Spring Fling / Give Him a Ring / Leave Him Crying: NL East Edition

Atlanta Braves


BRIAN’S FLING

Craig Kimbrel – Closer

Kimbrel is wrapping up his fifth masterful season as the most dominant closer in the game, so the track record justifies a bit more than just a fling-worthy leash.  The argument could be made that Kimbrel deserves a Ring, but principle (and restrictions of the game) caution against committing too hard to bullpen specialists.   

Charles LeClaire, USA Today
Charles LeClaire, USA Today

MATT’S FLING

Kimbrel

Don’t get me wrong – Kimbrel is still digustingly good. Kimbrel just isn’t quite as disgustingly good as Kimbrel used to be.  I wholeheartedly endorse the notion of Kimbrel remaining among the game’s ten best relievers over the next 3 seasons – such a feat would probably make a lesser man a slam dunk for betrothal. Why, then, must Kimbrel await my beck and call whenever I want a 9th inning booty call? Perhaps his established trend of excellence makes settling for “somewhere in the top 10” a little disappointing. Maybe it’s the fact that hitters are better recognizing when his pitches are out of the zone – lending to fairly distasteful increases in his walk rates for a second consecutive season; maybe it’s that a guy who repeatedly throws 96+ MPH under high duress 60-80 times a season has experienced bouts of shoulder soreness; maybe I just can’t bring myself to marry a reliever (unless Ruben Amaro, Jr. takes the decision out of my hands). Kimbrel assembled an absolutely disgusting July – a K-BB% of 48.5  for the month pretty much breaks the metric. August, however, brought back the elevated walk totals with a vengeance, and September has just been “OK.” Matty P is starting to get a little restless. The “bazooka” status isn’t going away any time soon, but as the walk totals continue to climb, Kimbrel’s chance to figure into my long term plans may be dropping off the table like one of his breaking things (good gravy, look at that thing).

Kimbrel Breaking Ball

BRIAN’S RING

Jason Heyward – RF

Scott Cunningham, Getty Images
Scott Cunningham, Getty Images

At a position that is quickly becoming a witness protection program for sluggers who are too awkward to play anywhere else, Jason Heyward makes the game look easy.  Far and away the best defensive RF in the majors, Heyward profiles as an old-school, throwback leadoff hitter that seems so rare in the modern game.

MATT’S RING

Freddie Freeman – 1B

Daniel Shirley, USA Today
Daniel Shirley, USA Today

Whereas Freeman’s enviable 2013 campaign did smack a little of excessive BABIP love, his 2014 BABIP has not dropped significantly despite a beefy uptick in line-drive%. In other words, he is making more of the best kind of contact – even if some of the screamers home in on pesky fielders.  Nonetheless, Freeman has blown away his previous career high for doubles.  We hear baseball players time and time again extol the virtues of simply trying to hit the ball hard – Freeman has become one of the best in the business at hitting the ball hard and doing so often. Throw in a tasty 12.5% walk rate (those shoes look good on you, dear) and anywhere from passable-to-good defense at first base (that dress really brings out the blue overtones of your irises, dear) and I’ll overlook the clumsy baserunning (have you ever walked in heels before, dear?) and the idiocy of the hometown fans (wait, you dated WHO?) long enough to go ring shopping – even if it has to be at T.J. Maxx.

BRIAN’S LEFT CRYING

Dan Uggla – 2B  

Brett Davis, USA Today
Brett Davis, USA Today

Okay, technically the Braves already left Uggla crying.  But they gave him 145 plate appearances to confirm what everybody already knew:  Dan Uggla is not a major leaguer anymore.  His wRC+ with the Braves would put him at the tail end of the top dozen PITCHERS.  At 34, Uggla’s career should be mercifully over now, but the transgression of rostering him in 2014 shall not stand without ridicule on weblogs across America.

Matt’s Editorial Addendum: …to say nothing of the misery he caused the Giants in just 4 games. -0.3 fWAR in 4 games?!?! COME. ON. MAN!!!

MATT’S LEFT CRYING

Jason Heyward’s Power – Last Seen Romping and Playing near a Hammock made of Dreams

Kevin Cox, Getty Images
Kevin Cox, Getty Images

Dude, Jason Heyward, what’s going on, buddy? Let me throw a series of numbers at you: 298.9, 292.3, 290.3, 287.2, 267.7. Those are, in feet and in chronological order, the average flyball distances Heyward has posted in each of his Major League seasons. When I initially began this post in July, Heyward’s average flyball distance for 2014 was 275 feet – it has now eroded an additional 7+ feet. Not only is this an alarming 4-year trend, it only seems to be accelerating. Furthermore, some of those declining figures could be (and were) explained away as the result of  injuries (especially in 2011 and 2013), but Heyward is apparently healthy now – yikes. There is so much to like about Heyward – he walks a fair amount, he has reeled in the strikeouts, he is a plus baserunner when healthy, and he is among the very best ouftfield defenders the game has to offer. The position-adjusted defensive value metric on Fangraphs rates Heyward as the sixth most valuable fielder and the second most valuable defensive outfielder in the game in 2014 despite a relatively stiff penalty for playing a corner outfield spot – one could make the argument that Heyward is playing right field better than any other defender is playing his position.

Given the hype and promise with which he stormed onto the scene in 2010, one gets the feeling that we should be discussing one of the generation’s greats – it just hasn’t quite worked out that way. I’m willing to buy a rebound in batted ball luck to an extent, but four years of deteriorating quality of contact make it hard to predict a positive correction for that piddly 6.7 HR/FB% (career 13.1%). Perhaps accumulating injuries have already taken a cumulative toll on the still-just-24 Heyward; just as plausible, however is that Heyward is simply a very good hitter as opposed to a great one. While there is undoubted value in being “good” at Major League Baseball, imaginations can’t help but feel a bit cheated with each harmless Heyward flyout. Perhaps the trick will be in reconditioning ourselves to appreciate that which Heyward actually does well (work counts, walk, play insanely good defense) as opposed to what we had once hoped he would do well (do a serviceable Hank Aaron impersonation).

Who did we miss? What did we get wrong? Post your Braves picks in the comments section below.

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