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Braves Mailbag: Mike Soroka expectations, Matt Olson and more

This week’s mailbag focuses on the plans for Mike Soroka, Matt Olson’s defensive struggles and much more!

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Thanks to everyone who took the time to send in messages for this week’s Atlanta Braves mailbag. We will do it again next month. Let’s get to it!

Would it make more sense for Mike Soroka to be in the bullpen or should they try and fit him into the rotation? It might be more health/performance dependent on the rest of the rotation.

In general, what are expectations for Soroka. I think he is on a 100 IP limit.

We received a couple of questions on Mike Soroka this week and let me first say just how great it is to be talking about him again. If you missed it, Soroka recently was a guest on the 755 is Real podcast and discussed a variety of topics including his rehab and how he has handled the injury. Soroka is always insightful and this was a great listen.

I don’t see him as being anything other than a starter. It is unclear how he will work into the mix, but they could theoretically go with a six-man rotation and sprinkle him in over the last couple of months of the season. Soroka recently traveled back to Florida to begin fielding practice and continue his rehab and he said that the plan is to keep him under 100 innings for the season. I guess I wouldn’t close the door completely on him pitching out of the bullpen, but it isn’t what I am expecting. I think they will want to get him as close as they can into his normal routine and go from there. As far as expectations go, I don’t think there should be any. Soroka is in uncharted territory after suffering two Achilles tears. If the Braves get anything from him down the stretch, then that has to be viewed as a win.

The offense either scores runs in bunches or goes relatively silent. Hard to watch games when they are shut down. Opposing pitching has something to do with that but every team faces the same type of pitching so that can’t be used as an excuse. Last year was much the same, until it seemed waiver wire acquisitions Soler, Joc and Rosario showed up. So is it team chemistry again or something else?

So a couple of things. First, the acquisitions of Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall were trades and did not come through the waiver wire. Second, I don’t buy that “chemistry issues” were to blame for Atlanta’s first half struggles in 2021 and I’m not buying it again this season.

There is no denying that they have struggled with consistency, but what I see is a lot of little things adding up into a bigger problem. Some of it is plain bad luck, some of it is individuals pressing and trying to do too much. The players in that locker room are very aware of their offensive struggles, particularly with runners in scoring position. Getting to the point where they relax and the results start to come is the hard part. We have seen signs of late that the offense is starting to come around, but no you can’t convince me that bad chemistry is what is holding this team back.

Reports that MLB continues to have trouble using consistent balls may also inform why the offense looks like it’s struggling sometimes. Hard to put runs on the board when you’re only going to barrel up a few balls a night anyway, and the ones you do go for outs. The Braves do have one of the lowest barreled outs rates in MLB at this point, but it still hurts when it happens.

Do you think Dansby will talk contract in-season?

It is possible, but typically when players get this close to free agency, they at least test the waters. Atlanta did agree to extensions with Charlie Morton and Travis d’Arnaud during the season last year, but both are different situations than Swanson, since both had hit free agency before. I don’t think it is impossible, especially if he doesn’t want to play anywhere else, but I’d be really surprised.

Also, while we are talking about Swanson, he is a perfect example of how things can turn quickly. He was hitting .216/.293/.351 through April with a 36.6 percent strikeout rate. In May, he is hitting .304/.357/.490 with a 25.0 percent strikeout rate. It just further illustrates how long a major league season is. Now that it is June, we can’t really say that it is early, but there is still a long way to go.

When we signed Matt Olson I often read that he was the best defensive first baseman in MLB, that’s not what I’ve been seeing at all, is this a particularly bad defensive year for Olson? Or were his DRS numbers a mirage?

I think Matt Olson is the classic example of a player that is pressing not only at the plate, but also in the field. He got off to a great start, but the team wasn’t winning and the natural inclination is to try and do more. We saw him struggle at the plate for several months and I think in some ways that has carried out to the field. I’m not worried about Matt Olson and I do still think he is one of the best defensive first baseman in the game despite what we have seen so far.

