Me, I’m not yet worried about the Braves – except for Chipper

The great Chipper Jones: Alone with his thoughts, and his aging knees. (AP photo)

The great Chipper Jones is alone with his thoughts -- and his aging knees. (AP photo)

For the Braves, the Grapefruit League season commenced with them mustering one hit — an eighth-inning single by the legendary Jordan Parraz. By the next day, they’d worked their way up to three hits — two by Martin Prado and another by Parraz, the new Mr. March. Last week, via the joys of split-squad deployment, they managed to lose to both New York teams in the same day.

At the close of business Tuesday, the Braves had the worst exhibition record in either Florida or Arizona, and Tuesday was, by way of comparison, a pretty good day. They hadn’t lost. (Hadn’t won, either. They tied Miami 2-2.) This left them at 1-10-1, and Buster Olney of ESPN noted that an unnamed scout/executive had reached this early conclusion: “The Atlanta Braves don’t look much different from the team that collapsed last September.”

Pennant fever! Get your pennant fever right here!!!

Through Tuesday’s play, Brian McCann was hitting .200, Jason Heyward was hitting .143 (with 10 strikeouts against four hits), Freddie Freeman was hitting .136 and Tyler Pastornicky, who’s listed at 170 pounds, was barely hitting half that weight. (He was 3-for-30 with no extra-base hits.)

Oh, and more glad tidings. Pastornicky, who has been handed the shortstop spot, had made three errors.

Right about here, you’re saying: “See? I told you they needed to get a real shortstop/corner outfielder/big bat! I told you that they shouldn’t stand pat after an Epic Collapse! They’ll finish last!!!”

And here, on cue, is where I say: It’s early yet. It’s so early they’re still three weeks from a game that actually counts. (We should also note that the Braves beat Washington 6-5 Wednesday night. Heyward even hit a home run.)

Spring training, see, is just what it says on the label — it’s training. Results don’t matter. Stats barely register. (Quick, what did Heyward hit last spring? Why, .356. Surely a sign that a great season was coming, right? Uh, no. He wound up hitting .227.)

As long as no pitcher’s arm falls off in Florida, the Braves will come north with a real chance to make the playoffs (Especially given that, under Bud Selig’s new loopy system, a second wild card now qualifies for postseason — if only for a day.) It never changes: If you can pitch, you can win.

The Epic Collapse wasn’t so much a function of not hitting — those same Braves spent the summer not hitting, and they held the fourth-best record in baseball with a month to go — as it was the injuries to Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. The rotation splintered, which led to an even heavier load falling on the bullpen, and the great relievers wobbled just enough to miss the playoffs. It was awful to watch, but it shouldn’t happen again in our lifetimes.

No, it’s not particularly encouraging that Pastornicky hasn’t hit (or fielded), especially since Plan B — the journeyman Jack Wilson — has been shelved because of injury. But baseball, as we learned yet again over a season that unraveled in the 13th inning of the 162nd game, is the longest of hauls. Things can and will change. Troy Glaus (remember him?) might be the All-American Out in April; in May he could be the National League player of the month.

For all of you railing about the passivity of Frank Wren, know this: This general manager’s disposition isn’t to sit still. It took personal restraint for him not to start making trades hand over fist, but this was one offseason when reason trumped temperament. Wren looked at his roster and reached this conclusion:

If the guys who didn’t hit in 2011 do hit in 2012, the Braves will be fine. If not, one or two of these prized young pitchers can be used to pursue the needed shortstop/corner outfielder/big bat. But that wasn’t a search that needed to be undertaken just yet. Better to see how April — and not March, which doesn’t count — plays out.

Nothing the 2012 Braves have or haven’t done in spring training changes my belief that Wren was wise to wait. We can’t write off Pastornicky just yet, and nobody in his/her right mind would give up on Heyward or Freeman or McCann. But there is, I must report, one thing that gives me pause, and that’s the status of my favorite Brave ever.

