Archive for July, 2008

Interview with Score Atlanta

This week I am the subject of a story Score Atlanta newspaper. Here is a link to the page, and you have to scroll down. If you live in the Atlanta area, you can find Score at many locations around town. Thanks to Stephen Black for conducting the interview.

Here is a brief excerpt.

Kennesaw State University professor John-Charles Bradbury enjoys two passions in life: baseball and economics. Dr. Bradbury studied the latter in college and pursued the subject with enough persistence to earn a doctorate in the field. The other subject, baseball, was simply something he followed when not working or studying. The good professor eventually realized that he tended to think of one while observing another.

Tex for Kotchman and Marek

When I heard that the Braves had traded Mark Teixeira to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek my first thought was, “that sounds about right.” And, upon further reflection, I still think that. Teixeira is an excellent player—no matter what DOB says—but he’s only controlled by his team through the end of the season. Teams just aren’t going to give up a lot for a near-term upgrade.

Kotchman looks to be a decent but frustrating player. In fact, this season looks quite similar to Jeff Francoeur‘s 2007. And fortunately for the Braves, a good season for Jeffy is a down season for Kotchman. Kotchman really doesn’t have the bat to be a good first basemen, but he’ll do. Could he develop into something more? Possibly, but I doubt it. He’s better than any other internal options that the Braves have. Please, don’t mention Freddie Freeman or Jason Heyward; they’re in low-A ball. And while we’re on the subjects of prospect hype, Jordan Schafer is stinking up the joint in Mississippi.

Marek is on the path to being a major-league reliever. His stats are good, but relievers are difficult to judge. I think he’ll be useful, and he has a chance to have a few good years in him.

In summary, I think Frank Wren got about all he could in the deal. First base is taken care of for a few years, but you won’t feel bad moving him if something better comes along. Also, you get some potential cheap relief help, which is always nice to have. I expect that the Braves will sign a free agent or two in the offseason. If Tim Hudson needs UCL replacement, then the Braves will have to go after a good starting pitcher if they want to compete next year.

Think of Mark Teixeira’s year with the Braves as a Whitman’s Sampler of chocolates. Though it’s good, the Braves ate most of it. A sour quince log and a dark chocolate rum cherry just isn’t going to get you much.

DOB Really Doesn’t Like Tex

I’m not sure what Mark Teixeira has done to annoy David O’Brien of the AJC, but he is reiterating his belief that Tex’s “lack” of timely hitting is a significant flaw in his game.

The Braves really needed [Teixeira] to help Chipper Jones carry the load in that first month and a half. It didn’t happen. Yunel Escobar and Brian McCann had torrid stretches in that period, but Tex didn’t.

The Braves got too far back and, each time they seemed poised to make a big move, they’d have a terrible series or two and push the frustration needle to the right.

Oh, it’s been a maddening season for Braves Nation, to be sure. Fairly or unfairly, Tex fell out of favor with many when he struggled early on and didn’t seen too concerned by it (he’d keep saying how he always started slow, that it was a marathon not a sprint, etc.).

People don’t want to hear that when they’re team is slipping in the standings and injuries are mounting. They want to hear how you feel terrible for not helping out, how you can’t look at yourself in the mirror because you’re not doing your part, that kind of thing.

Hey, it’s just human nature. And if you ask me, some people need a good PR agent to explain that to them, to explain that a little regret and beating one’s self up publicly goes a long way. But hey, I’m no PR agent.

Long story short, this was the year when Tex needed to buck his trend of slow starts. But it didn’t happen. Who knows if a huge first month from him could have made the difference for the Braves? But I can assure you, it sure would have made things a bit more interesting.

Last week, DOB argued that Tex wasn’t clutch, and wouldn’t back down even when accused of going on a mreetwass hunt. I looked at the numbers, and Tex’s performance in the clutch isn’t bad at all.

But, DOB is back with a new definition. Basically, Tex didn’t put the team on his back at a time when the team needed him. Now, I don’t think there is such thing as a clutch switch that allows the player to turn his ability on high at will. And, even if there is, why is it ever turned off? But, let’s break down the splits by month for the players DOB mentions.

