Answers On The Fly: Merry New Year Edition

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Answers On The Fly: A Reader Mailbag

Answers On The Fly is our (somewhat) weekly feature where we answer questions submitted by our readers. Mailbag questions can cover a variety of topics and give us a good reading on the interests of you, the reader. Your questions are answered by the expert writing staff at Outfield Fly Rule, which should probably give you an idea of the state of sports journalism today.

Submit your questions the following ways:





First up: We hope all of you had a great and happy holiday season. The New Year is upon us, and hopefully, so is a new direction for our Atlanta Braves.

ATLmalcontent over at Rowland’s Office (a good Braves-related blog, by the way) suggested last week that the Braves could sign Yoenis Cespedes this off-season. That leads us to….

Do you think the Braves should go after Cespedes?
– Jill B.
Abbeville, SC

Chris Jervis:   Should they? Well, that is a tough call. They could certainly improve the team immediately by doing so. Cespedes provides power in the middle of the order, and he plays a solid defense at a position that is still somewhat in flux. He would provide right-handed balance and some protection for Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and A.J. Pierzynski. His reputation and presence could help some other players see better pitches as pitchers try to work around letting Cespedes beat them himself.

But does he fit the  timeline and direction? Cespedes is now 30 years old, which is by no means ancient. He’s said to be looking for at least a 6-year deal, which would take him into his age 35 season. While he’s probably a 4-5 WAR player now, that could probably be expected to decline slightly on the back half of his tenure. Cespedes as a 5-6 win player in 2016 basically takes the Braves from a ~75-ish win team to maybe a ~78-ish win team. And 2017 would not be much different, as I expect the team to be better, but not highly competitive, in 2017. So Cespedes would not likely make the team much better in the short-term, and he would be entering his age 32 season (and probably declining to a 2.5 – 3 win player) when the Braves are likely to be competitive again.

And that doesn’t factor in the cost. Right now, the Braves are sitting around $75M committed (depending on which site you use and how the incoming money from the Cleveland Indians is allocated). With an estimated payroll of around $100M, there doesn’t seem to be much room to sign Cespedes and also fill the roster. At least, not without shipping out some payroll or without Cespedes signing for less than expected.

If this was 2017, go after him. But I don’t see him as a fit in the current timeline.

Brent Blackwell: {Editor Note: We are prepping the launch of a podcast, and Brent decided to provide his Answers On The Fly via audio submission to test all of the components required to host a podcast.}

 

Micah Smith: Just say no to Cespedes. It’s not that I dislike him now, but I don’t think he will age well. Considering his performance in 2-to-3 years is what matters to the Braves (when they are legitimate playoff contenders), aging well matters if they are going to offer a 6 or 7 year contract at roughly $20 million a year. Cespedes might fall below that anticipated salary range based on an outfield-heavy free agent market, but I still doubt he would fall into a range that would interest the Braves.

The reason I don’t think he will age well is because of his player type. Cespedes maintains good power with a career .215 ISO (Isolated Power, where above .200 is considered great). He also is a good baserunner and defender (relying more on arm than range). The issue for me is that he is not a great contact hitter. I don’t trust players with poor BB/K rates to age well. Hitters with patience, strike zone awareness, and good contact skills can continue to provide good value even if the power fades. There is nothing in Cespedes’ stats that show he posesses any of these “protective factors.” In four full seasons, he has a 20.9% strikeout rate, and his walk rate has fallen every year, from 8%, to 6.4%, to 5.4%, to 4.9%. Of 141 qualified hitters last year, he was tied for the 11th worst BB/K ratio at 0.23. Also, unsuprisingly, he swings at a higher than league average number of balls outside of the strike zone. According to PITCHf/x, in 2015 Cespedes swung at 37.5% of out-of-zone pitches compared to league average of 30.9%. He is a great athlete with a lot of raw power, but he is not a great hitter.

