• mlb

    Doritos Goat hires Scott Boras, Braves interested.

    The word “Doritos” is taken from the Spanish word doradito, which means “turned golden”. That, as it turns out, is a fitting name for the Doritos Goat, known to friends and family simply as “DG”. After getting his big break in a Super Bowl XLVII commercial for the popular flavored tortilla snack chip, DG is looking to cash in on his new found notoriety by hiring renowned super agent Scott Boras. 

    Sports agent, Scott Boras

    Boras is speaking with a number of Major League Baseball franchises in the market for a new mascot, including  multiple teams in the National League East.

    One of those teams is believed to be the Atlanta Braves. MLB.com Braves beat writer, Mark Bowman, recently reported that the team has in fact been in contact with Boras and is eyeing DG as a possible replacement for Homer the Brave, who has devolved into a walking baseball with little more personality than Ben Stein on opium.

    Of apparent concern to the character-conscious Braves, though, is the goat’s repeated run-ins with the law. Most notably, DG was involved in a drunken drag racing incident with Major League pitcher Derek Lowe. Also, while not illegal, many teams were unhappy to learn that DG recently sold clean urine samples to Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera. 

    The Miami Marlins also have interest in DG’s services. One team official told BravesWire that Scott Boras has been emphasizing the goat’s mass appeal as a way to boost attendance. Boras reportedly told Marlins brass that the presence of DG at Marlins Park could draw as many as 50 additional fans in 2013, drastically increasing attendance.

    Doritos Goat and RHP Derek Lowe

    Farther west, Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti, while dabbing the sweat from his brow with a $100 bill, told reporters he liked the idea of DG in Dodger blue. Sitting on a diamond encrusted office chair with a solid gold coffee mug emblazoned with the words “MO MONEY!” in his left hand, Colletti went on to say that he has challenged his management team to think outside of the box as they try to invent new ways to spend their infinite pool of cash, in which the front office staff often skinny dips after hours. Doritos Goat would seemingly meet his criteria of an innovative expenditure.

    Almost all of the teams believed to have interest in DG are eyeing him as a replacement mascot. The New York Mets, however, have inquired about the goat’s availability to play left field, citing DG’s vibrant pulse and his apparent ability to “give a damn about something”.

    True to form, Scott Boras is said to have opened the bidding at Mayaguna, a small island in the Bahamas, approximately 60 miles northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

    ESPN’s Buster Olney reported last week that DG turned down a 3-year, 30 million dollar offer by the Minnesota Twins, calling the offer “insulting” and adding the he “has a family to feed”.

    Did Ryan Braun Prove His Innocence?

    By Kent Covington

    Milwaukee Brewers OF and NL MVP Ryan Braun

    At 1:00 pm EST Friday afternoon, reigning NL MVP, Ryan Braun, addressed the media to discuss the recently dismissed charge that he illegally used performance enhancing drugs.

    Braun was passionate and compelling in his rebuttal of that charge. To put it another way, he was either being truthful or he is a very convincing liar. He could be either. We may never know for certain.

    Beyond the sincere tone, Braun made a compelling case for his innocence. Here are the key points of that case:

    1)  He was 27 years old, entering the prime years of his career with a long-term guaranteed contract, and even if he were inclined to use PED’s, he would not have had sufficient motivation to take such a risk.

    2) Braun had passed 24 prior drug tests, including multiple tests during the 2011 season.

    3) The fact that MLB said his testosterone levels were three times greater than any other test result since testing began made those results far less believable.

    I must say, this is a persuasive point. Of all the juicers MLB has tested in recent years, with hundreds of positive results… Ryan Braun’s testosterone levels were THREE TIMES higher than anyone they had ever tested? That is a bit hard to believe. Especially given the following point.

    4)  He did not gain muscle mass, a single pound of weight or so much as a tenth of a second on his run time on the basepaths (which is routinely measured and documented by team officials) between his last negative test and the test in question.

    Another compelling point.

    5) There was an improper 44 hour delay in the delivery of the sample to a FedEx drop-off location. Braun suggested this was a window of time in which someone could have tampered with the sample.

    From a legal standpoint, this is likely the argument that resulted in the dismissal of MLB’s case against him. This part of Braun’s argument will be less compelling to fans, however, most of whom remember OJ Simpson getting away with murder (figuratively speaking, of course) based on a technicality.

    Overall, Braun was convincing and believable in his self defense.

    Brewers OF Ryan Braun at Friday press conference

    Then again… a compelling case can be made on MLB’s behalf as well:

    1) The league certainly has zero motivation to falsely accuse one of its MVP superstars–with a squeaky clean image–of being a juicer.

    2) The sample in question was triple-sealed and its packaging showed no signs of tampering.

    3) Perhaps the reason why Braun had not gained any weight or apparent performance advantage was that he had just started using PED’s when the test was administered. This is also the simple counterpoint to all of Braun’s prior clean tests.

    When all is said and done, I believe we all have an ethical responsibility to assume Braun’s innocence. The 44-hour delay in the delivery of the sample is more than a small technicality. It is unlikely that anyone would have had both motive and opportunity to fabricate Braun’s positive results or that an egregious error could have been responsible for a false positive. But “unlikely” is a long way from impossible.

    There is no circumstantial case to be made against Braun. All MLB  had to go on was the test result. Normally, that’s more than enough. But in this case, it’s not.

    Did Ryan Braun prove his innocence? No. It would be difficult, if not impossible for him to do so, even if he is in fact innocent.