With that said, DRS as a metric has looked more and more unreliable to me over the last several seasons. There has been a wide gap between DRS and other defensive metrics such as Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average. If I told you that DRS had Austin Riley at +13 last season while Baseball Savant said that he was -6 OAA, then you would probably side with DRS, particularly if you listen to the local broadcast every night. DRS also had Marcell Ozuna at +4 last season in just over 400 innings which I don’t think is going to line up with anyone’s eye test. Defense is still one of the hardest things to measure so to each their own, but DRS is sliding down my personal list. For someone looking at Matt Olson’s defensive metrics holistically, rather than his reputation or just DRS, they would see that by OAA he hadn’t had a notably above-average defensive season since 2019, that his UZR and FRAA weren’t great in 2021 (and his career UZR is good but not great). It seems like glowing assessments of his defense are based on 2019 (and to some extent 2018), and we’re a ways away from that now.

I enjoy reading the MiLB recap. Wondering if there is a chance Phil Gosselin gets called up? He had a taste of the show and can hold his own ( I think). Don’t know what all his numbers are, though. Could he be viable?

Gosselin has played in 463 career games at the major league level so he has more than a taste and it is certainly possible. He is putting up good numbers at Gwinnett, hitting .309/.368/.507 with a 132 wRC+. Teams are tentatively scheduled to cut down to a maximum of 13 pitchers on June 19. I say tentatively because MLB and the MLBPA have twice agreed to push the deadline back citing increased injuries due to the shortened spring. If it does happen, the Braves will have to drop a pitcher and add another position player to the mix.

Gosselin is not on the 40-man roster and the Braves just claimed infielder Joe Dunand off waivers from the Marlins. So, Gosselin, probably isn’t in line for a call up currently, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he worked his way onto the major league roster at some point this season.

As far as Touki Toussaint and Huascar Ynoa, are they not getting proper instruction/coaching to help them figure it out, or is it a matter that they are so confused by their role they are hearing too much talk?

This one is a little hard to unpack for me. Both Touki Toussaint and Huascar Ynoa have spent the majority of time as starters lately, so I am not sure what they could be confused about their role. We have seen both of these guys have success so I don’t think you can blame a lack of coaching or instruction for their problems either. Neither has shown the ability to throw enough strikes to have consistent success. The Braves had a lot of success after they altered Ynoa’s arm slot, but that never fixed his inability to nail down a consistent release point (or one that masked his slider from his fastball better) and that seems to have caught up to him now. I have been among the group that has suggested a switch to a bullpen role for both. At some point I wonder if Kyle Muller doesn’t get added to this group as well.

However, you need look no further than the progress that Kyle Wright has made this season as a reason to show some more patience. Wright was called a bust multiple times and went through a lot of the same issues as Toussaint and Ynoa are currently. Now Wright looks like he might finally realize his potential and could be a key piece of the rotation. If you recall, Wright has credited some of his success to some Braves’ staff, including Assistant GM for Player Development Ben Sestanovich, sitting down with him and proposing a better pitch mix and gameplan than the one he had been working with (why this took so long is a separate question). That sort of thing might work for Toussaint, with his problematic fastballs, too — though Ynoa’s issues seem to be more execution-related at this point.

Finding and developing pitchers is hard. There is no magic button to press that suddenly makes them good.

How long will it be before Major League Baseball effectively kills its Extra Innings subscription package, due to increasing blackouts? They seem to continue to find exclusive rights deals that blocks fans ability to view their team, in addition to the traditional local blackouts. I’ve about had it.

I feel your pain, but I think it is worth looking at the big picture. I don’t think the Extra Innings package is going anywhere and I see a situation where it could be expanded. Blackouts have always been an issue and I think Major League Baseball knows this and would gladly do away with them if not for the deals its teams locked in with the RSNs that they can’t exactly void. That is total speculation on my part, but they can’t help but be aware of the issues. A few of the lawsuits from the past few years, like the one forcing MLB to offer a single-team option, are an obvious reminder that MLB has some issues and exposure in this arena.

I see MLB and the Braves get blamed on social media a lot for fans not being able to stream Bally Sports South or Bally Sports Southeast without a cable subscription. That is very much a Sinclair problem as they refuse to work out deals with streaming carriers like YouTube TV. It’s also a problem we’ve seen in other markets (LA, Houston) in past years, just now coming to bug Braves fans.

As far as games moving to Peacock and Apple TV+, we have seen other sports leagues do the same. I think everyone at this point is searching for answers. My dream would be to be able to pay for and get access to every single televised game no matter what provider it is on, free of blackouts. In fact, I would gladly pay more for this service if it were available. That isn’t happening, though, as long as Sinclair and the RSNs continue to exist. I’m not losing hope though, MLB has an incentive to make it easier for fans to watch games. It just remains to be seen how long it takes them to figure it out.

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