John Smoltz owns August 19

Nine years ago on this date, Smoltzie recorded his 142nd save as a Brave, breaking Gene Garber’s franchise record.

Three years later, on 8/19/07, the future Hall of Famer retired Mark Reynolds for his 2,913th K as a Brave, surpassing Knucksie to become the team’s all-time strikeout leader.

Safe to say no other pitcher holds his team’s record for saves and strikeouts.

Maddux slighted again, and was Smoltzie better than Glavine?

I’m thrilled that the last pitcher chosen in ESPN’s ranking of the 100 greatest players in MLB history is the perpetually underrated Knucksie, #100 overall.

Not so much with the highest-ranked pitcher: Roger Clemens.

ESPN cautions its list is a “judgment-free zone where Barry BondsRoger Clemens and even Pete Rose are welcome.” (Rose debased the game but earned every one of his 4,256 hits. He shouldn’t be lumped together with players who came upon their stats dishonestly.)

I don’t understand how you overlook the cheating, which allows ESPN to rank Barry Bonds ahead of The Hammer and Ted Williams. But those who do so will never convince me that Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball history. He wasn’t even the best of his generation.

His ranking, at #7 overall, speaks to to the most overrated stat in all of baseball: the strikeout. If Warren Spahn was pitching today the stat geeks would insist his 363 wins were attributable mostly to luck, as he averaged only 4.4 K/9 IP.

Strikeouts are about all that Clemens has over Mad Dog, who ranks at #13, third among pitchers (Walter Johnson finished 12th). I’m repeating myself but apparently some people refuse to listen.

Maddux has had as many dominant seasons as Clemens, finishing with an ERA under 3.00 nine times. Granted, Clemens did it 12 times, but in two other years Maddux finished with ERA’s of 3.00 and 3.05. And no pitcher in modern history (Pedro in ’99 was close) can match Maddux’s 1995 campaign: 19-2 with a 1.56 ERA and an 0.811 WHIP. Even though strikeouts were not his bread and butter he had more K’s that year (181) than hits and walks combined en route to his fourth consecutive Cy Young.

Maddux was more durable, totaling 200 innings or more 18 times. Add three more innings over two seasons and Maddux would have 20 seasons of 200 or more IP. Clemens topped 200 innings 15 times.

My favorite Maddux stat? From July 31, 1993, through August 4, 1995, a two-year period, Mad Dog had 56 quality starts in 57 games pitched.

And Maddux has been better in October, with a 3.27 ERA, compared to 3.75 for Clemens. His first Fall Classic appearance might have been his best; the fearsome Indians (with Manny Ramirez hitting seventh) managed to get but FOUR balls out of the infield in Game 1 of the ’95 Series. Time of game: 2:37.

Maddux had one more win and a better WHIP (1.143 to 1.158). Clemens had a better ERA (3.12 to 3.16) even though Mad Dog had ERA’s of 3.96 or higher in each of his last six seasons. Conversely, three of Clemens’ worst years came between his 30th and 34th birthdays, a period when most pitchers are at their best, or close to it. It’s reasonable, then, to conclude that had Clemens not cheated he wouldn’t have made it into the Top 100.

Oh, and Maddux was the best fielding pitcher of his era, if not ever.

If only he had juiced, or pitched for the Yankees and Red Sox. Or had a strikeout ratio like Tommy Hanson’s and John Rocker’s.

They didn’t make the list, of course, though Smoltzie and Glavine did. Some may quibble with Smoltz ranking 18 spots higher than his former teammate, but I’m good with it. Glavine had more wins and one more Cy Young Award, but Smoltzie had a better ERA and WHIP and, for three years, was as dominant a closer as the game has seen. And he had no  peer in October. Some people say that doesn’t matter, but they’re typically the same people who say cheaters deserve a pass.

The silver anniversary of the best trade in Braves history

A bad trade set up the best deal the Braves ever made, consummated Aug. 12, 1987.

On July 6, 1986, the Braves, 4 games out of first, traded promising right-hander Duane Ward for 35-year-old sourpuss Doyle Alexander, who was hardly a difference-maker. The Bravos finished in last place, while Ward would go on to save 121 games for the Blue Jays.

But he was no John Smoltz.