    However, unless additional information comes to light to suggest otherwise, Ryan Braun must now be presumed innocent.

    By the way, we’ve got a new Spring Preview Fried Baseball podcast up now. You can hear it here.

    Also, before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.

     

    Frank Wren: The best in the business?

    Braves General Manager, Frank Wren

    By Kent Covington

    As the Braves survey the marketplace for potential trades and roster upgrades, they do so from a position of strength. That strength comes not only from their bounty of bargaining chips—few teams are as well stocked with young talent—but also from the competence of their front office.

    Atlanta Braves General Manager, Frank Wren, is quite simply one of the best in the business.

    Just a few short years into his tenure as Deal-Maker-In-Chief, he already deserves credit for a series of remarkably canny trades. (I’m sure significant credit belongs also to his inner circle of scouts and assistants, but for our purposes, we’ll consider them part of the Frank Wren collective.)

    Among Wren’s trade credits:

    •   Jair Jurrjens , Gorkys Hernandez for Edgar Renteria
    •   Omar Infante, Will Ohman for Jose Ascanio
    •   Javier Vazquez, Boone Logan for 4 prospects
    •   Nate McLouth for Charlie Morton and 2 prospects
    •   Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn, Melky Cabrera for Javier Vazquez
    •   Alex Gonzalez, Tyler Pastornicky for Yunel Escobar
    •   Dan Uggla for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn
    •   Michael Bourn for Jordan Schafer & 3 prospects

    Only one of the trades listed above still draws widespread criticism. That trade is, of course, the ill fated deal that brought Nate McLouth to Atlanta. But ill fated is not the same thing as ill conceived. The McLouth exchange didn’t work out for the Braves. No debating that. But just because a particular trade doesn’t pan out doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right decision at the time. Many were skeptical that Nate would ever duplicate his ‘08 all-star stats, but there was no reason to anticipate a complete bust. At the time of his trade to Atlanta, McLouth was, after all, fresh off a season in which he was one of the top few players in the game at his position (It’s true. Check the stats.) The Braves needed a center fielder, and Wren swooped in and grabbed McLouth from Pittsburgh before most general managers had any idea he was even available. He deserved kudos for swinging that deal, regardless of the outcome.

    A few have also complained about Wren’s decision to unload talented shortstop, Yunel Escobar, to the Toronto Blue Jays in ‘10, but it’s simply too early to judge that move. The Braves acquired their likely ’12 opening day SS, Tyler Pastornicky, in that deal.

    OF, Michael Bourn--traded to ATL in July 2011

    The success of all other trades listed above speaks for itself.

    Even a couple of Wren’s seemingly less fruitful trades were more beneficial than many realize. Take the Vizcaino/Dunn/Cabrera—for—Vazquez deal for instance. Remember that Mike Dunn was one half (along with Omar Infante) of the package later sent to South Beach for Dan Uggla, while Vizcaino is expected to pitch in a Braves uniform for many years to come.

    And just as impressive as the deals he has brokered… are the trades he did NOT make. Wren has fielded countless calls from fellow GM’s over the past few years asking about Atlanta’s young arms and other top tier prospects. Those conversations were generally very short.

    Even after the promotion of Rookie of the Year candidates, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Johnny Venters, Brandon Beachy and Craig Kimbrel (who won the ROY award this year) over the past couple of years, Atlanta’s farm system remains one of the deepest in baseball.

    This is a credit to Wren’s restraint. He doesn’t panic when division rivals ink superstars to gaudy free agent contracts.  He doesn’t act out of desperation and sell the farm to respond with a short-sighted blockbuster trade. He sticks to the plan. He plays the long game. He’ll make every effort to strengthen the roster immediately, but he won’t mortgage the future to do it. Wren has jealously guarded the team’s young arms and core prospects, preferring instead to deal from the Major League roster.

    The trade that brought 2B, Dan Uggla, to Atlanta is a perfect example. O.Infante and M.Dunn were sent to Florida; no minor league talent included. And while the Braves did exchange minor league talent for OF, Michael Bourn, all players traded to Houston were considered second-tier prospects from Atlanta’s perspective.

    Braves refused to part with RHP phenom, Julio Teheran and other top young arms

    Many critics will be quick to point out the free agent contracts given to Atlanta flameouts, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami. It’s true that those signings were, by any measure, miserable flops. However, to the best of my knowledge, no general manager has Ms. Cleo on speed dial. That is to say, no one knows what fortunes lie ahead. GM’s must make the best possible decision with the facts in hand.

    Heading into the 2009 season, Atlanta had cash to spend, but limited free agent options. Kenshin Kawakami was a measured gamble at a point in time when I would argue it made sense to roll the dice. And while 23 million over 3 years is an unthinkable fortune to us common folk, it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster contract by modern MLB standards. The risk was tolerable. And it’s worth noting that Kawakami actually earned his keep through the first year of that deal.

    As for Derek Lowe… Who could have predicted that one of the most consistent starters in baseball would suddenly become the poster boy for maddening inconsistency? Again, the Braves had money to spend, and they desperately needed a reliable veteran anchor atop the rotation. Lowe seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Sensible move at the time. Sometimes even the best of bets fall flat.

    Speaking of free agents, while financial constraints have limited the Braves to addressing needs solely by way of trade over the past three seasons, that should change next winter. With several of Atlanta’s largest contracts expiring at the conclusion of the ‘12 season, Wren and Co. may be legitimate players in the free agent market come this time next year.