Month		Tex	Escobar	Mac	
April/March	0.797	0.839	0.854	
May		0.792	0.698	1.075	
June		1.041	0.782	0.776	
July		0.983	0.546	1.145	
Season		0.896	0.733	0.949	

During the first two months of the season, Tex was good but nothing outstanding. In June and July, you know right after team ace John Smoltz announced he was out for the season (his last game was June 2), Tex exploded with an outstanding June and an excellent July. For the season, he’s got an OPS of about .900. That is the third best OPS on the club behind Chipper Jones and Brian McCann—there is no shame in that—but well above the other hitters on the team.

But, let’s compare him to the players that “carried the load” early in the season. McCann has been the better player for the season. April was his second-weakest month of the season, with an OPS of .854. That’s good, but not outstanding; and, I’m not trying to knock McCann. It was better than Tex’s first two months, but not by a wide margin. May was fantastic, and he blew Tex away—he blew most every player in the league away. Kudos to McCann; that’s why I’m a huge fan (see who sponsors his Baseball-Reference page). But in June, he dropped the load, at least according to DOB’s standards, with an OPS of .776. Tex, on the other hand, posted an OPS of 1.041. Both Mac and Tex are having a good July. Between Tex and McCann, Mac has been the better player, I’m not sure there is any shame in that. But if you’re going to complain about fluctuations in performance, McCann’s worst month was worse than Tex’s worst month.

As for Escobar, his best month was April, when he had an OPS of .839. Since that time he hasn’t been all that good an offensive player with OPS of .698, .782, and .548—all three of these months are worse than Tex’s season low. I don’t understand how Escobar has carried the team and Tex has not.

Player performance is variable and is heavily-influenced by chance. Fluctuations from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year are natural, expected, and not really controlled by ability. If you think that you can gather meaningful information from these swings, then you might as well become a day trader. Tex is a fine player who is going to garner a $20+ million annual salary after this season because he is an excellent ballplayer. I’m sure he’ll have other months like April and May of 2008, but he’ll also have plenty of Junes and Julys. In the end, the good and the up and the down average out to be a valuable major-league player.

What’s Wrong with America? Buzz Bissinger

I don’t like Buzz Bissinger. I mean, I really dislike the guy. Maybe he’s a talented writer. I don’t see it, but he’s sold a hell of a lot more books than I have. Friday Night Lights is now a TV show. Three Nights in August—didn’t George Will already write a book about a season with Tony La Russa?— is going to be a movie. Good for him, but I find him to be quite boring. He’s an everyman’s sophist populist, the kind who knows better but just doesn’t care. He’s Buzz Bissinger, and if you cross him, he’ll kick your ass!

In yesterday’s NY Times, Bissinger digs deep to take as lazy a stand as you can against baseball player salaries. He pits an unfortunate soul with health issues versus baseball All-Stars, because it’s obviously the fault of baseball players that some people have expensive health problems. And if you disagree, you must hate poor people.

How can one have so little when so many have so much? It’s a simple question that has difficult and possibly unsatisfying answers. But, why do a little thinking or research? Buzz is here to rehash some populist cliches. Let’s go through them, shall we?

But I found it difficult to square the finances of what was taking place here, All-Stars from the American and National Leagues collectively collecting $392 million in salaries for the 2008 season, juxtaposed with employees from the once-mythic carmaker about to get vivisected.

The news out of General Motors the same day as the game had been particularly grim, symbolically marking the end of the American economic empire as we know it. There was talk, so unimaginable as to be surreal given its once-seeming impregnability, that G.M. would eventually have to file for bankruptcy. Among the announced cutbacks: a 20 percent reduction in salaried-worker costs, elimination of health care for older white-collar retirees, and a suspension of the company’s annual stock dividend of $1 a share.

Baseball player make lots of money. The make more than me, they make more than most people in the world—though I suspect there are some that make less than Buzz. Why is this? They have a unique skill, one that is highly valued by everyone sitting in the stands and watching them on television. The reason baseball players make a lot of money and women’s soccer players do not (despite their exceptional athletic skill) is that people like to watch baseball. They’ll pay money to see it. Isn’t appropriate that players get some of that money? And if they don’t get it, then who does? The owners. Now there’s a group of billionaires that we can all sympathize with.