Also, there are concerns looking back. Is the 2015 Superstar Cespedes the player we would get with his 6.7 fWAR and 135 wRC+? Or is it the 2013-14 role-player Cespedes who COMBINED for 5.7 fWAR in those two seasons and was roughly a league average hitter with a 106 wRC+? Considering both the future concerns of how he will age with his mixed performance in the past, I’m not comfortable paying big money for 6-7 years because he was really good in his most recent spotlight (and value raising) performance with the Mets in the second half last year.

A final point is that all my negative nancying doesn’t mean I think Cespedes will be a bad player next year. In fact, I’d expect him to be quite good, even a 4-5 WAR player. He might even be good the year after that. But he’ll be 31 heading into 2017, when the Braves window first starts to open, and 32 heading into 2018, when I consider the Braves primed to start playoff runs. Why would the Braves get a player who is peaking now when the window is two years from now when players – especially this type of player – tend to start fading?

In my opinion, Cespedes is better suited for a team primed to win now that can also afford to pay the price when he drops off significantly on the back end of the deal. In my opinion, that team is definitely not the Braves.

 

How many wins does Fredi Gonzalez have to have for you to feel comfortable with him getting a contract extension? Another one (extension). How many wins does he need for you to be OK with him remaining the manager?
-Brian D.
Canton, GA

Chris Jervis: Back in July, Fredi Gonzalez signed a one year extension for 2016, with a team option for 2017, pretty much destroying the hopes and dreams of most Atlanta fans. Gonzalez, rightly or wrongly, has been the public face of perceived Braves failures for several years. Late season collapses and at times uninspired play have overshadowed the fact that Gonzalez is one of the winningest managers in baseball since he was named manager of the Braves. That said, Gonzalez is clearly on a short leash. The team only extended him for this upcoming season. Most observers feel that the club option for 2017 is window dressing, and has little chance of being exercised.

I don’t think firing Gonzalez now (or last season) will do much, if any, to improve the team. The team’s struggles are a function of talent, not tactics. A new manager is not going to suddenly have new players on the roster with which to field a team. Certainly, he could choose to go with different guys out of Spring, or move certain players around. But the players are already here. Changing the guy who says ‘Go play!’ won’t make them any more talented.

Tactically, Gonzalez has made some clear bone-headed decisions at times…especially in regards to bullpen usage. But, in reality, most managers do that as well. Most of the strategic moves for which we fault Gonzalez would likely be repeated by a new a manager, meaning we wouldn’t see much, if any, improvement there, either.

Managers’ best and most important functions are managing clubhouses and personalities. Gonzalez, by all reputable accounts, has been fine at that. He has the trust and backing of his players, and they have spoken of their support for him. The tired old trope of ‘Fredi doesn’t have his players’ backs!’ because he doesn’t jump around and rant and rave like Bobby Cox did is just not supported by what the players say.

So, if the talent won’t improve with a new manager, and the tactics aren’t likely to improve much, and he already manages the clubhouse well, does that mean he should stay? Not necessarily. Sometimes, a change of scenery/change of direction/new voice is needed. Perhaps a different set of eyes can find flaws that are being missed.

How many games does he need to win? I can’t put a number on it. I would judge his suitability for an extension more on how the team improves (and in what areas) than on actual game outcomes. Gonzalez can’t be held accountable for not having MLB ready players. But he can be held accountable for how those players are used.

Brent Blackwell:

 

Micah Smith: Don’t take this the wrong way, Brian D., but I have a fundamental issue with the question. I don’t think a team should decide to fire or retain a manger based on a set number of wins. Quantifying manager value is difficult because it deals largely in unquantifiable and hidden (we aren’t privy to the clubhouse) variables. But I do think it’s possible to get a sense of the talent available and a sense of how well a manager is managing that talent. So the evaluation is more appropriately defined by how well the talent performs based on expectation for that talent, and on how well the manager uses that talent to best meet the needs of complex and ever-changing scenarios, both of which are admittedly subjective.

Last year, when the extension was signed, I wrote an article defending the extension. I still hold to an important part of that defense: an unknown entity is not necessarily better than a less than ideal known entity. Fredi, in my opinion, is a fairly typical manager. He is a guy who keeps the ship steady whatever the weather. Despite his reliance on “gut,” “match ups,” and “hot hands,” he manages not to cost his team too many games, even if his selected strategy has a poorer probability of success or doesn’t best utilize a player’s strengths.

Could we do better than Fredi? For sure. He is not a great manager. But the flip side is that we can do much, much worse. I recently had some frightening arguments with people who seriously think the Braves need Ozzie Guillen, you know, for lighting fires under the players and stuff. I don’t want the Braves anywhere near the types of fires that dude lights! It’s like people who want to get rid of President Obama because he’s the worst president of all time. Have we had better presidents? Sure. Could we do worse. Yes!

When it comes down to it, though, I am ready for a change. I did not like the way Fredi managed during the second half last year. He cannot adapt well to changing circumstances, and he showed it once again. That is not only true with his in-game strategy, but also with the larger strategery of managing a young, non-competitive team. It drove me crazy that he was still managing to win games at the end of last season instead of taking advantage of the situation to give young players growth opportunities. These opportunities would allow younger players important chances to develop, but just as importantly, it would allow the Braves a chance to better evaluate their young talent.

There are a number of examples (cough, Bethancourt, cough), but the one that caused me to throw in the towel was when he sat Hector Olivera in favor of Adonis Garcia because of match ups, hot hands, and potential hurt feelings (as far as I can tell from the confusing logiking Fredi attempted). I’m sorry, but the Braves traded the top prospect at the time in Jose Peraza and a good, young starting pitcher in Alex Wood because Olivera is supposed to be an important piece of the team’s future, so if he’s struggling against left handers, let him work on hitting left handers instead of treating him like he’s a secondary platoon player! That’s not tanking; that’s understanding your team and your team’s situation and doing what is best for the team in that situation.

To get back around to the question, Fredi could win between zero and 162 games. It doesn’t really matter to me. We pretty much know what he is, a guy who can manage a clubhouse pretty well (which is important), but who is frustratingly inept at managing a game or adapting to changing circumstances. I’m afraid of the unknown, but I’m ready to step into it. I think by this time next year, the Braves will also decide to take that step.




What spots are we drafting in for comp pick and 2nd rd?
– Daniel M.
Blountsville, AL

Chris Jervis:  The exact order is currently unknown until the free agency period plays out (some teams may lose a draft pick while others may gain a compensatory pick based on signings), but the Braves’ competitive balance pick (obtained from the Marlins in the trade involving Hector Olivera, Alex Wood, Jose Peraza, and Jim Johnson) will be in the late 30s (maybe around #38 if all Qualified Offer Free Agents sign, and possibly as low as 35, depending on who they sign with).

Second round picks are dependent on the FA signing period as well, but it should be about #42.

 

Would you rather surrender a draft choice for Justin Upton or Ian Kennedy? Of course, this implies you are signing one of them.
– Thomas P.
Pennhook, VA

Chris Jervis: Given those choices, I would rather give up the prospect for Kennedy, since his salary should be a good bit lower than Upton’s expected salary. That savings could then be used to acquire another potential contributor. Kennedy isn’t as bad as his standard back of the card numbers would indicate. He’s a roughly league average player, and his peripherals show at least some ability to be successful. Given how hit or miss draft choices can be, I would risk losing a draft pick to save the cash.

Really, it depends on which pick. With the Braves having a top-3 pick this year, I’m not sure I would give up that pick for Kennedy. But if it was a #12? Sure.

 

Micah Smith: Because the #3 pick is protected, I’m okay with surrendering the top unprotected pick (in the upper 30’s currently) for the right player. That said, I don’t really want either of those players. Upton might fall to a reasonable price, but he’s not my ideal player, and definitely not at the price he wants. Kennedy doesn’t do enough for me to be worth the cost of the pick. We have much younger pitchers to gamble on and there are much cheaper veterans to sign as potential rebound candidates. Based on where the Braves are in the rebuild, I think they are still of the mindset to keep the pick and have another huge year of rebuilding the farm between the June draft and the July international signing period. After that, they will have plenty of talent to trade for a player who can better fill a need. Pursuing a free agent is tempting, but pursuing one at this time seems forced and unnecessary in context of where the Braves are in the rebuild.

