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Entries in Atlanta Braves (42)

Tuesday
May082012

Home Run Recap: Jason Heyward

Jeff Samardzija vs. Jason Heyward Pitch Sequence, May 7th, 2012 (2nd inning)

In last night's great start from Cubs' starter Jeff Samardzija, the lone blip came in the second inning when the tall righthander gave up a home run to Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward

The former Notre Dame standout started Heyward out with a two-seamer and a splitter which were both low in the zone.  The third pitch ended up right in Heyward's hot spot, as you can see from the heat map above. It was a 95 MPH two-seamer that Heyward hit out over the wall in right field at Wrigley. 

Samardzija tried to keep the ball low on Heyward all day, which is odd considering Heyward generates most of his power on balls low in the zone. He was likely hoping to get Heyward to chase a few pitches down and out of the zone, and missed his spot on the HR pitch.  From the video link above, you can see that Soto was actually setting him up outside.

Given the kind of velocity Samardzija can get behind his fastball, he might do better trying to come up and in on Heyward in future meetings.

Monday
Apr022012

Braves Add Free-Swinging Juan Francisco

With Chipper Jones beginning his final MLB season on the DL while recovering from a torn meniscus in his left knee, the Braves added a short-term solution with some long-term upside on Sunday. Atlanta acquired out-of-options third baseman Juan Francisco from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for right-hander J.J. Hoover.

Francisco, 24, has mammoth power from the left side of the dish. The 6-foot-2, 240 pounder has a career .502 slugging percentage in the minors, including a .559 mark in parts of three seasons at Triple-A Louisville. That thump has also been on display during brief stints in the majors from 2009-11, as Francisco has popped five home runs and slugged .450 in 181 plate appearances. But as exciting as Francisco's power potential is, his lack of plate patience could be his undoing.

In a little over 2,500 PAs in the minors, Francisco has struck out nearly six times as often (23.1%) as he has walked (3.9%).  That hacking has carried over to the majors, as Francisco has gone after 37% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. The big league average over the past three years is about 28%. As his swing rate by pitch location shows, Francisco has been especially jumpy on pitches thrown up and in.

Juan Francisco's swing rate by pitch location, 2009-11

The trade to Atlanta and Jones' retirement following the 2012 season could give Francisco a chance to prove that he's starting material. It's likely that the soon-to-be-40-year-old Jones will get his share of off-days, and the Braves may opt to keep Martin Prado in left field instead of rotating him between there and third. Between Francisco's defensive limitations and free-swinging ways, however, penciling him into the 2013 lineup is premature.

Friday
Nov042011

Buyer Beware on Jurrjens

Atlanta shipped Derek Lowe to Cleveland to save some cash and make the club's 2012 rotation less cluttered, but the Braves might not be done dealing. According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the Braves are willing to trade Jair Jurrjens. Bowman says Atlanta has likely contacted the Kansas City Royals to gauge their interest in the soon-to-be-26-year-old righty, and the Braves have their eyes on outfielder Wil Myers, among others.

The Royals entered the 2011 season with a wealth of top pitching prospects -- Chris Dwyer, Jake Odorizzi, Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery and John Lamb all ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects. But, as is typically the case with young arms, a few disappointed. Dwyer's control abandoned him, Montgomery scuffled at Triple-A and didn't display ace stuff, and Lamb underwent Tommy John surgery. Myers, meanwhile, didn't live up to his #10 ranking on BA's prospect list by batting .254/.353/.393 in Double-A while struggling with a knee injury.

The setbacks suffered by K.C's pitching prospects and Myers' so-so season might make the Jurrjens-Myers swap seem plausible. But GM Dayton Moore and the Royals would be wise to decline. Jurrjens' isn't as good as his ERA suggests, and a growing injury history and declining stuff portend to tougher times ahead.

Jurrjens finished the 2011 season with a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings pitched. But, while Jurrjens displayed decent control (2.6 walks per nine innings), he punched out just 5.3 batters per nine and benefitted from an unusually high rate of stranding runners on base (81 percent, compared to 73.5 percent from 2007-2010). His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) was a much less shiny 3.99, which was a dead ringer for the 4.00 big league average for starters this year. In fact, Jurrjens had the fifth-largest ERA/FIP discrepancy among starters tossing at least 100 innings:

Source: Fangraphs.com

Jurrjens has health red flags, too. Limited to 116.1 innings in 2010, he dealt with shoulder inflammation in spring training, missed two months with a pulled hamstring and suffered a season-ending meniscus tear in his right knee that required surgery. In 2011, he began the year on the DL with an oblique strain and was shut down in September with knee inflammation.

He was worked pretty hard in his early twenties, tossing a combined 403.1 frames in his age 22 and 23 seasons. Baseball-Reference shows that only Mark Buehrle, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Dontrelle Willis, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Cain and Trevor Cahill were worked harder at those ages in the new millennium. D-Train aside, that's a successful, durable (to this point) group. But names just behind Jurrjens include Jeremy Bonderman, Mark Mulder, Ben Sheets, Scott Olsen and Scott Kazmir. More than a quarter of the top 20 flamed out:

Heaviest workloads among age-22-23 starters, 2000-2011

                                      

Jurrjens' health woes appear to have taken the bite out of his stuff. His fastball averaged 91.2 mph in both 2009 and 2010, but he averaged just 89.1 mph in 2011. Jurrjens began the year at slightly under 90 mph, but he was down to the 88 mph range by the time he was shut down. That left very little difference in velocity between Jurrjens' fastball and his changeup, which averaged 83-84 mph.

On a related note, Jurrjens' miss rate with his changeup all but disappeared. Check out hitters' contact rate by pitch location versus Jurrjens' change from 2009-2010, compared to 2011:

 Opponent contact rate vs. Jurrjens' changeup, 2009-2010

Opponent contact rate vs. Jurrjens' changeup, 2011Hitters missed Jurrjens' changeup 26 percent of the time from 2009-2010. But this past season? Just half of that, 13 percent. Jurrjens' whiff rate with the pitch was well less than half of the 29 percent league average, and ranked 139th out of 145 qualified starting pitchers.

MLBTradeRumors' Matt Swartz projects that Jurrjens will make about $5.1 million his second time through arbitration. That's not an exorbitant sum, but it's not a bargain for a guy who doesn't have the leverage of negotiating with other clubs on the open market, and acquiring Jurrjens becomes a dubious proposition of it requires giving up a prized young position prospect. Jurrjens could get healthy and see a bounceback in his stuff, but I wouldn't bet Wil Myers on it.

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