Baseball American recently profiled Braves third base prospect Van Pope. The team’s fifth round draft pick in 2004 is expected to start the season at Double A Mississippi, which is close to where Pope grew up so he’s excited about playing close to home. He had a solid season at High A Myrtle Beach last year and hopes to build on that as he moves up the system.
If Hank Aaron was the big gun at the plate for the Braves in 1957, Eddie Mathews was a close second. He already had a homerun title to his credit as well as three 40 homerun seasons. Regardless, having Eddie Matthews AND Hank Aaron as one of the best one/two power combos in baseball went a long way towards the Braves leading the league in runs in 1957.
One thing Mathews could do better then Aaron at this point in their careers was take a walk. Mathews was third in the National League with 90 walks and despite Aaron hitting 30 points higher then Mathews, Eddie finished with a higher OBP then Aaron. He finished fifth in the league in OBP (.387), sixth in slugging (.540), sixth in OPS (.927), fourth in runs (109), fifth in homeruns (32), and seventh in RBIs (94). Those are pretty solid numbers for the second best hitter on your team. All of this put Eddie Mathews in eighth place in the MVP voting.
If there was one thing Mathews didn’t do in 1957, it was hit lefties. He was a pretty poor .202/.312/.306 against lefties while he was all over right handed pitching, which he hit .317/.408/.605. He hit only one of his 32 against a left handed pitcher and he struck out almost as many times against lefties (39) as he did against righties (40) in almost 400 more plate appearances.
Eddie Mathews also hit pretty well in the clutch in 1957. He was .367/.500/.612 with runners in scoring position with two outs. All in all, you couldn’t ask for much more from your second best hitter in the lineup.
Here are Eddie Mathews’ final numbers in 1957
Stolen Bases 3
Caught Stealing 1
21 year old Matt Harrison hasn’t thrown above Double A and even his time there was limited. Regardless, he heads into spring training with a shot to win a spot on the Braves pitching staff in 2007. He even has an outside chance of being the team’s fifth starter. Bobby Cox was very optimistic about Harrison and called him the real deal. Good enough for me.
While losing Marcus Giles may not have seemed like a major deal at the time, it has sent a little ripple through the organization as everyone has been speculating as to who will fill the role. Heading into spring, it looks like it’s a three man battle between Martin Prado, Kelly Johnson and Manny Aybar. For now, my bet is on Johnson. Keep an eye on Prado though because he’s been able to make decent contact in the minors.
Well, it looks like the sale of the Braves to Liberty Media is finally going to happen. This Wall Street Journal story (sub. required, I can email it to you if you want to read it), provides the most detail I’ve seen. Time Warner gets a bunch of their stock back while Liberty Media gets the Braves, a ton of cash and a craft magazine business.
Now things are in MLB’s court, although you’d hope they’d be looking to complete this as quickly as possible. Liberty has said that they plan on keeping the front office intact, but we’ll see it when we believe it. They’ve also said they’d loosen the wallet, but that’s too late for 2007.
The Braves finished up with their arbitration eligible players yesterday when they signed Oscar Villareal to a one year, $925,000 deal. Villareal was a workhorse out of the pen and threw 92 1/3 innings, including filling in with four starts. His walk rate was pretty good but his homerun rate was kind of high. Still, a 1.30 from a reliever who’s good for close to 100 innings is well worth almost a million, at least these days. Villareal didn’t have much of a platoon split although he did throw much better on the road then he did at home.
Solid signing though, and one more cog in a bullpen that should be better then the previous couple of years.
Out of sight, out of mind. Kelly Johnson missed the 2006 season because he had Tommy John surgery after a fair rookie campaign in 2005. Johnson was drafted as a shortstop, then was converted to an outfielder and now in 2007, he appears to be the front runner for the starting second base job after the departure of Marcus Giles. He’s been busy during the offseason taking ground balls at second base but it won’t be until spring training starts until we can see if he’s ready for the task or not.
Lew Burdette passed away yesterday after a fight with lung cancer. I wish his family the best and it seems appropriate that he be the next in line in my series on the 1957 Braves.
If Warren Spahn was the Braves’ ace in 1957, Lew Burdette proved to be one of the better number two men in baseball in 1957. While Bob Buhl probably had a better regular season if you just look at ERA and wins, Burdette’s 1.243 WHIP was second only to Spahn’s in the rotation. He walked only 59 batters in 256 2/3 innings and those numbers earned Burdette his first appearance in an All Star Game.
Burdette finished in the top five in the National League in several categories. He finished fourth in wins (17), third in innings pitched (256 2/3) and he was fifth in with 14 complete games. Burdette was very good in the second half of the season. After a 6-6 first half, Burdette went 11-3 in the second half and he walked only 24 batters in 135 second half innings.
Of course all of this goes out the window once Burdette went to the World Series. After the Braves lost game one to the Yankees, Burdette held the Yankees to two runs and won game two. He then threw a seven hit shutout in game five to give the Braves a 3-2 lead in the series. Then after the Braves lost game six, Burdette threw another seven hit shutout in game seven and the Braves won their first world series since the team was in Boston way back in 1914. Burdette walked away with the World Series MVP after the three complete game wins and it’s one of the best World Series performances by a pitcher in history.
Here’s a look at Burdette’s 1957 numbers:
Games Started 33
Complete Games 14
Innings Pitched 257
Earned Runs 106
Runs Saved Above Average -8
Neutral Wins 12
Neutral Losses 14
Unfortunately, you can have only so many catchers. If Jarrod Saltalamacchia played for probably half of the teams in the league, he’d be vying for a starting spot this year. Instead, he’s buried behind Brian McCann, who had an excellent season behind the plate last year.
To prove this point, Baseball Prospectus has Saltalamacchia as the second best catching prospect in baseball, at least as far as their peak-adjusted PECOTA upside score. Even his weighted mean average has him at a very nice .261/.343/.443 with 17 homeruns. His defense isn’t great, but he should be able to rake. He’ll just be doing it at Triple A.
No team other then possibly the Oakland Athletics have lost as much talent in the past five years as the Braves. Year in and year out though, they’ve still managed to win the division. That is, until last year. Now the Braves have two tough competitors in the Mets and Phillies to contend with and while the Braves made some nice moves, but as this preseason preview of the Braves talks about, it’ll be interesting to see if it’s enough.
The primary focus seemed to be on the bullpen. The Braves added Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez to go along with Bob Wickman so hopefully the Braves can turn around that record in one run games. They’ve also had to contend with losing Marcus Giles and now Adam LaRoche but the farm system has able replacements for both guys so that shouldn’t be a huge problem.
The final prognosis is that the Braves will probably be out of the postseason again. While you can never count the Braves out, I tend to agree that this season will be tougher then probably even last year. Then again, the Braves have proved us all wrong before so you never, ever know.
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