On Heyward’s swing, Hanson’s shoulder, Braun’s MVP

When a reporter mentioned this week that Jason Heyward had dropped about 20 pounds during the offseason and asked Chipper Jones if he’d noticed a difference in Heyward’s physique and how it affected his swing, Jones smiled and pretty much scoffed.

The Braves hope to see more of this from Jason Heyward in 2011. He's been working with their new hitting coaches and with Chipper Jones.

The Braves hope to see more of this from Jason Heyward in 2012. He's been working with their new hitting coaches and with Chipper Jones.

For the record, the nearly 6-foot-5 right fielder has gone from an imposing, chiseled 256 pounds to a chiseled, imposing 235. In terms to which some of our readers may better relate, Heyward’s gone from D-1 defensive end to D-1 tight end.

Now back to our story. Two or three times a week since the beginning of January, Heyward has been working in the batting cage at Turner Field with new hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher. There has been a third instructor of sorts taking part in many of those sessions: Chipper Jones.

Walker and Fletcher have worked with Heyward to break down his swing and get all parties on the same page in terms of where that swing was in 2010 and where it went in 2011 after Heyward had an early season shoulder injury that lingered, eventually landed him on the DL, and contributed to a case study “sophomore slump.”

Heyward went from hitting .277 with a robust .393 OBP and .456 slugging percentage (.849 OPS) in 623 plate appearances as a 20-year-old rookie in 2010, to .227/.319/.389 (.708) in 454 PAs in 2011. That’s an alarming 141-point decline in OPS.

“This is what I was concerned with: When he got to spring training in 2010, and into the season in 2010, when the ball jumped off his bat it was a sound and sight unlike anything you had ever heard or seen before,” Jones said. “And I didn’t see that at all last year. And it’s due to some of the things that he was doing mechanically.

“To answer your question, weight is not an issue with him. The ball is jumping off the bat now close to what it was in spring training 2010. He’s got some more in there; he’s still making some adjustments and it’s a slow process. As Tiger Woods will tell you, you go through a swing change, it takes some time. But he’s starting to get it and he’s starting to get results.”

This is when Jones began a detailed description of the primary flaws in Heyward’s swing last season, and how he’s made real progress towards correcting them. For a few minutes, Jones sounded entirely like a hitting coach as he talked about Heyward’s swing and demonstrated precisely what he meant, wielding a bat as he stood at his locker stall.

“We’re starting to get him going down the line,” Jones said, swinging slowly to show. “What I mean by going down the line, he’s staying through balls up the middle, this way up the line as opposed to coming around balls and hitting those easy hoppers to first and second base. Those are the things that happen when you get into bad mechanical habits.

“Whether injury caused them or not, he’s there. And we’ve got to get him out of it. In between ‘Walk’ and ‘Fletch’ and myself, and J-Hey and his attitude, he’ll get it done. He’ll get it back.”

“Walk and Fletch” sounds like some new-age workout plan. Or worse. But we digress….

greg-walker-chicago-white-sox-autographed-photograph-3358515

Before he coached for the White Sox, Greg Walker played for them. He hit .294 with 24 homers and a .346 OBP in 1984.

They’ve replaced hitting coach Larry Parrish, a good guy who was old-school to the bone and got along fine with most players, but seemed incapable of communicating his ideas to some of his players, particularly a young one or two of them.

Parrish was fired after the first season of a two-year contract.

Enter Walker, 52, and Fletcher, 53, as the Braves for the first time go with a two-headed hitting coach model, something a few other teams have used in recent years including the White Sox when Walker was there.

Walker is the primary hitting coach, Fletcher is his assistant and will also spend plenty of his working day handling advance scouting, which the Braves are doing by video now instead of sending a scout on the road to do it.

They have already earned Jones’ stamp of approval. His first month working with the two sounds as if it couldn’t possibly have gone any better.

“A lot more technical,” Jones said of the new coaches. “They show you; they’re more visual guys. I’m a visual learner. You can sit here and talk to me all day and I’ll sit here and, I’ll nod at you and be looking at the back of your skull before too long. It goes in one ear and out the other. But if I see it on tape, what you’re talking about, and I see what I’m doing wrong and I can compare the two, then I can fix it. Then I have something to go to. And I think a lot of guys in here are like that.

“We’ve already been through a pretty good process with J-Hey so far this preseason. He’s seen what he did in April 2010 when he was going good, and how different that was from what he did most of 2011. And he was able to see it and compare the two swings, and that was something that was missing [before the new hitting coaches arrived].

“Greg and Fletch, at least through the first month of our relationship, have done an outstanding job of talking about hitting daily, watching good hitters on TV, comparing swings … all that stuff is going to be very valuable to these young guys.”

Jones is prepping for his 19th season in the majors (20 if you count the one he spent rehabbing after blowing out his knee in camp before his would-be rookie season). He’s a graybeard, literally and figuratively. But he’s also open to change, if it makes sense.

Having two hitting coaches seems to make a lot of sense with the old switch-hitter. Especially when one of those coaches is so well-versed in video usage.

“Fletch is awesome,” Jones said. “And I’m a huge advocate of having as many eyes on the hitter as you can. So many good things come from discussions, people just talking about the art of hitting. Because something that someone says in a group discussion may click for someone else – a term, a catch-word, whatever may click for somebody. You never know what it’s going to be, and so if you have enough eyes and enough people talking about hitting, guys are going to find stuff to try out and hopefully get to click for them.”

Chipper Jones says that Heyward is "90 percent" of the way to getting back the thunderous crack of the ball off bat that he produced on a regular basis in 2010.

Chipper Jones says that Heyward is "90 percent" of the way to getting back the thunderous crack of the ball off bat that he produced on a regular basis in 2010.

Which brings us back to Heyward, who has a little more than three more weeks to work before the Braves’ first full-squad spring training workout Feb. 25 at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

As Jones explains it, Heyward is regaining proper use of one of the “hinges” in his swing.

“When I say a hinge,” Jones said, “your wrists are a hinge, your shoulders are a hinge, your waist is a hinge, you knees are a hinge. You neck is a hinge. He lost this [wrist] hinge [Jones demonstrates with a bat].

