Escobar and the “next wave” are killing Braves

 

This is caption. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

I hope the ball isn't coming at him, because it looks like Yunel Escobar isn't paying attention again. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

A few days ago, Yunel Escobar forgot to throw the ball to home, allowing a run to score against Pittsburgh.

On Sunday, Yunel Escobar botched a double play and a run-down play in the first two innings, leading to several runs at Baltimore. Braves manager Bobby Cox became so incensed that he benched his starting shortstop — in the third inning — and later referred to him as lackadaisical.

It was right about this time when I started wondering: “Is there some reason why Jeff Francoeur is the only Brave who is central to trade rumors?

We’ve heard a lot about the “next wave” of Braves players. It’s normal any time an older and high-payroll team releases veterans or lets them sign elsewhere in free agency. A transition to younger players make economical sense. The problem is when the “next wave” of players look flawed. And these Braves have been just that.

Here are four players out of the Braves’ system that were supposed to make a difference — in a good way — this season:

 SHORTSTOP: Escobar. The good news is he’s hitting .293, which makes him relatively Ruthian in the Braves’ batting order. But he has become a mush head in the field. He has eight errors in 53 games, which puts him on pace for 24 — eight more than year’s 16. Overall, the field percentage of Braves shortstops is only .969, which ranks 23rd out of 30 teams.

Worse is the mental errors that don’t show up on the scoreboard (at least not under “E”). In Baltimore, he hesitated before throwing to first base, which would’ve completed a double play. In the second inning, pitcher Derek Lowe had the Orioles’ Brian Roberts picked off first. But during an ensuing run-down play, Escobar passed on a chance to tag Roberts (which would’ve ended the inning) and instead threw home too late to get the Orioles’ Robert Andino, who had been on third.

Cox: “We pride ourselves on doing things right and being in the game [mentally] and don’t do things lackadaisically.” Also this, ”I’ve talked to him an awful lot since he’s been here.” Understand, this is somebody who almost  never criticizes a player. So for Cox, this is as close as he comes to throwing a player under the bus.

SECOND BASE: Kelly Johnson: The Braves weren’t sure about his defensive abilities at second base when he came up but thought he could provide some offense. That assessment seemed on target when Johnson raised his average from .276 two years ago to .287 last season. But he’s now down to .238 and has a career-low on-base percentage of .301.

Even when Jeff Francoeur's bat has connected with the ball, something like this has happened.

Before you ask: No, Jeff Francoeur did not break the bat over his head. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

♦ RIGHT FIELD: Francoeur. I won’t bore you too much. His nosedive has been debated ad nauseam. But his batting average is down to .250 and, even though he is striking out less, he has hit only four home runs in 61 games.

Chipper Jones had some interesting things to say on Francoeur the other day when I asked him. The first thing stood out the most: “He’s got a million batting coaches. A million. And he’s listening to all of them.” (Feel free to read between the lines.)

But Jones believes the problems with Francoeur are not all mental: “He’s tried. He’s worked. But he has some fundamental issues that he can’t feel. You can tell him don’t arm-bar at the plate [keeping arm stiff and parallel to ground]. I can show him what it does to his swing but he can’t fix it because he can’t feel it. If you can’t feel it, you can’t make the adjustment. You can show him his stance in his rookie year and show him last year and all the major differences. But he doesn’t feel it.”

♦ CENTER FIELD: Jordan Schafer. How many times did we hear in the last three years, “Jordan Schafer is going to be great”? And he still might be one day. But right now he’s a mess. There was the drug-related suspension last season, which pushed back the team’s plans (even if circumstances surrounding that suspension remain sketchy).

This season there was some debate within the organization as to whether he was ready or not. The Braves took a chance. The answer: He’s not ready. He was hitting .205 with 63 strikeouts in 167 games before general manager Frank Wren screamed “uncle.” So Schafer is down at Gwinnett and Nate McLouth is the starting center fielder for the foreseeable future.

So there you go. Four hot prospects. Half the line up. All struggling.

So why is Francoeur the only one being rumored in trade? It’s harder to find somebody on the team who isn’t tradable.