Chipper Jones tried to pass off his tomorrow-might-be-my-last-day remarks as “tongue-in-cheek.” Not having been a witness, I don’t know if they were or weren’t. But the thought of this season turning into a daily medical briefing isn’t a pleasant notion. He has meant too much to this franchise to become, at 39-going-on-40, a sideshow. In my 50 years of watching baseball, the saddest image was of Willie Mays stumbling in the outfield as a Met. I’m hoping like crazy I’ll never have to watch Chipper stumble.

By Mark Bradley

212 comments Add your comment

Rickster

March 14th, 2012
12:11 pm

Rickster

March 14th, 2012
12:11 pm

Yes!! Three in a row!! :-)

Rickster

March 14th, 2012
12:17 pm

I think Chipper should forget playing on a daily basis. Maybe keep him on the bench as a pinch-hitter and a sub for someone else. But every day? No.

Mark Bradley

March 14th, 2012
12:20 pm

First, second AND third. The trifecta of kudos for the Rickster.

urban redneck

March 14th, 2012
12:20 pm

you need a hobby, rickster.

GTT

March 14th, 2012
12:21 pm

Rickster

March 14th, 2012
12:23 pm

Collecting Kudos is my hobby! :-)

crose714

March 14th, 2012
12:29 pm

Good article Mark…but man, I’m concerned. I’d feel a lot better if we were saying “don’t let those .400 averages get you too excited, it’s only April.” Kind of scary!

pruss

March 14th, 2012
12:29 pm

Chipper will play around 120 games this season and hit around .280 give you 15 HR and 75 RBI … Not too shabby for a 3rd baseman especially considering he’s almost 40.

Mark Bradley

March 14th, 2012
12:29 pm

Glad to help you in that endeavor, Rickster.

I say again: I don’t know how he does it. He comments almost as soon as I hit the “post” button. It’s uncanny, I say.

dean

March 14th, 2012
12:29 pm

I don’t believe his teammates would want to bust his chops if Chipper said, “No mas.” I wouldn’t.

Mark Bradley

March 14th, 2012
12:30 pm

And crose714 does make a valid point. I’ll concede that much.

Karl Hungus

March 14th, 2012
12:33 pm

Chipper Jones has 0 hits in spring training, and his OBP is higher than Alex Gonzalez in 2011.

Sonny Clusters

March 14th, 2012
12:35 pm

We was thinking the same thing about stumbling. Our thigh is much better, thanks, and our flu-like symptoms are abating. We should be good to go soon. We was wondering if the players are trying to get Fredi fired? Could it be? The fans aren’t going to like the product on the field if this keeps up and it has no reason not to keep up. Losing can become a habit. Maybe it has already. When we was playing ball if a guy couldn’t go Coach would just plug in somebody who could. The Braves have new deliveries and new swings and we aren’t real sure just what is going on. Change we can believe in? How did that work out before?

Tomahawk Holmes

March 14th, 2012
12:37 pm

Well said Mr. Bradley

GO BRAVES!

Chris White

March 14th, 2012
12:39 pm

I have always been a cheerleader for Chipper, but I am cheering Rickster today. I have watched Chipper all these years and have a ton of respect for him (top 5 switch hitter of all time). He should be the pinch hitter/ platoon guy at third. His mere presence in the dugout is mandatory for the full season.IMO

ramblingbuzz

March 14th, 2012
12:40 pm

I still don’t buy into the theory that the guys who didn’t hit last year will suddenly turn things around this year. The Braves have been offensively challenged for at least the past 3-4 years. Remember Nate McClouth? Nothing seems to have changed and not adding new bats to the lineup doesn’t strike me as superior GMing.

Coop

March 14th, 2012
12:41 pm

One of the great things about Chipper is also one of the worst things about him: he tends to say whatever is on his mind at any given time. I hope he was just having a downer moment when he made those comments. I don’t want to see him stumbling around either.

STRETCH

March 14th, 2012
12:42 pm

Mr Bradley,

Well its time for Chipper to hang em up, thats the obvious conclusion here.