    But of course, the Braves don’t want to wait for next year. They want to compete THIS season. And rest assured, the front office is busy. I understand the impatience of many Atlanta fans. In fact, I share it. But don’t mistake inactivity for inaction. Wren is the assertive type, and he will turn over every rock to try and find a deal(s) that makes sense.

    The Braves have made it clear that any significant upgrade this winter will likely come by way of trade. And really… how many big trades have there been so far? Most of the headlines have been grabbed by free agent signings. The trade market should heat up soon, and Wren will be right in the middle of it, bartering hard.

    It’s comforting to know that the Braves’ front office won’t swallow a bad deal, just so they can say they made one. But I suspect that, one way or the other, this team and this general manager will find a way to upgrade before the winter comes to an end.

    Have faith. These folks know what they’re doing.

    Even with a modest mid-market payroll, Frank Wren has the Braves back in the playoff picture while simultaneously positioning this team to contend for many years to come. I don’t think Braves fans could ask for much more than that.

    PS:  The Fried Baseball podcast will return in early 2012 with an entirely new feel. More guests, more interviews and more insanity. See ya then!

     

     

    Moneyball a sad reminder of appalling baseball economics

    by Kent Covington

    The baseball themed Brad Pitt film, Moneyball, will be released nationwide later this month.  The movie tells the story of the small market Oakland Athletics’ efforts to adapt in the modern day Major League Baseball environment of haves and have-nots.

    In other words… it’s a sad reminder of the appalling nature of baseball economics.

    Atlanta Braves relief pitcher, Peter Moylan

    Not long ago, Atlanta Braves relief pitcher, Peter Moylan, expressed via his Twitter account how proud he is to be a part of the greatest union in the nation, in his view (the MLB Player’s Association).

    I replied by conveying my belief that the Player’s Association had greatly damaged the game.  Peter responded (facetiously), “Yeah, because the game is in such bad shape”.

    Let me start by saying, I’m a big Peter Moylan fan. I appreciate what he brings to the field, and while I don’t know him personally, he seems like an incredibly likeable guy. I understand his pride over being a part of that fraternity, and I get that he’s a company man.

    Having said all of that, his response frustrates me, and at the risk of sounding a little melodramatic… it even saddens me.  Why?  Because Peter’s point of view represents the prevailing mindset throughout Major League Baseball, which is the belief that nothing is broken. Everything’s just fine.

    But something is broken.

    When the Tampa Bay Rays, with a payroll of 41 million dollars, are forced to compete with two division rivals that spend 202 million and 161 million, respectively, something is very, very wrong.  It astounds me that anyone in the game can stare at that laughable disparity and honestly say they’re ok with it.

    And the fact that Major League Baseball as a whole, like a raging alcoholic, refuses to admit that a problem even exists gives me very little hope that it will ever be fixed.

    Now, before we go any further, let me explain what I mean when I say the Player’s Association has damaged the game. The Players Association is a union, and it does what unions do. It pushes to get the very most for its members.  And normally, there’s nothing wrong with that, at least to an extent.  But this isn’t your typical labor dynamic.  Most labor disputes involve just two parties: the union and company management.  In this case, however, there is a third party… the game itself.

    Major League Baseball is more than just a business. It’s an American institution that has played role in the lives of countless millions over more than a century. Baseball brought fans together and helped to lift the spirit of this nation through the Great Depression, two World Wars and 9/11. It deserves to be preserved in the healthiest state possible for generations to come.

    The owners are looking out for the owners.  The players look out for the players.  But who’s looking out for the game?

    The Player’s Association has successfully fended off every effort on the part of owners to institute salary controls. As a result, the payroll disparity between the haves and have-nots in baseball has spiraled out of control.  Their refusal to consider even the most reasonable of salary control measures has changed the game for the worse.

    If players would speak candidly, I believe most would tell you they’d like to see a leveler playing field, but NOT at the risk of a slight reduction in the average player salary.  Nor are players willing to risk turning one’s self into a social pariah by breaking ranks with the official union policy of insisting that an inanely unfair system is perfectly fair.

    I guess it seems fair enough to them.  I mean, hey… their checks cash.  And despite the predictable impact of a poor economy, attendance has been healthy in recent years, so the owners are happy.  Even perennial losers, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, are cashing in on the system via revenue sharing.  So there appears to be little motivation to fix the problem.

    Before you ask, YES, I’ve seen the studies. I’ve heard the arguments. There is no correlation between payroll and winning, right?

    But wait… if that’s true, why don’t the Yankees cap their payroll at 80 million, then fold the rest of the cash over and put it back in their pocket?

    Why are Major League Baseball players—ever loyal to their union—so quick to regurgitate the company line that payroll doesn’t = winning, then wish aloud their employers would spend more money to make their team more competitive?  If spending more cash doesn’t help you win, what does it matter?

    Bloated contracts given to players like RHP, C.Zambrano, have hurt big spending Cubs

    No, spending does not necessarily equate to winning.  It guarantees you nothing.  The Chicago Cubs, who boast MLB’s 4rd highest payroll this year, are likely to lose 90 games.  Conversely, several playoff contenders (Braves, Rangers, Diamondbacks, Brewers and Rays) are winning with below-average team payrolls.

    Clearly, it is possible to win without a fat wallet or lose despite massive spending. But does the failure of some big spenders or the success of some beer budget teams in any way nullify the value of spending power?  Absolutely not.

