Archive for September, 2008

59: The Change We Need, Change We Can Believe In, A Change For The Better… Part I

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By Gil In Mechanicsville…

In this season of political spin, as politicians once again play us for fools and subscribe to the old Lincoln adage that you can fool all of the people some of the time, or at least long enough to get elected, I thought we would turn away from the posturing and one-upmanship for a few moments and talk about something that really means something to us, speculation of how the Braves line-up might look in 2009.

Let’s start with that most critical element of any successful major league franchise, pitching. First let’s assume that the Braves will at least try to bring back some of the reliable arms of the past. Tom Glavin may once again be a part of the starting rotation; the surgery to repair his balky elbow may be a resounding success. We likely won’t know until late march if he can be relied upon for one final hurrah in a Braves uniform but I suspect he would like to make one more attempt at glory.

John Smoltz may be the biggest question mark. The type of shoulder surgery he endured has not been known to have a high degree of success. Only the grit and determination, which he has shown repeatedly during his long career with the Braves, makes him a possibility to be a part of the Braves staff. While he may or may not be able to perform as a starting pitcher in 2009, I doubt he would be willing to serve in a support role in the Braves bullpen and I further doubt he would sign a contract for less than real market value. We will know by next March if we will see John on the field or in the broadcast booth.

Tim Hudson will be a non-factor next year unless the Braves are still in the pennant race in September. It is unlikely he would return to form in less than a year and his spot in the rotation is one of the huge voids that Braves need to filled this winter. We shall see just how good Frank Wren is as a GM if he can duplicate the type of deal his predecessor put together when he brought free agent Greg Maddux to Atlanta.

Jair Jurrjens was a real bright spot for the Braves this year. A true gem, for one so young to become the ace of the staff is too great a burden. Hopefully the Braves will spring for a true front line starter so Jair can continue to progress and mature without over using his arm. Too many innings on a young pitcher has repeatedly been shown to be a precursor to a shorten career.

Mike Hampton… yes, I know, so many feel he has stolen the money paid to him for the last three years but look at it this way, he was hurt while pitching. He worked like a dog to get back to where he can be considered to be a major league pitcher. Well, after watching him for the past few months, I think he has proven himself pretty well. As he becomes stronger and he regains velocity, he is going to once again be a valuable addition to the staff. I have no idea the type of contract he might be offered by the Braves but I do know one thing for certain, he is going to be on someone’s big league roster next year and the Braves will regret it if they do not re-sign him for 2009. He is still fairly young as pitchers go and if you compare him to Glavin and Smoltz, he is a virtual teenager.

Others who have a real chance at making the roster next year…. Jorge Campillo appeared to fade a bit down the stretch this year but for a while he really was a lifeline for the Braves. While he will never be confused as an ace, he was quite serviceable and hopefully he will rest his arm some during the off-season and be ready for action next April. Now while I will admit he is more likely the type of pitcher to be found on the National’s roster than the Braves, he has been much more solid than some of the other experiments Atlanta has tried the past few years. If he can learn to keep his change up down in the zone, he could easily be a 15 game winner for the Braves.

There are some other young hurlers in the Braves organization who have a chance to break through next season, Charlie Morton, JoJo Reyes, Anthony Larew, and Chuck James all have an opportunity to step into a role next year. I will give my prospectus of them as well as other young Braves hurlers in the organization plus the bullpen in my next contribution.

~Gil~

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58: Just Wait Til Next Year!!

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by Berigan

My turn again???? Seems like I just wrote one of these…..6  months ago!!! 🙂

Well, it’s getting old saying next year will be a better year in braves land. What’s funny, and great about this game, is you just never know who’s going to win, their division, the wildcard, or the World Series. Well, we know the WS winner will come out of the AL, but other than that, it’s a semi educated guess. Can anyone remember who was picked to be winners this spring??? Detroit was going to be about the best team in  baseball, certainly the best offense in decades. And the Indians were supposed to have 7-8 ML ready starters. So, one of those two teams was surely going to win the AL central, with the other team winning the Wildcard. That’s what the experts, people who live and breathe baseball, have watched the game closely for many moons said.

And we all know the only team that might, just might top the Red Sox in the east was the Yankees. The Rays were at least another year away from competing.

Mariners were likely to win the AL west. Well, they may win the worst record in the west this year, that’s about all…

In the NL west, how many people projected the Giants to be in 3rd place, with 2007 NL pennant winner Colorado in 4th,  and the Padres in last place???

I believe the Cubs were projected to win the central, but who expected the Cardinals in be in the hunt for most of the year? A team most people saw  and predicted, after Spring training, as the worst in their division???

In our own division, who among the experts, or among us, could see the Marlins competing through August????

Which brings us to the Braves. We know most(but not all) the experts predicted us to be a 3rd place team. But, the beat writer and most of us could see this team seriously competing for the flag in ’08.

We started the year with an embarrassment of pitching it seemed. Tons of hard throwers in the bullpen, with Gonzo coming back in  a few months. Seemed like we had 6-7 serious contenders for 5 starting jobs. Frenchy really to move from an excellent right fielder, to one of the best in the game. Diaz finally getting the chance to play every day. Yunel ready to have  break out year, in his first year as a starter. Chipper was back, we had one of the best hitting and fielding 1st baseman for the WHOLE year, Kelly Johnson and McCann just reaching their prime years as well. With Infante, we finally had someone who was a true super sub, no need to cringe if KJ or Chipper had the day off, or even if they went on the DL.