Based on all that, if you held a gun to my head and made me pick one, I’d go with Kennedy for two reasons. One, he would be cheaper so he would be less of a burden if he didn’t pan out. Two, if he did bounce back to old Kennedy and had a couple years left on his contract at a cheap price, the Braves would surely flip him at the trade deadline for a pretty good prospect, which would basically be a more winding road to acquiring a somewhat similar level of talent as the draft pick they forfeited (or a better talent if they trade him back to the Diamondbacks for their 2016 first rounder, which would just be hilariously fun).

 

Why do people still believe that the ban on Pete Rose will be lifted, and he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame?
– Michael B.
Dothan, AL

Chris Jervis: I think so many believe it will be lifted because they don’t understand what actually happened. The investigation that led to the ban will be 27 years old in February. The announcement of the ban itself is 26 1/2 years old. An entire generation of fans was not alive when it happened.

Pete Rose has no self-awareness. (Photo credit: Joe Fury/ 9 Group)
Pete Rose has no self-awareness. (Photo credit: Joe Fury/ 9 Group)

Many believe Pete was accused of betting by a bookie, and that MLB decided to ban him based on the word of an admittedly unreliable witness. But that’s not quite how it happened. MLB had the proof; they had copies of his betting slips. They had the bookie’s statements. They had his friends’ statements. They had his own statements. And,  they had more.

Pete Rose’s biggest roadblock to getting reinstated is Pete Rose. He denied everything, then admitted it in secret to avoid jail time (for the other, undisclosed things MLB had). He willingly and knowingly AGREED TO BE BANNED FOR LIFE. And then when Bart Giamatti died, Rose went on a scorched Earth tirade, slandering Giamatti’s name at every opportunity. He continuously blasted MLB and the agreement Rose himself signed, all while MLB followed the conditions of not publicly discussing the contents of the agreement. In addition, he continued to gamble, publicly as well as privately, while simultaneously applying for reinstatement. He showed no self-realization about why he was even in the position.

Many suggest Rose shouldn’t be banned if PED users aren’t banned. That’s an irrelevant straw man. Pete Rose wasn’t accused of breaking any rules related to PED (though some reports suggest Rose was introducing PED into MLB clubhouses as early as 1986).  He was accused of breaking the most inviolable rule in baseball…one that he knew had a lifetime ban associated with it. The rule makes no distinction as to whether he bet on or against his team, or on or against an opposing team. The rule is the only one posted in every clubhouse in associated baseball for a reason: gambling nearly destroyed the game. This now multi-billion dollar business was nearly bankrupted and shut down due to a series of gambling scandals. One can argue about whether MLB has a standing to keep the punishment intact, given their partnership with DraftKings and FanDuel. But that known steroid/PED/HGH users have not also been banned is really irrelevant in the discussion about Rose. Rose wasn’t banned for steroids. And, the precedent for enshrining alleged cheaters has already been set, with long-known and admitted PED users like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron already in the HoF. Or known and alleged cheats like Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, and John Smoltz already in the HoF.

Will he ever get in the HoF? I think he will, eventually. When is another question entirely. Should he be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. But he should also serve his punishment, which is a lifetime ban. When the punishment has been served, vote him in. But if Pete rose had STFD and STFU in 1989, he would be in the Hall of Fame today, IMO.

Brent Blackwell:

 

Micah Smith: Because there are many baseball fans who love Pete Rose the baseball player, and all that rational, logical stuff that Chris said goes out the window when it’s a player you love.

 

About Chris Jervis 72 Articles
Chris Jervis is an accountant in the Atlanta area. He's long had an interest in baseball, and, being a numbers nerd, loves analyzing player performances. He also likes to argue and is kind of an ass.

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