It’s OK for a team to get younger, faster and cheaper. But when there’s something wrong with the replacements, this is what you’re left with.

320 comments Add your comment

kissell

June 15th, 2009
7:30 am

These bums can’t turn a 6-2-1 double play like dey used to. What time are you people coming over to fix my sink??

curtis jones

June 15th, 2009
7:33 am

Good comments Jeff. To elaborate, let’s go down the lineup:

1B: Kotchman: good glove, low impact bat. HIs RBI numbers, when it counts are pathetic.

2B: Johnson: not a second baseman. Stevie Wonder could see that. Why can’t Cox?

SS: Escobar: million dollar arm, ten-cent brain.

3B: Jones: Part-time player

LF: G. Anderson: Did any Braves exec actually see this guy play last year?

M Diaz: “A” for effort, but not an everyday starter.

CF: McLouth: Why would the Pirates part with this guy? I think we’ll find out.

RF: Francoeur: See Escobar, above.

C: McCann: Best hitter on team, catching will cut his career short.

C: Ross: Deserves more AB’s. Find a spot for him.

PH: Norton: Retired during off-season, didn’t tell anyone.

IF: Prado: Backup infielder, nothing more.

IF: Infante: 2nd best hitter on team, no one told Bobby.

SP: Lowe & Vazquez:: Serviceable, not big-game pitchers.

Jurrjens: Hope we don’t screw him up.

Kawakami: Adequate, overpaid.

Hanson: See Jurrjens, above.

RP: Soriano, Gonzalez: See Lowe, Vazquez above.

Moylan: Probably headed to DL, where all failed relievers go under Cox.

Bennett: Not a big-game pitcher.

Medlen: Not a big league pitcher.

Acosta: See Medlen.

MiltonDawg

June 15th, 2009
7:38 am

the past 2 games were absolutely disgusting. the Braves always play to their level of competition. Before the series, the O’s hadn’t scored more than 4 runs in 9 something games. of course when the play the Braves, the open up on us. We have a ton of talent of team..problem is coaching (i.e. TP). if we are not at least a few games over .500 by July 1rst..we’re done.

R Cagle

June 15th, 2009
7:40 am

It’s not just the players. Something has gone out of this club from ownership right down to the fans. Once they were “America’s Team!”. Now, the Brave’s seem, well, pointless.

Nativebird

June 15th, 2009
7:41 am

All four highschool draft choices that came up through the farm, where Braves traditionally TAUGHT young men with ability how to be a major leaguer. It appears our farm ain’t what it used to be…and our big club hitting coach is a joke.
Why aren’t you spending ink about that? It easy to pile on young players who are struggling. What about the organization who’s job it is to DEVELOP ball players?

Coach (2010 or Bust)

June 15th, 2009
7:42 am

The only error or mental flaw I see is the one sitting in the managers office. All this hubbub over Escobar and yet we are forced to watch Jeff Francoeur fail two seasons in a row???

Give me break!

David

June 15th, 2009
7:44 am

I would like to blame Frank Wren. But the truth of the matter is you can’t win on a budget. However, if we did have some money, he would not be my guy.

Cletus

June 15th, 2009
7:45 am

Much like last year, the Braves no longer play professional baseball.

Cletus

June 15th, 2009
7:46 am

The guy that said “can’t win on a budget” musta never heard of the Tampa Bay Rays. Or the Marlins, who have won more World Series than us.

Edo River

June 15th, 2009
7:50 am

I think there are some underlying issues which have gradually developed over time which your column only touches on the superficial or the results of those underlying issues. To address something as all encompassing as preparing a minor leaguer for the Show, requires a hell of alot of commitment, coordination, and constant vertical and horizontal fine tuning, (committee meetings of coaches and staff) I think the Braves, like any large organization, have drifted. It is normal. Drift happens. Go take any general management class in a junior college to show you how normal it is to have these kinds of problems. Only we fans have studied it as it applies to business corporations. Since when have sports organizations been exempt from the laws of human organization? Go read any of Peter Drucker’s 39 books on management if you think I’m lying. edition.

i cant take it anymore

June 15th, 2009
7:54 am

Jeff…your articles the last few weeks have been awesome.
thanks, man

Sam Si

June 15th, 2009
7:55 am

The Bobby Cox era is over. He was good in his time. Trade Bobby Cox.

curtis jones

June 15th, 2009
8:01 am

Can anyone picture Lowe, Medlen or Moylan pitching in a playoff game? They couldn’t see home plate through the sweat dripping down their face.

