Atlanta Braves most definitely playing Moneyball


Current Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz  quote on Moneyball teams (2011) …

"“I think everyone looked, and I don’t think many considered it a better mousetrap,” the former Braves general manager said in 2011. “You look at the won-loss records of the teams that adopted and the teams that didn’t, I don’t think you’ll find much of a difference in the impact.”"

What is Moneyball really?

Let’s start out by defining what it’s not…

1. It’s not collecting a bunch of guys with high on-base percentages.

2. It’s not winning big while spending little.

3. It’s not purposefully passing on “star” players.

These are common misconceptions of what Moneyball came to be known for when GM of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane shared his secrets to author Michael Lewis on how to compete as a mid-market team in an unfair game.  And I’ll be honest, when I first heard about Moneyball,  I thought it very much was concerned with the 3 criteria listed above.  Yes, in the movie and the book, that is what Billy Beane’s approach largely entailed, but it’s not because that’s what defines Moneyball.  Rather, it’s due to the fact that the first item was largely being overlooked by most of the entire Major Leagues, and players with large OBPs but small power numbers were being passed over.  They were cheap, and cheap production for a mid-to-low market team is good. So, due to exploiting market inefficiencies, #2 and #3 were the results of putting #1 in place.  Therefore, the most common misconception when it comes to Moneyball is item #1: collect players with high OBPs.  Still not it.  So what really defines Moneyball and how are the Braves playing it, despite what Schuerholz might think?

Moneyball Defined (simply) and how are Atlanta Braves playing along?

Moneyball is actually quite simple, and I’ve mentioned it already.  It’s about exploiting market inefficiencies.  There are 2 ways to do this:

1. Find out what type of player the current market undervalues, and trade for/sign players meeting that criteria.

2. Find out what type of player the current market overvalues and trade players and/or don’t sign players meeting that criteria.

If one can’t agree that the Braves have had a “good” off-season,  at least everyone can agree that it’s been interesting. There is, however, no doubt that the Braves are currently following both Moneyball guidelines above in their off-season approach.

What are the Atlanta Braves doing this off-season to trade for/sign undervalued players?

A. Acquiring/Signing former Top-Prospects/Pitchers who’ve had Tommy John Surgery– The Braves, like most teams, have had a bit of hard luck when it comes to their pitchers who have went down with the Tommy John bug.  And it’s interesting to know that while Tommy John has caused them much grief in the past few years,  they’re not shying away from acquiring players that have had the surgery.  Last year, when it seemed as though Tommy John was spreading throughout the Majors and Minors like lice through an Elementary classroom, teams became leery of players that had the surgery. The Braves have taken notice of that market inefficiency and exploited it, acquiring or signing at least 9 pitchers that have either foregone the surgery and recovered, under recovery currently, or have had other significant arm injuries in the past: Tyrell Jenkins, Arodys Vizcaino, Max Fried, Michael Kohn, Jason Grilli, Shelby Miller, Daniel Winkler, Manny Banuelos, Josh Outman.  I’m sure there are more that have been signed to Minor League deals, but make no mistake, that my friends, is exploiting an inefficiency. Even keeping J.R. Graham, former top prospect, unprotected for the Rule 5 draft was exploiting this oversight, yet it might have backfired on the Braves as he was claimed by the Twins.  Truth be told, I think he’ll be back with the Braves before season’s end.

B. Passing on the “A” prospects, acquiring the players on “B” list –

  1.  Elite prospects come with a hefty price tag and are most definitely overvalued in the current market. While it would have been good to see the Braves acquire at least one of these guys, the Braves have rebuilt a farm by either buying low on former A prospects, or getting multiple B prospects in return. In the Justin Upton trade alone, the Braves brought back 4 B-rated prospects in Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Mallex Smith, and Dustin Peterson. If the Braves would have asked for an A-lister, they likely would have received 1 prospect in return (and I’m sure they did ask for one, but wanted more players and the teams said no).  In the deal listed above, the Braves acquired Max Fried, a Tommy John victim, who very well could become that A-list prospect in 2 years and was well on his way to that status before injury, plus 3 prospects.  If Fried had a healthy productive year last year, the Padres laugh at the Braves request, then hang up the phone. But he didn’t and market inefficiency exploited.  Also, there’s never been a better time to trade RH power bats, and the Braves exploited that market with Justin Upton.
  2. The same can be said for the Jason Heyward trade as the Braves acquired 2 players with troublesome health records for one year of Heyward. If Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins both have untarnished medical records, the Cardinals, like the Padres, would have been insulted by the asking price.  The value of defense is growing every year, and even Jason Heyward’s value being pushed well upward by his defensive genius, is a sell-high on what could be a market inefficiency.
  3. Relievers are overvalued in trade, especially LH relievers and power arms.  In the Braves trade with the Yankees, the Braves sent 2 surplus pieces in David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve for SP Manny Banuelos, who, at one point in time before TJ surgery, was one of the most highly regarded prospects in the game.
  4. This might be a stretch but in a sense, the same can be said for the Braves trade with the Cubs, sending Tommy La Stella and receiving international money, bonus slots, and Arodys Vizcaino. If Vizcaino would have pitched more than 40 innings last year, the Cubs, who desperately need a shutdown reliever, would have never sent Vizcaino for a player that doesn’t project to even be a factor in their crowded infield, much less send money and international slots to the Braves, both of which the Braves highly valued in the trade as much as the player coming in return.

C. Signing Former Closers–  Wait, how is this part of a Moneyball strategy? Aren’t trademarked “closers” overvalued and cost more on the open market?  They most definitely do, and the Braves had to pay 5 million this year for 2 former closers Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, with Grilli making another 4 million next year plus an option.  But guess what?  Pitchers with closing experience at the trade deadline…I’m already salivating at what a rejuvenated Jim Johnson, or especially Jason Grilli, can bring back to the Braves at the deadline.

What are the Atlanta Braves doing to trade overvalued players?

I won’t dwell on this long as it’s already been mentioned above, but here are the players that I feel were overvalued and the reasons for being so.

1. Jason Heyward- overvalued for his untapped offensive potential, stellar RF defense, and former Top-prospect status.

2. Justin Upton- overvalued for his RH power bat and former Top-prospect status.

3. David Carpenter- overvalued for his power arm.

4. Chasen Shreve- overvalued for his LH power arm.

5. Tommy La Stella- overvalued for his on-base skills

Well, that’s a wrap folks. It’s hard to pinpoint the direction that the club is moving in with questions like, “Why did the Braves sign Nick Markakis knowing he was in need of neck surgery?” or “Who has Jose Constanza framed to keep his 40-man roster spot?” or “Why would the Braves sign know b-hole A.J. Pierzynski to mentor anyone?”  Honestly, I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but I do feel like the Braves are purposefully playing their own form of Moneyball.  Thanks for reading!