Ken Hendrix

The Acuña Ascension

Hi, Ken and Dan here. Since there is so much talk on the twitters regarding the ascension of the Holy One, Ronald Acuña Jr., we thought we would sit down and share some reasonable thoughts for why the Braves might choose to wait on promoting the young phenom. The following is our completely reasonable analysis of why the Braves organization might make different decisions regarding “He who will save us”.

Dan: It is no secret that the Atlanta Braves will, at some point, promote their 20-year-old phenom Ronald Acuña in 2018. There was even thoughts of him possibly making the Braves opening day roster coming out of spring. While I think those thoughts were more hopes than realistic expectations, based on how Acuña, Jr. performed in 2017, it gave inclinations as to what he could do on a baseball field.

However, his ascension through the ranks of minor league baseball in 2017 was unprecedented, even for a top prospect. There’s no question Atlanta could use his skills in the lineup and in the field; but do they need him right now?

As the 2018 spring season opened, there was controversy on when Atlanta would in-fact, promote Acuña. As fans, most of us think we understand the business side of things well enough. We knew in order to maintain control of Acuña for an extra year, the Braves would start him in Gwinnett and possibly bring him up no sooner than this week. But a few wrenches have thwarted his possible mid-April call-up.

Those wrenches? Preston Tucker and Ronald Acuña. Preston Tucker has gotten off to a decent start. Ronald Acuña has not.

Ken: A few extra weeks for other teams to look at Preston Tucker and possibly decide he deserves a big league chance (worth trading some real prospect capital for) before the Braves are forced to evaluate the option of trading him away, is certainly defensible.

Dan: So far in this early 2018 season, as of 16th April 2018, Acuña has 36 PAs yielding 33 ABs. In those 33 At-Bats, he is 5 for 33 that include 4 singles and one double. He has 2 runs scored and zero RBI. In those 33 PAs he’s drawn 3 BBs. This slow start looks like this in slash form: .152/.222/.182/.404. Not exactly tearing it up early on.

He has an ISO of .030, a .238 BABIP, a .198 wOBA, and 18 wRC+. In 36 PAs he has struck out 12 times. He struck out only 48 times in AAA last year in 243 PAs. In 2017 his K% was 19.8%. In 2018 so far, it’s 33.3% in 33 PAs. In 2017, that a K for approximately every 5 PAs and in 2018, a K in every 2.7 ABs.

Is it too early to panic? Probably.

Now there are reports coming out, that because of not only this slow start, but also the play of Preston Tucker, that it has given the Braves some time to think. And while they are thinking, the Super-2 status conversation is churning.

Ken: Those are great thoughts and statistics Dan, and I believe certainly have played into the Braves reasoning. However, I’m going to take a strictly cynical approach to might thoughts on the Braves dealings. I think they are keeping him down because they hate looking like liars. Do you remember the vitriol that the Chicago Cubs received when they kept down, the obviously ready, Kris Bryant? I do. The national news crucified the Cubs for manipulating service time, which is against the rules of the MLB CBA. Bryant (amongst others) filed grievances with the MLBPA against the Cubs, as Jeff Passan wrote here.

Why would keeping Acuña down look like the Braves were lying? Let’s not kid ourselves, the primary reason he’s being held down is to do exactly what they aren’t supposed to do, manipulate his service time. But because that is illegal and the Braves are coming off of a winter that featured the harshest penalties in MLB history against a baseball franchise, they truly can’t afford to look like cheaters. If they sent Acuña Jr down to “€œwork on some things” as they have stated, then bringing him up in the middle of a terrible start looks like outright lying. Acuña has struggled to find his timing at AAA and has struck out far too often in his first few games. If he had started hot, I doubt we are having this discussion or writing this article, and I would assume he would be starting today for the Atlanta Braves.

Dan: New Braves GM, Alex Anthopoulos, has gone on record saying he would have not progressed Acuña through the minor league system so swiftly, which leads me to believe, by the way, that we won’t see that same progression rate for Christian Pache. I believe, right now, there are fans on either side of the fence on Acuña right now. I don’t feel any of them think Acuña won’t get promoted this year, but I think there are contingents that are realizing mid-April may not be the best time to bring him up.

Ken: Of course there is another contingent that has decided that the Braves are the trashiest organization that they have ever seen and that there is a personal vendetta out against Acuña Jr, for some unknown reason, and that they are out to stiff fans and the young phenom destined to save the organization. Some fans have insinuated that this is a way to pad attendance numbers and create multiple weeks of expectant fans buying pre-sales to see Acuña at his first game. While it certainly is possible, that doesn’t seem to fit with just about anything else the front office has done since Alex Anthopoulos has taken over, so I for one choose the benefit of the doubt. Why not just call him up and pack all the games if you are truly only doing this for a few extra ticket sales? That would be the penultimate example of obscene pettiness and feels like the ramblings of conspiracy theorists aka: impatient fans.