    Too often, big market teams try to take shortcuts and spend their way into the playoffs, without first developing a strong foundation of homegrown talent.  With the possible exception of the Yankees and their 200-million dollar piggy bank, this approach usually fails. That only goes to show that even an unfair advantage can be squandered.

    Let’s take a lesson from baseball’s glamorous steroid era.

    Juicers like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds were talented and hard working. Steroids alone could not have been responsible for their success. But did it give them an unfair advantage? No doubt about it.

    McGwire has argued that steroids don’t hit homeruns. Again, he’s partially right. You still have to have talent. But if steroids did nothing to help his performance, why did he take them?  Surely he wasn’t shrinking his testicles without a cause.

    Have there been sluggers who have succeeded without performance enhancing drugs?  Of course.

    Did every player to take steroids achieve great things in the big leagues? Nope.

    So… there were players who succeeded without steroids, while many who used steroids were not successful. Conclusion: steroids provided no unfair advantage and its widespread use didn’t need to be addressed.

    So… there are teams that succeed without big spending power, while some big spending teams don’t succeed. Conclusion: Deep pockets provide no unfair advantage and the massive payroll disparity does not need to be addressed.

    Hey Major League Baseball, whadya say we apply consistent logic, huh?  Then again, it took pressure from the United States Congress to make you give a #$^?*@#% about steroids, so I suppose you are being consistent.

    Now for those who insist spending power makes no difference, here’s a fun exercise for you:

    This season, the Boston Red Sox spent 161.8 million dollars.  Their Wild Card/division rival, Tampa Bay Rays, spent 41.1 million.  Just for kicks, let’s close that gap.  Subtract 120 million dollars from this roster any way you’d like (assuming the subtracted players are replaced by low-cost players from within the organization), and then show me the Red Sox team that would still be atop the AL Wild Card standings today.

    OR… add 120 million to the Rays’ roster, and try to make a convincing argument that the Rays wouldn’t be in line for a postseason berth right now.  Better yet, flip the two payrolls, then tell me with straight face that money isn’t the difference in that race.

    The Philadelphia Phillies are outspending the mid-market Atlanta Braves by 86 million dollars this season.  Subtract 86 million from the Philly roster and see what you’re left with.  Flip it around and add 86 million to Atlanta’s payroll. Does that NL East race look any different?

    All-star OF, Carl Crawford, left Tampa to sign 142 million dollar deal w/ Boston

    Small market teams can “win” on a tight budget. However, it’s difficult to maintain that success over an extended period.  As core players near free agency, small market teams are often forced to part with talented players, who they cannot afford to retain.  And the next generation of replacements may or may not be as good.

    It’s ironic that Moneyball will hit theaters at a time when the success (and attendance) of the budget conscious A’s has clearly faded, while big spenders like the Red Sox and Yankees have remained among baseball’s elite for many years.

    Furthermore, while small payroll teams can sometimes “win”, they rarely win it all.

    In the past 35 years, only 3 teams have won the World Series with a payroll that ranked lower than the top-15 MLB team salaries.   And since 1991, only 5 of the last 18 World Series Champions were outside of the MLB’s top-10 payrolls.

    There was a time when any team in baseball, if they sensed they were close to fielding a World Series contender, could dig a little deeper and spend the money necessary to compete at the highest level.  Consider the World Series Champions from 1985 through 1992. Here they are in order:

    ’85: Royals
    ’86: Mets
    ’87: Twins
    ’88: Dodgers
    ’89: A’s
    ’90: Reds
    ’91: Twins
    ’92: Blue Jays
    ’93: Blue Jays

    Seven of those nine World Series winners are teams that would be considered highly disadvantaged in today’s baseball economy. None of these teams, except the Dodgers and Mets, could afford even HALF of what the New York Yankees currently spend on player salaries.  No cash strapped MLB team these days could achieve the kind of dominance and enduring success that small market franchises like the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA and the Green Bay Packers in the NFL have achieved.

    Fans in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Tampa and the like will continue to cheer their young stars on, only to watch them depart for deeper pocketed teams a few years later.  But given that everyone’s making money, short of another act of Congress, the problem is unlikely to be fixed anytime soon.

    While the absurd payroll disparity in baseball may make for compelling David-vs-Goliath Hollywood fodder, it remains an untreated cancer in the bones of Major League Baseball.

    Kimbrel on the verge of ANOTHER big league record

    By Kent Covington

    On August 31, 2011, Atlanta Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel, chiseled his name into the history books when struck out Washington’s Michael Morse on a 100-mph heater to set a new rookie saves record (41).  What must it have felt like for the rookie to not only break the saves record before September 1,  but to then get a phone call from the Hall of Fame?  “Hall” officials asked him to donate the spikes he wore during his record-breaking performance, and of  course, he gladly granted their request.

    Now, just a week after shipping his shoes to Cooperstown, Kimbrel may once again be on the verge of making history.

    Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel

    Turn back the clock to June 11th of this year.  The Braves were playing the second game of a 4-game set at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Kimbrel was called upon in a non-save situation to pitch the bottom of the 10th inning after the Braves had taken a 6-2 lead.  Astros outfielder,  Carlos Lee, hooked a Kimbrel offering into the left field corner, doubling home Hunter Pence.

    That would be the last time anyone would score on Craig Kimbrel for at least 12 weeks.

    Kimbrel has now pitched a remarkable 37 and 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.  He’s got to be zeroing in on some sort of record with a streak like that, right?  Indeed he is.

