Talkin’ Braves with Craig Calcaterra

If you live under a rock, you probably haven’t read Craig’s work at Shysterball and NBC Sports. At Baseball Think Factory, I called him the AC Slater of the blogosphere. He’s super cool, popular, and gets stalked (note: I have no idea if Mario Lopez has ever been stalked, but I’d imagine he has). He can probably dance, too.

You might not know it from his overall coverage of Major League Baseball, but Craig is a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan. Yeah, I know — he loses major cool points for that. However, the way the Phillies have been playing, they may want to listen to what a keen observer thinks about the series.

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1. Even before getting shut-out by the Red Sox 1-0 on Saturday, the Braves had the fourth-worst offense in the National League. Should the Braves still look for another bat or do you think players like Kelly Johnson and Jordan Schafer are going to improve to provide a boost to the Braves’ offense in the second half of the season?

I think they’ve punted on Schafer for the rest of the year and are right to have done so.  I wish I had a clue as to what’s happening with Kelly Johnson, but at this point I’d prefer that they just play him every day and hope for the best.  He’s better than this, and I’m cautiously optimistic that they’ll improve.  My thinking in the offseason was that the Braves are really gearing up for 2010 and, though they weren’t advertising it, were willing to let 2009 be a year of experiments and stuff.  I hope that they stick to that rather than try to make any moves to make a run this season, because it seems kind of hopeless at the moment.

2. What do you think of Nate McLouth, and of the trade with the Pirates in general?

I think much better of him in a Braves uniform than I do in anyone else’s. Not for rooting purposes, but because he just seems so much more valuable in what was a truly dreadful outfield and thus justifies his playing time, position and contract far more in Atlanta than he does anywhere else.  He’s flawed, but he’s way better than anything else Atlanta has been trotting out there.  And I’m fine with the trade — I don’t think Atlanta gave up anyone who was going to be a good part of the next good Braves team.

3. There are currently very few statistical methods that even come close to measuring the effectiveness of a manager. Being a Braves fan and having watched Bobby Cox-managed teams for a while, do you think he is really as good as everyone claims?

Actually, Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times has a book coming out this fall that goes a long way towards quantifying managerial effectiveness and he spends many pages on Cox in particular. I won’t even pretend to explain it (mostly because I don’t understand a lot of it) but Cox fares very well among the all-time greats in getting the most out of what he has.  That aside, I think Cox is a very good manager, mostly because he tends to (a) create a drama-free environment that allows his players to relax; and (b) otherwise gets the hell out of the way.  It’s amazing how many managers can’t accomplish even one of those things.  All in all, if you look at the failures of any given Braves team over the past 20 years, you have to point at five other things before you can identify anything that was of Bobby Cox’s doing, and to me, that’s the definition of being a successful manager.

4. When are the Braves going to cut Jeff Francoeur? He is, by far, the Braves’ worst hitter.

I have to assume that, in keeping with the 2010 plan mentioned above, they were going to give him this whole season to figure it out no matter how he did.  If there was a glimmer of hope they’d either keep him or try to trade him, but that’s certainly not happening now.  If I were running them at this point I’d just appreciate the sunk cost, keep him running him out there if for no other reason than to save the service time and/or wear and tear on anyone else, and non-tender him this fall.  There’s really no other option.

5. If you had to assign a letter grade to GM Frank Wren, how would you grade him? What were his best and worst transactions?

That’s tough, because I think it’s hard to determine how much power Wren really has.  John Schuerholz isn’t off fishing someplace, he’s still there, and I think that they’re kind of working with a team including them and some other folks.  I guess I’d have to give him a B.  There was a lot of bad press in the offseason about him being unable to close the Furcal and Griffey deals, but those not getting done have to be considered good things, right?  I liked the McClouth deal, so for lack of anything else I can think of at the moment I’ll call that his best deal.  Well, maybe Derek Lowe was better.  As for the worst: it happened before he took over as GM, but if he had anything to do with acquiring Teixeira in 2007 he’s owed a kick in the ass.

BONUS: Put your Shysterball where your mouth is: predict the outcome of the series. We’ve got: Blanton-Lowe, Hamels-Jurrjens, and TBA-Vazquez. [Note: The pitching probables were different when I e-mailed Craig, so that’s why his response is slightly inaccurate].

Despite my overall pessimism, I think the Braves take two of three: they win the Kawakami game and the Lowe game (TBA has really been struggling with his control) and then drop the Hamels-Jurrjens game.  I have no idea why I’m going this way with any of these, but it strikes me that the Braves are due for one of those “hey, we’re only two games out now” stories, which will soon be followed by them dropping five of seven.

. . .

Thanks to Craig for taking time out of his busy interviewing schedule to impart some wisdom for the Phillies-Braves series. After the interview, Craig passed on some more information about Phillies’ starter TBA: “…I hear that TBA had a really good bullpen session yesterday.  From what I hear, he’s mixing in an eephus pitch to see if it’s really true that Francoeur will swing at anything.”

No, it’s true: he will swing at anything. No need for an eephus, TBA. Fastballs four feet off the plate should suffice.

Believe it or not, tomorrow night will be the first time all season the Phillies will stop in Atlanta. The last time the Phillies lost in Atlanta was September 5, 2007.

Utley’s Corner

In what can only be referred to as a great honor, broadcasters of the New York Mets’ games have dubbed the right field corner at Citi Field “Utley’s Corner.” It’s so true that it has its own Wikipedia entry. [UPDATE: The Wikipedia moderators have removed it] Courtesy Back She Goes is the visual evidence of Utley’s use of what is now his own special corner of the Mets’ new ballpark.

Click to enlarge:

BDD: Rivera Cements Place Among All-Time Greats

At Baseball Daily Digest, I take a look at where Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is at among baseball’s best.

That’s the bread-and-butter that Rivera has used to repeatedly dominate American League hitters since 1997. Imagine having to face a Zack Greinke fastball that’s just a couple MPH slower on average, but with tremendous movement towards the left-handed batter’s box. Oh, and if you happen to make contact with it, not only does your bat have a high probability of being splintered, but the pain in your hands will tell you that you just swung at a bowling ball.

In fact, Rivera’s cutter is so feared that switch-hitters will hit right-handed against him because of how often the cutter will jam lefties. Chipper Jones once called it a “buzzsaw.”