.  Most alarming is the fact that he’s only gone past six innings in one of his ten starts.  His ERA in May (4.82) is nearly a run lower than it was in April (5.79) so maybe he’s getting things turned in the right direction, but short starts and a high ERA are not what the Braves had in mind when Lowe signed a big free agent deal before the 2009 season.

First Quarter Grade: C-

Kenshin Kawakami: We pretty much know what we’re getting from Kawakami at this point – he either goes six innings and let’s in three runs (best case scenario) or he goes four innings and lets in four runs.  He’s not going to go deep into games and he’s not going to overpower hitters with his stuff, but he’s not nearly as bad as his record indicates (0-6).  He too has looked better in May than April but I’m pretty much just grasping for something positive to hold onto with this guy.  All in all, Kawakami is probably better than most fifth starters out there, but it’s appalling that he’s the 4th highest paid player on the roster.

First Quarter Grade: D+

Jair Jurrgens: Jurrgens made five starts before he got shut down with a hamstring injury.  One start was great, two were good and two were god-awful.  This guy has the capability to be an All-Star (215 innings, 2.60 ERA in 2009) and is still only 24 years old so it is imperative that he is fully healed before trying to pitch again.  He’s too good and too valuable to the future of this team to be rushed back before he’s ready.

First Quarter Grade: Inconclusive

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