“At the beginning of 2010 he had a nice rhythm [Jones pumps the bat a few inches forward and backward with his wrists, the bat pointed upward, held a few inches from his left shoulder]. And when he got his [front] foot down he got separation and he cocked the bat.

“When he got hurt, he started laying the bat open like this [Jones points the back backward at a 45-degree angle], and when he got his foot down he just left [the bat] there. It was almost like he was throwing a punch – boom, like that [demonstrates with a short-armed jab] instead of drawing back. He wasn’t loading this particular hinge [wrists], which caused the bat to sweep through the zone, which causes a one-plane swing that’s not very versatile. And consequently you’re seeing the ball not jump off the bat the way it used to.

“Now he doesn’t quite have this hinge back, but he’s not laying it open like this. He’s at least square; we’ve made that adjustment. He’s hitting against a stiff front side and staying behind balls, which is annother thing he was doing wrong. He was out on the front foot, coming around [with the bat] and getting beat inside, making 90-mph pitches [seem] 94-95 and blowing his thumbs up, which was another injury problem that he’s had.

“So we’re getting there. He’s 90 percent back. When he gets this hinge [wrists] right here, where he gets a little takeway — a little separation, we call it, between step and hands — he’ll be all the way back.”

Got it? Whew.

♣ Healthy Hanson: His red hair is longer, his beard bushier, his upper body more muscular than when we last saw him four months ago. But what’s even more noticeable about Tommy Hanson is the energy – in his step, his voice, his entire demeanor.

The shoulder injury that ruined the second half of his 2011 season is no longer a dark cloud hanging over Hanson, who for a couple of months couldn’t be certain he’d be able to pitch effectively again without surgery.

In late August he was diagnosed with a small undersurface rotator cuff tear in the shoulder, which prevented Hanson from pitching at all during the Braves’ stretch drive including their 10-20 slide to end the season.

Hanson (above) and Jair Jurrjens were a formidable duo before the All-Star break in 2011, then both got hurt and were sidelined during the Braves' late-season slide.

Hanson (above) and Jair Jurrjens were a formidable duo before the All-Star break in 2011, then both got hurt and were sidelined during the Braves' late-season slide.

Rest, rehab and shoulder-strengthening exercises have eliminated the pain, he said Thursday at Turner Field. Hanson worked out on the fourth day of the Braves’ early pitching camp at Turner Field. He has no restrictions on his workouts.

He threw the ball with impressive zip during a long-toss session with bullpen coach Eddie Perez in the outfield on an unseasonably warm day in Atlanta.

“It’s good,” Hanson said. “I’ve been doing all my regular workouts, and then doing physical therapy and just staying on that stuff, making sure my shoulder is strong and keep working on my back. Doing all my normal stuff plus some. I feel really good, though. Shoulder feels good, and I don’t feel like there’s going to be any restrictions or anything like that. I feel like I’m going to be ready to go.”

Hanson was 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA and .190 opponents’ average before the All-Star break last season, and the consensus was he should have made the All-Star team. Then the shoulder went from nagging to aching, and Hanson went 1-3 record with an 8.10 ERA and .313 opponents’ average in his first five starts after the break.

Jair Jurrjens had a similar season, following an All-Star first half (12-3, 1.87 ERA) by going 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA in just seven starts after the break due to a knee injury. Jurrjens missed all of September, when the Braves blew an 8-1/2-game wild-card lead in three weeks. He’s told Braves officials he is healthy and ready for spring training.

Hanson didn’t pitch again after Aug. 6, because each attempt to get back into the rotation ended when pain returned as he increased the intensity of his throwing sessions.

“It was just frustrating,” he said. “Even going into the offseason I didn’t know how it was going to feel or what was going to happen, so it was like a huge unknown. But I feel really good now. I feel like I’m going to be on time with everything and like my shoulder and everything is going to feel good.”

Instead of going home to California as he’d done after the 2010 season, Hanson stayed East this winter. He spent a month in Orlando after the season ended, working out with the training staff at the Braves’ spring training headquarters. Then he returned to Atlanta and continued his workouts with Lloyd van Pamelen, the Braves’ physical therapist and a strength and conditioning specialist.

“I started throwing at my usual time around Jan. 1,” Hanson said. “It felt normal then and it’s felt good ever since.”

He added muscle and strength in his upper body and legs during his postseason workout regimen, and the 6-5 right-hander goes about 235 these days. With the long hair and beard, he’s an intimidating presence in cleats. He plans to keep the beard this season.

“I’ll probably have it, just a lot shorter,” he said, smiling before he trotted up the dugout stairs to go throw in the sunshine.

♣ PEDs and Braun’s MVP: The Baseball Writers Association of America has no precedent for stripping an award winner of an award after he was later linked to steroid use, and so BBWAA treasurer/secretary Jack O’Connell said National League MVP Ryan Braun won’t be stripped of his award even if his positive test for a banned substance is upheld and he serves a 50-game suspension.

Thankfully, Jack left open the possibility of we, the BBWAA membership, at least discussing the idea. Because on this one I agree with NBC and MLB Network broadcaster Bob Costas, who said this week on Dan Patrick’s radio show that the BBWAA should be able to strip a player of an award if he tests positive during the year in which he won it.

Costas was asked what he thought would happen with the Braun case (it’s under appeal).

The real MVP?

The real MVP?

“No one has ever won an appeal,” Costas said. “The thing is set up and it’s made clear that even if you … unknowingly ingest something that trips the test, you are responsible for ingesting it. So I don’t see what his successful defense will be. So he sits out 50 games and it costs him more than $3 million.”

Costas continued: “I also do not understand the baseball writers’ position. I understand the position that you will not be able to go back and yank guys out of the Hall of Fame if it’s subsequently discovered that they used steroids. Or even that you can’t take away A-Rod’s MVP from years ago during a period of time that he has now acknowledged that he was among those who tested positive. But baseball ought to have a rule in place like the one football put in a few years ago.

“[Chargers linebacker] Shawne Merriman was suspended for using performance enhancing drugs during the year, but he still made the Pro Bowl. Then they put in a rule that said, ‘Look, you can’t make the Pro Bowl or receive an honor in the year you have been sanctioned. Not suspected. Not Jose Canseco wrote a book. Not something that came up in the Mitchell Report. But under our official procedures you tested positive.’