KingfishStevens

June 15th, 2009
8:02 am

As Jed Clampett used to say, pitiful just pitiful.

[...] Jeff Schultz | ajc.com – [...]

gayle

June 15th, 2009
8:05 am

I just don’t understand how all of these problems and recent (and past) embarrassments continue to bypass the manager – how he is somehow the victim, rather than the architect, of this team and its problems?

All of this talk of trades is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic until ownership (who owns this team anyway?) is willing to address the changes that really need to be made.

This team is stale, uninspired and unmotivated. The recent lapses of Escobar are not the problem, but indications of a much larger issue.

The relic in the dugout needs to go – no real change will occur to this team until this happens.

Steeledawg

June 15th, 2009
8:08 am

I agree with Edo River regarding drift.

While this latest wave of players may not be the same caliber of as the Chipper, Klesko, Javy, Dye, Millwood, etc. group this current group lacks fundamentals. Sac flys, sac bunts, moving runners to third, hitting the cutoff man, things like that used to be automatic. Over the last 3-4 years I have noticed a tremendous drop off in these things.

I would give these guys until the end of July. If we are still .500 and 6.5+ games out, I am taking offers for not only Francouer, but Escobar, Johnson, Kotchman, Kawakami, etc.

Cherokee STH

June 15th, 2009
8:11 am

It frustrates me, as a decades long season ticket holder, to see AAA baseball in Turner field. Escobar has long been one of my pet peeves…however, I thought he would be improving in the mental part of the game, and he simply hasn’t. My new favorite peeve is Garrett Anderson. I don’t think I have ever seen someone that uninterested in playing the game…he is slow to react in left, nonchalant at the plate, no power, doesn’t appear to have an arm, and isn’t hitting for average. He looks good in the uniform…but so did Brad Komminsk. Francouer at least gives you half a run a game in defense. I can actually live with the .250. Put Infante at short and give Escobar a shot in left where decisions aren’t as critical. Leave Frenchy at the bottom of the order and let it go. Defense wins ballgames.

Sonny Clusters

June 15th, 2009
8:18 am

“The Braves got their offense from an unusual place — the eighth spot in the order — as Jeff Francoeur went 3-for-4 with a two-run double.” – AJC

Me and Jeff went to school together and was good freinds since we’re little boys playing ball. Jeff could always hit the ball far but I was the one with good grades and he got most of the girls because he could always hit when we was playing ball in school together. Jeff is still real smart and he can figure this problem out if everbody will just leave him alone and not upset him because he used to get upset when we’re little boys playing ball. I remember a game against Brookwood where he got so mad and cried so hard that his chest was heaving and something was coming out of his nose and the umpire made him change shirts and some of the girls left and wouldn’t come back even when we wanted to go to the Dairy Queen with them after the game. I think that is the problem right now and I am going to text him and let him know that I think that he should know how to fix it if he won’t get upset when he cant pull the ball like he did when we was young except that game when the girls left and wouldn’t come back so we could go to the Dairy Queen and Jeff couldn’t pull the ball and he failed a test the next day. Well, I agree that being the hometown boy can be a distraction for everbody and that he might do better with an American League team. I don’t think they would like him in New York though because of the girls leaving when the fans see him get his chest heaving like he did at that game when we was young. I can tell you some more Jeff S. if it will help you write some more positive storys about Jeff F. that can mention his old freind Sonny that played some first and some third and was on a couple of different teams that he was the star and I was probably his best freind in the world back then when we was playing together. We was younger and Jeff could pretty much get away with anything as long as the ball team was winning and scoring a lot of runs because the girls would come back to see the long ball and Jeff could hit the ball out most of the time if he got a good pitch when we was playing ball together. Parkview is a pretty smart school and Jeff and I did good. He’ll figure this out and then watch out for him hitting like Hank Arron. I enjoy this blog because I like to read your stuff in here.