But what about those poor buggy-whip makers whom the automobile bankrupted? Or the protectionist trade restrictions that forced Americans to purchase inefficiently-built GM cars? And let’s not forget the unions who keep labor costs high. My point here isn’t that I side with any of these winners or losers, it’s that winners and losers are a part of life. You’d think that sitting at an All-Star game that dragged on 15 innings might bring about this connection. To point out losers and bad situations without thinking much further about them other than noting that they are bad and wishing they would not occur is lazy. The good news is that winners and losers in the creative destruction of market economies are normally short-lived and the general result is long-run economic growth that benefits society.

But, Buzz marches on.

In May, the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, up nationally a full percentage point from a year ago. The same month, in the sharpest rise in May in five years, employers cut 50 or more workers from their work force in 1,626 instances, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics bloodlessly referred to as “mass layoff actions.” And it seems likely that job losses will only accelerate into 2009.

Hmm, when I was an undergraduate, we used to talk about 5.5 percent unemployment as being close to the natural rate, not high. But, why not let recent history cloud our assessments. After all, Buzz has some important points to make.

But the tick of obscene salaries just keeps on ticking in professional sports, the one sector of the economy I know of, except for maybe Internet pornography, that still dances merrily along in the bubble of its isolation from the real world. As we try to figure out not just what is fundamentally wrong with the American economy but with America itself, look no further than what is being shelled out to the men who play with bats and balls roughly eight months out of the year (after all, they need their rest after such taxing work).

How much money do you make Buzz for harassing bloggers in on HBO, or for revisiting a subject that George Will already covered? Your bubble seems to be doing just fine. My guess is that you make a good bit more than the average American. How else could you afford expensive camera equipment, whose honor needs defending? What about Will Smith, who was recently reported to have earned $80 million last year, more than 10 times the average salary of a major-league All-Star. What about the owners who pay the players? Again, people make money; some make more than others. The main reason for the disparity is that few individuals are vastly more talented than the rest of us, and because there are many things that they could do with their time they ultimately end up earning high salaries. The reason Buzz uses players is that they’re an easy target to pick on.

But, don’t worry. Buzz has some policy advice for us.

Take the salaries of these players and apply a 10 percent cut — half of what is being lopped off at G.M. — and you could easily save the 80 jobs that are being lost at The Chicago Tribune for a savings of $9 million. It’s a pie-in-the-sky suggestion.

It’s not pie in the sky: it’s a stupid, lazy, suggestion. (I’m sorry to keep using the word “lazy”, but it is appropriate.) If I wake up tomorrow to find $9 million in my bank account, when I’m feeling philanthropic, Chicago Tribune employees aren’t going to be on my recipient list, at all. Seriously, I’m buying a solid-gold rocket car before I’m donating money to displaced college graduates living in the United States. Hell, I suspect most of those laid off would even consider this ridiculous suggestion. The Chicago Tribune owns the Chicago Cubs.

But Buzz, finally does get there, eventually. Players are not the root of this evil, we are.

Baseball players are not in the business of saving other businesses, and we as fans are equally to blame with our insistence on keeping the beast in gold. Season tickets through the roof. Five dollars for hot dogs, three of which must go for the sogginess. Authentic uniform shirts upwards of $180. So far at least, we are still paying out. “Sports is one of the last things that people let go of,” Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College and an expert in the field of sports business, told me. “It is one of the things most deeply ingrained in our culture.”

It’s good to see Buzz check in with an expert. It’s my number-one fan Andy Zimbalist, fresh off a very public embarrassment in court. He was able to use his reputation to charge the City of Seattle nearly $900 an hour for work that would be shredded on the stand. Why he and the City of Seattle thought he was a good choice to testify the exact opposite of the consensus of the economics profession, I don’t know. Especially, considering that a court in Kentucky recently rejected his “expert” testimony stating “Zimbalist’s approach… has not been tested; has not been subjected to peer review and publication; there are no standards controlling it; and there is no showing that it enjoys general acceptance within the scientific community. Further, it was produced solely for this litigation.” Ouch! But hey, let’s hear what he has to say, here’s $18 grand for 20 hours of work. Why didn’t Buzz ask him for some of his money?

