Waiting on the boys from Gwinnett

Well it’s good to see a Braves pitching staff producing dominant stats similar to the ones that Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine produced back in the day.  Unfortunately it seems like the some of the guys producing these numbers in Gwinnett County are still a few weeks away from making the 30-mile trek to the organization’s home base in Fulton County. 

In their past 15 games entering Saturday, Triple-A Gwinnett’s starting rotation had posted a 1.17 ERA.  That equates to 11 runs in their past 84 2/3 innings, or one fewer run than Kenshin Kawakami has allowed in his past 9 2/3 innings. 

Tommy Hanson has allowed two earned runs in his past 18 innings and Kris Medlen has totaled 13 consecutive scoreless innings to lower his season ERA to 1.17. Charlie Morton limited Durham to one run and six hits in eight innings on
Friday night.  The lanky right-hander has allowed just three runs in
his past 20 innings.  

Obviously it hasn’t been surprising that the two weakest links in the Atlanta rotation this year have been Kawakami and Jo-Jo Reyes, who has assured himself of going at least 11 months between Major League victories.

Because the Braves decided to give Kawakami a three-year, $23 million contract in January, some might have gained the impression that he could prove to be a difference maker.  But at 33 years-old the Japanese right-hander has provided every indication he’s nothing more than a fourth or fifth starter.

But with Hanson and Medlen waiting in the wings, it would be hard to argue how Kawakami could fit in as one of the top five pitchers in the Atlanta rotation over the life of his three-year deal, which runs concurrently with Derek Lowe’s.

As for Reyes, he has shown flashes that he has the capability of being solid third starter.  But as his developmental process continues to grow even longer, the 24-year-old left-hander continues to find ways to extend a losing streak that now extends back to June 23.

With improved control and the development of a solid breaking ball, Reyes possesses almost all of the tools he needs to be a successful big league pitcher.  But he’s still lacks the ever-important ability to overcome adversity. 

As soon as Yunel Escobar botched a second-inning grounder during the second inning of Friday’s game against the Phillies, you could basically see Reyes come unwound.  He then issued a four-pitch walk to the .182-hitting Chris Coste before lobbing Cole Hamels’  swinging bunt into right field.

Should Reyes have let Hamels’ slow roller roll foul?  Should he have simply thrown through Hamels to draw an interference call?  Taking either one of these actions might have provided an immediate solution that would have likely prevented the Phillies from constructing their four-run second inning. 

But mistakes like this are going to occur and Reyes’ most glaring sin proved to be how he reacted to the growing adversity that he faced following Escobar’s error. 

I’m certainly not going to be hypocritical and claim that Morton should have been brought to Atlanta before Reyes.  Because he  was injured most of Spring Training, Morton really wasn’t even an option when Reyes joined the big league rotation on April 18. 

In addition, I was among those who believed Reyes was the better choice because he seemed to be mentally tougher.  But if he struggles on Wednesday against the Mets, Morton should be given a chance to prove himself during the final weeks of May.

Obviously, Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen are the top options available in Gwinnett.  But because they aren’t on the 40-man roster, Morton be given the chance to maintain a rotation spot until one or both of those young right-handers are promoted in June. 

Or Morton could at least fill a rotation spot until Tom Glavine is ready to return in a couple of weeks.

Regardless of how you analyze this, Reyes is running out of opportunities to prove himself.   Despite the fact that he’s improved over the course of the past year, it’s hard to see great potential when you look at the fact that he’s 0-9 with a 6.61 ERA in his past 18 appearances (17 starts).

While the Braves have the option to move Reyes back to the Minors, they aren’t exactly in a position where they could do the same with Kawakami.  First of all, he deserves more than five career starts to prove himself and secondly, by doing so the organization would be acknowledging the mistake that they made by giving him the lucrative three-year contract.

Things aren’t exactly going to get any easier for Kawakami when he opposes the Phillies at the homer haven known as Citizens Bank Park on Sunday.   Having allowed five homers during the first 25 2/3 innings of his career, the baseball gods have given him the cruel assignment of making consecutive road starts in the band boxes located in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. 