“Well, [Braun] tested positive in October of the year he won the MVP. So I think — and I’m not taking a shot at Ryan Braun, [who is a] terrific player, seems like a good guy too — I think you submit it to a re-vote. In which case Matt Kemp would easily win. In fact, if the Dodgers had been contenders, Kemp would have won anyway because he actually had a better year than Braun.”

I’ve said before here on the blog and elsewhere that Kemp should have won the award anyway, even though the Dodgers weren’t a playoff contender. Kemp had a slight OBP advantage (.399 to .397) over Braun and had more homers (39-33), more RBIs (126-111), more runs (115-109) and more stolen bases (40-33). Then there was the fact that Kemp had Andre Ethier as a wingman while Braun had Prince Fielder, who is nobody’s wingman.

Fielder led the Brewers in home runs (38), RBIs (120), walks (.107) and OBP (.415).

Anyway, this honestly doesn’t have anything to do with my feelings about who should have won the MVP in the first place — seriously, it doesn’t — but rather the precedent that should be set to permit the BBWAA to right a wrong in the future.

If a player tests positive for a banned substance during the calendar year in which he won an award, strip him of said award.

It ain’t perfect, but it’s something. Otherwise, we risk looking foolish. (OK, don’t need any comments from the peanut gallery.)

It’s not been made public what Braun tested positive for, and maybe it was something relatively benign. Maybe. But what if someone wins an MVP or Cy Young or Rookie of the Year award in the future, and we find out a month or two later that he tested positive during the year for some form of steroids, the “clear” or “crème,” HGH or Viagra (ha — just seeing if you’re still reading) — drugs that many doctors, trainers and players themselves say give an athlete a decided advantage in strength and workout recovery time.

And what if the award voting was particularly close to begin with? In my opinion, the runner-up would clearly be more deserving of the award than the disgraced winner.

Oh, by the way: In Milwaukee, where Braun is wildly popular, a poll in the hometown Journal Sentinel asked readers if Braun should return his MVP award if his appeal is denied.. Of 6,130 responses, 64% said no and 36% said yes. In Milwaukee.

♣ OK, let’s close this with a classic country tune by Gary Stewart, who was always overshadowed and underappreciated. You can hear it by clicking here. Man, I love this tune, which the mighty Scott H. Biram covered during Biram’s rousing show last week at The EARL  (Lydia Loveless opened; yeah, it was quite a twinbill.)

garystewart

“SINGLE AGAIN” by Gary Stewart

Today, I heard the awful news
Someone told the gospel truth
Said you’ve been running ’round
with a stranger who just hit town

He’s got a black mustache
and a red Cadillac
Now he’s got you
and I’ve got two
divorce lawyers on my back

Single again
Back on the streets again
The old bars ain’t changed much
Just a new face or two
when you’re out of touch

Single again
Born to lose, dying to win
Only thing I’m running from
is the alimony man
Because I’m single again

Drifting around from bar to bar
Running into our old friends
They won’t know where ya are

Last I heard, a little while back
You were cruising town in his Cadillac
Drinkin’ champagne, showing off a diamond ring

I’m getting by
in these hard times
Livin’ from drink to drink

Single again
A’back on the streets again
The old bars ain’t changed much
Just a new face or two
when you’re out of touch

Single again
Born to lose, dying to win
The only thing I’m a’running from
is the alimony man
’cause I’m single again

– by David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog

3,707 comments Add your comment

Josh Harvey-Clemons Grandfather

February 3rd, 2012
1:24 am

Angels sign Pujols
Tigers sign Fielder
Braves sign Jack Wilson and lower hot dog prices

uga-brave

February 3rd, 2012
1:27 am

community bbq. check it out for the sides. awesome sides.

919cam

February 3rd, 2012
1:39 am

Thanks for the update and the quotes from Chipper about J-heys swing. I get tired of hearing regurgitated answers regarding what is wrong with players’ swings. I love how they have an open discussion about swings and hitting philosophy. Speaking of hitting philosophy, that is a course that should be offered in school. It seems J-Hey has grown from his experience last year and that is great to hear. Remember, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. Anyway!!!!!!!!!, GO BRAVES!!!

extremus

February 3rd, 2012
1:40 am

Sounds like Heyward has been putting in some genuine effort to address his hitting issues this offseason, and I’m glad to hear it. Hopefully A) it will pay off big for him and the Braves and B) he’ll be able to stay healthy for an entire season.

It also sounds like whenever Chipper Jones retires, he’ll very likely be a great candidate for hitting coach here or elsewhere. He catches a lot of flak here on the boards, but it definitely sounds like he’s taking a leadership role with the younger players and has for some time.

uga-brave

February 3rd, 2012
1:49 am

hoss, and his rock back on the inner leg is about the best hitter you will ever see.

if hoss sees it and says it you better believe it,

the guy rakes.

uga-brave

February 3rd, 2012
1:51 am

the jones boys andruw (yes andruw) are always sans off limits.

uga-brave

February 3rd, 2012
2:00 am

good stuff DOB. ask bobby valentine if old hoss dont know a thing or two about hitting.

was at that series when chipper hit three dingers in two games down the stretch. when all the new york writers clowned them for pitching to him.

remember that series when dennis cook and pat corrales were convinced cook was loading up the ball?

nolie

February 3rd, 2012
2:01 am

not saying that they are not improved quite a bit, but I’d be willing to bet that the Braves do not think that the gNats are better than they are either rich.

uga-brave

February 3rd, 2012
2:02 am

gotta say i miss the the days when it was bobby V, and bowa in the opposing dugouts.

just not the same gravity.

uga-brave

February 3rd, 2012
2:09 am

never will be better hitter to lace up the stirrups in atlanta then #10.

Strikeoutlookin

February 3rd, 2012
2:19 am

We Didnt have to get alot better… We were a 95 win team untill the wheels fell off.. If JJ and Tommy are pitching in September than we are in the playoffs. Period.

Strikeoutlookin

February 3rd, 2012
2:22 am

Philly has no cleanup hitter.. Is locked into a contract with Howard that is horrible. Threw money at trash this offseason, Nats and Fish spent money but that does not translate to wins on the field nesc. Braves have just as good a chance to win the Division as any team in it. Keys are going to be Ugs having to produce in the first half, which he will, and JHey HAS GOT to bounce back..