But, there is a silver lining here.

Zimbalist believes that professional sports, like other industries, will have little choice but to pare down if the economy continues to falter. “I think the salaries in all of the sports follow revenues,” he told me. “The longer and deeper the recession, the more sports industry will feel it.”

I for one can’t wait.

But we just went through this. Players make a lot of money because fans are willing to pay to see them play baseball. You can’t wait for player salaries and revenues fall? So, you hope that the economy drops into a deep recession so that sports stars might not be so wealthy? Are you kidding me? That is some kind of schadenfreude. And I thought environmentalists cheering high gas prices were a little over the top.

What’s wrong with America is that an established writer like Buzz Bissinger, gets a forum to lecture us, only to fall back on the laziest cliches in the business. There are rich people and poor people, let’s redistribute wealth and we’ll all be happy! He complains about the shoddy work of “bloggers”—you know, because they’re all the same—yet he’s backed by all the resources of The New York Times and this is the best he can do? Buzz, I think you’re full of shit.

Facebook Blog Network

I started a Facebook page as a way to keep up with my students and former students. I have come to enjoy it much more than I had anticipated. It has been an excellent way to connect with new and old friends, especially readers of Sabernomics. If you have have a Facebook page, I encourage you to join my Facebook blog network by clicking on the link in the top of the left sidebar.

Thoughts on Teixeira

With Mark Teixeira‘s days with the Braves likely being numbered, I thought I’d make a few comments about him. I’m a huge fan, and I think he is a fantastic all-around player. His career line of .285/.372/.534 is quite good. And even though his performance was aided by the friendly hitting environment of Arlington, his career OPS+ is a robust 131. As a defender, he is outstanding. He’s won two Gold Gloves and Plus/Minus ranks him as the fourth best first-basemen this season.

He is the type of player you build a team around. I do wish the Braves could hold onto him, but it makes sense to trade him to a contender now. If the Braves want him back, the team should sign him as a free agent. While this scenario is unlikely, I do not think it is that far out of the realm of possibility. Of course, the Braves aren’t telling the media that they have some interest in him as a free agent. The team will need to replace Tex’s offense if it wants to contend next year, and there don’t seem to be many other internal alternatives. Maybe the front office doesn’t have the stomach or the budget to sign Tex, but if you are going to sign a player to a big contract, this is the right player to sign to a long-term deal.

First, let me comment on what I think it will take to sign Tex. Before the season started, I estimated that Tex would get a $26.8 million/year in a six-year deal. This estimate accounts for his previous play, park effects, aging, and the expected rise in salaries (which should NOT be called “inflation”: an increase in the price-level of the economy). I have since revised that estimate to $24.4 million. Tex is going to get paid a lot of money for two reasons. 1) He is an excellent baseball player. 2) Baseball revenues will continue to grow, which raises the marginal revenue products of all its players. In six years, $20 million won’t seem to be as exceptional as it seems today. If the Braves don’t want in on this, fine; but, that means there are going to be many other free agents out there that the Braves will also avoid.

Second, I would like to address the argument that Tex is not clutch. David O’Brien of the AJC made this case the other day.

Is Teixeira, with his Gold Glove-level defense and likely .290-30-120 to .310-45-130 offensive range for many years to come, worth $20 mill a season? I’d say only to a team that has a huge payroll, at least $150 mill or so. Not to a team with a $100 mill payroll, because while he piles up stats, he’s not a player, at least from what I’ve seen, who puts a team on his back and delivers big hits when the team needs it most….

Anyway, this isn’t to downplay his skills or output. Both are unquestionably big. He’s durable and piles up stats, year after year. But I know an impact offensive player, a player whose performance seems bigger than his numbers because he gets so many key hits. And I know the opposite.

These comments drew the ire of Fire Joe Morgan. DOB, who was a good sport about the fisking, later responded in his blog with a few numbers of his own.