Nearing the end of another lost season, Bobby made Alexander available. The Tigers, locked in a tight race for the AL East title, made no secret of their interest but were reluctant to part with Steve Searcy, a highly touted southpaw.

[John] Hagemann, now a scout for the Phillies, was the Braves’ scout in the Northeast for decades. He saw Smoltz pitch just twice for Glens Falls: once in a bullpen session, another time in a game. Yet the report that he submitted changed the career of a pitcher and the course of two franchises.

“I think my words were, ‘The best arm I’ve seen so far,’” said Hagemann. “Top-of-the-rotation guy. That’s how I saw him. I’m not a genius. I just recall a real live arm.”

Hagemann, in fact, said that Smoltz was not on the initial list of names that he was sent to Glens Falls to scout.

“(The Tigers) gave us about three or four names (of trade candidates). I went in and watched them in about a three or four game series. I didn’t like any of the names that they gave us,” said Hagemann. “(Smoltz) showed me just a great arm. He was raw at the time, but showed me a real live fastball, really good stuff. I called (Cox) and I said, ‘Bobby, I would just try to get Smoltz.’

“He said, ‘Smoltz—who the hell is he?’ I said, ‘He’s just an outstanding arm here.’

“(Cox) called back about 30 minutes later,” Hagemann continued. “He said, ‘John, they’re willing to give him up. Should we do that?’ I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely—you’ll be real happy you got this kid.’ The rest is history.”

Smoltzie was 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA and 1.631 WHIP at Double-A Glens Falls. He turned the corner the next year at Richmond, posting a 2.79 ERA and 1.149 WHIP.

“(The Tigers) changed just about everything about me. I thought I had a good delivery. I searched for two years and tried to figure it out,” said Smoltz. “I got to Atlanta, and (Mazzone) said let me see you throw a baseball. I threw a baseball and he said, ‘That’s a great delivery. That’s how you naturally throw a baseball.’

“From that point on, I was very relaxed and he said, ‘Now we’re just going to work on your pitches.’ That’s all I worked on. I actually was able to progress because I didn’t have to think about 14 different spots I was going to in my delivery. I just had to worry about throwing a pitch.”

Smoltz insists that there is “no way” that he would have been in the majors, let alone a successful major leaguer, for at least three years had he remained with the Tigers. With the Braves, however, he moved quickly, and enjoyed rapid success.

On Aug. 17, 1987, five days after the Smoltz trade, a young left-hander made his major league debut for the Braves. Tom Glavine walked 5 and allowed 10 hits and 6 runs in just 3-2/3 IP that night against the Astros, but it was all uphill from there for the former hockey center and the Bravos.

smoltz

No. 29

Stat geeks roll their eyes at the concept of a clutch performer, which tells me they must have never watched John Smoltz – whose number will be retired June 8 — pitch in October.

In 209 postseason innings, Smoltzie had a better ERA, WHIP, winning percentage and K/9 IP ratio. That’s not a coincidence. It’s clutch, and no Brave was better in big situations.

The stats prove it.

Five HOF’ers in one decade

Here’s a question I hope someone with the time and inclination can answer:

The news of Chipper’s retirement means the Braves, in all likelihood, will send four players and one manager to Cooperstown in one decade. Has any franchise ever produced five Hall of Famers inducted in such a short span of time?

They may end up sending six, if HOF voters ever come around on the Crime Dog, who is definitely worthy.

The baseball Madden

I missed Bobby this year. I also missed Smoltzie in the broadcast booth. I’m not one for hyperbole but I can’t remember a better analyst than Number 29.

Twice this series he’s called a play the pitch before it happened (Delmon Young’s homer off BMF in Game 3 and the loud out in the first inning of Game 4). It’s a shame he won’t be calling the World Series, though he will be behind the mic for what should be the most entertaining LCS, Milwaukee and Philly.

Sort of sounds like an early-1980′s NBA Eastern Conference semifinal — Dr. J. and Moses vs. Sidney Moncrief and Marques Johnson.

The most anticipated debut since Avery

It’s generally agreed that Julio Teheran has more potential than any Braves-grown pitcher since Steve Avery. Certainly there was a lot of buzz around Tommy Hanson’s first start, but mmmBop was a late-blooming prospect. We’ve been hearing about Teheran since he signed as a 16-year-old out of Colombia. So far he’s lived up to the hype.