    The record for most consecutive scoreless innings in relief is 39.  It was set by Cleveland Indians relief pitcher, Al Benton, in 1949 and tied by Oakland reliever, Brad Ziegler, in 2008.

    If Kimbrel can record another 1 and 2/3 innings without yielding a run, he will break the second noteworthy Major League record of his extraordinary rookie season.

    Just as impressive as his streak of 113 scoreless outs is the manner in which he’s recorded them.  It could be argued that there has never been a 12-week stretch of dominance like this by a reliever in the history of the game.  In fact, I can’t imagine how anyone could argue otherwise.  Have a peek at these numbers:

    Inn R H BB SO
    36.2 0 8 8 64

    For comparison, over the first 37 innings of Ziegler’s scoreless innings streak in ’08, Zielgler allowed 20 hits and 11 walks, while striking out 17 batters.

    Kimbrel is, by all accounts, a down to earth, mild mannered kid.  Ironic, given that everything he accomplishes on the field is punctuated with such flair.  It’s not enough to break the rookie saves record… he breaks it with a month left in the season.  It’s not enough to shut hitters down for 37+ straight innings… he has to make them look bad in the process.

    Even if Kimbrel fails to pass Benton and Ziegler in the record books this month, it matters not.  This will still be the single greatest season ever turned in by a rookie reliever, and it will almost certainly be recognized with NL Rookie of the Year honors.

    Will the Braves closer break a second MLB record in the span of 2 weeks?  We’ll have to wait and see.  Either way, enjoy what’s left of this kid’s first big league campaign.  Because it’s safe to say,  Kimbrel’s epic rookie season is history in the making.

    Game on! And… game over

    By Kent Covington

    Jair Jurrjens will take the ball for game-1 of the series Tuesday night

    After an unexpected 3-day vacation, courtesy of Hurricane Irene, the Braves return to action tonight to take on the perennially losing—yet somehow fearsome—Washington Nationals at Turner Field.

    The bad news: The Nationals have been a thorn in the Braves’ side. To Atlanta, the Nats are more irritating than a screaming kid in a restaurant; the guy in front of you on the freeway whose phone call is apparently much more interesting than driving; giggling teens in a movie theater; text spam; a shopping cart left in the middle of the only vacant parking space, and… well, you get the point. They’re annoying. In recent years, it seems the Nats have saved their best baseball for Atlanta, making nearly every contest anything but an easy win—if a win at all.

    The good news: It doesn’t matter.

    The Braves currently hold a 9-game lead in the NL Wild Card race (10 games in the loss column) over the second place San Francisco Giants.

    If the Braves were to go just 15-14 in their remaining 29 games, they would finish the season with a 94-68 record.  The Giants would have to play .852 baseball (23-4) from here out just to force a 1-game playoff for the Wild Card berth.  That assumes the NL West leading Arizona Diamondbacks would be able stave off the Gaints in the division race, which in this hypothetical scenario, would force them to play .704 ball (19-8) the rest of the way.

    Baseball Prospectus currently places the Braves’ likelihood of winning the NL Wild Card at 95%. I gotta tell ya… from where I’m sitting, that seems low.

    On the other hand, Atlanta’s odds of overtaking the first place Philadelphia Phillies for the NL East pennant are, unfortunately, almost as anorexic.

    Bottom line: It’s over. The Braves will repeat as NL Wild Card winners. The Phillies will win the East. And it appears the sizzling hot Milwaukee Brewers can now coast into the winner’s circle with the NL Central pennant. The only remaining question in the National League is who will come out of the West.  However, that race could also be decided with nearly a month left in the season if the Giants don’t find their groove quickly (they currently trail the D-Backs by 5 games).

    So boys and girls, while the Nationals seem to relish their role as tomahawk tormentors, they won’t have the pleasure now. Even if they win this midweek series, they can’t play spoiler. This time, the Nationals—and every other opponent from now until game-1 of the NLDS in Milwaukee—will be seen as only one thing to the Braves… practice squad.

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    Hoss not ready for pasture just yet

    By Jonathan Michael Knott

    As you have no doubt heard by now, veteran third baseman Chipper Jones recently ended speculation that he might retire after this season by announcing his intention to play one more year at the “hot corner” for the Braves.

    While I was pleasantly surprised by the news–I honestly thought he would hang it up after this season–I was even more surprised by the mixed reaction within Braves nation.  Many fans, like me, are delighted to know that we’ll see old “Hoss” in the lineup for at least one more year.  There were other Braves fans, however, who weren’t nearly as pleased by the news.

    The naysayers feel he’s too often injured and too many miles past his prime to be worth the kind of cash he pulls down. They argue that the 13 mil due Chipper next year is simply too much cheddar, given his current production, and that money could be better spent on younger talent if he would step aside.  Some go as far as to say he OWES it to the team to step aside and let someone else play.  But would the Braves really be better off without him?

    We all know what he has meant to this team through the years. Have a look at this Hall of Fame resume, starting with his career numbers: .305/.403/.533/.937, 2,589 hits, 519 doubles, 449 homers and 1,549 RBI. And those stats would look even more impressive if not for a catastrophic knee injury, which sidelined him for a year and half in the prime of his career.  Among switch hitters, he is second all-time in RBI’s and third in homeruns. Only two switch hitters, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray, have accomplished more on a baseball diamond than Chipper Jones, and they’ve both been enshrined in Cooperstown.

