|Posted by theprincipality on September 16, 2015 at 6:35 AM|
In my last blog about a month ago I had been bemoaning the slide that the Braves had taken since the All-Star break. One month on and we have only won another 4 games! The slide has become a plummet. Numerous theories have been put forward as to why the Braves have fallen away so badly. Perhaps they have been "hypertanking" in order to ensure the first draft pick? Perhaps their excessively inexperienced roster is nowhere near Major League ready? Perhaps the season was surrendered when Grilli got hurt and the team traded Jim Johnson, Alex Wood, Luis Avilan, Juan Uribe and Chris Johnson for peanuts? Whatever the reason, this current team is quite simply the worst one I've seen in my 16 years as a Braves fan.
As I write this blog, we have just come away with a surprising victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. I say surprising because the Blue Jays are right in the middle of the AL East pennant race and have the team and the desire to win it all this year. They stand ahead of the Yankees, who in a three game series at Turner Field a couple of weeks ago simply mauled the Braves in a humiliating weekend where our pitching staff gave up 38 runs and Jonny Gomes was forced into becoming the first position player to pitch for Atlanta in something like 20 years. Going into the series I was petrified that we would be on the receiving end of another hiding, so to start with a win is pretty satisfying.
That said, you cannot mask how poor the team has been recently. Our sole All-Star, Shelby Miller has gone from 5-1 to 5-14. He hasn't won a game since May, setting a record in the process, yet has still managed to keep his ERA under 3. This tells you something about the offence. Yet Miller aside, the rotation has been packed with rookies of late, all with ERAs North of 5. This tells you something about the pitching. The only starter with a winning record is Julio Teheran and he has been considered to have had a poor year.
Whilst the team ground out victories in the first half, they just haven' t had the option in the past month. Wisler, Perez, Foltynewicz all have ERAs of over 9 in the past month and you cannot win baseball games at the top level giving up a run per inning. The team looks lost and these promising young pitchers are potentially being damaged beyond repair.
Since losing Leo Mazzone all those years ago, his replacement as pitching coach, Roger McDowell, has in many ways done an even better job, consistently putting out dominating rotations and lights-out bullpens. This is what has made 2015 just so bizarre. My personal thought on this is that McDowell is being spread too thinly to be effective. There are too many young guys needing guidance and only one McDowell. How can he possibly give quality one-on-one coaching to so many young men? I think this has been a massive oversight in the team's slash and burn plan. You cannot blame McDowell for the spiralling ERAs. Wisler, Perez and Foltynewicz were all effective early on when it was just them in the rotation and we had an effective and experienced bullpen.
Mark Bowman wrote an article yesterday that said essentially that Fredi Gonzalez was safe and he was offered a new contract mid-season in the knowledge that it would be a rocky second half. What I want to know is to what extent the rockiness can be allowed to continue? Would it have been OK to go 0-81 in the second half? What too does it say to the loyal fans who turn out at Turner Field night after night and have to watch such crap? You cannot just blame lack of talent. There is a distinct lack of leadership and it all starts with Fredi.
To labour the point about talent, I want to discuss WAR (wins above replacement, in case you've been hiding under a rock for the past decade). I have never been a fan of WAR, partly because of its subjectivity and partly because it overlooks intangibles that contribute to wins. One thing it does argue though is that a bog-standard major leaguer, in other words a replacement, will perform at a certain level. A team of replacements will also perform at a certain level. It is argued this team of replacements would win 48 games over the course of the season. I interpret that as meaning no team should ever win fewer games. Though the Braves have already passed that mark thanks to their first half, they are not likely to win 24 in the second. This second half team is worse than a team of cheap replacements, yet are supposed to have the talent to win future championships. I don't doubt that they can, but just hope that the experiences of 2015 don't leave permanent scars that manifest during a future October run. Where the Braves go from here is anybody's guess, but I suppose the only way is up!