3 ATLANTA BRAVES

April 05, 2009

DevelopingStory
The erstwhile powerhouse has lost some of its mojo but not its ability to farmtalent

WHEN THE Braves'front office gathered last fall to plan for the coming season, they identifiedseveral starting pitchers and a couple of hitters to go after. To the chagrinof general manager Frank Wren, their pursuit of them would play out in a verypublic manner.

Among theheadlines in newspapers and across the blogosphere were these: REPORT: JAKEPEAVEY TO THE ATLANTA BRAVES; BRAVES EXPECTING TO INK FURCAL; BRAVES AWAITDECISION FROM A.J.; and GRIFFEY WILL PLAY FOR BRAVES. Of course, no one in thatgroup—frontline starters A.J. Burnett and Jake Peavy, shortstop Rafael Furcaland outfielder Ken Griffey Jr.—will be calling Turner Field home this year."I don't think it ever helps to have anything public," says Wren.

The Bravesplayers' hopes rose and fell with each rumor. While vacationing in Italy withhis wife, Lauren, second baseman Kelly Johnson received an e-mail from a friendexcitedly detailing the Peavey reports. "The news always finds you,"says Johnson. "I got pretty excited about Peavey. It was one of those dealsthat, if it happened, was going to [reshape] the team."

The moves thatwill instead define Atlanta's '09 season generated fewer bytes: Wren's tradewith the White Sox for starter Javier Vazquez and lefthanded reliever BooneLogan, and the signings of Derek Lowe and Japanese starter Kenshin Kawakami—thelatter acquisitions overshadowed by John Smoltz's stunning departure the weekbefore.

The Braves Wayhas always emphasized starting pitching. In the team's glory days—from 1991through 2005—their starters were durable and dominant, their ERA in the majors'top three all but two years. But times have changed. Rarely has"innings-eater" been such a coveted commodity for this club. Considerlast year's injury and performance woes: Seven Braves started at least 13games; 11 started at least four; only one threw 160 innings. "It was realimportant that we [get] guys who not only had good stuff but also had a historyof being durable," Wren says.

Lowe, sincebecoming a full-time starter in 2002, has not thrown fewer than 182 2/3innings. For the last nine seasons Vazquez has averaged 216.0 innings. Kawakamiwon the equivalent of the Cy Young in Japan's Central League in '04 and hasnever had a major arm injury. The rotation's most productive holdover issecond-year righty Jair Jurrjens (a 3.68 ERA in 188 1/3 innings).

The deal breakerin the Peavey negotiations was San Diego's demand for Tommy Hanson, a22-year-old, 6'6" righthander with command of four pitches, including afastball that reached 99 mph in his first spring outing and a slider that'sbeen compared with Smoltz's. The MVP of the Arizona Fall League—he was 5--0with a 0.63 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings—Hanson is the Braves'top-ranked prospect (No. 4 overall) of their five in Baseball America's Top100.

Pitching will beespecially important, as this lineup will not outslug anyone. All eight regularposition players should hit at least 10 homers, but there's no bopper who'llsmack more than 25. "We may not have the best 3-4-5 combo in all ofbaseball," says rightfielder Jeff Francoeur, "but our 6-7-8 is going tobe a lot better than most other teams'."

True, but a fewmore homers would be nice. Atlanta's outfield slugged just 27 home runs in '08;the other 15 NL outfields averaged 66. Francoeur is the wild card, a perfectblend of tantalizing potential and maddening inconsistency. Last year he hadjust 11 home runs and 71 RBIs after averaging 24 and 104 the two previousseasons. Newly signed leftfielder Garret Anderson should be more productivethan Griffey would have been, and Chipper Jones expects to bear more of thepower burden after winning last year's batting title with a .364 average butonly 47 extra-base hits, the fewest of his career.

As the Braveswait for their prospects to mature, Wren can only hope that he's plugged hisholes and that the old adage is true: Sometimes the best deals are the ones youdon't make.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

Nostalgia has noplace in roster-building, but that's what the Braves are guilty of, havingre-signed Tom Glavine—instead of the more effective John Smoltz—and named himtheir No. 5 starter. For three years in a row the future Hall of Fame lefty hasseen his ERA rise (to 5.54 with Atlanta in an injury-interrupted 2008) and hisK-to-walk ratio decline (just under 1 to 1). The 43-year-old Glavine isn'tJamie Moyer; he's run out of steam, and with the Braves capable of challengingthe Phillies and the Mets in the NL East, they have to use their best playersaccording to current value, not career value. Righthander Jorge Campillo (left)is healthy, 30 years old and coming off a season in which he struck out 2.8batters for every one he walked. Campillo deserves that last rotation slot.

THE NUMBERS

LIE .268

The Braves'winning percentage (11--30) in one-run games last season, a figure you maynever again see in your lifetime. Atlanta's poor record can be partly writtenoff as a statistical anomaly, but a brutal bullpen made a substantialcontribution. The pen blew more than 40% of its save chances, and its ERAspiked by nearly three quarters of a point over last season's in a year whenthe majors' overall ERA dropped by 14 points.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager BobbyCox
20TH SEASON WITH BRAVES

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

KELLY JOHNSON 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 156 .287 12 69 11
YUNEL ESCOBAR SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 132 .288 10 60 2
CHIPPER JONES 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 33 .364 22 75 4
BRIAN MCCANN C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 37 .301 23 87 5
GARRET ANDERSON [NEW ACQUISITION] LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 114 .293 15 84 7
JEFF FRANCOEUR RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 130 .239 11 71 0
CASEY KOTCHMAN 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 151 .272 14 74 2
JORDAN SCHAFER (R)* CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 197 .269 10 51 12
BENCH
MATT DIAZ OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 274 .244 2 14 4
OMAR INFANTE IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 305 .293 3 40 0
GREGOR BLANCO OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 268 .251 1 38 13

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Derek Lowe [NEW ACQUISITION] 57 14 11 6.3 1.13 3.24
RH Javier Vazquez [NEW ACQUISITION] 77 12 16 8.6 1.32 4.67
RH Jair Jurrjens 64 13 10 6.6 1.37 3.68
RH Kenshin Kawakami (R)† [NEW ACQUISITION] 88 9 5 8.6 1.06 2.30
LH Tom Glavine 196 2 4 5.3 1.64 5.54
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
LH Mike Gonzalez 73 0 14 11.8 1.19 4.28
RH Rafael Soriano 139 0 3 10.3 1.14 2.57
RH Peter Moylan 289 0 1 7.9 1.06 1.59

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie
*Double A stats
†Japanese league stats
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
April 22, 1974

But about 715 Henry Aaron remembers only his reliefthat it was over with and the vague happiness; that his legs seemed rubbery ashe took the tour of the bases, the Dodgers second baseman and shortstopsticking out their hands to congratulate him. "I don't remember thenoise," he said, trying to recall, "or the two kids that I'm told ranthe bases with me. My teammates at home plate, I remember seeing them. Iremember my mother out there, and she hugging me. That's what I'll remembermore than anything about that home run when I think back on it. I don't knowwhere she came from, but she was there...."
—GEORGE PLIMPTON

For free access to all Braves stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONLASTING IMPACT Lowe has pitched no fewer than 182 innings in each of his seven seasons as a full-time starter. PHOTOBOB ROSATO (CAMPILLO) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)