That was outstanding. Beautifully done, and well-though out, I might add.

Fortunately for me, the vast majority of our readers — you know, actual Braves fans who watch most of the games — agree more with my assessment of the situation than you and your bud who wrote that post. But it was a beaut. I feel honored to have incited that response.

By the way, speaking of well-though out, you said the last few games you’ve watched, Tex has carried the team. Really? Then I gotta ask, do you watch more than one game a week?

Here’s what Braves have done in last 10 — repeat, TEN — games, and what Tex has done. You tell me who carried them to what in that span.

— July 7, 3-0 loss to Dodgers (Tex 1-for-3)

— July 8, 9-3 win vs. Dodgers (Tex 1-for-5, HR, 1 RBI; McCann 2-for-5, 2 HRs, 2 RBI).

— July 9, 2-1 loss to Dodgers (Tex 0-for-3, no RBI).

— July 11, 4-0 loss to Padres (Tex 0-for-4).

— July 12, 4-1 win vs. Padres (Tex 1-for-4, no RBI; Chipper 3-for-4, Fracouer 2-for-4, 2 RBI).

— July 13, 12-3 win vs. Padres (Tex 2-for-5, 2 RBI; McCann 3-for-3, HR, 3 RBI; Lillibridge 3-for-5, 2 RBI).

— July 18, 7-6 win vs. Nats (Tex 1-for-2, no RBI; McCann 1-for-4, 3 RBI; Lillibridge 2-for-4, 2 RBI).

— July 19, 8-2 loss to Nats (Tex 1-for-3, no RBI; Chipper 1 RBI; Norton 1 RBI).

— July 20, 15-6 loss to Nats (Tex 3-for-4, 2 HRs, 3 RBI).

— July 21, 4-0 win vs. Marlins (2-for-4, 1 RBI; Kotsay 2-for-4, 1 RBI; Chipper 1 RBI, Prado 1-for-1, 1 RBI; Campillo and two relievers, two-hit shutout).

Now, Braves Fan in Tn., I’m not suggesting you don’t watch many or any games, but if, as you say, Tex carried the team in the last few games you’ve watched, how long a span do we have to go back to get those “few games?”

Well-though out, indeed.

You know, I’ve been following the Braves just like most Braves fans, and I have quite the opposite view. And the stats don’t support DOB’s contention.

In those ten games, Tex posted a line of .324/.390/.703. This season, here is how he has performed in some measures of “clutch situations.”

Split 		OPS 
2 outs, RISP 	0.897 
Late & Close 	1.192 
Tie Game 	0.752 
Within 1 Run 	0.879 
Within 2 Run 	0.856 
Within 3 Run 	0.886 
Within 4 Run 	0.901 
Margin > 4 R	0.830

For his career, his numbers look like this.

Split 		OPS 
2 outs, RISP	1.067
Late & Close	0.915
Tie Game	0.896
Within 1 Run	0.881
Within 2 Run	0.893
Within 3 Run	0.885
Within 4 Run	0.895
Margin > 4 R	0.972

I watch the games too, but the differences in performance are so small that it is easy to gain false perceptions about players just from watching and remembering. The only way to see the difference is in the numbers.

Don’t think that I am arguing that Tex is clutch: I don’t believe in clutch-hitting as a true talent. My point is that I don’t think any team ought to be scared away by a lack of clutch ability. He’s a good hitting in all situations. And even if he is a little worse when the pressure is on, he’s still better than most options on the manager’s bench. I made these comments on his blog, but I got no response.

To the fans of the team that wins the Teixeira sweepstakes, I urge you to welcome him with open arms.

The Baseball Project

The Baseball Project

If you follow baseball on the web, you’ve probably heard about The Baseball Project. The Baseball Project is a music group composed of Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Linda Pitmon (Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3). Think of this an alternative rock supergroup that sings songs about baseball.

When I first heard about this project, my first thought was “bad idea”. And when I read about the formation of the group it confirmed my suspicions.

“It finally took flight at the R.E.M. pre-Hall of Fame induction party in New York,” Wynn remembers. “Everyone was happy. The wine was flowing, the food was incredible and spring training had just started. Scott and I talked baseball until most of the party guests had cleared out. And we actually remembered it the next day.”

