May 28, 2011 at 3:48 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
You’re frustrated with the Braves’ offense, we all are. You’ve watched them score only 3.87 runs per game–12th in the league–after they scored 4.56 runs per game–5th in the league–last year. You’ve seen them baffled by pitchers who don’t belong in the big leagues, you’ve seen them shut out four times, you’ve seen them score only once five times, and you’ve seen them squander quality start after quality start. What was billed as one of the league’s top offenses has been downright poor. You’ve seen the results-based statistics and you’ve seen the underlying/peripheral statistics. Everything you’ve seen adds up to this: the Braves’ offense has been a mess, and a very frustrating one.
Your frustration was justified. This type of performance is, indeed, unacceptable for a contending team, especially one that has as much offensive talent on their roster as Atlanta does. Seeing as the current group simply isn’t getting the job done, the natural inclination is to suggest upgrading the offense through a trade.
OK, but where would you even start? Let’s go through, position-by-position, and take a look at where they might be able to upgrade.
Catcher – Brian McCann
Uhh.. no. You’re not going to find a better catcher than Brian McCann on the trade market. McCann is not hitting particularly well by his standards–.281/.349/.404–and the team could certainly use more production wherever they can get it, but you’re not going to find a catcher who can do any better.
First Base – Freddie Freeman
Freeman is hitting .243/.326/.367. That’s not good enough for a first baseman. His approach leaves much to be desired, he’s hit a ton of ground balls, and he hasn’t been able to duplicate the power he showed in AAA last year. He’s only 21 years old and it’s only 50 games, but it might be time to consider the possibility that Freeman isn’t ready to be an every-day first baseman in the big leagues. There’s no shame in needing more time in the minors at the age of 21. We obviously didn’t expect Freeman to produce like Jason Heyward did during his rookie season–Freeman isn’t on Heyward’s level in terms of tools, skills, or baseball IQ–but it’s fair to say Freeman has failed to meet the modest expectations in place for him. This wouldn’t be nearly as big of an issue if the rest of the offense were performing, but if you’re looking for a place to upgrade, first base wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying the Braves should option Freeman down to AAA and go in a different direction at 1B for the rest of the year, just that the issue deserves some consideration.
Second Base – Dan Uggla
The man the Braves brought in to be their right-handed slugger, to balance their line-up, is hitting .183/.250/.335. He has been their worst hitter. Easily, I’d add. However, Uggla has more than 5 years of service and can’t be optioned to the minor leagues. He’s under team control for 4 years beyond 2011 for $52 million, making him virtually untradeable if the Braves would even want to. There is nobody else in the organization capable of serving as their right-handed, middle-of-the-order hitter, so their bed is made with Uggla and they’re going to have to deal with it, whether he turns it around or not.
Third Base – Chipper Jones
In addition to the fact that Chipper simply isn’t going anywhere, Chipper has been the team’s best hitter.
Shortstop – Alex Gonzalez
Sure, Alex Gonzalez is a hacker whose a poor bet to post a .300 on-base average. That’s what Atlanta signed up for when they acquired him. He’s done everything that he’s been asked to do, hitting .268/.297/.397. They could conceivably look to upgrade offensive output of the position, but at what cost? You’re not going to find a player whose capable of providing the type of defensive value Gonzalez does and hit enough to justify the cost of an upgrade on the trade market.
Left Field – Martin Prado
Prado led the league in outs made coming into last night’s game and made 4 more during it. He’s now hitting .283/.322/.425, which is not the type of on-base average you’d like to see from a top-of-the-order hitter. Still, with the defensive value he provides and the fact that he’s been one of the better hitters on the team, left field isn’t a place the Braves should be looking to upgrade.
Center Field – Nate McLouth
McLouth is currently disabled and when he wasn’t he hit only .238/.332/.341, good for a 90 wRC+. That’s obviously not great, but the .332 on-base average is 3rd among Braves’ regulars. Considering his poor fielding McLouth has roughly been a replacement-level player thus far, but that’s a refreshing step up from his 2010 campaign and from the type of production they’re getting out of first and second base. The Braves hold a club option for McLouth’s services in 2012 that they’re extraordinarily likely to decline, so cutting bait now isn’t much of an issue. Finding a center fielder who can provide an offensive boost, however, is an issue, and even if you can find one it’s going to cost a ton to acquire. It’s worth mentioning that through 3 games McLouth’s replacement, Jordan Schafer, has a) played acceptable defense and b) posted a .400 on-base average and not looked completely lost at the plate while doing it. Both of these things are surprises to me, and while I don’t expect them to last they might as well find out for sure if they’re going to before acquiring a center fielder. Not that the position is the team’s biggest concern, anyway.
Right Field – Jason Heyward
If you play injured you play poorly and hurt yourself even more. We’ve seen it 1,000 times, yet it never stops. Heyward tempted fate again, trying to play with a bum shoulder, and he got burned, posting a .214/.317/.407 triple-slash before being disabled. The good news is tri-fold. Good news item number one: Jason Heyward is a much better hitter than this and will hit better once he’s healthy. Good news item number two: two MRIs revealed no structural damage in Jason’s shoulder, meaning he’ll presumably be back to 100% with a reasonable amount of rest. Good news item number three: Heyward’s replacement–Eric “Big Damage” Hinske–has been on fire, posting a .330/.355/.534 triple-slash in 93 PA’s. Even if Heyward hits only .214/.317/.407 for the rest of the year (he won’t, he’ll do much better than that), that’s still better than what five of the team’s regulars have done so far.
In summary, the offense is underperforming in a nearly systematic fashion, but we can expect a good bit of this to change by simply doing nothing. In the mean time, it’s worth monitoring Freddie Freeman’s progress (I’d give him three or four more weeks to show a better approach before sending him down to AAA, calling up Mauro Gomez, and platooning him and Hinske at 1B while I locate a more suitable rest-of-season solution) and the center field situation. They’re basically locked in at the corner outfield spots, 3rd base, 2nd base, shortstop, and catcher and won’t be seeking an upgrade on the trade market unless someone suffers a devastating injury. All-in-all I think they’ll be OK with the group they have, but I’ll be monitoring Freeman very diligently over the next few weeks. If you want the Braves to upgrade their offense, let this be your starting point.