NC Braves Fan

June 15th, 2009
8:19 am

gayle: I got no dog in the Cox hunt, but do you think McCann and Chipper are uninspired? I mean come on – these are adults here and they’re well-paid to do what they do.

Any issues Esco et al are having are their own issues, for which they are responsible.

Jeff Schultz

June 15th, 2009
8:21 am

CURTIS: Nice run down.

MILTON DAWG: I understand the criticism of Cox, Pendleton. It goes with the territory. But I question the “We have a ton of talent” statement. Just my opinion.

I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE: Thanks, man.

SAM SI: Cox has a no-trade clause. Kidding.

CURTIS: Fortunately, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about them in a playoff game.

Sonny Clusters

June 15th, 2009
8:28 am

When we was young, Jeff and me was real good ballplayers and we went to baseball camp and learned everything we needed to know about hitting and catching. That’s why Jeff don’t listen to the coaches because he already knows how to do it and has been doing it all through high school when me and him were playing for state champonships. How many state champoships has Terry Pendeltom won or Bobby Cox? You just wait and see if everbody on the team don’t start playing just like Jeff.

Hot Phone Sex Princess

June 15th, 2009
8:29 am

Jeff,
No one is untouchable.

Falconian

June 15th, 2009
8:35 am

I would love to see McCann tried at 3rd next season. I love Chipper, but if the Braves are going to crap out this year, why not see if one of the big gun teams will take him and his salary?
Saying that, I believe the Braves could still win this division this year by doing 1 more thing…get Adam Dunn. Put him in right field, and hope not many balls come his way.

Bob Horner

June 15th, 2009
8:41 am

curtis jones (2nd post in the column) — why do you even bother watching the Braves with such a “sky is falling” mentality? Everyone on the team sucks huh? You’re a prototypical “fan” – what a bi*ch!! Go sniff some Yankee jock

Jeff Schultz

June 15th, 2009
8:42 am

WHOOOAAA! And the Innuendo of the Week Award goes to HPSP. Again.

Dawg A

June 15th, 2009
8:43 am

I am a season ticket holder and it seems real evident that over the past few years we are just not a very good team. As much as we gave Cox credit when the braves were winning division after division ….. it is time for him to get some of the blame for what is taking place now! As a Manager you adapt to the players that you are given. He seemed to be the “Greatest thing ever” when he had great pitchers. But the test of a great manager or coach is what you do with less. Tony Larussa is a great manager because he has done really good every year regardless of the talent he was given. it’s real simple….. no moves will matter until Cox is gone! I use to think the Braves would never get rid of Cox because of loyalty. But ask Glavine and Smoltz about that!!!!!

MIKE lump

June 15th, 2009
8:43 am

All you need to know about Escobar is the fact he dyes his hair… not to mention he has been in the major years for 3 seasons and still can’t converse with any reporters in English… No excuses, drop me in China in three years i will know enough Chinese to carry a conversation. He probably has no clue what Bobby is saying and could care less. Instead of getting focused in the on deck circle, he’s scoping the Suntrust seat for chicks. It’s a tired act trade him to the Mets where they tolerate those kinds of things.

sansho1

June 15th, 2009
8:43 am

Who let Benjy Compson in here?

MiltonDawg

June 15th, 2009
8:44 am

JS: what i meant to say concerning our “ton of talent” is that the players we have are good but could be a lot better. they’re lacking basic fundamentals of the game (offense & defense) which tells me that A) the players are lazy or don’t care or B) the coaching has gone by the wayside.

Chop It Up All-star

June 15th, 2009
8:52 am

Schultz, I’m not “completely” buying what you’re saying here buddy. Schafer is still a question mark. Your take on Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur are pretty much spot on. But Escobar is arguably the best all around player on this team. There’s no question that for a few games this year his decision making has been suspect, but to imply that he should be traded is ridiculous. I guess lost in those few games are all the amazing plays he makes that no one else can. Or, all those clutch hits that he has gotten to help propel the clutch deficient Braves to the few victories that they have this year. The reality is, Escobar is only going to get better, but the question is, will the Braves be better without him?