I can’t help but be reminded of Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls and David St. Hubbins after-show discussion of their desire to write a rock opera about the life of Jack the Ripper (“I envy us.”). It turns out, I was way way off.

Through a strange series of events, I learned one of Yep Roc Record’s publicists and I share a good mutual friend. We were both actually in the same wedding two years ago. Recently, he and some of my other friends were at the R.E.M. show in Raleigh (VIP access and all…yes, I’m jealous) when he mentioned the upcoming The Baseball Project album to them. Now, my friends (who are not big baseball fans) brought up my unique interest in baseball (website, book, nerdiness, etc.) and soon the band’s publicity people contacted me.

So, after a series of e-mail conversations, I learned more about the band and get a copy of the CD. This is no Saucy Jack. And just so you know, my music interests converge where county, folk, pop, and punk all meet: R.E.M. is my all-time favorite band. I love it, I absolutely love it. There’s no “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” or “Centerfield” (not that those are bad songs); this is a serious record with unique and interesting songs. You could play if for your friends who know nothing about baseball, and they probably wouldn’t catch the theme.

For the past few weeks, I’ve listened to it numerous times. My favorite song is dedicated to Harvey Haddix, who pitched a perfect game for 12 innings, but isn’t credited with a “perfect game”—stupid baseball jerks. My only question is, why not include a line about Pedro Martinez who once threw nine perfect innings before losing his perfect game in the tenth?

Anyway, I’m no music critic, so I won’t do a formal review. Let me just say, that I really like the album. And though I have some connections to people involved, I’m not just saying I like it to help them out. First, do they need my help? “Hey, Peter Buck is in the band, but to go platinum we really need J.C. Bradbury to give us a thumbs up.” Reductio ad adsurdum. Second, if I didn’t like it I just wouldn’t say anything. Trust me folks, I honestly like this album.

If you’re interested in learning more about the group, check out the blog. I’m hoping to arrange an interview with Steve Wynn in the near future, and there may be some promotional opportunities to snag copies of my book and the album soon. I will keep you posted.

Here’s a video of the group on David Letterman, playing “Past Time”.

Intervention Time

After Marlins pitcher Rick VandenHurk walked the bases loaded in the fourth inning of last night’s game, Jeff Francoeur proceeded to swing at the first four pitches he saw—all of which were high.

Four swinging strikes

The problem isn’t the ugly strikeout, but the fact that he doesn’t seem to recognize that he has a problem. Here is his second inning plate appearance, which was preceded by a four-pitch walk to Brian McCann.

More of the same

Notice the pattern? VandenHurk, who was called up from the minors to start the game, had no problem picking up Francoeur’s weakness for for high cheese in this at-bat and exploiting it during their next confrontation.

On Saturday, Francoeur commented on his progress owards ending his slump.

“With my first home game back, I think I was trying to do too much,” the 24-year-old said after the 7-6 victory. “But I feel good. My swing is back where I want it. I’ll be OK.”

This has gone far enough. Francoeur may have had some bad luck this season, but right now his poor performance is the product of a flawed approach. The kid obviously has serious problems that he refuses to acknowledge. I’m not sure what Frank Wren’s options are, but, at the minimum, Francoeur needs to be removed from his everyday starting role. He’s not going to right himself when he doesn’t believe there is a problem.

Two Kinds of Luck

It’s that time of year when many GMs are deciding between acquiring pieces for the stretch run and calling it a year and selling valuable spare parts. An important part of the equation is determining how well the GM thinks his team will perform for the rest of the year. In general, teams with better records will be more inclined to buy than sell, and vice versa.

But, a raw win-loss record can be misleading. In some cases, the team that is scoring and allowing runs that would normally result in more or fewer wins may indicate that the team is better or worse than its actual record. Let’s call this Pythagorean luck (I dislike the confusing reference to the Greek mathematician, but the name has stuck). For example, the Braves this year are an unimpressive 47-52; however, the Braves have played much better than their record. They have scored 440 runs while allowing 412 runs: a combination that ought to produce a winning record of approximately 52-47.