Dan: Let’s look at few numbers for a minute. Ronald Acuña, Jr. played at three levels of minor league baseball in 2017. He dominated every level, that’s apparent. However, I think his domination in 2017 was more about inconsistency, rather than a sustained display of consistent dominance.

Let me explain:

I don’t want to focus too much on stats here. What I want to do, is look at one number and one column: Games played.

  • High-A: Florida Fire Frogs – 28 games played
  • Double-A: Mississippi Braves – 57 games played
  • Triple-A: Gwinnet Braves – 54 games played

Acuña has not been in one place long enough to find a routine or establish himself. Routines are a big part of the game. You hear it all the time from pitchers. When talking about, or analyzing Ronald Acuña’€™s 2017 and his early 2018, you have to remember that he played at three levels last year. All completely different levels in any regard. There was hardly any time for either Acuña or the league for that matter, to adequately acclimate. This slow start in 2018 could be showing not only Braves, but also Acuña that maybe, he isn’t quite ready. He’s close, really close, but just not there yet.

Ken: That’s certainly one way to look at it, and I think the argument you are making is exactly the argument that the Braves front office will use, should Acuña and his agent choose to file a grievance for service time manipulation. That being said, Mike Trout, Ken Griffey, Andruw Jones, Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas, Trevor Bauer, and Kirby Puckett didn’t have any trouble shooting through the minors and making a big league team while finding their routines and rhythms. Heck, Bob Horner is one of many who skipped the minors all together, and he hit a homer in his very first at bat. As to struggling, after being called up, even Mike Trout struggled a bit to make the major league adjustment, but I don’t think anyone was complaining about it.

But to your point Dan, it wasn’t that long ago that a large contingent of fans were freaking out about Dansby Swanson having a down year after being called up “too early”. Yet another reason that the Braves can use to validate their decision to keep him down. They don’t need the next ‘face of the franchise’ to struggle, the way many of even the biggest stars do, and once again be facing the persistent allegations of fans who believe they moved “too fast”.

The truth is, Dan isn’t wrong at all, but I think the reverse argument can weigh just as heavily. Get the kid up, he proved in the spring he was ready, there is no reason to wait… unless you’re worried about the organization taking a shot from national writers when their reputation is already in the mud.

Dan: I’m not saying Acuña won’t make his debut this year, but I think there is some merit to him never really getting settled at any level last year long enough, to really know how he’d respond to any adversity. Acuña will be a superstar in this game, and for all intents and purposes, he may already be there. If he wants to make this Atlanta ball club, though, in 2018, he probably needs to prove that he can sustain his productivity for an extended amount of time.

Ken: By an extended amount of time, I’m thinking 3-5 days.

Dan: I mean, have we really seen enough to know how he would handle a slump yet? Pitching at the MLB level is nothing at all like the pitching in the minors, even at AAA. If he has trouble responding to the likes of International League pitching, how will he respond to the Scherzer’s, deGrom’s, Strasburg’s, and even Kershaw’s of Major League Baseball?

Ken: Some things are worth learning on the fly. My guess is that he will be set to get a nice taste of Scherzer, Strasburg, DeGrom, and Syndergaard before 2 more weeks are up. So for all those worried enjoy the anticipation. Think of it like Tantric sex. The longer you wait the better it’ll be… or something like that.

Dan: I think the Braves have a lot of legitimate reasons to wait if they want to use them.

Ken: I think you’re absolutely right, and for a club who’s previous regime left it with a ‘€œdamned spot’ that won’t easily wash away, some good rationale and a little patience are wise moves to make before throwing your name into the national headlines as the bad guy again. It’s nothing to do with their faith in Ronald Acuña Jr., his performance, or spite for fans. As the Godfather said, “It’s just business.”

The truth is Dan and I both think he’s ready, we’re just trying to help you Knuckleheads realize there is more than one way to look at it, and it might be worth a deep breath. Share this junk with your friends.

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I Don’t Know’s on Third

The famous Abbott and Costello skit “Who’s on First” unforgettably amuses the audience as Abbott befuddles his pal Costello with the confusing names of the players on his baseball team. In the skit, the third baseman is “I Don’t Know”.  The Braves feel like they’re right in the middle of that skit when it comes to the identity of their 2018 third baseman and “I Don’t Know” is on third for Atlanta.