Let’s hope his baptism goes better than Avery’s (2-1/3 IP, 8 HA, 8 ER, 3 BB).

Or Glavine’s (3-2/3 IP, 10 HA, 6 ER, 5 BB).

Or Hanson’s (6 IP, 6 HA, 6 ER, including 3 homers).

Kevin Millwood won his debut, though he was coming out of the ‘pen in relief of Chris Brock. While not in the same class as the other prospects mentioned, Kyle Davies had one of the best first starts, in Fenway, no less (5 IP, 4 HA, 0 ER, 6 K’s). I’d gladly take that kind of outing from Teheran.

Even better would be a replica of Smoltzie’s first game (8 IP, 4 HA, 1 BB, 1 ER).

Smoltz and Ernie Johnson back with the Braves

As in Ernie Jr., who will be calling 45 Braves games on Peachtree TV this season along with Smoltzie and Joe Simpson. That’ll be a nice respite from Chip.

Smoltzie is also going to work with TBS on the network’s game of the week telecasts. No word on whether a retirement announcement is forthcoming.

Smoltz on Glavine release

smoltzglavI’m thrilled with the McLouth deal and excited about Hanson’s debut. Still, I pretty much agree with Smoltzie‘s take on his friend’s release:

“That’s not how you treat people,” Smoltz said after Boston’s 10-5 victory over Detroit on Wednesday. “He didn’t have a chance to fail at that level. … That’s not how you go about it. But they’re in control. They make those decisions. They’ve made a lot of them lately.”

A bittersweet day, indeed.

–CB

“Smoltz — who the hell is he?”

Interesting piece about the genesis of the Smoltz for Alexander deal.

The Tiger who almost became a Brave

The Tiger who almost became a Brave

“The Atlanta Braves would take either (Steve) Searcy or Smoltz. When I asked various people, the consensus was (to keep) Searcy. The consensus was that he was closer (to the majors),” said (then Tigers-GM Bill) Lajoie. “I didn’t feel like I was on real solid ground at the time. I went with the consensus, knowing full well that I should have traded Searcy. With a check and balance system, the president of the club said did this person agree, did this person agree? Yes. Did I agree? No. But with a checks and balances system, that’s why it was done.”

Searcy, a third-round pick by the Tigers in the 1985 draft (Smoltz lasted until the 22nd round that same year), was widely considered the better prospect. He finished his MLB career with 6 wins, 13 losses, a 5.68 ERA and a WHIP of 1.73.

Smoltz’s numbers with Detroit’s Double-A affiliate in 1987 weren’t much better: 4 wins, 10 losses and a 5.68 ERA. He walked almost as many batters (81) as he struck out (86).

Fortunately for the Braves, a scout named John Hagemann saw Smoltz’s potential.

“I think my words were, ‘The best arm I’ve seen so far,’” said Hagemann. “Top-of-the-rotation guy. That’s how I saw him. I’m not a genius. I just recall a real live arm.”

–CB

“as if they were negotiating with Carl Pavano”

That’s how veteran scribe Murray Chass describes the Braves’ dealings with John Smoltz. His reporting is the most thorough I’ve read and confirms much of what we suspected about the braintrust.

Key points:

The Braves offered Smoltz a one-year contract with a $2 million salary and a potential $8 million in bonuses, much of them based on roster time, for a possible $10 million total. The Red Sox contract has a $5.5 million salary with an additional $5 million in bonuses based on roster time. Smoltz viewed the Red Sox bonuses as more reasonable and more attractive.

Under the Braves’ bonus offers, Smoltz would have earned $1 million each if he were on the roster opening day, May 1 and June 1, then another $5 million based on his number of starts and innings pitched. Smoltz was concerned that the roster bonuses were strictly under the Braves’ control and that they could too easily be manipulated. For example, Smoltz could be sound enough to open the season on the Braves’ roster, but they could decide they didn’t need a fifth starter until later and leave him off the opening-day roster.

The 41-year-old Smoltz, accounting for his shoulder operation last June, made his own proposal, which he called a risk-and-reward offer, where he would accept financial risk and give the Braves more protection earlier in the season in exchange for financial reward if he were pitching regularly later in the season. But the Braves rejected the proposal. …

Considering that the Red Sox had a pretty decent rotation already, they weren’t going to throw millions at a pitcher with a questionable future.