J-Man

February 3rd, 2012
2:23 am

Can we get a health status update on Chipper, Hudson, Jurrjens, and Moylan. Also how has Medlen looked and what role do you see him in?

reckingball

February 3rd, 2012
2:24 am

I’m ready for some baseaball.

Ward

February 3rd, 2012
2:50 am

Good article on Heyward DOB- Ready to see him crush the ball with Uggla,and it will be a nice to see Freeman too. We could have our own killier Bees,or Bronx Bombers.With these three guys in the line up. All have a good year. Awsome……Just plain awsome……..Power…………

Ward

February 3rd, 2012
2:52 am

With Bourn hitting lead off……..Mac who will be back,and Pastor hits. We will have one scary,and dangerous line up.

Lou

February 3rd, 2012
3:12 am

Great article, but I’m a visual learner. Need some pictures to illustrate the part between “As Jones explains it” and “Got it? Whew.”

N8

February 3rd, 2012
3:38 am

“Angels sign Pujols
Tigers sign Fielder
Braves sign Jack Wilson and lower hot dog prices”

Yet strangely enough, even wih the potential injuries to Hanson, Huddy and JJJ….. the Braves still have better pitching 1-12 on their staff.

I wonder if fans in Anaheim and Detroit are upset their GM’s didn’t draft and develop better pitchers?

Younger Than That Now

February 3rd, 2012
3:41 am

Interesting take on Hayward’s progress… he’ll be back in ‘12 and in a mighty way. Chipper’s help and as much or more than anything else, his encouragement will go a long way in seeing Jason back to what should be more normal days at the ballyard. I have all the confidence in the world in Greg Walker… a high school opponent of mine and just a real fine fellow. That doesn’t make him good, but his knowledge of the game and hitting in particular does. Braves fans are going to really appreciate his work… and Jason Hayward is a great place to start and get the ball rolling!

GO BRAVES!

Younger Than That Now

February 3rd, 2012
3:45 am

BTW DOB… if you get an opportunity to check out “Jim N Nick’s BBQ” don’t miss it! A couple of locations in metro Atlanta and the vintage Q will knock your socks off. The one on South Cobb Drive (Exit 15 off 285) at the connector is our favorite and you won’t be disappointed… do yourself a favor and order the cheeze biscuits… more like a sweet muffin than a cheeze biscuit!

Younger Than That Now

February 3rd, 2012
3:45 am

BTW DOB… if you get an opportunity to check out “Jim N Nick’s BBQ” don’t miss it! A couple of locations in metro Atlanta and the vintage Q will knock your socks off. The one on South Cobb Drive (Exit 15 off 285) at the connector is our favorite and you won’t be disappointed… do yourself a favor and order the cheeze biscuits… more like a sweet muffin than a cheeze biscuit!

ray k

February 3rd, 2012
3:48 am

There is no doubt we will be more patient and productive at the plate this year. How could the woeful collective approach that was emblematic of the Braves near all of last year not be improved upon? They can’t all simultaneously slump again can they? BUT, our pitching staff is a major concern. Chances are, one, maybe even two, of our big three will not stay healthy all year. In the very least, there will be nagging issues here and there. I predict a lot of Medlen and Teheran sightings, which–with all due respect to both of them–means we will, once again, be plugging holes with our thumbs as the dam wall cracks and crumbles. I hope I am wrong but I just don’t see it happening this year.

ncgary

February 3rd, 2012
5:02 am

the seasons so bright
we all should wear shades to the first home game

ncgary

February 3rd, 2012
5:03 am

batter up
go braves

susie wells

February 3rd, 2012
5:50 am

the baseball channel is predicting the braves to be a fourth place team the braves will prove them wrong and they will eat those words.GO BRAVES

Orange Brave f/k/a Billy Jack's BBQ

February 3rd, 2012
6:25 am

Nice article. Yes, uga-brave, check out community barbecue over near decatur. They do a great job.

Headed to TN to see my little Brave and eat some Buddy’s BBQ.

TommyP

February 3rd, 2012
6:25 am

Wow…Chipper can break that swing down.

DOB: I know the trend is to go with 2 guys as hitting coaches (or 1 coach and 1 assistant/scout) but was it a concerted effort to make sure one was a RH hitter and the other a LH hitter? Seems ideal to me to go in this direction but maybe it was a coincidence.

To make this even more of the perfect storm, you have the RH, LH and switch-hitter analyzing everyone. Can’t get better than that.

Tommy Boggs

February 3rd, 2012
7:17 am

To Grandpa that says
“Angels sign Pujols
Tigers sign Fielder
Braves sign Jack Wilson and lower hot dog prices”
I will bet you a Bud light and hot dog that Braves win more games then Angels and Tigers.
Also nice not to be saddled with 10 year Mega $ contract. That usually doesn’t work out well.

jeffrey d

February 3rd, 2012
7:21 am

Great read…thanks for the new blog DOB

Preston Hannatized.

February 3rd, 2012
7:34 am

DOB and the AJC have bought in to the narrative that Frank Wren is patient, he won’t over-react to what other teams do and all those reasons why fans shouldn’t be upset at the Braves’ inactivity in the off-season. That message will only carry Wren so far when Jack Wilson and Buddy Carlyle don’t get the team off to a 25-12 start.

Look around — Ryan Ludwick, Cody Ross, Nick Punto — affordable reserves, the first two with some power — signed elsewhere.

I’m not saying the Braves should have chased Fielder or Reyes, but they have given the fan base nothing.

Efrim

February 3rd, 2012
7:38 am

Great blog, DOB. Nice lesson in hitting from Chipper.

Efrim

February 3rd, 2012
7:40 am

The Snakes will “be much more aggressive than we have in years past” on international signings, Towers said, due to the new collective bargaining agreement’s cap on draft signings. Towers predicts several other clubs will be similarly active with international players.

I can only hope the Braves will be as aggressive, or at least more aggressive than they have in the past. Was Salcedo the last international free agent of significance that we signed? I do remember that pitcher from the DR we signed that same summer – think his name was Mauricio Cabrera, but could be wrong. Iosif Bernal from Panama looks promising, although I suppose you can never tell with these kids.