    Jones' 1,549 RBI are 2nd-most all time among switch hitters

    His trophy case is well stocked. He was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999, and a strong case could be made that he deserved to have at least one more MVP trophy on his mantle than he was ever awarded.  He’s earned 2 Silver Slugger awards, a batting title, and he’s been named to 6 NL all-star teams.  And then there was the crime of the century in ’95, when Chipper was robbed of Rookie of the Year honors. The ROY award that year went to an experienced professional Japanese pitcher, Hideo Nomo (to call Nomo a “rookie” is akin to calling Kobe Bryant an “amateur athlete” when he suits up for the U.S. Olympic basketball team).

    But yes, I know… none of that matters NOW, right?  In this era of the stat-driven fantasy baseball fan, the question is almost always “what has he done for us lately?”

    Glad you asked. For the month of August, he’s hitting .386 with a 1.059 OPS in 57 at-bats. Obviously, the old man is still quite capable of going on a tear.

    I will concede that his year-to-date stats,.281/.352/.472/.823 with 13 HR and 58 RBI in 97 games, while solid, fall well short of his career averages.   But a closer look at the numbers paints a clearer picture of his value to this ballclub.  He’s batting .221 with the bases empty. Not pretty. And that, in and of itself, may support the contention that he ought to retire.  HOWEVER, add a baserunner to the equation and we get a different hitter. Chipper’s currently hitting .365 with runners on base, .397 with runners in scoring position, .370 with RISP and 2 outs, and .500 with the bases loaded.

    By Chipper’s own admission he’s not quite the player he used to be, but he still possesses the same 20-15 vision for which the legendary Ted Williams was known, and there is nothing wrong with his bat speed.

    He can still play the field too. He’s no DH, folks.  While he’s lost a little range from side to side, he compensates with great instincts, and he still makes the charging-barehanded-pickup play as well as anyone in the game.

    At 13 mill, is he overpriced? Maybe. Maybe not.  But how many other hitters at that salary level would you rather have with a bat in his hands with the game on the line?  Anyone?  Take Yankees Shortstop Derek Jeter, for instance.  Jeter, who will earn several million more than Jones next year, is nowhere near the clutch performer at age 37 that Chipper is at age 39.  Jeter’s teammate, Mark Texieria, earns nearly twice as much as Chipper, and while his overall numbers are better… with the game on the line, I’d still rather have #10 in the box.

    And let us not forget the intangibles.  Chipper is the leader of this team, the face of this franchise and the unofficial assistant hitting coach.  Chipper is the elder statesman and a valuable mentor to younger players, who is skilled at offering up both encouragement and tough love, each in just the right dose.  On a team with 10 players who are 25 years of age or younger, what do you suppose that’s worth? 

    And to those who suggest it’s somehow greedy for Chipper not to retire at season’s end… “greedy”?  Really? Are we talking about the same “greedy” player who voluntarily restructured his contract to take less money so the team could add more talent? The same “greedy” all-star third baseman who once offered to relocate to left field (an offer the team accepted), so the Braves could add the bat of fellow heavy-hitting third baseman Vinny Castilla to the lineup?

    Chipper has bloody well earned the right to play out the remainder of his contract. Braves fans should appreciate that. We owe him our love, respect and support.  To suggest that he’s playing solely for a paycheck would be inconsistent with everything we’ve learned about him over the past 17 years.  He’s not returning for one more season merely because he has the contractual right to do so. He’s playing because he feels he can still help this Atlanta Braves ballclub. And he’s right.

    But if you’re still anxious to see Chipper clear the way for a younger replacement, don’t worry; you’ll get your wish soon enough.  For now, though, do yourself a favor and drive down to “The Ted” to watch this man play while you still can.  Bring your kids, and make sure they understand they’re watching one of the greatest third basemen and one of the greatest switch hitters to ever play the game.

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    3 reasons why Craig Kimbrel is the only choice for NL Rookie of the Year

    By Kent Covington

    A little more than a week ago, I stated my case that Craig Kimbrel is, thus far, the runaway choice for the NL Rookie of the Year award.  It seems most fans agree, but there are those who still contend that others—namely, Freddie Freeman—are more deserving. So if I may, I would like to reprise my argument for those who still aren’t quite sold. Cool? Thanks. Here goes.

    Braves first baseman, Freddie Freeman

    Let’s start with the runner up, Freddie Freeman. Freddie has given the Braves everything they could have asked for from the rookie. He is on pace to top 20 homers, while hitting .293 with a respectable .356 on-base percentage. The 21 year-old first baseman has also made fast friends around the infield by snaring errant throws and preventing would-be errors with the best of ‘em.

    As it stands, Freeman is the clear runner-up for the ROY award.  He won’t win it, though, and he has his teammate to thank for that.

    Craig Kimbrel, the only all-star among probable NL ROY candidates, has assumed–and aced–the imposing role of closing ballgames for one of baseball’s top postseason contenders. Not to mention the fact that the rookie reliever is filling the shoes of future-Hall-of-Famer, Billy Wagner, who retired over the winter.

    3-2, with an ominous 1.75 ERA, Kimbrel has converted 38 of his 43 save opportunities this season, striking out 98 hitters in 61 innings. Toss in a nifty 0.99 WHIP, while you’re at it.

    His recent performance is even more remarkable.  In his past 30 appearances: 30.2 innings pitched… 0 runs, 50 K,10 H, and a perfect 20-for-20 in save opportunities.

