Big League Stew

Detention Lecture: Your 2011 Atlanta Braves

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

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As the regular season winds down, 22 teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategery.

But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to detain their squads for the equivalent of a Saturday morning detention stay.

Up next in the series is our own Alex Remington, the Atlanta Braves expert around these parts. He sure does miss having Bobby Cox around.

Gentlemen, you just completed one of the worst chokes in American history. Congratulations. Now, everyone who thinks they have something to contribute in 2012, please take your seats.

Not so fast, Larry Parrish and Derek Lowe. Mr. Parrish, the Braves offense plummeted so fast and so far during your one-year tenure as hitting coach — from first in the NL in OBP, all the way down to 10th — that we're letting you go even though manager Fredi Gonzalez publicly announced that you're returning. Speaking of which, Mr. Gonzalez, don't get too comfortable around here. We hired you because we thought you were a players' manager like Bobby Cox, not a choker like Willie Randolph. As far as I'm concerned, you're on double secret probation.

And Mr. Lowe, after being charged with suspected DUI in late April, you had a 5.46 ERA in your next 28 starts, including an 8.75 ERA and 0-5 record in September, when a single win would have put us into that tiebreaker game with the Cardinals. We're not kicking you off the team because we still owe you $15 million, but GM Frank Wren has publicly said that you probably won't be in the 2012 starting rotation, since you probably aren't one of the team's five best starters. He's obviously right. {YSP:MORE}

The Punishable Offenses: Let's begin with the obvious: going into Aug. 24, you had won six games in a row and were 78-52, good enough a .600 winning percentage. You were 9 1/2 games ahead of the Giants (and 10 games ahead of the Cardinals) in the wild card race. Your magic number was 24, with 32 games to play. But then you proceeded to go 11-21, getting swept once by the Cardinals and twice by the Phillies. Your offense imploded, as the team scored just 3.2 runs a game during that period, while the pitchers allowed 4.3 runs a game. The bullpen also imploded, blowing six saves. Imploders, all of you.

The offense was offensive all year. Dan Uggla, your first-half slump was legendary, but Brian McCann had a less-publicized second-half slump — and Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Alex Gonzalez slumped all year. When the time came for someone to stand up, you all stood down.

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Derek, we all know how bad you were. But you weren't alone. Tommy Hanson. Mr. Hanson, you went on the DL, then returned, but had an 8.10 ERA in your last five starts before being shut down for the rest of the season with a bum shoulder. The team can't afford for you to try to be heroic and exacerbate an injury. The same goes for you, Jair Jurrjens: you've only made 43 starts the last two years, with injuries to your hamstring, knee and side. You're not doing the team any favors by trying to come back early and making your body more susceptible to injury in the process.

Fredi, you're not blameless in the bullpen implosion at the end of the year. The Braves had three of the seven most-used relievers in baseball, setup man Jonny Venters (first overall), rookie closer Craig Kimbrel (third overall), and seventh inning lefty Eric O'Flaherty (seventh overall). Overall, Braves relievers made 143 appearance on zero rest, most in the majors, including 33 by Venters, 29 by O'Flaherty, and 28 by Kimbrel. "O'Ventbrel" was untouchable for much of the season, and all three were scoreless from July 4 to Aug. 3, but Venters and Kimbrel hit a major wall in September, producing a collective 4.94 ERA in 25 appearances that month. Mr. Gonzalez, when Venters acquired the nickname "Everyday Jonny," that should have been a signal to stop using him every day.

Partners In Crime: While the collapse was self-induced, you still would have limped into the playoffs if the St. Louis Cardinals hadn't played their hearts out and won 23 of their last 34 games — a .676 winning percentage from a team that had a .523 winning percentage up to that point in the year. Credit goes to them for playing with inspiration while you spat out the bit.

I understand that the Hanson and Jurrjens injuries were tough on you, though you actually didn't lose that much, thanks to fine performances by rookies Mike Minor and Randall Delgado. The less-ballyhooed injuries to relievers Peter Moylan and George Sherrill might have been better handled by a more experienced manager. When they went down, you had two fewer arms in the bullpen whom you trusted, and you used that as an excuse to lean ever harder on O'Ventbrel as the season went on. Everyone loses relievers, but a good manager develops replacement options.

Something To Build On: Rookies, it's really not your fault we're all in this room. While most of the veterans took a step back this year, the Braves received terrific performances, all around, from fresh faces. Kimbrel will probably win the NL Rookie of the Year award, Freddie Freeman will probably finish second, and though Brandon Beachy may not finish third, he certainly should.

Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino struggled in their appearances, but Minor and Delgado showed that they can toe the rubber with confidence. It is likely that all seven will be a major part of the 2012 Braves, assuming Kimbrel's arm doesn't fall off from overuse.

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Shape Up or Ship Out: Jason Heyward, despite the fact that you had one of the best rookie seasons any 20-year old has ever had, the Braves let you know that you were on a short leash, platooning you first with Jose "George" Constanza and then with Matt Diaz — the first, a nobody and the second, a has-been. You're going to have to play your way back to an everyday job in right field.

Martin Prado, you lost your first position, second base, when the Braves acquired Mr. Uggla. You probably should have lost your second position, left field, as your offense never recovered after you suffered a staph infection during the season. You were an All-Star when you hit for a high average at the keystone, but you're replacement-level when you hit for a low average in corner outfield. Get healthy, and show us that you can still be the hitter you were in 2009-10, or the team won't have much use for you.

Fredi Gonzalez, to put it kindly, you're no Bobby Cox. Ultimately, the manager sets the tone for the clubhouse, and as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jeff Schultz put it,

The team fell apart when it needed to come together, blowing an 8½-game lead in 23 days. That's on Gonzalez. The Braves seemed tight and meek and borderline frightened, as if waiting, hoping, white-knuckle-praying for a playoff spot to just fall into their lap. They didn't just take it, and didn't play like they felt they deserved it. That's certainly on Gonzalez.

You haven't lost your job yet, but you got overruled on firing your hitting coach and you just suffered one of the worst collapses in baseball history in your first season in Atlanta. It's safe to say that you're on a short leash, too.

And you should be. If it were up to me, you would have been expelled already.

Principal Alex Remington
Big League Stew
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@alexremington

Read more of Big League Stew's Detention Lecture series here.

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