Well, best laid plans and all that. You all know the rest by heart. You just can’t predict injuries. Well, we knew Chipper would miss a few weeks, but that’s about it. Glavine had never gone on the DL. Smoltz would be Smoltz, Hampton would be back soon…losing the closer, and the 8th inning guy??? Hard to win doing that. Yet, our bullpen really wasn’t a big problem for the first 4 months of the season. But, we still didn’t seem to really be in a race.

I know I have been just  a tidge negative about Bobby, and about our chances for next year. But, like I mentioned above, you never know! The Mets may get better, but if they go into next year without a closer, they will still be easy to reel in. The Phils are likely to lose their 2nd biggest bopper. That can’t help. Marlins will have to get rid of anyone making more than 6 figures.

So, IF we can sign a solid starter or two, IF we can sign a power hitting right handed bat, IF Frenchy reverts to the 2006-07 model, IF Chipper can play in 140 + games, IF Soriano can pitch like he did last year, IF Moylan is back to his great self(and he should be) We could, we should be the team to beat!!!!

You heard it here first!!! You’ll see, just wait till next year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

~Berigan~

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57: The Old Man and the Sea change

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by Savannah Guy

With Presidents and other leaders and good Samaritans, circumstances usually make them what they are in the public record. The Civil War made Lincoln, as did that unfortunate theatre visit. The Great Depression, WWII, TVA and the promise of a “chicken in every pot” made FDR. The Panama Canal, the hostage crisis and that attacking rabid rabbit made Jimmy Carter. Well, maybe Carter isn’t such a good example, but you get the point… circumstance matters.

Now, Braves. There is no doubt that Bobby Cox is a Hall of Fame manager. Bobby Cox managed most all of those titles under the fortunate circumstance of Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux and a host of good pitchers around them. That circumstance has changed (drastically).

Now, on the games we play. Sports have changed too. Coaching in today’s pro sports arena is becoming pretty sophisticated stuff. Management requires learned skills, techniques, tactics and technology on top of mental sharpness and great experience in the game. In the old days of baseball managing, when things were simpler (just a few years ago), technology was a pencil or a piece of chalk.

Managing a game was not nearly as statistically critical or access to information at our fingertips at the speed of technology as fundamental as it has become these days. Now, along with playing experience, the cost of entry for a manager should include being well versed in all of the tools to efficiently, effectively and successfully manage a modern sports team, including those without the highest payroll. If you can’t outspend’em you have to outsmart’em.

Like it or not, over the next few years we’ll see more and more of the old-time managers, particularly those that aren’t particularly strategic and/or ‘new era’ coaches around them, as they become more and more ineffective. We have greater access to information than ever before. How we gather, interpret and act on that information will tell the tale. Change is inevitable. Those that don’t change are doomed to failure and irrelevance.

Now, fishing. In the old days (also just a few years ago) a champion offshore sport or commercial fisherman relied on his experience and instinct to find fish and earn a living through years of trial and error. He relied on visually identifying weed-lines and bird activity. Every successful fisherman spent time logging time and tides, studying fish patterns and seasonal species, paying attention to wind direction and just applied good old common sense and dead reckoning.

Today fishermen use modern GPS technology and satellite linked charts displaying real-time water temp, Ph, currents, wind direction, baitfish schools and such. They are also outfitted with the most amazing sonar and transducers that pipe detailed digital images in on color video monitors for tracking the exact conditions for species of fish they seek.

Without all of the sophisticated technology and access to more maritime research and information than ever imagined, the old-style commercial fisherman simply cannot compete. Some folks that hold a glamorous view of the trade may pine for the ‘old salts’ and the good old days when things were simple, natural and not so complex… but come dinnertime we’d buy our fish from the guys that caught them.

Now, jumping back to baseball again. MLB managers and an increasing number of coaches will have to master new methodologies and become fluent in emerging innovative technology, Sabermetrics, employ ever improving management software, digitally recorded and analyzed player profiles and so forth. For the health care (and increasing investment) of athletes, breakthrough medical research, surgical techniques, rehab and prevention will continue. Proactive procedures, vitamins and physical conditioning will be much more personalized to each unique athlete.

Embracing and mastering these kinds of constantly improving ‘tools’ by managers and coaches is already critical and will only become more critical. The managers that don’t adapt will become painfully and glaringly evident. As with all sports and all business, the game of baseball will continue to evolve. The team that embraces change and strives to stay ahead of the tech and information curve will have a distinct competitive advantage in recruiting, coaching, maximizing talent and minimizing injury on the field, in the clubhouse, in the executive office and every other location and aspect of the franchise and the game itself… including one run wins.

The old managers will go the way of the old fisherman. We’ll remember them with fondness, we’ll place them on a pedestal or induct them into the Hall of Fame or we’ll just pine for them when they’re gone. We’ll remember them in the context of ‘the good old days’, when life and the game of baseball was simpler.

Let’s hope the good, old-time managers know when it’s time to go, especially if they are beginning to come back to the docks empty handed. If they don’t go gracefully when it’s their time, they may irreparably harm their own legacy, taint our fond memories of successes they’ve enjoyed and instead, write an unsuccessful, annoying and sad final chapter to an otherwise arguably brilliant career.

We want to smile and cheer for a job well done when our ‘skippers’ walk or sail off into the sunset, not cringe, feel embarrassment, annoyance or frustration when they stay too long. We certainly don’t want to watch the boat take on water because of a skippers waning ability to see the cracks in the hull, flounder because of their lack of self awareness or sink because of their stubborn refusal to moor the boat when it’s time. For the good of the boat and the crew, Skippers have to know when to turn over the wheel in a storm.

It’s too late for Bobby Cox to leave while the Braves are on top. It may be too late for him to leave on top of his own game. Let’s hope it doesn’t get embarrassing for the old skipper with the sea change going on around him in Major League Baseball.

~SG~

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