When I drew the analogy that this would be like sending Appalachian State into Ann Arbor on consecutive weekends, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien reminded me that going into Michigan isn’t much of a challenge now that Rich Rodriguez is coaching there. 

And with that, my day has been made. It’s nice to know that non-West Virginians are now making fun of the man that both the Hatfields and McCoys love to hate.  

      

12 Comments

It’s too early to close the book on Kawakami and write him off as a “fourth or 5th starter at best”. I’m confident once he gets adjusted he’ll be a viable rotation option, and not a sort of back-end replacement level starter.

i agree, kawakami is getting use to the major league hitters here. There is a huge power difference in the hitters here to the ones in Japan. As many chances that we have given Reyes, i think Kawakami will be fine. So now if we can get our hitting to go with our starters, we will be a very good team

Why not just cut through all the bs and bring up Hanson!!The future is now…bring up Tommy Hanson!!

“The fifth starter has to be a real pitcher, the Braves have to make a decision as to which of Jo Jo, Glavine, or Kawakami will be the number 5 guy. Number 4 is very obvious, and needs to be in Atlanta very soon. “=quote

Darn straight. Frankly, Glavine should retire, JoJo start for 5, with Kawakami in mid relief. None of these are keepers…and none worth an active roster spot.

If they don’t call up the Big “H” soon, the Braves can discard the season into the trash can. As it is, they’re no better than third best in the division. It’s time to see what they have in their top AAA starters to make wise decisions for next year. September call up won’t be enough time.
xman

“Why not just cut through all the bs and bring up Hanson!”
-mcdaddy2

For kicks, I looked up Hanson’s stats.

His minor league career including, AFL is:
IP- 388; H- 255; BB- 138; K- 475; ERA- 2.45

His AAA/AFL most recent stats are:
IP- 61; H- 31; BB- 19; K- 97; ERA- 1.18

The last pitchers to do as well at that level are named:
Lincecum, Hamels, Liriano, F. Hernandez; and Hansonhas
had more innings and is older.

What are the Braves waiting for…Godot??

Couldn’t agree more with the Hanson call-up. Those that have said it here have said it in a much more succinct fashion than I did on the previous post.
Respectfully PWH, I must disagree with your assessment on KK. I think the vast amount of evidence suggests he won’t be more than a 4/5. First, his start has not been great. Yes, it’s only been 5 starts, but the walks, the high pitch counts, the pitching up in the zone, the injury all suggest against being optimistic. What he was known for was control, which just hasn’t been there. Without doing an in-depth study of the issue, I believe there’s a reason for that. I think when you look at the Asian batters that have come over you see a noticeable difference in aggression. I looked at Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Kaz Matsui, and Kosuke Fukodome….Those guys combined have exactly one season where a player has had an OBP of .400 in the majors….that was Ichiro’s season where he hit .372. I believe there’s an argument stating that Asian pitchers, even those known for control, do so because of aggressive Asian style batters. I’d also submit that arguably the best, most consistent, Asian players have all been relievers. I’d be specifically referring to Takashi Saito, Hideki Okajima, and Kaz Sasaki. Only Nomo and Dice-K (that I found, so please correct me when wrong) have had any period of consistent success. However, NO Asian starters that I’ve found have put up great WHIPS on a consistent basis. I can think of a lot of busts like Kaz Ishii, Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa, Tomo Ohka (save one irrelevant season in Washington). From what KK has shown, I think he fits more into the latter category. Even giving him the benefit of being somewhere above the busts but below the Nomo/Dice-K crew that does not equate to more than a 4/5 starter. At the age of 33, I just don’t see him having room to seriously improve.