    Craig Kimbrel hasn’t allowed an earned run since June 11 in Houston. More than 2 months (1/3 of the season) have passed since Kimbrel last allowed an earned run.  Let that soak in.

    But if you’re STILL not convinced, here again are three reasons why Craig Kimbrel is the only choice for the NL Rookie of the Year award:

    1.  Closing for a team that boasts MLB’s fourth-best record, Kimbrel serves in a more pressure packed and pivotal role than any other NL rookie.

    2.  A convincing argument could be made that Kimbrel, MLB’s current saves leader, is already the best closer in baseball.  Could a similar case be made on behalf of other ROY candidates?  Anyone ready to call Worley MLB’s top starting pitcher?  Is Freeman the best all around first-baseman in the game?

    3.  Kimbrel is almost certain to not only break the rookie saves record (40), set by the Rangers’ Netfali Feliz last year, but obliterate it. He is presently on pace for 49 saves in his first year as Braves closer.

    Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel

    Some are quick to point out that position players battle for 9 innings every night, whereas a closer pitches only one inning every other night. They contend that for this reason, a position player is more deserving of the award.

    Yes, a closer logs far less time on the field than a position player. That does not necessarily mean, however, that he plays a far lesser role in the outcome of the game.  Ever take a commercial flight? Landing gear doesn’t see as much action as an engine, but is it any less critical?

    There is a reason why top end closers are among the better paid players in the game.  Nothing suffocates a team’s spirit quite like spending night after night watching 3 hours of sweat and tears flushed down the black hole that is a 9th inning without a reliable closer.  Any fan with a memory long enough to recall the Braves’ desperation-driven carousel of failed closers a few years back should appreciate this. Do the names Chris Reitsma, Ken Ray or Jorge Sosa ring a bell?

    It's difficult to compare the value of offense with the value of a save, but I'll simply pose the following question: How many hitless at-bats does it take to match the negative impact of a single blown save?  Preventing heartbreaking final-inning losses is fairly important; wouldn't you say?

    If you still wish to argue that a position player SHOULD win the Rookie of the Year award over a closer, so be it.  I hope, however, you’re under no illusion that anyone other than Kimbrel WILL win it.

    Netfali Feliz was rewarded for setting the soon-to-be short lived rookie saves record by being named the AL Rookie of the Year.

    Feliz’s ’10 numbers: 2.74 ERA, 40 saves and 71 K’s in 69 innings.

    Kimbrel’s projected ’11 stats: 1.75 ERA, 49 saves, and 126 strikeouts in 78 innings.

    Bottom line: Kimbrel has shut down the NL Rookie of the Year race… just like everything and everyone else who gets in his way these days.

    P.S.  Check out brand new SOUTHERN FRIED BASEBALL Radio right now on our podcast page.

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    Carlos Zambrano, the Atlanta Braves, and a lesson in class

    By Jonathan Michael Knott

    Friday night’s contest against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field featured some behavior rarely seen on a baseball diamond and almost NEVER involving the Braves.  Cubs starting pitcher, Carlos Zambrano, lost his cool after surrendering 5 homeruns to Atlanta hitters. This came as no surprise, as Zambrano has become well known for his short fuse and the kind of temper tantrums that usually result in after-school detention or the confiscation of one’s favorite toy.

    This time, however, it was worse than usual. When Cubs Manager, Mike Quade, opted not to remove Zambrano from the game during his 5th inning shellacking, Zambrano decided to remove himself. He attempted twice, quite transparently, to plunk Chipper Jones with a fastball. It seems clear in retrospect that he grew tired of being lit up like a Christmas tree and was trying to get himself tossed by the home plate umpire, Tim Timmons. And, of course, he was successful.

    His antics would have been shameful in any setting, but the time and place in which they occurred created a striking contrast.  It wasn’t just any Friday night game. The #6 jersey of legendary manager, Bobby Cox, was retired before the game that evening, after he was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame during a ceremony earlier that day.

    Legendary former Braves manager, Bobby Cox

    What made Cox such a remarkable manager was his unique ability to maintain an even keeled clubhouse over the course of 162 games.  The 14 straight NL East division pennants hung at “The Ted” during his tenure (a feat unparalleled in all of professional sports) are a direct testament to his leadership.  He never allowed emotions to run too high after a win or too low after a loss. Nor would he allow any of his players to wallow in self-pity after an error or during a slump. He had a way of helping each player to believe in himself. His players loved him for it and felt compelled to reward his patience and confidence on the field.

    Bobby was an encourager, and he was quick to forgive honest mistakes. One thing he did NOT tolerate, however, was slack effort or selfish behavior.  To exhibit such behavior was to punch your own ticket out of Atlanta, regardless of your talent level (Yunel Escobar being the most recent example).

    Which brings us back to Zambrano.  Again, the man has been known to make a fool of himself from time to time.  He was even ordered to take anger management classes for several months last year after erupting at Derrek Lee—widely considered one of the most amiable men in baseball—in the Cubs dugout.  But on Friday night in Atlanta, he outdid himself.  As Braves hitters knocked Zambrano around like oversized piñata, you could see in his eyes that he was inching ever closer to boiling point.