Capitol Ave

February 3rd, 2012
7:42 am

The Braves will get Fredi fired by Memorial Day. All you get is happy talk (J-Hey’s looking great in the cage, Hanson’s throwing great in long-toss, Prado will explode this year, Chipper wants to play forever). That’s the same pablum the beat writer’s in Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh are feeding their readers. THIS YEAR, we put it all together. The Braves are what we think they are – a middling team. Will they hang around? Likely. Will they win or WC, unlikely. Will attendance slump. Almost surely.

jeffrey d

February 3rd, 2012
7:49 am

That message will only carry Wren so far when Jack Wilson and Buddy Carlyle don’t get the team off to a 25-12 start.

Those are the backups. And Carlyle’s like, the 10th string starter.

As for the free agents, the only position the Braves aren’t set at this year is SS. Collapse included, the team still won 89 games, and that was with Heyward’s ineffective swing, with Lowe, with McLouth, half a season of Uggla creating the Ugdoza line, and Prado dealing with that staph infection. Call me a homer, but I think the Braves have a pretty good team, especially when you consider the payroll.

Brave New World

February 3rd, 2012
7:53 am

It’s great to hear Chipper’s support of J-Hey. Sorry whiners, but J-Hey will have a monster year in 2012 – when healthy, he has way too much talent to be anything less than a star. 2011 will be a learning experience that he can draw from. GO BRAVES!

Larry

February 3rd, 2012
7:56 am

Never a good sign when a three year veteran is having to reinvent his swing under the supervision of an acute, perennial and irreversible hypochondriac.

Now add to these two a “manager” that managed to pilot one of the worst collapses in history of professional team sports and what do you have? You guessed it…”The Three Stooges” reincarnated!

CB

February 3rd, 2012
8:05 am

DOB, you mentioned the other day Freeman looking bigger in street clothes. Any follow up info on that?

chuckw/deadjournalist

February 3rd, 2012
8:09 am

this was, without-a-doubt, one of the best blog posts i’ve read in a while. love the technical insight from chipper and the thoughts on the bbwa.

Whut ?

February 3rd, 2012
8:11 am

Man, I said last July that the good hitters watch video of themselves and correct their mechanics (like Tony Gwynn). How hard is it to go pull up video of Heyward in 2010 and video of 2011 and compare the swings. This should have been done first not a year later ! Dumarses !

Whut ?

February 3rd, 2012
8:15 am

Shouldn’t be too hard to mimic your old swing. Just watch the video and stand in front of a mirror and repeat it over and over. Duh.

Herschel Talker

February 3rd, 2012
8:18 am

Gary Stewart sucks!!!

FIRE FREDI GONZALEZ!!!

DetroitBraves

February 3rd, 2012
8:21 am

Seeing is believing but good news so far on Heyward and Hanson. Absolutely need both of those guys to approach what we thought they would be if the Braves are going to come out of a tough division with a playoff birth. And love it that Heyward is working with Chipper because they have similar skill sets. In Heyward’s 2010 season he showed good control of the strikezone. That’s the trait must consistent with superstars. Showing that at such a young age was promising. Injuries, slumps, mechanical issues, whatever was wrong last year the most disturbing trend was his lack of patience at the plate. Made even more disturbing in that the Braves are one of the few organizations left that embrace hacking. But Chipper is the exception. Always has been. A great person for Heyward to learn from (as long as Chipper isn’t telling him to play through a shoulder injury that is).

Brian

February 3rd, 2012
8:23 am

So why didn’t they do this last year with JH’s swing? Wasted a year.

flange1

February 3rd, 2012
8:25 am

Thanks for the new blog DOB!

Fredi Will Screw It Up Somehow

February 3rd, 2012
8:28 am

Eactly right, Kemp was robbed!

STRETCH

February 3rd, 2012
8:29 am

Larry,

Its also a bad sign when your team collapses the way it did and management uses a pitcher, a SS and a hitting coach as scapegoats when it was cleary:

1. Overused bullpen. Those guys were spent by September.
2. The entire lineup with spotty hitting, and not being able to bunt but instead trying to swing for the fences.
3. Freddi going with Lowe in a game that they absolutely had to have!
4. Chipper “losing the ball in the lights” against the Marlins???
5. Overall play against the Nationals, Marlins and Mets teams they should beat.

And guess what? They are gonna trot the same team out there this season.

Bourn – Hopefully a full year is good, but he’s focusing on big payday and he knows he is leaving cause the Liberty is cheap.
Prado – Just like the Hawks making Horford a center when he is not, Prado is NOT a left fielder. They are trying to hammer a square peg into a circle with this one!
Chipper – 100 games tops, just retire!
Uggla – We dont need another 1st half like last years
McCann – Another all-star year, but needs to work on throwing guys out.
Freeman – Hope he can bring it again next season
Heyward – Dont know what we are gonna get, hopefully not another Frenchy
Pastornicky – Hope he is ready

Once again the pitching staff is probably the best 1-12 in the league but they wont be able to win a lot of 1-0, 3-2 games because the lineup just does not have any pop.

Prediction for 2012:

Phillies – 100-62
Braves – 90-72
Marlins – 89-73
Nats – 85-77
Mets – 80-82

DetroitBraves

February 3rd, 2012
8:34 am

@Stretch, I would flip the Nats and Marlins (that Nationals rotation is looking pretty good) but otherwise your standings look about right. And for the Braves 90 wins means they contend. May get in, may be just left out. I will argue though that if the division is as solid as you’ve got it here (I have doubts about the Mets but the others look solid) I doubt the Phillies win 100. Where are their wins going to come from? They will have to absolutely destroy the other divisions to win 100 in a division this deep.

Jeff R

February 3rd, 2012
8:40 am

“Rest, rehab and shoulder-strengthening exercises have alleviated the pain, he [Hanson] said Thursday at Turner Field.”

– DOB

Alleviate or eliminate? I’d be a little more confident if Hanson’s off-season regimen ended the pain.

wrong doing

February 3rd, 2012
8:42 am

I just hope Fredi G. grows some balls this year and doesn’t just stand around as a zombie. Some of his idiotic moves cost the braves a few games last year. He needs to watch video on last years games see where he needs to improve as a mngr.

