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Entries in Atlanta Braves (42)

Friday
Jan252013

Atlanta's New Outfield: Young, Fast and Powerful

New Brave Justin Upton joins brother B.J. and Jason Heyward in an outfield that could make power/speed history.The Atlanta Braves ended baseball's longest-running soap opera, "As The Upton Turns," by acquiring Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a seven-player deal. Justin now joins brother B.J., who inked a five-year, $75 million contract earlier this winter, and Jason Heyward in Atlanta's new-look outfield. The Brothers Upton and Heyward all have youth on their side, and they can crack a game wide open with power or speed. How rare is it for a club to have three power-speed threats covering the outfield, let alone three young ones? Turns out, it's unprecedented.

All three of Atlanta's fly-catchers have turned in 20 home run, 20 stolen base seasons in the major leagues. B.J. hit the 20/20 mark in 2007 (24 HR, 22 SB), 2011 (23 HR, 36 SB) and 2012 (28 HR, 31 SB). Justin did it in 2009 (26 HR, 20 SB) and 2011 (31 HR, 21 SB), and Heyward cleared the bar this past year (27 HR, 21 SB in 2012). With the Uptons and Heyward in the prime years of their careers, manager Fredi Gonzalez might just get three 20/20 seasons from his outfielders in 2013:

    2013 Bill James Projections

While Heyward has more than 1,700 plate appearances in the majors and he can grow a beard between innings, he'll be just 23 years old next season. Justin is entering his age-25 campaign, and B.J. is the old man at all of 28. All young dudes, all 20/20 threats in 2013 and for years to come. So, when was the last time that a team boasted three 20/20 outfielders?

The answer, according to Baseball-Reference's Play Index Tool, is "never." In all the years since we began this stick-and-ball business, no team has ever had its left, center and right fielders all go 20/20 in the same season. The Uptons and Heyward could very well make history next season. And the season after that. And the season after that. If Justin re-signs with the Braves following the 2015 season, B.J. keeps his wheels and Heyward stays healthy, they could be at this for a half-decade.

It's incredibly cool -- and rare -- for two brothers to man the same outfield. But if B.J., Justin and Heyward all hit 20 bombs and steal 20 bases next year, the story of the Uptons' shared bloodlines will be downright blasé by comparison.

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference, here's a list of teammates who have gone 20/20 in the same season while in their twenties. Only nine pairs have pulled off the trick, with Justin Upton and Chris Young being the most recent in 2011:

              20/20 seasons by teammates under 30 years old

Friday
Nov302012

B.J. Upton's Power Boost Comes at a Cost

B.J. Upton is an exasperating player. He's also a very rich man after signing a five-year, $75 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. He should be a superstar, right? Upton had a huge age-22 season back in 2007, looking like Carlos Beltran Jr. by popping homers (24), getting on base (.386 OBP) and swiping bags (22). The number two pick in the 2002 draft seemed blessed with a full tool set, and he showed the savvy to make the most of his skills. Yet since then, Upton has mostly just kept his head above water at the plate (his career on-base-plus-slugging percentage is five percent better than the league average).

What gives? Upton has certainly tapped into the power present in his svelte 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame. His home run total has climbed every year during the Pitch F/X era, from nine in 2008 to a career-best 28 last season. But those bombs have come at a cost: Upton has sold out for power, chasing far more pitches off the plate and often coming up empty.

Take a look at Upton's swing rate by pitch location back in 2008, and then his swing rate this past season:

Upton's swing rate in 2008

 

Upton's swing rate in 2012

B.J. chased 17.5% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone back in 2008, far below the 28% average for MLB hitters in recent seasons. Last year, however, Upton hacked at 29% of pitches thrown out of the zone.

In addition to widening his strike zone, Upton has whiffed more often while aiming for the fences. Here's his contact rate by pitch location in 2008, and then in 2012:

Upton's contact rate in 2008

 

Upton's contact rate in 2012

Upton missed 20.8% of the pitches he swung at in 2008, slightly above the 20.2% average that season. Last year, he whiffed 31.5% of the time he swung. Granted, the overall MLB whiff rate has climbed (to 22% in 2012), but Upton missed a higher rate of pitches than every AL hitter not named Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena and Mark Reynolds. Homers are sexy. They earn fat checks in free agency. But are they worth it if they come with a sub-.300 on-base-percentage?

Friday
Nov302012

Missing: Tommy Hanson's Fastball

The Los Angeles Angels acquired Tommy Hanson from the Atlanta Braves on Friday in exchange for Jordan Walden, adding a 26-year-old starter who once looked like a burgeoning ace but now has serious questions to answer about his health and his no-longer-fast fastball.

Hanson was a stud during his first full season in the majors in 2010, topping 200 innings and posting an ERA that was 17 percent better than the league average (117 ERA+). But he hit the DL twice in 2011 with a right shoulder injury, tossing 130 innings with an ERA just a smidge better than average (106 ERA+). This past season, Hanson again battled shoulder problems while throwing 174.2 frames and compiling an ERA that was 11 percent worse than the NL average. Hanson had the ninth-worst ERA+ among qualified NL starters, besting just Tim Lincecum, Joe Blanton, Barry Zito, Bud Norris, Edinson Volquez, James McDonald , Kevin Correia and Ricky Nolasco.

Hanson has to hope he re-discovers his fastball on the West Coast. His ERA has soared as his velocity has dipped: Hanson's fastball averaged 92.7 MPH during his stellar 2010 season, but he sat at 91.1 MPH in 2011 and fell to just 89.6 MPH in 2012. No longer able to bring the heat, Hanson has contracted a serious case of gopheritis.

Back in 2010, batters slugged .405 against Hanson's fastball (below the .430 average for NL starters) and hit 13 home runs. In 2011, Hanson's fastball slugging percentage jumped to .519, and he served up 11 homers despite throwing over 70 fewer innings than the previous season. This past year, Hanson arguably had the worst fastball among all regular NL starting pitchers. He had the highest fastball slugging percentage this side of J.A. Happ, who moved to Toronto to take advantage of the Canadian homer exchange rate:

Highest opponent slugging percentage on fastballs among NL starters in 2012, minimum 500 thrown

PitcherSlugging Pct.
J. A. Happ .595
Tommy Hanson .538
Christian Friedrich .531
Bud Norris .522
Ricky Nolasco .518
Shaun Marcum .514
Randy Wolf .509
Chris Young .505
Patrick Corbin .504
Joe Blanton .503
NL Avg. for SP .435

 

And only Yovani Gallardo gave up more homers with his fastball:

Most HR allowed on fastballs among NL starting pitchers in 2012

PitcherHR
Yovani Gallardo 20
Tommy Hanson 18
Clayton Richard 18
Homer Bailey 18
Edwin Jackson 17
Ian Kennedy 17
J. A. Happ 16
Bud Norris 15
James McDonald 15
Chris Young 13

 

If Hanson's shoulder is sturdy and his fastball velocity returns, the Angels probably won't regret trading a high-octane (if erratic) arm like Walden for a reasonably-priced starter who is under team control through the 2015 season. If Hanson's heat doesn't come back, though, they might have just acquired a red-headed Ervin Santana.  

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