Welcome to another installment of Answers On The Fly, where our pseudo-experts answer questions from you, the reader, on the Atlanta Braves. This feature debuted last week, and was very well received. Answers On The Fly runs on Mondays, and is your chance to get our take on topics of your choice.
Questions can be submitted the following ways:
Hey guys – what a nice start to my Monday. Interesting topics and unique – getting three folks perspective on the submitted questions. Maybe one for the future – what do you see in 2016 for our hometown boy (Clearwater, FL) Ryan Weber? Despite some impressive late season starts, he seems to be given short shrift by most Brave observers.
– Bob C.
Micah: It’s hard to make a name for yourself as a scrawny kid whose fastball averages less than 90 miles per hour, especially when you are 25 but look like you are in high school, and especially, especially when you were taken with the 658th pick in the 2009 draft. So that is basically why he has been overlooked on prospect lists. He fails to meet some key criteria that catch scouts attention like “projectable frame” and a fastball with movement lighting up the radar gun.
However, it turns out Ryan Weber has one really important skill, and that’s control. In the last three years, Weber has walked 47 batters in 325.2 innings pitched, or a walk rate of 1.3 batters per 9 innings pitched. He might not have much of a fastball, but he controls his sinker, curve, and change very well and mixes them up enough to be effective. Without a blow away pitch, he has little margin for error, and I don’t think he will ever be a front of the rotation starter. I would be surprised if he was even a middle of the rotation starter. I can see him bringing good value as a swingman, which is the role he filled in the minor leagues. He can throw several innings out of the bullpen or he can provide quality innings in the back of the rotation. He might be best utilized in a trade while his value is high.
Chris: I imagine Weber starts 2016 in AAA after a Spring Training run. He looked sharp but inconsistent in his five big league starts, but he seemed to be getting more comfortable with each start. And really, save for a 2-inning, 7-run pummeling against the Marlins in his second to last start, he was pretty good in a small sample size. He ended the season with a 4.76 ERA, driven largely by that poor performance (2.73 ERA without those two innings). Even some of the advanced metrics were appreciative of Weber’s job in Atlanta, with an xFIP of 3.42 and a SIERA of 3.29 (both are very good).
Weber had the highest ground ball rate (64.2%) and second lowest fly ball rate (18.5%) among Atlanta starters. That’s a great combination to have as a basis for success when Andrelton Simmons is behind you. Weber did have an unusually high HR rate, with a 20.0% HR/FB rate, but that was really more a function of small sample size than anything else, IMO. He did a good job of limiting baserunners (he has great control), and as we saw in his final start, he flashed an ability to strike out batters, fanning ten Nationals in seven innings.
That final start may have caught some eyes. Like a good boxer or MMA fighter is told to do, Weber finished strong. Weber strikes me as a guy that the Braves will use similar to David Hale and Alex Wood, in that they will use him in the bullpen and as a starter until they get a feel for his abilities and until they have a spot for him. I could see Weber being an under the radar contributor o this team in 2016. He’s probably also a prime candidate to be included in a package deal of some sort. I’m not suggesting that the Atlanta Braves should move him…just that it shouldn’t be a surprise if they do. Weber is the typical low-risk/high-reward prospect that is often a throw-in to help balance deals.
Brent: I’ll keep mine short and sweet. Weber’s not a top prospect, so we won’t see him get the attention and opportunities afforded to those, but I think he’ll be in the mix as long as he stays generally productive. Prior to his MLB debut this year, he hadn’t had an FIP over 4 at any stop since 2010, and his start against the Nationals near the end of the season was masterful. Granted, it’s one start, but for a guy who is generally viewed as a replacement level pitch-to-contact guy, it’s something to at least make note of. I’m not setting my hopes high, but I’m certainly not writing him off. I’m glad to have him in the organization.
I recently read an article that said that Hector Olivera might be looked at for a possible LF position. It’s only a look as he is splitting positions in Winter League but say he makes the LF if he is well enough. What do we do about the 3B position? Do we trade for a player? Have Garcia try it full time?
– Marshell T.
Micah: I actually wrote an article about this that will come out tomorrow.
Chris: Just as we answered a similar question last week and published that we thought he would be playing third base, the Atlanta Braves announced they would be moving Olivera to LF on a ‘more permanent’ basis. The move seems to be based somewhat on his unfamiliarity with the position. Olivera played second base in Cuba and was a capable defender, but as Atlanta Braves’ beat writer David O’Brien pointed out when I asked him about the move, Olivera is a good bit larger and more muscular now than he was then.
He’s not real smooth at 3b, looked out of sorts, has gotten bigger, stronger since his fluid-infielder days. https://t.co/Xc3MTycGHy
— David O’Brien (@DOBrienAJC) November 5, 2015
With that move to LF being decided, that creates an opening at 3B. I know some of the Braves’ decision makers, particularly Fredi Gonzalez, are very impressed with Adonis Garcia. He hit 10 HR in 198 plate appearances and became somewhat of a local folk hero for his opposite field power. I expect Garcia to be in the discussion for 3B playing time. However, just as all three of us warned Braves fans in the 2012 offseason about Chris Johnson, there are reasons to believe that this season was the exception for Garcia. He had gone over 1,100 plate appearances in the minors and only hit 21 HR. His HR/FB rate was very inflated, at one point being higher than those of Mike Trout (41 HR) and Bryce Harper (42 HR), before settling down a little and merely being better than Jose Bautista (40 HR) and Nolan Arenado (42 HR). This is a perfect scenario of letting a small sample size influence decisions.