Smackerel

February 3rd, 2012
8:42 am

Chipper’s narrative proves the difficulty of analyzing a swing with words. I can’t tell from the description exactly what the mechanical flaws were or what the fix is. The only thing that came across was trying to stay inside the pitch and go up the middle, which is always good. The bad swings, lack of patience, weak grounders, inability to hit inside heat, trying to pull down and away pitches, missing straight fastballs by 6-8 inches – all that I could see. Under those circumstances for Parrish to be telling him to be aggressive early was a crime against humanity.

But it goes to show you how hard it really is to be a major league hitter. Here’s hoping J-Hey has success with the project. If he does not it won’t be for lack of effort!

Jeff R

February 3rd, 2012
8:46 am

I still think that post-career Chipper would make an excellent hitting instructor, especially with prospects.

Heyward will have a “monster” 2012. Let’s hope so. As Wren commented after last season, it’s time for Heyward to move from highly touted prospect to a regularly productive major leaguer.

Whut ?

February 3rd, 2012
8:46 am

Exactly Brian ! They let Larry Parrish do nothing all year and make $1 million being a bystander not a true coach. The GOOD players watch video and keep themselves mechanically correct.

ChillyMutt

February 3rd, 2012
8:47 am

Good to see Heyward putting in the work this off season. Hope he can bounce back.
And sounds like Chipper might be the hitting coach … or maybe assistant/bench coach in a year or so.

Whut ?

February 3rd, 2012
8:49 am

All the praise for Walker & Fletcher just belittles Parrish more & more. That’s what you get when you hire friends instead of the best available, Fredi !

STRETCH

February 3rd, 2012
8:52 am

Detroit,

I think the Phils will dominate the West and Central divisions. Dont see the Dodgers getting better that quickly after all the legal stuff, the Padres are the Padres, Arizona might be tough again, and the Giants are losing ground.

The central division leaders took gigantic blows with St. Louis losing Albert and Mil losing Prince, plus Braun wont be denting that many billboards after being caught with HGH or whatever it was.

And when it comes to the NL East opponents for the Phils, they handle their business. The Phillies, the past three or four seasons have played the WHOLE season each year. They hit speed bumps like everyone else but the come to play and they find a way. Not like the Braves who for the 2nd straight season folded against the Nats and Marlins and got destroyed by the Phils at the end of the year.

Atlanta just dont have tough players. If you look at certain teams that make the post season year in and year out, it all comes down to the mentality of management. Look at the Yankees, Steelers, Lakers, Patriots and Giants organizations to name a few. They constant bring in the personel to get the job done. And when these teams come to Atlanta their fans take over Phillips Arena, Turner Field and the Birds Nest cause they like winners.

Its the climate and mind set in Atlanta, this city has one (1), championship in how many years of combined professional sports. Dont get me wrong i will always root for my teams but, just not getting my hopes up.

Efrim

February 3rd, 2012
9:04 am

Alleviate or eliminate? I’d be a little more confident if Hanson’s off-season regimen ended the pain.

Sounds like it’s something he’ll have to always deal with – the scapula issue, so that isn’t exactly the most comforting thing to hear that.

Jeff R

February 3rd, 2012
9:10 am

“Atlanta just dont have tough players.”

No? I guess the Braves’ Run was meaningless?

Since The Run ended, the Braves have been rebuilding – mostly. Restocking the farm system with arms and – slowly – upgrading the positions. Management made a conscious decision not to strip down the club and start from scratch when the The Run ended. It chose a deliberate approach to retooling the club.

The Braves collapsed last season. I don’t think that had anything to do with being “tough.” The team had the freak luck of season-long hitting slumps and injuries to key players.

I hope key players stay healthy this season, but there’s no guarantee. I expect the collective hitting slump to be a thing of the past. Finally, I believe with good health and a revived offense, the Braves will contend.

doug

February 3rd, 2012
9:12 am

DOB or someone, can you elaborate more on the role of Fletcher? You said they will do their advance scouting more by video now, than by sending scouts. Is this the first year of handling the scouting by video? What video do they watch? Home team jumbotron feed, local tv broadcasts, the MLB cameras in each stadium now? or are they going to have a guy sitting behind homeplate with a cell phone camera (just kidding)… Some teams don’t have tv coverage for all games, so just wondering how all that will work.

Not sure how the process works before either. I imagine the advance scouts write reports about upcoming teams and series by going out and watching in person. Then the team would go over the scouting reports in team meetings before the series.

Anyways, loved the blog as usual, and looking forward to 2012.

Jeff R

February 3rd, 2012
9:12 am

Efrim, we can only cross our fingers re: Hanson. Would surgery correct the problem, or is the scapula problem not open to surgical repair?

STRETCH

February 3rd, 2012
9:14 am

“I expect the collective hitting slump to be a thing of the past.”

Thats what im hoping. If Uggla hits for the whole season, a full year of Bourn and Heyward hits along with Freeman then ok. Also, if Chipper stays healthy, Pastornicky gives them something and we all know what Mac is capable of. The key to me is Prado.

The pitching is there, but the hitting has too many ????s

LAG

February 3rd, 2012
9:18 am

Nice article.

Chipper’s gonna have a job as soon as he retires. Bank on it.

Bobo is Not the Problem

February 3rd, 2012
9:21 am

Yep, Heyward’s going to rediscover his swing and put up .300/40/120, Chipper will have the best year of his life, McCann will never have a slump, Freddie Freeman is the next Lou Gehrig, Dan Uggla will peak and be better than Roberto Alomar, and no one on the pitching staff will have a slump. Braves win the World Series easy.

Brought to you by the typical Braves fan on this board.

TDub

February 3rd, 2012
9:22 am

After looking at the numbers DOB posted above for Hanson and Jurrjens, it’s no surprise at all why we lost our lead and missed the playoffs. No team can have its #2 and #3 starters pitch like they did in the second half and expect to win – not to mention have their #4 (Lowe) pitch the way he did (awful). We were lucky enough to have the young guys to bring up to fill the gaps as well as they did, and you couldn’t really pitch them more than six or seven innings. No wonder the bullpen was gassed. Of course the hitting was another issue entirely, but if the pitching was there we still would have made it.

Having this argument with the “Fire Fredi” contingent, though, is like having the “this one goes to eleven” conversation in Spinal Tap…

jeffrey d

February 3rd, 2012
9:23 am

I just hope Fredi G. grows some balls this year and doesn’t just stand around as a zombie

Every zombie I’ve seen is active and blood thirsty. At least in contemporary portrayals.