    When Dan Uggla connected for his second homer of the evening (the team’s fifth), Zambrano decided he was finished. After he took aim at Chipper with two intentional would-be beanballs, which Chipper narrowly avoided, Tim Timmons unhesitatingly ejected Zambrano.  Timmons then marched toward the Braves dugout yelling and gesticulating like an angry drill Sergeant, warning Braves players not to rush the mound.  This proved to be wise, as Jason Heyward (6-5, 250 lbs), Freddie Freeman (6-5, 240) and Eric Hinske (6-4, 260) had already charged out of the dugout, and had they been allowed to get up a head of steam it would have been like the running of the bulls at Pomplona.

    It’s a shame, really, that Timmons got in the way. It would have been fascinating to see how motivated Zambrano’s teammates, for whom he’s show such frequent disregard, would have been to rush to his aid and jump between him and the Braves’ linebacker-sized sluggers.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher, Carlos Zambrano

    But perhaps Zambrano didn’t notice the angry men with the professional wrestler physiques headed his way, because he didn’t seem concerned.  He just strolled calmly off the field. He paused in the dugout for just a moment, cracked a grin and yelled something incoherent at a TV cameraman, who tried not to notice.  He then made his way to the visitors’ clubhouse, cleaned out his locker and told the clubhouse staff he was retiring.

    This incident was different from his previous meltdowns. In an odd way, it was much worse. This time, the Gatorade coolers had nothing to fear. He didn’t clean out the bat rack, curse at his teammates or take out his frustration on any inanimate object within walking distance. This time, he didn’t get angry. Nope… he simply gave up and quit.

    First, he quit the game by deliberately throwing at Chipper for the express purpose of getting himself ejected. And then he quit the team when he cleared out his locker and left the ballpark while the game was still in progress.

    I’m pretty sure the Encarta North-American dictionary now has a new definition for “horse’s ass”.

    That kind of behavior sticks out like a sore grotesquely disfigured thumb anywhere, anytime. But at Turner Field, on a night set aside honor one of the all-time classiest managers of one of the classiest organizations in baseball… that’s a whole new level of irony.

    Cubs General Manager, Jim Hendry, later phoned Braves GM, Frank Wren, to offer a well received apology on behalf of his team. And Zambrano has since been placed on the 30-day disqualified list, which means he’ll have no contact with the team and will not be paid for 30 days.  I have no doubt whatsoever that Cubs management was as mortified as anyone in baseball by Zambrano’s behavior. But be that as it may, this wouldn’t have happened in Atlanta. Well, ok… it DID happen in Atlanta, but you know what I mean.

    This wouldn’t have happened under Bobby or his successor, Fredi Gonzalez.  Bobby was a longsuffering manager who forgave mistakes, but he did not suffer fools.  Fredi was hired as the person most likely to seamlessly carry on that tradition.

    Had Zambrano pitched for the Braves, he would have learned to control himself… or he’d have been shipped long ago to the American League for a tub of sunflower seeds and a player to be named later.  That’s just the way the way the Braves do business. The right way.

    The stark contrast between the idiocy of Carlos Zambrano and the professionalism of the Braves reminds us all what a classy organization this really is.

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    We haven’t lost just an announcer; we’ve lost Ol’ Ernie

    By Bud L. Ellis

    The news hit me like a punch to the gut as I walked into my Braves’ room late Friday after returning from what seemed to be a perfect night at Turner Field.

    Ernie Johnson Sr., the voice that helped form the background noise of my youth, is gone. The 87-year-old passed away Friday with his beloved wife Lois by his side.

    Longtime Braves player and broadcaster, Ernie Johnson Sr

    Normally, we use last names to refer to people we write about, but Ol’ Ernie isn’t just a broadcaster on which I’m writing a retrospective piece. No. Ol’ Ernie was part of my family, part of my family’s family, part of every family wherever Braves baseball was beamed for the better part of three decades.

    He was there in the booth at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the late 1970s, when a young kid growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta started attending baseball games. His story was one my grandfather loved telling, a guy who pitched for a Braves’ team that won a World Series, albeit it in Milwaukee, some 670 miles northwest of where my favorite team was playing (and mostly losing).

    Ol’ Ernie helped to launch a phenomenon that would change sports broadcasting, even if he didn’t realize it at the time. The Braves’ owner, a maverick named Ted Turner, wanted to broadcast his team from coast to coast. And Ol’ Ernie was part of a motley crew of announcers who delivered the Braves from Atlanta to Alaska, from Crabapple (his suburban home north of Atlanta) to California.

    And through it all, the Braves became America’s Team. Not because the team won much on the field, save the brief flare-up in 1982 when Atlanta won the NL West, but because for many, the Braves were the only game they got on their TVs every night.

    Ol’ Ernie served as the maestro, smoothly merging the wit of Skip Caray and the analytics of Pete Van Wieren. My formative baseball years were spent hanging on their every word and worshiping the Braves, a team that usually found itself out of contention before Memorial Day.

    And still, I turned in. My family tuned in. Millions of us tuned in. And there was Ol’ Ernie, telling us we were “zipping right along,” even if the game was two hours old and in the fourth inning. There was Ol’ Ernie, telling us a Braves’ hurler had delivered a pitch, “right down Peachtree.” And on those rare occasions when the Braves actually won a game, Ol’ Ernie delivered a gem of a closing line: “And on this winning night …”

    Friday was one of those winning nights, but all of Braves Nation feels a tremendous sense of loss. Ol’ Ernie was called home, on Skip’s birthday, no less. I can only imagine the reunion happening in Heaven right now. It’s an image that I have, amid the tears of losing another piece of my youth and a piece of my baseball being.

    Rest in peace, Ol’ Ernie.

    —30—

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