ET

June 15th, 2009
8:53 am

I have this strange urge to go to Dairy Queen.

Rusty

June 15th, 2009
8:57 am

Chipper’s comment about Frenchy’s one million batting coaches is quite revealing. Certainly doesn’t say much for Terry Pendleton, now does it? The Cubs fired Gerald Perry over the weekend, and he’s only failed for 2-1/2 years as their hitting coach. Numerous other batting instructors have also been shown the door over the last few years (the Yankees must’ve fired 3 or 4). I’m not saying it’s just T.P.’s fault, but SOMEONE’s got to take the blame if Bobby’s not. Sometimes a change does some good. Look at what’s happened with the Rockies after firing Clint Hurdle. This team has just lacked passion for so long. That’s the thing that ails it most, I believe.

Kenbud

June 15th, 2009
8:57 am

Trade Francoeur! Bench Escobar! Frank Wren sucks! Everything’s to blame for Braves woes ……………………………………………………………..but the coach.

Just sayin’.

bull-gator

June 15th, 2009
8:57 am

Escobar is a definite headcase. Does he even know how to play shortstop? When a bonehead play by not tagging the runner. A 10 year old little leagure knows what to do in that situation. I’ll bet he didn’t even know how many outs there were. As far as Francoeur goes, Chipper is right. I don’t think Francoeur understands the art of hitting and maybe never will. Johnson is serviceable at 2nd, but he needs to pick up the pace in the hits department. As for Schafer, he needs 2-3 more years in the minors.

Mister Earl

June 15th, 2009
8:58 am

Sonny Clusters – you used a few hundred piss-poorly structured words to say what exactly?

turkey

June 15th, 2009
8:59 am

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, the Braves will not improve until Arthur Blank is allowed to purchase the team. Winning starts at the top and Liberty Media could care less.

Reid Adair

June 15th, 2009
9:01 am

Very well said, Jeff.

I just can’t figure out what happened. When Frank Wren threw Tom Glavine out and activated Tommy Hanson, the vast of commenters on the various AJC blogs were convinced that was the final key to get the Braves to the playoffs, maybe even win the division.

It seems that they had overlooked the poor excuse for an “offense” and the other issues that you have outlined.

This team does NOT have “a ton of talent.” It has some potential in the starting rotation, and that’s about it. They can say what they want about Bobby Cox, but he is not ultimately responsible for deciding which guys are on the active roster.

Mister Earl

June 15th, 2009
9:01 am

Chipper Jones is right. “….(Francoeur) has some fundamental issues that he can’t feel…. If you can’t feel it, you can’t make the adjustment. You can show him his stance in his rookie year and show him last year and all the major differences. But he doesn’t feel it.”

Baseball is not a paint-by-numbers game. You got to feel it. Please note how many times Cal Ripken Jr was able to adjust his stance, to match his physical gifts, throughout his maturity.

Sonny Clusters

June 15th, 2009
9:04 am

“As far as Francoeur goes, Chipper is right. I don’t think Francoeur understands the art of hitting and maybe never will.” – b-g

When we was in school together playing ball me and Jeff learned all about hitting and it ain’t no art. Hitting is about swinging the bat hard and making contact so the ball will go out and then the girls will ask you out. That’s when a trip to the Dairy Queen is special.

Ghost of Moose Granger

June 15th, 2009
9:06 am

And not a single mention of the dozen or so rally-killing baserunning errors that Escobar has made this season? Are you actually watching this team or just reporting on what other people are writing???

Alphare

June 15th, 2009
9:08 am

If you have 2 or 3 players who can play above average while the other 5 or 6 play below average, your team is below average.

If this is the 90’s, some players like Jeff F, Kelley J would be let go or benched long ago.

Sonny Clusters

June 15th, 2009
9:08 am

“Sonny Clusters – you used a few hundred piss-poorly structured words to say what exactly?” – Earl

Earl, you need to learn to read for comprehensive. When you can do that you can ask me questions. Me and Jeff are a lot alike and always have been. I don’t take no crap and Jeff don’t take no coaching.