Most of us know the usual characters and options that are sitting there available, so I’ll not waste your time by giving a detailed analysis of each player that could be a 2018 third base option for the Atlanta Braves, but I will skim them.

Todd Frazier

Frazier batted .213 last season.  Yep, .213. He did crush 27 home runs, though. He had a terrible BABIP. But even projections for this next year have it only jumping up about 20 points. He’s a plus defender at 3rd. The end.

Josh Harrison

He’s a name not heavily talked about, but the Pirates have made it known that he’s available. While I think Harrison is one of the best utility players in the game, his third base defense is average at best, and his batting has traditionally suffered when he plays the hot corner. Not only is he owed $10.25MM in 2018, but his asking price could be hefty. While I think Harrison wouldn’t be an atrocious stopgap, ultimately he costs too much.

Martin Prado

With the Marlins turning into the Flea Market of baseball, it feels like Prado is probably available. Prado’s name will always be loved in Braves Country, but at this point I believe getting Prado would be a bit like grabbing the Matt Kemp of infielders. While he’s not quite as overpaid as Kemp was, he’s still getting $28M + for two more years. That’s not great for a guy coming back from some serious knee issues. Besides, his defense was only slightly above league average for the last few years before he was injured.

Nick Castellanos

Yeah he’s my darling pick. Anyone that follows me knows that I love the idea of Castellanos at the hot corner and seeing what he can do.

He hit 26 bombs last year. The knock on Nick is his defense. It’s not good. In fact, last year it was so bad the Tigers moved him to the outfield. I personally believe Ron Washington is a miracle worker and if he can make Freddie Freeman into an incredible third baseman, he can fix anyone. But even if Castellanos doesn’t stick at 3B, he could certainly move to left field and add quite a bit of pop to the lineup. With the Tigers in a rebuild it feels like you could get him without having to give up too much, but you can’t be sure.

Johan Camargo

Last but not least, Camargo. Some have complained about his splits, but when you dig a little deeper he actually doesn’t have any problems against lefties or righties. He did struggle against relief pitchers, many of which had a single very dominant pitch.

However, he batted .305 against RH starters and .296 against LH starters. He also crushed the ball when he hit it. His average exit velocity was 88.12 mph. For comparison, Freddie Freeman’s average exit velocity in 2017 was 89.68 mph.  Undoubtedly, Camargo hasn’t shown the pop and home run power that you traditionally expect from a third baseman. But I also think it might still be in hiding in there. In the winter league, Camargo is slugging .511. That’s only 1 home run, but a triple and 5 doubles in only 54 at bats.

I mentioned Josh Harrison earlier as an option for third, but the truth is the Braves already have their Josh Harrison and his name is Johan Camargo.  Unless the Braves want to try a double fix with a move for Castellanos, with Camargo backing him up as a utility man with lots of playing time or taking over at third if Castellanos can’t play defense, I prefer they stay put with Camargo.

Frazier may have more pop, but his batting average is atrocious and he doesn’t seem destined to make any giant leaps. (Hitting baseballs matters.) I know Atlanta could use a bit more pop in their lineup, but slugging may be the better measure of just what Camargo can add than simply his home run totals, and Camargo out-slugged Frazier last season by more than 24 points despite only hitting 4 home runs.

Somehow, over the course of this offseason, it feels as if fans have forgotten how solid Johan Camargo was this year. Prognosticators have chalked it up to a high BABIP or pitchers not figuring him out. Skeptics have questioned his power while ignoring his slugging. He’s not the sexy big money name of Machado (oh by the way the Braves would be insane to pay for one year of Machado). He’s not the traditional third baseman that Todd Frazier is, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a place on this team and it doesn’t mean that place couldn’t be third base. He currently fits a bit more of a utility profile, but I think limiting him to a utility role is short sighted and judgmental.

I’ll be honest Johan Camargo is an “I Don’t Know” for me. I don’t know what he will hit, I don’t know what his power will be, I don’t know how his defense will end up, and I don’t know that he’s the permanent answer for the Atlanta Braves.

At the end of the day, this team is young. Very young, and very fast. I like the idea of creating a culture of young guys discovering exactly who they are. Challenging the assumptions about who they are and who they are not. Not being limited to trying to fit some mold that the previous guy has always played to answer the Who’s on First, What’s on Second and I Don’t Know is on third. If I’m making the decisions, I Don’t Know is playing third for me, but I do know who he is. He’s Johan Camargo. 

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What makes a great general manager?

There’s been a lot of talk this week about Alex Anthapololololololoussssssss (or however you spell his name). I’ll clear the air early and say I like the hire, but that’s not the point of my musings.