On the hitting side, the Braves have been slightly below league average, scoring 4.44 runs per game, compared to the NL average of 4.51. It’s the pitching that has really kept the Braves playoff hopes alive. The team’s 3.81 ERA is second in the league. However, this is where I want to bring in the other type of luck a GM needs to consider.

Frank Wren, or any other GM, cannot just look at a Pythagorean W-L record and assume random run-agglomeration will even out and expect that as luck turns around that his team will be good enough to contend. The other type of luck is the random fluctuation of player performances around their true talent level—let’s call it talent luck. In the case of the Braves, I believe the pitching has performed better than its talent level and will not hold up. Hats off to Roger McDowell and the pitching staff, but I don’t think the team will finish second in ERA. Now, it is possible that the pitching will continue to be excellent as it has been, but I doubt it.

And even if the pitching and hitting continue on their current trajectories, the team still faces a significant real six-game deficit in wins to a Philadelphia team that has also played a bit unlucky: 53-46 compared to a 57-42 expected record.

I wonder if this is similar to the conclusion that A’s GM Billy Bean reached about his Oakland team. Though the A’s have outperformed their record by four wins, and the division-leading Angels have won 7 games more than the run differential predicts. Yet, Beane traded away both Rich Harden and Joe Blanton to the Cubs and Phillies, respectively.

The Trading Block

The big question in Bravesnation right now is whom to move before next week’s trade deadline. The most obvious players to go are Mark Teixeira and Will Ohman. Both are free agents at the end of the year and could contribute to a contender for the stretch run. Of course, this means that the Braves cannot expect all that much in return given the lack of long-term control over these players. I don’t see the Braves offering Teixeira arbitration—because he might accept it—therefore a trade is the only way to get any future help from holding Tex’s rights.

But, which other players might the Braves deal?

Kelly Johnson: He’s proved that he is a capable major-league player: an above-average hitter and average defender as a second baseman. He’s arbitration-eligible for the next three years, which means teams might be willing to part with some decent prospects in return for his below-market salary. While I’m a KJ fan and I’d hate to see him go, I will not be surprised if the Braves package him in a deal. Plus, the Braves don’t seem totally enamored with his game.

Tim Hudson: Hudson has been the Braves ace this year, and with John Smoltz’s starting career over, he’s slated to be the number one in 2009 as well. The Braves and Hudson hold mutual options for 2010. Hudson is guaranteed $13 million next season, and the option year includes a $12 million salary with a $1 million buyout. Hudson has been a consistently good for the past few years. His salary is in line with what he is making, but he would probably earn a bit more on the free agent market; therefore, the Braves might be tempted to move him. The downside is that this would be a huge blow to the rotation. While the Braves have some good young arms, we don’t know how good. A quality veteran at the top of the rotation is something the Braves will want if they think they might be in the things in 2009. I say that he stays.

Brian McCann: His contract is affordable, which makes him attractive to many teams. He would bring back a bounty of prospects. But, he is a local kid who’s done good, not just a local kid. I can’t see the Braves parting with McCann.

Jeff Francoeur: Like McCann, he’s a local kid, but that is all he is. Right now, there are probably more calls to trade Jeffy than any other player on the team, because fans usually prefer to trade away bad players. There is no doubt that the Braves could get something in return for him, but I don’t think it would be much. The problem is compensating the Braves for what they will lose on and off the field. In any other organization, Jeffy would be in the minor leagues or spending a large portion of his time on the bench. There would be few fans sporting #7 Francouer jerseys. There would be no bobble-head or t-shirt night in his honor.

No matter how poorly Francoeur plays, he will always have some value in Atlanta, because he is a hometown kid who once did something good. Casual fans don’t hear that giant sucking sound in right field. He is where he is valued the most, and there are no gains from trade from moving him to another team. That is why the Braves will not be trading him this year. In fact, once it’s a near certainty that the Braves won’t make the post-season, I expect the Braves won’t consider sending him to the minors again no matter how he performs. This doesn’t mean that the Braves won’t replace him in the future, but I don’t see much value to doing so now.