Jim

February 3rd, 2012
9:24 am

“PEDs and Braun’s MVP: The Baseball Writers Association of America has no precedent for stripping an award winner of an award after he was later linked to steroid use, and so BBWAA treasurer/secretary Jack O’Connell said National League MVP Ryan Braun won’t be stripped of his award even if his positive test for a banned substance is upheld and he serves a 50-game suspension.”

It is my understanding that there are more than just steroids on the banned list. Has it been proven that Braun had a steroid or PED in his system? No. This is yet another example of careless reporting. Let a decision be made and let the actual test results speak for themselves instead of playing the heresay game. It must have been a slow news day.

Bobo is Not the Problem

February 3rd, 2012
9:25 am

I would read this rag more if it didn’t have the irrelevant music crap at the end.

I love music, and the crap you sling ain’t good music.

Music being subjective and all.

Stick to baseball.

Sopheee

February 3rd, 2012
9:27 am

Good morning to you too, sunshine.

RC

February 3rd, 2012
9:30 am

Great stuff from Chipper, I love hearing his descriptions of the mechanics of the game. Reminds me of some of Ted Williams quotes about hitting.

As for the Braun MVP controversy, I can understand the the stance that the BWAA needs to have the ability to strip a player of an award. I’m not sure which side of that argument I fall on…both sides have compelling arguments. But in the case of Braun specifically, it COULD be argued that he didn’t fail a test in the time period during which he won the award. Braun’s failed test came during postseason play, and the MVP is voted on strictly for regular season performance. I understand that in all likelyhood whatever was in his system in the postseason was likely in his system in the regular season, but without a failed regular season test that cannot be proven. And I’m not entirely versed on MLB’s drug policy, but do teams that DIDN’T make the playoffs have to submit to drug testing in the postseason? If not, then it seems really unfair to penalize Braun for failing a drug test that Kemp didn’t even take. Who knows if at the end of a long season Kemp took a little something to help him recover? (although I strongly doubt that he did). There are a lot of layers to this onion, and no easy answers. The BWAA has quite the discussion in front of them.

the truth...

February 3rd, 2012
9:31 am

I think there may be too many “cooks in the kitchen” for Heyward to become the “messiah” so many want him to be……………

Having 3 “cooks in the kitchen” with Chipper jumping in with the coaches could be a bad thing rather than helpful……………

I hope I am wrong, but I think that the pressure put on the kid is the real culprit….too many expectations too soon…..

We keep reading things like “Atlanta depending on Heyward to”…..”Heyward has to….” and on and on by everyone from the local media to SI and ESPN….

richbrave

February 3rd, 2012
9:32 am

Marching along toward February 19.

RC

February 3rd, 2012
9:32 am

Every zombie I’ve seen is active and blood thirsty. At least in contemporary portrayals. – jeffery d

At the end of Shaun of the Dead there were portrayed as somewhat inactive. At least Shaun’s buddy he plays Playstation with was.

Lemke's Knuckler

February 3rd, 2012
9:39 am

You’re not kidding, Chipper sounds like a hitting coach. It’s obvious he has a passion for the mechanics of the swing and I can definitely see him as the Braves hitting coach for the next 20+ years.

I wonder if that’s every happened before. For someone to play for one team his entire career, then take a coaching job with that team after he retires.

RC

February 3rd, 2012
9:43 am

I don’t think Chipper will ever be the Braves’ hitting coach…not because he wouldn’t be great at it or they wouldn’t want him, but because it’s a job that would require too much time away from his family. Chipper has made enough money in his career to never have to work another day of his life if he chooses. What seems much more likely to be me is that Chipper joins the Braves in a “Special Assistant” type of role soon after he retires, and that being a type of roving hitting instructor is a major part of his role. That way he doesn’t have the day-to-day time committment of being a MLB hitting coach, but he’s still able to be close to the game and organization and contribute his skills in a way that can help younger players.

PoliticalMan

February 3rd, 2012
9:44 am

Here’s hoping that JHey will turn it around. For every guy who has shown promise at first in the Bigs, there are 20 who have faded after the league figured him out. Does Frenchy come to mind.

Lemke's Knuckler

February 3rd, 2012
9:48 am

the truth…”but I think that the pressure put on the kid is the real culprit….too many expectations too soon…..We keep reading things like “Atlanta depending on Heyward to”…..”Heyward has to….” and on and on by everyone from the local media to SI and ESPN…”

Who cares. If the kid is truly going to be great, he’s going to have to prove he can handle all the pressure and perform in spite of it. McCann and Francoeur both dealt with the same pressure, and McCann handled it and Francoeur didn’t. Would you have rather the Braves sheltered Francoeur and then found out later that he couldn’t deal with the pressure after signing him to a 5 or 6-year deal?

[...] seeing him in uniform — lean young man.  But apparently there was room for improvement.  Dave O’Brien of the AJC: For the record, the nearly 6-foot-5 right fielder has gone from an imposing, chiseled 256 pounds [...]

Efrim

February 3rd, 2012
9:52 am

Top prospects lists for Braves from Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein coming out next week. Most likely on Monday for BP and Thursday for KLaw.

RC

February 3rd, 2012
9:54 am

Efrim,

Did you get the BA Prospects Handbook this year? I’ve heard that they are out for those who ordered directly from BA, though Amazon moved my shipping date back to Feb 21.

DAP

February 3rd, 2012
9:54 am

reckingball I’m ready for some baseaball.

hm…must be italian.

DAP

February 3rd, 2012
9:55 am

DOB, i love the section with chipper describing heywards swing. you did an awesome job describing it, and thats fascinating stuff.

David O'Brien

February 3rd, 2012
10:00 am

I would read this rag more if it didn’t have the irrelevant music crap at the end.

I love music, and the crap you sling ain’t good music.

Music being subjective and all.

Stick to baseball. Bobo is Not the Problem

No, Bobo is not the problem. His broken scroll button is.

(By the way, “this rag” can’t be used to describe something that appears only online, not in the printed edition of a newspaper.)

Gulf Coast

February 3rd, 2012
10:01 am

Great post, Dave. Even better is picking Gary Stewart to close the blog out. I often wonder how his career would been been altered had it not been for the proliferation of the “hat acts” that ensued. Sad, sad way his life ended, though.