If they felt comfortable with the offer they made Smoltz, why weren’t the Braves willing to offer a higher guarantee, especially since their manager, Bobby Cox, had watched Smoltz throw and was impressed with where he was at that stage of his rehabilitation.

As Chass points out, the “small market” Cleveland Indians signed Pavano for only $500,000 less in guaranteed money than the Braves offered Smoltz.

His departure continues a depressing trend for the Bravos. Smoltz is one of seven pitchers to hurl for one team for 20 years or more. Four of the seven spent their entire careers with one franchise. The three who didn’t — Smoltz, Niekro and Spahn — have one team in common.

–CB

Wren not even smart financially

Frankie has spoken:

Braves general manager Frank Wren said, “It was never that we didn’t want John back, or a lack of respect for John. Our priority was to have a pitching staff that would allow us to go into the season not concerned about rehabs and injuries and the things that set us back in 2008. And that still stands.”

 

Fair enough. If, that is, there were any consistency to what this person says. Remember, this is the person who offered MIKE HAMPTON more guaranteed money than he offered Smoltz.

Not concerned about rehab and injuries? And you try to retain the man who treated the DL like an extended stay hotel?

Wren wanted this guy back?!?

Wren wanted this guy back?!?

What the fuck are you talking about? You were willing to pay a pitcher who meant nothing to the fans, who was at best decent on the rare occasions he pitched, a pitcher who played the equivalent of two and a half seasons in six years here, during which he was paid about $80 million — you would guarantee this guy more than you’d guarantee the franchise’s signature player?

Speaking of $80 million, your “no rehab concerns” strategy included offering that same amount to a pitcher who has missed an average of 10 starts a year in seven full big league seasons?

Strange.

And this notion of not paying Smoltz for not pitching? Again, sounds reasonable. But you’re talking about the face of the franchise. We’re not talking about Russ Ortiz.

What’s worse, this is not even just a bad PR move. It’d be one thing if some other team was offering Smoltz $10 million guaranteed. That would truly make no sense. 

But that person, our so-called GM, saves Liberty Media a couple million for now. Yet long-term, he’s probably costing the Braves money. This team was probably not going to draw huge crowds even with Smoltz this season. Still, this sure as hell is going to cost them thousands of ticket sales over 81 dates. If 50,000 people don’t go to a game because of this, that’s $750,000, assuming an average ticket price of $15, which is probably low. Add concessions, parking and such and you’ve got to be close to $1 million.

Now think about Smoltz’s retirement. Smoltz’s farewell, huge crowds, good feelings, maybe some merchandise sales. Bigger TV ratings. 

Forget all that. That person has robbbed Braves fans emotionally for what he claims to be hard headed, responsible baseball business reasons. For the life of me, I don’t see it. For one, his public utterances do not add up. He’s either lying or changing his strategy every couple of weeks. Either would be awful. Second, he’s not even making a sound business decision.  

Commenter Alan says that ultimately this is about Smoltz leaving for more money, that the Braves have paid him enormous sums over the years and he does not appreciate that. In a sense, that is true. He is going to another team because they are going to pay him more than the Braves are willing to pay him. It is also true, from what I read and hear, that Smoltz can be a prickly, egotistical cuss who likes to be stroked.       

That person, the so-called GM, knows all this. He also knows that Smoltz has stayed with the team on a couple of occasions when he could have been paid more elsewhere. This go round, that person dithered, made an offer that was clearly inferior to the other one, and apparently made no effort whatsoever at the necessary stroking.

So in this case, unlike most where a pro athlete says they’re insulted by a contract offer, it seems all too clear that the way that person handled the situation truly was an insult to a local sports icon. That person, I suspect, knew Smoltz would leave and, ultimately, didn’t much care.

Maybe some part of Smoltz was curious about playing elsewhere. Still, it seems obvious that he would only act on that curiosity if the Braves’ brass pushed him in that direction.

Wren and the Braves organization bungled this one on every level. It’s not just a stick in the eye to the fans — whom you should be doing anything you can to please as your prepare to put a bad team on the field — it’s not even a smart business decision. The spinning only makes it worse.    

 –CD