June 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
When everyone is healthy, the best Braves team looks like this:
You can flip/flop McLouth and Schafer if you want, but that’s basically the roster.
The biggest weaknesses I see are:
1) Bench. Conrad, Hinske, and Ross have been good, but the Braves lack a right-handed threat off the bench and a competent utility infielder.
2) Right-handed relief. Kimbrel has been very good, Gearrin is a useful ROOGY/GB-specialist, Linebrink isn’t horrible if he’s not being used in high-leverage situations, and Martinez is a fine long-man. However, in a high-leverage situation before the 9th inning (when Kimbrel is under lock and key), the Braves don’t have a great right-handed option to turn to. Eventually they’ll get Medlen back, who is a very good reliever, but he’s actually exhibited a reverse platoon split throughout his career primarily on account of his change-up being (by far) his best pitch. The Braves could really use another FB/SL-type right-handed reliever (or just any RH-reliever that’s very effective against righties). The left side of the bullpen is stacked with O’Flaherty, Venters, and the surprisingly effective Sherrill.
3) Center field. It’s no secret the Braves has struggled to score runs this season, but center field is the only position they could conceivably upgrade. Dan Uggla’s lack of production and Jason Heyward’s injuries have been the biggest reasons why the Braves have struggled to score, but those two players aren’t going anywhere (though, as previously mentioned, acquiring competent reserves for the positions wouldn’t hurt). Apart from 2B and RF, the Braves have gotten above-average offensive production from LF, 3B, C, and only slightly below-average offensive production at SS and 1B (Alex Gonzalez mitigates this with his glove, Freddie Freeman with his cost effectiveness and upside). Center field is the one position that they’ve both gotten an OPS of about 100 points below the league average from and don’t have a long-term solution already installed. Finding a center fielder who can hit is tough, though. It has been suggested that the Braves should consider moving Martin Prado to CF and acquiring a corner outfielder to play every day. I’m not wild about the idea, but if they acquired the right corner outfielder it’d be tough to complain.
Chart of the Braves splits by position:
Of note: The Braves have hit .244/.310/.398 against right-handed pitching but only .222/.297.343 against left-handed pitching. Most of the split has come from three players: Brian McCann (who you’re not going to replace and who has hit lefties well in the past), Nate McLouth, and Dan Uggla. Uggla has always shown a reverse platoon split, but a .359 OPS against LHP is just unacceptable. I know you’re supposed to regress platoon splits and all that, but I’d be seriously thinking about never playing him against LHP again, especially if the Braves are able to locate a reliable right-handed threat off the bench.
At any rate, those are the needs I see: RH-bench bat, utility infielder, RH-reliever, and center fielder; in that order. This team is built to go the distance if everyone stays healthy and plays like we expect them to (get it the fuck together, Uggla), all they really need is a few reliable spare parts to be a complete team.