“I’m hoping like crazy I’ll never have to watch Chipper stumble.”

How much longer then????

Dr. Phil

March 14th, 2012
12:43 pm

If I recall correctly, the winning Braves teams of the 1990’s usually had winning records in the spring. Considering his past lack of success, it is better that Wren didn’t go a a trading rampage. We still haven’t recovered from his last one. It is mid March and Mr. Flu-like symptoms is already whining.

Sonny Clusters

March 14th, 2012
12:44 pm

“The great Chipper Jones is alone with his thoughts — and his aging knees.” – ajc

Looks like he’s waiting in line for a stall to open up. Some of the best thinkers do there thinking in there.

Karl Hungus

March 14th, 2012
12:47 pm

Dr. Phil – What is Wren’s last trade that we haven’t recovered from?

urban redneck

March 14th, 2012
12:56 pm

you’re out of your element, KH.

also, dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. asian-american, please.

PMC

March 14th, 2012
12:57 pm

wake me up when the Braves find corner outfielders that can rake.

Ostrich Racer

March 14th, 2012
1:00 pm

Is anybody else worried that the Greg Walker/Scott Fletcher “hitting coach by committee” thing might not be working?

Dozer

March 14th, 2012
1:00 pm

What does anyone expect with this team? The only thing they did was fire their hitting coach. Where’s the backup plan for whenever Chipper finally breaks down? All I see here is a rehash of the same story we’ve been fed for years – if, if, if, if. Gotta tip my cap to the braintrust (?) – heck of a way to energize the fan base for the season……

Karl Hungus

March 14th, 2012
1:03 pm

Ostrich Racer – how can it be working when the Braves haven’t played a single game yet since those two were hired?

Steve

March 14th, 2012
1:03 pm

Maybe “Rickster” needs a life?

Splendid Splinter

March 14th, 2012
1:03 pm

I, too, have admired what Chipper has done (notice I didn’t say I love him), but it is time to find something else to do. I don’t think the team is going to rally around someone sitting on the bench, who can only pinch hit. And I don’t think he can deliver 120 games, .280 avg, 15 HRs, adn 75 RBIs this year. More like 81 games and the rest will go down from there.

Steve

March 14th, 2012
1:06 pm

So glad you wrote this article Mark. The “fans” on the blogs are so negative. Many apparently don’t understand what spring training is all about. Seattle and Oakland are 9-3. Toronto is 9-2. The LAD are 6-2. I guess they are all playoff teams huh fans? Texas, who is loaded, is 3-6. I guess no playoffs for them this year huh?

K.Conway

March 14th, 2012
1:08 pm

It will be sad for Chipper to continue and he should retire this spring for the team. Atlanta can’t afford to pay so much for a part-time player!

Rickster

March 14th, 2012
1:11 pm

Already have one, Steve. Really enjoyable one at that.

But thanks for the suggestion.

Karl Hungus

March 14th, 2012
1:12 pm

“You are lame for commenting on a blog.” -Guy who commented on a blog

george

March 14th, 2012
1:13 pm

The braves are great with a record of 11-30-1

keepinitreal

March 14th, 2012
1:13 pm

I’m not worried either. The Braves have too much pitching not to compete, even if the offense is abysmal as it was last year, which I don’t think it will be.

I’ve never been comfortable with Pastornicky as our starting SS, though. This reeks of Jordan Schafer in 2009 – a good but not great prospect being rushed to the big leagues because we’re too cheap to sign a proven player at that position. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Jack Wilson ends up being our everyday shortstop, and that’s a very scary thought.

meh

March 14th, 2012
1:16 pm

I’m not too worried about the Braves. I would like to see them win some ball games though, even if they don’t count yet. I do think they need keep an eye out for 3rd basemen and/or corner outfielders in case Chipper’s knee falls off.

