Three Cuts: Braves’ catching duo remains among MLB’s premier bargains
Another disappointing West Coast swing is in the books.
After dropping consecutive series against the Padres and Dodgers, the Braves now own a 25-56 record in road games against West Coast opponents since May 2014. Here are three observations from the week:
Ultra-productive Flowers-Suzuki platoon remain among baseball’s premier bargains
Tyler Flowers singled in his final plate appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers, capping an eight-hit, three-double road trip for Atlanta’s catchers.
Flowers and Kurt Suzuki have combined to form one of baseball’s best platoons and premier bargains, accounting for 7.1 wins above replacement (and counting) at a ridiculous $12 million total price tag.
Controllable young stars remain MLB franchises’ financial utopia — Aaron Judge led the majors with an 8.2 WAR last season while making less than $1 million — but here’s a look at the most team-friendly post-arbitration deals to see where that 0.59 wins per million dollars spent on Braves catchers would rank if the 2018 season ended right now.
Cleveland 2B/3B: Jose Ramirez transitioned from second base to third base and hasn’t slowed down one bit. Cleveland struck gold with the most fortunately timed extension in recent memory by inking Ramirez to a five-year. $26 million deal with two club options before the 25-year-old went from breakout talent to one of baseball’s top performers. After a 6.7 WAR-season in 2017, he’s on pace for one of the best third-base seasons in MLB history — all at a total price tag of $3 million. Wherever he's playing, that's where the bargain is. WAR per million spent: 3.67
Astros 2B:Jose Altuve’s inclusion on this list is made possible by signing a backloaded extension that pays him only $10.5 million from 2017 to 2018 before escalating. Still, he’s already a 10-win player since 2017 and he boasts an MVP award. WAR per million spent: 1.0
Angels SS: Andrelton Simmons’ offensive development makes him one of the most valuable players in baseball. The former Braves standout will likely be remembered as the best defensive player of his generation (at least), but hitting 14 percent above league average while making $19 million over this two-year stretch puts him on another level. WAR per million spent: 0.43
Diamondbacks 1B: Signed days before the start of his breakout 2013 season, Paul Goldschmidt’s extension might be the front-office steal of the decade. Since putting his signature on the contract, which runs through 2019 thanks to a club option, only Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson have posted a higher WAR among positions players. WAR per million spent: 0.35
Finding seven wins above replacement (and counting) for less than $20 million is rare. The other post-arbitration examples around the league only serve to underscore how difficult finding that level of production is on the free-agent market: Ramirez, Altuve and Goldschmidt were homegrown extensions and Simmons was a vastly improved trade acquisition.
Regardless of overall team performance, the free-agent signings of Flowers and Suzuki — and subsequent re-signing of Suzuki this past offseason — have proven to be among the best open-market moves of the past three years. And now they are paying off for a potential contender.
Foltynewicz and Newcomb shaping up to be one of the decade’s top young pitching duos
Sean Newcomb turned in a rare poor 2018 outing in Dodger Stadium, allowing five runs over 5 1/3 innings including the end of his 44-inning streak without allowing a home run. The results were largely the product of one sloppy and unlucky third inning, but the left-hander’s overall results continue to signal a major step forward: 2.92 ERA, 3.40 FIP and a strikeout per inning.
“He’s getting there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Newcomb’s start against the Dodgers. “He keeps improving. … From where he was a year ago today to now, huge steps.”
With Newcomb’s recent performances in Boston and L.A., right-hander Mike Foltynewicz has surpassed him in terms of production in the rotation — bolstered by one of the best starts in Atlanta Braves history on June 1 — but entering Sunday’s action both Braves arms ranked among baseball’s 25 most valuable pitchers. In turn, Folty and Newk have an opportunity to become one of the sport’s best young pitching duos of the decade.
Since 2010, only eight rotations have featured two pitchers in their age-26 season or younger ranking in the league’s top-25 in wins above replacement in the same season. Here’s the list in reverse order:
Of course, featuring two standout young starters offers zero future guarantees. Atlanta needs only to look across its division to see how fickle young pitching can be: Along with Gonzalez and Strasburg, Washington featured another mid-20s standout in Jordan Zimmermann and signed probable Hall of Famer Max Scherzer … and it still has not won a playoff series. The Mets made a World Series appearance and have not been able to keep their rotation healthy ever since. Just look at that list above: Billingsley and Cain were unable to sustain success for more than two seasons afterwards while Hudson and Holland completely fell off due to injury.
Future production will always be partially shrouded by mystery. All the same, the strides Foltynewicz and Newcomb have made remain the most notable development to date for a franchise that invested so heavily in young pitching during its rebuild.
Gary A. Vasquez
On-base concerns for Braves speedsters and everyday leadoff options
Atlanta leadoff hitters are reaching base on less than 30 percent of their plate appearances in 2018. Quick spoiler alert: That's not good.
Even after Ozzie Albies’ two-hit day in Los Angeles, including his first home run since May 22, the Albies-Inciarte leadoff combo has yielded just a .292 on-base percentage, a bottom-five mark in baseball among leadoff hitters and 29 points below league average for non-pitchers.
In terms of offensive performance at the top of the lineup, Albies is the more productive option — 105 wRC+ vs. Inciarte’s 52 wRC+ at leadoff, and his overall weighted on-base average is 60 points higher— but, before Sunday’s big day for the 21-year-old second baseman, both players had hit at a similarly dismal rate for over a month. Here were their numbers since May 1:
Over that span, the Braves’ offense regressed to 8th in runs scored and 12th in overall production — after finishing top-five in both categories in the season’s first month. Missing the injured Ronald Acuña Jr. has hurt of late, but Atlanta receiving underwhelming performance from the most frequented lineup position has been this team’s most significant offensive question mark.
Snitker hinted at growth for his second baseman after the West Coast swing.
“The take that he had in that (2-2) count was huge. That’s the one that he’s been chasing and getting a check swing on and he took that,” Snitker said, referencing Albies laying off a high fastball to run the count full before his home run.” I thought that was going to be a really good if he drew a walk, then he hit a homer. And then he had a really good swing at a breaking ball that he was all over and just missed the next at-bat. Then he got a single.
“That’s just the kind of things we talk about in his growth and his development.”
Atlanta’s offense will gladly accept more of the same as it heads home.