This season hasn’t exactly gone the way most Atlanta Braves fans have wanted but it is long from over. Atlanta has greatly underachieved and yet are just 5.0 games back of the Wild Card leading Colorado Rockies and 7.0 back of the National League East Philadelphia Phillies.
Despite the early struggles Atlanta is far from done. Something I have noticed is that General Manager Frank Wren has been receiving a lot of criticism from fans for his “idiotic” moves. Let’s take a look and see how “idiotic” they really are.
The first move I would like to point out is the trade for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan. Atlanta acquired the pair from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Tyler Flowers and Brent Lillibridge. So far this year Javier Vazquez is 8-7 with a 3.01 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 140.1 innings pitched. Vazquez is tied for 3rd in the Major Leagues in WHIP (1.05) and has the 3rd best K/9 (10.13). In other words Vazquez has been spectacular this season. Logan on the other hand has been mediocre with a 4.50 ERA in 10.0 innings pitched.
Let’s look at what Chicago got. Tyler Flowers, was the starting catcher for the U.S. Futures team. Great, right? Oh wait that Brian McCann guy is blocking his way to the majors. Brent Lillibridge is currently sporting a fantastic .162 BA in 26 games for the White Sox this year. The bottom line is Frank Wren robbed the White Sox. That trade was not in anyway fair.
Wren has received some flack for the signing of Derek Lowe. Lowe is signed for four years and is making $15MM this year. Not a great contract but Lowe brings the post season experience Atlanta could use. Lowe just happens to be the only pitcher in Major League history to be the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the Divisional Series, Championship Series and World Series in one post season. That’s experience for you. Lowe is also very durable so the 4th year on the contract does not seem so bad. Lowe has pitched in no fewer than 180 innings in the last 7 years. Had Wren not offered the 4th year on the contract there is no way Lowe would have chosen Atlanta.
That is just terrible because Smoltz’s 2-4 record and 7.12 ERA looks so great. As for Tom Glavine, his fastball was topping out in the low 80’s. Really? Atlanta wants to win, not give out pity contracts.
A controversial signing was that of Japanese veteran Kenshin Kawakami. So far he is just 5-8 with a 4.37 ERA. One should also know that the ball is smaller in Japan so it can take some time for Kawakami to adjust. For comparison Daisuke Matsuzaka was 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA in his first season with the Red Sox. The next season he was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. I’m not saying this will be the same with Kawakami but don’t condemn him yet.
Next we have the Nate McLouth trade that in the thoughts of has decimated Atlanta’s farm system. Atlanta gave up Charlie Morton, who has pitched well (2-3, 3.60 ERA), Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke. In Hernandez’s 53 games for AA Altoona he is hitting a sparkling .239 BA with 5 stolen bases in 10 attempts. Stealing bases is what he does so that’s not looking so great. Not to mention Hernandez and McLouth play the same position so he could have potentially been blocked. In Locke’s 10 games with Advanced A Lynchburg he has a 1-4 record with a 5.31 ERA. Again, Frank Wren robbed a team.
Recently Wren traded Casey Kotchman for Adam LaRoche and cash. This deal was obviously made in an attempt to give the power starved Braves lineup an added boost. Kotchman has hit just 6 home runs this season while LaRoche has 13. Kotchman’s batting average is 30 points higher but he has no where near the power of LaRoche. LaRoche also traditionally gets hot in the second half.
Another complaint is Kotchman’s amazing defense as he has yet to make an error. LaRoche has made just 1 this season while having 61 more total chances. LaRoche also sports a better range factor (9.94) over Kotchman (9.41). Is Kotchman’s defense really that much better? I don’t think so.
The bottom line is Wren has robbed 2 teams on the trade market and really made one signing that hasn’t helped Atlanta (Kawakami). That signing also hasn’t really hurt them either.
Frank Wren has done an above average job whether Braves fans want to admit it or not. He is just so easy to blame for Atlanta’s problems.
We have all engaged in the discussion of who are the best players at their respective positions. When discussing the position of shortstop I think the obvious answer is Hanley Ramirez. He does it all. He hits for average as well as power. He drives in runs and steals bases. He even plays good defense. He is easily the best shortstop in the game. But who is number two? I’m going to make the case for Yunel Escobar of the Atlanta Braves.
Escobar plays solid defense but where he really shines is at the plate. Escobar has improved his contact hitting this year by sporting the 6th best .305 average. He has also shown he can provide the long ball with his 3rd best 11 home runs and drive in runs with his 58 RBI which also rank 3rd. The power numbers aren’t a product of a free swinger either. Escobar has shown excellent bat control and advanced plate discipline. He strikes out just 10.6% of the time which is only beaten by Orlando Cabrera (9.4%) and Miguel Tejada (7.6%). He is also the owner of the 3rd best SO/BB ratio with 0.80.
Escobar ranks 5th in OBP (.370), 5th in SLG (.471), 5th in OPS (.841), 7th in WAR (2.5), 7th in RC (55.8) and 4th in clutch factor (0.49). Escobar is in the top 10 in some of the most important statistics. He is among the best hitting shortstops as well as the most valuable to his respective team.
He has a respectable 4.3 Range Factor when you look at the defensive aspect of his game. One thing that isn’t shown in a statistic is his strong arm. Many Braves fans were spoiled when Rafael Furcal would rifle throws across the field. Escobar’s arm is just as good if not better.
There are a handful of shortstops that have a legitimate shot at being the runner up to Hanley Ramirez at the position. Yunel Escobar has a pretty good argument.