DetroitBraves

March 14th, 2012
1:19 pm

Don’t care about spring training stats or records one way or another but @ramblingbuzz at 12:40 makes a good point – a big concern is that a bunch of hitters that didn’t hit last year are back with our hopes pinned on new hitting coaches, when it’s hard to tell exactly how much of an effect hitting coaches actually have. But we’ll see. A similar bunch in 2010 got on base at a decent clip. Personally, I’m also concerned about the pitching. I know there is depth but there’s also a lot of variability in projecting young pitchers. And the more veteran guys are all either banged up now or coming off injuries from the end of last season.

Sonny Clusters

March 14th, 2012
1:21 pm

If it’s true that teams play like they practice . . . we may be in for a tough season ahead. We was wondering if Fredi is doing anything different this year in spring training and if the players are working on fundamentals and skills to improve their play. We was noticing Fredi wanted to work on baserunning but nobody much is getting on base. Constanza on third with no outs and doesn’t score. Work on that.

bvillebaron

March 14th, 2012
1:24 pm

Karl:

You should know better than to try to use logic on people like Dr. Phil and Ostrich. Last I recall, Wren’s LAST trade was acquiring Bourn while giving up NONE of his premium pitching prospects. Someone should remind Ostrich and others than NO ONE cares about what did or did not happen in spring training after the first pitch of the regular season is thrown.

Ostrich Racer

March 14th, 2012
1:25 pm

Karl — Of course, it’s too early to know. It’ll probably work out fine. But right now, ain’t nobody hittin’ nothin’.

bvillebaron

March 14th, 2012
1:26 pm

Detroit:

Actually a bunch of those hitters who didn’t hit were also hurt last year.

dennis montecalvo

March 14th, 2012
1:26 pm

FIRE THIS IDIOT FREDDI GONZALES NOW! ,should have been fired after last years debacle

Ted M

March 14th, 2012
1:32 pm

We did see Chipper lose a grounder in the lights last year.

Chipper is 0 for spring training…that’s not a good sign.

Daniel

March 14th, 2012
1:33 pm

Dr. Phil: If you say the last Wren trade we’re recovering from is the mark texiria one then you need to be slaped. The Tex trade was john shurholtz not frank wren. Check your facts people. Im so tired of ppl saying frank is a bad GM and always using the tex trade as an example.
Remember Wren got us jurrjens,uggla and bourn for practicly nothing. Not to mention hes kept all of our best prospects at the same time.

blue

March 14th, 2012
1:34 pm

PMC; I’m assuming you are talking about the kind of raking that is NOT done during the 7th inning stretch?

bill mann

March 14th, 2012
1:35 pm

wren should be fired also,he’s the fool who wasted all that payroll money on the likes of kawakamy,lowe,mcclouth etc.,now no money for signing any good free agents

DetroitBraves

March 14th, 2012
1:38 pm

@bvillebaron, I know. That’s a good point. Plus they will have Bourn all season. But even hurt I would expect the on-base skills to remain to a greater extent than they did. Not only that, but injuries often predict injuries. But it is a fair point. I’ve seen projections with the Braves near the top of the league in OBP so my pessimistic nature may be giving undue weight to last season’s failures.

GT Alum

March 14th, 2012
1:38 pm

You make it sound like the Braves weren’t looking to improve the team, but all reports suggest that they were. The Braves and the teams involved just disagreed about the relative values of the players involved. It takes 2 to trade. Wren just didn’t feel like he HAD to make a big move, regardless of the cost.

And for those criticizing Wren for not making a move, would you rather he had overpaid to acquire a LF like JS did to get Tex? I bet a lot of the people complaining about this roster have spent a fair amount of time moaning about the former Braves prospects now flourishing as Rangers. You can’t have it both ways.

JDawg1785

March 14th, 2012
1:38 pm

Good way to look at it, Mark. Spring training is indeed training. I just wish I had seen some improvement from the first game. So long as they hit better this season, this Braves team will be a contender.

Casey

March 14th, 2012
1:39 pm

As a lifelong Braves fan, it’s going to be a sad day to see Chipper retire. But it’s inevitable. I’d rather it go ahead and happen for the betterment of the team…