Doug

June 15th, 2009
9:08 am

I stopped watching weeks ago! I could see we were anonly going to be a 500 team.

I love the game of baseball, just not this bunch of underachievers style. This teams reminds me way – way to much of the teams in the 70’s and 80’s.

Get ready folks, it may be a while before we see another pennant here in Atlanta.

I will take a peak, then hate what I see and leave, probably like most of you.

PMC

June 15th, 2009
9:09 am

They don’t have the talent in the organization to replace the guys who were supposed to be difference makers right now.

They simultaneously had 3 or 4 guys go from solid everyday contributors to…. well… what they are now.

Hoosier Aaron

June 15th, 2009
9:12 am

With all due respect to Bobby Cox – I think he needs to apply his “We pride ourselves on doing things right and being in the game [mentally] and don’t do things lackadaisically” across the entire roster…instead of making Escobar his “example”. Throwing to the wrong base from the outfield, not moving runners into scoring position….it’s a problem that is deeper than Escobar. This team is far from being fundamentally sound.

Here’s a quote from Mike Scioscia about his team’s poor play –
“A lot of guys in that room are playing hard and some guys need to play better,” Scioscia said. “Until we can become the team that we are, all that is, is potential. Potential’s not going to get you anywhere. You need to perform.”

For the last two seasons – Howie Kendrick’s batting average was .322 & .306 – after 186 ABs this year he was batting .231…now he is playing at Salt Lake.

“We feel it is time for Howie to go down to take a little bit of pressure off and exhale a little bit and get some at-bats,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We want him to find his swing and then get back up here and hopefully be a quick turnaround once he begins to feel it in the batter’s box.”

“When I got sent down to the Minors around ‘96, ‘97, I remember how upset and annoyed I was and it just lit a fire under me,” Torii Hunter said.

“I really need to find myself as a hitter and find the fire inside me,” Kendrick said. “If I put in the work and hit, I know I will be back up here again.

In my opinion, Mike Scioscia is the best manager in the game – his teams play like he played….HARD and SMART.

All I’m saying is – don’t make an example of one guy when the entire team “needs to perform”…as Scioscia said.

Jeff Schultz

June 15th, 2009
9:14 am

MILTONDAWG: That I would agree with. I think we agree that some kids today — look at me, I sound like the old guy on the porch rocker — aren’t as disciplined, mature as they used to be. But part of that is they’re rushed through the minors more. (see: Schafer).

SONNY, ET: DQ rocks!

RUSTY: Actually I think Chipper was making a point about Francoeur, not Pendleton

KENBUD: Thank you for the comic relief.

GHOST: No, I didn’t mention that. But you’re right. I’ve never actually watched a baseball game. Is it still four quarters, I forget?

Ash

June 15th, 2009
9:14 am

G. Anderson couldnt move fast if his pants were on fire.

PMC

June 15th, 2009
9:16 am

We just have to be patient. They haven’t had the makeup of a playoff team for several years. They have only had a very slim chance to compete the last couple of years. It is just going to take a while to find the right players to fix the lineup. They can’t win with this bunch though unless they start hitting better. I said 85 wins at the beginning of the year but at this point 81 or 82 seems more realistic.

Jan

June 15th, 2009
9:18 am

When one watches as many games and listens to as many announcers as I do one realizes that no team is “perfect”. No matter how small or obscenely rich there are holes. Yep, brother, we have many holes that leave us scratching our heads and muttering obscenties. The difference in our club and others is that the “holes” in other clubs are smart enough to do things that help the team. ie move the runner over, bunt, look to take an extra base, etc. Our team just sux. 15 out and in 4th will be our lot in life for the near future without a shake-up. Unfortunately the shake up won’t come from our minor leaguers and free agents won’t come here. Garrett was once a proud man and productive player but even he has caught brave-itis. It’s a shame. If Smoltz were here he’d be chewing some fannies…it’s not his arm I miss the most it’s his desire to win and make sure those around him play to win.