Tomatalk,
Not to be disrespectful, but you really don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Japanese numbers are neither reliable nor meaningless. There are plenty of Japanese players that would put up good numbers in Japan but would wash out in single A. The better you pitched in Japan, however, the better chance you have of succeeding in MLB. When you’re adjusting to to a) a larger baseball, b) a 5 man rotation (they run 6 man rotations in NPB), c) a smaller strike zone in MLB, and d) a different approach to hitting (I think we all saw NPB’s approach to hitting in the WBC), you’re going to struggle at the get-go. And I’m not saying he’ll be a good starter. Honestly, I think he’s more suited for bullpen work. But it is ENTIRELY too soon to write him off. Let him build up his arm strength, get used to MLB, and make the necessary adjustments. Then we can make assessments. I’m not stating an opinion here, I’m just saying it is WAY too early to have an opinion.

“Beginning with his no-hitter on June 25, Hanson went 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA and 79 Ks in 57 innings over his next 10 starts.”- Hanson’s Bio page at MiLB.com
Add that to the AAA/AFL numbers and you can see that since June 25 it has been:
IP-118; K-176; and an ERA of 1.30. That’s almost a year at AA, AFL (AA/AAA All-Star), and AAA. Going up two levels and basically becoming consistently unhittable. Not to mention he was the only Braves starter in Spring Training that didn’t get ripped even once. All of his starts, including against Philly, were very managed. He was never unraveled like Jo Jo seems to be every time out.
Oh yeah, and his BA against has been under .180 for his last 38 starts.
Ready is a huge understatement. Hanson’s mound presence is intimidating, and he just plain doesn’t give away anything.

Most K?s in the NL:

1. Javier Vazquez – 57
2. Johan Santana – 54
3. Jake Peavy – 52
4. Dan Haren – 51
5. Tim Lincecum – 50

Nobody else has 50 or more.

Highest K/9 minimum 20 IP in the NL (IP in ()?s):

1. Johan Santana – 12.25 (39 and 2/3)
2. Tim Lincecum – 11.74 (38 and 1/3)
3. Rich Harden – 11.65 (31 and 2/3)
4. Javier Vazquez – 11.07 (46 and 1/3)
5. Jake Peavy – 10.10 (46 and 1/3)

Nobody else has a K/9 of 10 or higher.

People called me crazy when I said Javier Vazquez would probably be in the conversation for the NL Cy Young at the end of the season. And I?d be crazy if I said he?d have a decent shot at winning it, but he?ll be in that conversation. He is, and take a minute to clear your head of any previous knowledge you thought you had, our best pitcher. And easily the most entertaining to watch except for maybe Jurrjens (I prefer watching Vazquez, but I understand if you prefer to watch Jurrjens).

PWH:
Should you care to discuss the issue, fine. However, please don’t tell me I have no idea what I’m talking about. Your quote most specifically that I was replying to was “I’m confident once he gets adjusted he’ll be a viable rotation option, and not a sort of back-end replacement level starter.
.” I did not base my opinion on vague variables such as what the adjustment entails. I merely cited what many of the most notable batters and pitchers of Asia have done since coming to the Majors regardless of sample size and stating I disagreed with your analysis. You’re more than welcome to disagree with my opinion, but please show me a level of respect…especially if you’re merely going to reference the obvious changes from Japan to the MLB. I’m aware of those, am well able to take that into account, and provided concrete examples of batters and pitchers that had to make similar adjustments.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mother’s out there.
Tommy Hanson goes again today in Gwinnett at 2:05 for anyone who wants to see what we’ve all been talking about.

Tomatalk, your analysis still doesn’t make sense because Kawakami’s struggles have had nothing to do with the quality of the opposing batters. He’s not been able to control his pitches, that’s what’s killing him, not the fact that the hitters are better. If he pitched like he is right now in Japan, he’d get lit up just like he’s currently getting lit up. If he was controlling his pitches like he did in Japan and still was struggling to get hitters out, then there’s reason to be concerned. But like I’ve been saying all along, wait for Kawakami to start being Kawakami before you make any assumptions. Daisuke Matsuzaka puts up a horrible WHIP because he doesn’t try to throw strikes, he nibbles and nibbles until he pitches himself into a jam, then he goes after the hitters. Kawakami is TRYING to throw strikes, but he’s struggling with it at the moment because he isn’t adjusted to MLB. Whether or not he’ll be able to make the adjustments necessary to succeed in MLB remains to be seen, but let him adjust before you write him off.

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