With the Atlanta Braves going ahead and making the decision to move Olivera to LF, it leads me to believe that they have been looking at some third base options. As was mentioned last week, Daniel Murphy could be an option, though his price will likely be excessive for what he brings to the table. I could see Atlanta approaching Juan Uribe bout a reunion; he’s a great clubhouse guy, still a very good defender, and could be a soft platoon option with Garcia at 3B. And he would be cheaper than Murphy. There is also a smaller chance that Garcia could platoon with Jace Peterson at 3B, and the Braves could target a FA 2B option like Murphy or Zobrist or perhaps Howie Kendrick. But I see that chance as remote.
Moving Olivera to LF also makes me wonder if the Braves have had some inquiries on Cameron Maybin. Moving Maybin, potentially in a package for a 3B, would necessitate Michael Bourn sliding over to CF, which would create a hole in LF (which has now been filled by Olivera).
I also don’t think moving Olivera to LF reduces his value any over him playing 3B. Yes, generally, a good hitting LF is easier to find than a good hitting 3B. But a LF that hits like Olivera is expected to hit is generally going to get paid about 50% more than Olivera is. Any perceived value lost with a position change is made up for in payroll savings, IMO.
Brent: Put players where they’re most likely to succeed. There’s not much defensive data available on Olivera, so I don’t know where that is, but I trust that Braves scouts do. If they thought he could play 3rd capably, I think they’d let him, given there’s no one demanding MLB time at the position right now. And no, Adonis Garcia is not demanding MLB time. Sometimes guys just get all goofy in a good way when they get their first MLB call-up and pitchers challenge them in the zone. Olivera’s offensive upside is so big you just kind of want to put him where he can be comfortable and focus on hitting. Perhaps that’s in LF.
What will our offseason look like in terms of moves being made? Short term rentals? Long term fixture? And will they get another power bat in the offseason or wait till the offseason after the 2016 season?
Chris: With the brain trust in place now, it’s hard to predict some of the moves. They have shown a tendency to take some chances and to be creative when structuring deals, which makes it hard to anticipate things. We do know that the Atlanta Braves are not likely to take on a huge annual salary. We know that they value young arms. We know that they will take on short term salary for long term gains.
With the bullpen being a priority, I could see them going after someone like Antonio Bastardo or Tyler Clippard. Everywhere else, I think we are likely to see short term free agent signings. They may pursue a power bat via trade, but those are expensive (in the form of prospects), and I don’t think the Braves have accumulated enough prospects yet to both restock the pipeline and trade some for a power bat. I would look for a power bat to be targeted after the 2016 offseason.
Brent: You never really know, but I expect more short term rentals. I could see the Braves chasing a power reliever in the $15-25M range on a 2 or 3 year deal. I think we’ll pursue buy-low options at starting pitcher. Power bats are expensive, so you have to time your move better in that regard. I don’t think the 2016 Braves are a power hitter away from the playoffs (more like 3), so giving up future assets to acquire one on a (presumably) short contract might be off the mark. Like you suggested in the question, I think we’re a year away from acquiring someone more substantial in that regard.
Less of a question, more of a request, if you feel it’s worth doing. How about evaluating the pros and cons (and likelihood) of the Atlanta Braves acquiring Doug Fister?
Micah: Here goes…
Pros: Veteran Presence. Low cost.
Cons: Since 2011, he has seen performance declines in critical areas, such as FIP, HR rate, fastball velocity, and strikeout rate. At 32, he’s not really at an age where one would expect this to get better. Possibly he could have value as a reliever, which became his role in Washington, but there is one number that makes me shy away from him altogether: fastball velocity.
- 2011: 89.6
- 2012: 89.1
- 2013: 88.6
- 2014: 87.9
- 2015: 86.4
Some players have variation from year to year, but Fister has had a steady decline to an average batting practice speed.
In 2014, he had a nice year in terms of wins and ERA, and that followed three really good years. All that made me want him to be a solid bounce back candidate, but there was a big disparity in 2014 between the 3.93 FIP and the 2.41 ERA. He was helped by a .261 BABIP compared to a career .294 BABIP. So to me his 2014 performance was an illusion that masked a more steady decline in his underlying numbers to where he is now.
Maybe he can bounce back. Maybe his forearm issues early in the year really impacted his performance, but there are other troubling indicators that lead me to believe we won’t see a return of the valuable starter from 2012-14, when Fister averaged 4.2 fWAR a season. But, hey, if he’s cheap enough, I’d have no problem with taking a low risk shot at him pitching well enough to flip for something at the trade deadline. And honestly, this is the type of player I think the Atlanta Braves will target, so there is a chance he could be a Brave next year.
Chris: Doug Fister is an interesting case, IMO. He has been on a downswing for two years, so he’s a great candidate for a short-term bounceback contract to rebuild value. His bread and butter has always been getting ground balls, and that ability has evaporated. Fister’s two-seamer functions as a sinker, but it has significantly lost both velocity and movement over the last two seasons, to the point that he seems less confident in throwing it. The loss of movement means that lofting his 85-MPH fastball up there just doesn’t work to keep hitters off balance.
Fister is probably looking at a 1-year deal in the $10M range, which might seem high, but he’s still a guy who can give you 180IP as a starter…assuming he keeps you in games. If he could be had for a little less, maybe $5M-$6M, then I might consider it. But the loss of velocity (which has declined regularly since 2011) AND movement are typically indicators of a loss of ability from which pitchers generally struggle to recover.
Brent: He’s losing velocity and command, and I’m skeptical that he can be a useful MLB starter again. If you have a subscription, here’s a great article from Baseball Prospectus explaining Fister’s sudden decline. It wasn’t just bad luck. He’s throwing pitches slower and more over the plate. It’s a bad combo. Now, he’s young enough where perhaps the proper rest combined with the right mechanical adjustment might mean future success, but I wouldn’t pay significant money for that chance. And for Fister, I consider anything more than an incentive-laden sub-$3M contract to be significant.