Efrim

February 3rd, 2012
10:01 am

For the record, the nearly 6-foot-5 right fielder has gone from an imposing, chiseled 256 pounds to a chiseled, imposing 235. In terms to which some of our readers may better relate, Heyward’s gone from D-1 defensive end to D-1 tight end.

Hey, he could still play 3-4 OLB for my Niners with those measurements(6′5” 235-256lbs).

kenhotlanta

February 3rd, 2012
10:03 am

STRETCH:
You might want to do a little more research re: Atlanta championships..,there have been 2. The Atlanta Chiefs won the 1968 North American Soccer League title in 1968 and beat England’s Manchester team twice that year.
Although Professional Soccer only lasted a few years, it was a big deal at the time and a side result is all of the soccer programs in our schools today.
Also look up the coach of that team, Phil Woosnam…he became a giant in American and World soccer circles.

David O'Brien

February 3rd, 2012
10:03 am

Would surgery correct the problem, or is the scapula problem not open to surgical repair? — Jeff R

A pitcher isn’t going to have shoulder surgery unless it’s absolutely necessary, especially at such a young age. Shoulder surgery is a dicey proposition for a pitcher, and the recovery is very arduous. There’s a lot more going on in there than in an elbow, and the success rate of surgery for pitchers to return to effectiveness isn’t nearly as high as it is with “Tommy John” elbow surgery.

Mudville Nine

February 3rd, 2012
10:03 am

My biggest peeve about Heyward his first 2 seasons, was that he seems to step up to bat ALWAYS looking to draw a walk.

In doing so, he just sits and watches the first couple pitches go by in his sweet spot. If he starts turning on those, he could hit them as if they were batting practice balls.

Stop working the count so much, and go be a HITTER, Jason.

Cannot wait till the season gets under way!

Efrim

February 3rd, 2012
10:04 am

Did you get the BA Prospects Handbook this year?

Yup, got it last week. Much earlier than I expected as I ordered it straight from BA. Have you gotten it? Good read as always. John Mozeliak, Cards GM, does the foreward this year. I always like reading that as they have a different GM every year.

RC

February 3rd, 2012
10:05 am

Stop working the count so much, and go be a HITTER, Jason.

I cannot describe in words how fundamentally wrong this sentence is.

DAP

February 3rd, 2012
10:05 am

efrim I can only hope the Braves will be as aggressive, or at least more aggressive than they have in the past. Was Salcedo the last international free agent of significance that we signed?

i guess i depends on you definition of “significance”. these the international signing from last year. (you probably already know this)

http://www.talkingchop.com/2011/7/3/2257339/atlanta-braves-2011-international-signings

David O'Brien

February 3rd, 2012
10:05 am

“Rest, rehab and shoulder-strengthening exercises have alleviated the pain, he [Hanson] said Thursday at Turner Field.”

– DOB

Alleviate or eliminate? I’d be a little more confident if Hanson’s off-season regimen ended the pain.

Actually, eliminate would be more appropriate here. From discussion with him yesterday, there’s no pain at all. I’ll make change. Thanks.

Fastball

February 3rd, 2012
10:05 am

Chipper will replace Freddie Gonzales after the season.

TennesseePaul

February 3rd, 2012
10:06 am

Thanks for the work DOB.

GO BRAVES!!

RC

February 3rd, 2012
10:07 am

Efrim,

No, I ordered mine from Amazon since it was about 30% cheaper that way. The original delivery date was set for Feb 14, but they’ve bumped it back to Feb 21. I’m hoping that they will get them delivered much earlier than that and are simply managing expectations, but no word yet. I got it for the first time last year and loved it…it’s replaced the Bill James Handbook as my annual “must buy” baseball book. The Bill James book just hasn’t been worth the money in recent years….

Nick Nunziata

February 3rd, 2012
10:08 am

I have no time for people who call Chipper lazy, a paycheck collector, and other nonsense. The guy is frank, backs it up, and obviously gets very involved in doing whatever he can for the team. Folks simply don’t realize what we have until he’s gone. That said, I’d love him to come on as batting coach after retirement.

Efrim

February 3rd, 2012
10:09 am

DAP, yes, I mentioned Panamanian OF Iosif Bernal in that post. Excited to see how he turns out, 6′3” 200 lbs corner outfield prospect I believe.

Efrim

February 3rd, 2012
10:11 am

The Bill James book just hasn’t been worth the money in recent years….

Totally agree. I usually get James, BA Handbook and BP annual book. Just get the Prospect handbook. I suscribe online to BP and BA.

TennesseePaul

February 3rd, 2012
10:12 am

Top prospects lists for Braves from Keith Law and Kevin Goldstein coming out next week. Most likely on Monday for BP and Thursday for KLaw.

Klaw preview:

Braves top prospects. phhshb. Who are we kidding? Tune in next week when we cover a real team.

abwright

February 3rd, 2012
10:12 am

Efrim, February 2nd, 2012, 10:24 pm … “Sigh…..really wish we signed Beltran for two years. …I know it never was going to happen, but that’s the one time where I wish the Braves found 10-12 million under the sofa cushions…..”

This is the only off-season move that made any sense for the Braves (maybe Cody Ross, but Ross versus Constanza on the bench wouldn’t have been a significant enough upgrade to be worth the price).

When Wren put out there that Braves had to make improvements, I thought they might have been motivated to run at a loss this year (and tie up funds next year) to guarantee that they were solidly positioned to compete for the top spot in the division.

It became increasingly obvious that the Braves were simply not going to take the risk of running at a loss for a year.

Personally, I think that’s a bad business decision, as they risk a drop in revenues if they run third or fourth in the division for the first half.

On the other hand, if they were to commit to running at a loss and they still ended up third or fourth in the division in the first half, they’d be extra screwed.

Efrim

February 3rd, 2012
10:12 am

I hope Chipper plays in 130 games and hits .800(OPS) and comes back for one more. Course that could be the end of Prado in a Braves uni – but what are ya gonna do?

Fredi Will Screw It Up Somehow

February 3rd, 2012
10:13 am

It this team is going to do any damage, they will need career years from McCann and Heyward. That’s the bottom line.

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