A Hall of Famer's remembrances of the Ted Turner years in Atlanta.
The view from the loge level this week has us seated in Atlanta. We’re not in Turner Field, though the Braves will grow roots there over the next month, with 21 of their next 29 on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive. Instead our view is from Fulton County Stadium, aka the Launching Pad or the ‘Original’ Chop Shop. Your usher is one of my mentors and a man who taught the South and a nation about baseball, Braves Hall of Famer Pete Van Wieren. I was fortunate enough to be on the ‘listening-end’ of many great tales the legendary broadcaster shared with his much younger colleague, and a few times these stories managed to be documented. Most of you know at least a few of the details of these occurrences, but here are a handful of Braves’ memories through Pete’s eyes.
In our advanced media consumption world of ESPN, Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1, MLB Network, mlb.tv, etc., imagine the thoughts of a broadcaster in the mid-1970s when he realized that he would be calling games not in Atlanta, nor Georgia, but nationwide as his boss Ted Turner turned a local UHF channel into Superstation TBS and beamed it coast-to-coast into everyone’s home. The network’s most dependable daily program: the Atlanta Braves.
Who are some of the strongest candidates in line for the top front office job?
After the news broke that the Padres had fired General Manager Josh Byrnes, a wave of questions hit the social sphere about potential candidates for the position, questions that have been stuck on a shelf for nearly 1,000 days thanks to unprecedented continuity in the front office ranks. Everybody loves a good list, so I decided to take a page out of the prospect team handbook and poll members of the Baseball Prospectus staff and industry sources alike, asking for their thoughts on the top up-and-coming personnel stars in baseball. The goal of this exercise is to take the temperature of the moment, showing the readers which candidates are held in the highest regard by their peers when put on the spot for an answer; the goal is not to exclude talented baseball minds who are equally qualified and capable of achieving such career heights but just so happen to escape the tips of the tongues of those surveyed. Because of my specific professional relationships, I removed myself from the voting process and limited my participation to compiling the votes of confidence and organizing the personnel capsules (written by various staff members) that will accompany the list. –Jason Parks
Candidate: John Coppolella Current role: Assistant General Manager (Braves) Skill set: A rising star in the industry for some time, the former student manager for the Notre Dame football team has injected the characteristics of winning into his DNA through nearly 15 years experience with the two most successful franchises in the modern era (Yankees/Braves). Coppolella is fluent in both the esoteric language of scouting (he still directs pro scouting for the Braves) and the importance of advanced statistical analysis, a marriage of information management that would allow him to thrive at the helm of a team as a younger upside play. It’s an eventuality that both the writers at Baseball Prospectus (he received the most votes) and his peers in the industry think happens sooner rather than later.
The Braves call up a hit-first second baseman whose performances have carried him up the ladder.
The Situation: The Braves incumbent second basemen, Dan Uggla (.177/.254/.257) and Tyler Pastornicky (.200/.317/.257), have struggled mightily so far this season, and as a result, the club is looking for a spark to help their offense. On the horizon, the Braves' no. 6 ranked prospect (by Baseball Prospectus) Tommy La Stella will get a chance to have an impact with the big-league club.
Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman, the proprietors of Cespedes Family Barbecue, are taking a baseball road trip and chronicling their travels at Baseball Prospectus. You can find the series introduction and itinerary here.
Dissecting the new season's most surprising sensation.
One of the things I’d like to think the baseball community has gotten better about is recognizing a fluke when we see one. When Jeff Locke pitched to a 2.15 ERA in the first half of 2013, running an 8-2 record, almost no one was buying. Instead of being distracted by the ERA or the record, we focused on the low strikeout-to-walk ratio, the microscopic BABIP, the middling velocity, and the fact that he wasn’t one of the team’s top 11 prospects the last time he was eligible. “Jeff Locke is going to regress,” intoned every internet analyst. “It is known.” We even had stats—FIP, xFIP, and so on—to support our position, which made the argument easier. That’s not to say that before Bill James, every soft-tosser who strung together a few successful starts was christened the next Sandy Koufax. But information is easier than ever to access, and most of it suggested that Locke wouldn’t last.
Locke himself made the case that the advanced stats were making a major mistake by overlooking the enhanced deception in his delivery and his newfound confidence and skill at pitching to contact. The evidence that's accumulated since suggests he was wrong: in the second half, Locke’s ERA ballooned to 6.12, and now, less than a year after Bruce Bochy named him to the National League All-Star team, he’s back in Triple-A. Sometimes, though, career reinventions are real. Last May, I wrote about “the incredible new Neal Cotts” based on the 30-something reliever’s 20-plus Triple-A innings, and the lefty lived up to the billing. The more impressive the peripherals, the more convincing the performance, no matter how small the sample.
The Braves and Nationals played a three-game series over the weekend, and obscured by the obvious storyline—the two best teams in the National League East meeting for the first time this season—was a subplot for sadists: Just how many strikeouts would B.J. Upton, who entered the series with a 44 percent whiff rate, tally against a Nationals staff that fanned 39 batters in its first 28 innings? The answer, it turned out, was five times in 13 tries; an improvement over Upton's first series, when he struck out in half his 12 plate appearances. He then started the next series with this sequence: