Today, I talked with Peter Hjort — fellow SweetSpotter — of the Braves blog, Capital Avenue Club. With the NLDS fast approaching, Peter was nice enough to answer some of my questions regarding the Braves.
Let’s jump right into the Q&A:
1. The Braves boast the 2nd best bullpen in baseball this year by FIP — only the Padres have been better. In particular, I’ve been really impressed with LHP Jonny Venters. What kind of role will he assume in the playoffs?
With Takashi Saito’s availability coming and going all season, Venters has been the go-to set-up man for most of the year. For the LDS, Saito is currently questionable, and Venters figures to get the call during the highest leverage situations that Billy Wagner won’t be used in. Shaky control is the only chink in Venters’ armor, but with a mid-90′s sinker from the left side and a devastating slurvy breaking ball, he’s both a ground ball and strikeout machine. It’s easy to see why Bobby Cox has been compelled to use him 80 times this year, players like him are both rare finds and managers’ best friends.
2. Nate McLouth has sort of been the Atlanta version of Aaron Rowand this year. What’s the deal? And is he still primarily seen as a starter in Atlanta?
During spring training he struggled to find his timing, and never really got off the ground. His swing mechanics suffered as he attempted to fix the timing issues, which only exacerbated his lack of hitting. By the end of spring training they’d sent him to the minor league portion of camp so he could lead off every inning of the games. It didn’t help, and he hit .176/.295/.282 over his first 57 regular-season games. Then he suffered a concussion which kept him out until late-July, but upon his return the Braves optioned him to AAA after five unproductive games–a day before his 5-year rights would allow him to refuse the option. He figured out his swing mechanics during the AAA stint and he’s hit .263/.358/.509 in 68 PA’s since the demotion. Bobby has been slow to trust Nate since his “September callup”, but his strong return has secured him a role in the (mess of an) outfield rotation.
3. Is there any concern over Tommy Hanson’s workload this year? He’s breached 200 IP in a season for the first time in his career — both majors and minors.
Well, if you count his AFL campaign, he threw 222 and 2/3 innings last year. Workload is always something to monitor when you’re dealing with a 23-year old, but he’s been a picture of health the past two years–failing to miss a single start–and he hasn’t slowed down at all during his first full season in the MLB rotation. Given his ideal pitcher’s frame and fully-developed physique, I’m not terribly concerned about it.
4. Jason Heyward, cyborg master or human? (Bonus question: Posey or Heyward for RoY?)
The only real concern with Heyward is his injury history, so I’ll have to say he’s a human. Though it’s entirely possible Tommy Hanson is a cyborg.
Regarding the bonus question, I’d vote for Jason Heyward. Heyward’s wRC+ is slightly better over 180 more PA’s. Factoring in the advantage of playing the toughest position on the field seventy five percent of the time and playing it very well gets Posey close, but not quite there, for me at least. It’s often overlooked that Heyward plays his position–albeit a much less challenging one–very well.
5. Speaking of Heyward, outside of the talented rookie, the Braves’ outfield has had it’s share of problems. Which OF configuration will the team run out for the NLDS?
Versus right-handed pitching, they’ll use Heyward in right, and most likely Rick Ankiel in center and Nate McLouth in left. If they face a left-hander, Heyward will play right, Matt Diaz will be in left, and it’s anyone’s guess whether Rick Ankiel, Melky Cabrera, or (unlikely) Nate McLouth plays center.
Eric Hinske saw a lot of time in left field versus right-handed pitching earlier in the year. He hasn’t played there much as of late, but there’s a chance he’ll get a start in left versus a right-hander at some point in the playoffs. They generally prefer to use him as a threat off the bench, though.
If Rick Ankiel doesn’t start and the Braves have a lead late, count on him subbing for defensive purposes. Melky Cabrera is a pretty useless player, but he keeps finding his way on the field for some reason–most likely Bobby’s affinity to switch-hitters.
I answered a set of Giants-related questions for Capital Avenue Club, be sure to head on over and check them out. Thanks again, Peter.