Since the Anthopoulos hiring was announced, the old hot take machines of Twitter have started grinding away at trade scenarios, free agent targets, yada yada yada.

I enjoy a nice unreasonable session of guessing about things that I have no control over as much as the next person. But at the end of the day I think sometimes us fans get a bit wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of movement of any kind (especially after this long period of stagnation). And because of this, we tend to see any movement as progress.

However, let’s take a moment and look at what defines a great GM.  I believe most general managers tend to be defined by three main things:

  1. Did they cause a scandal?

Seriously, this might feel a bit raw considering the circumstances. But I’m not simply cherry-picking here.

Most GM’s that are remembered for bad reasons are committed to memory because they enabled disaster to occur on their watch. Whether said disasters be character problems, rule breaking, or downright cheating. What’s interesting is the fan-base usually doesn’t care much that he engaged in said cheating. What they usually care about is whether or not he got caught.

In this sense, Anthopoulos is pristine. Clean as a whistle. He’s never been caught, yet has cherry picked some of the best talent available through drafts and on the international market.

I could sit here and pretend to spin the idea that this guy is a saint and is the one really good guy in baseball who just wins without bending any of the rules, but let’s not be naive here. Let’s not pretend that he (more than likely) hasn’t done all of the same things other GMs around baseball have done and are doing. On the bright side, he has been smart enough to not get caught. And, let’s be clear… possession of evidence is nine tenths of the law.

Anthopoulos is obviously fantastic at covering his tracks, and without a doubt the Braves need a lot of tracks covered.

  1. Bad free agent deals.

The clamouring for big free agent signings has never been louder.  “Get Donaldson” “Trade for Archer” “What about Happ!”

No matter where you turn someone is yelling that the brand new GM should try and clear the bad taste out of Braves’ fans’ mouths by making a big splash. However, when I mention Frank Wren’s name, I am certain that most of you instantly think of BJ Upton, Dan Uggla, and of course THE MARK TEXEIRA TRAIIIIDDDDDD!

The pressure to make a big move is huge right now, but I believe it’s the wrong move.

John Schuerholz was the master of Free Agent moves. But he almost never made those moves out of desperation or pressure. In fact signing Maddux is one of the few GIANT free agent deals he made.

I’m sure some of you are screaming, “Ken! Hang on. He made a bunch of free agent deals!” But when you really get down to it, Schuerholz didn’t go after the big splashy free agent guy.

Sure, the Braves might have moved at the trade deadline and picked up a key piece during some of their biggest runs. And, I’m sure over his extended tenure you can find a bad deal or two, but there are not a lot of them that really make you shake your head.

More often than not the splashy Free Agent deal is too late. It’s rare to make that huge splash and it not bite you in the butt.

  1. Finding the diamonds in the rough.

Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson, Rich Hill, Adrian Beltre… These are guys who seemed liked average players at one point in their careers, some even scrap heap bound (Hi. This is Josh. Congrats on making it this far in the article. I was actually tasked with editing this thing and I have no idea what “scrap heap bound” means. Ken’s a redneck.) but at a certain point something clicked and all four figured it out.  

Anthopoulos made the genius move of grabbing Donaldson when he was just starting to chip off some rough edges and he watched him blossom into a superstar. But the key wasn’t in acquiring Donaldson once he was great, it was in finding him before he became great.

Maybe it’s all luck, but some GM’s have a knack for finding that “guy”. Daniel Murphy’s insane turnaround, Jake Arrieta’s ascension from a 5th starter to a Cy Young winner.

It’s the stories of the guys who weren’t supposed to be stars that define amazing teams, and more importantly – amazing general managers. It’s the guys you draft in the late rounds who no one gave much of a chance. It’s not missing on your early draft picks. It’s the stuff that most people take for granted. Because of Alex’ history of finding the gems it gives me great hope that he’s the right guy for the Braves.

So sure, take a moment and enjoy the thrill of TRAAAAIIIIDDDD takes. Let your mind run wild with the possibilities, but then realize at the end of the day that at least 95% of those ideas are probably terrible trade ideas and it’s the guys you keep, the diamonds in the rough, and the free agents you don’t sign that make a huge impact and define your legacy as a GM.

Some Food for thought: As much as we want to be twitter GM’s and armchair geniuses, how are we at managing our own lives? Are we always trying to buy the next great thing, or find the little things that make a big difference in our lives? Are we searching for a way to make a big splash and change the flavor of our lives from the sour taste we might have left for others in the past? Are we consistently developing the relationships with those still in the rough? Looking for value in places that maybe other people have given up?  Maybe if we nail those things in our own life we might get a little better perspective on how to judge a general manager for our favorite baseball team.

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