December 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis, Statistical Analysis
In 2011 the Braves were a game away from making the playoffs despite having no players with a Fangraphs WAR above 3.7. The team was well on pace to make the playoffs before the monumental collapse, as we all know, so expecting this team as currently built to again contend for a playoff spot is certainly plausible.
Not heavily relying on any individual player offensively or on the mound and still being able to win 89 games is very impressive. It is good that the Braves have the depth throughout the roster to be able to compete with the upper echelon of National League teams, but top tier production from a few players could push this team into contention for the NL East and assure them a wild card, barring a rash of injuries.
Below are the most likely candidates to have a season worth 4.5 Fangraphs WAR or more, in order of most likely to achieve said status, in my opinion. ZiPS projections for the Braves come out tomorrow, and we will see where they rate each player as well. I will comment on those projections around the same time tomorrow. For the rest of the post, I will simply state WAR when speaking of Fangraphs WAR.
We all know the story behind Heyward, an uber prospect with a sensational rookie season that struggled immensely during his sophomore campaign. Despite the poor offensive year, he was still able to produce a 2.2 WAR playing his entire season in right field, where he receives a -5.1 positional adjustment.
Heyward was still able to be the Braves’ most valuable outfielder and third most valuable position player according to WAR by playing excellent defense and being solid on the base paths. In fact, if you replace UZR with DRS, Heyward becomes a 2.7 win player instead of 2.2, which would make him more valuable than any position player aside from Brian McCann. That is pretty impressive given the fact that he had the least amount of plate appearances of the entire top five.
I expect Heyward to bounce back. He may not perform as well as some imagined in terms of the power numbers, but he is still an excellent player with solid secondary skills that help his overall value.
Three year average ( two seasons): 3.65
Fan projection via Fangraphs: 5.0
My projection: 4.8
Bourn has hovered around this mark for each of the past three seasons, mostly due to his position, base running, and defense. UZR disliked Bourn’s defense in 2011, but I put more of that on the metric’s massive volatility than on Bourn’s skills defensively decreasing. For what it’s worth, DRS had Bourn at -1, so it is possible that he had a poor season in the outfield, but a combined +27 over the past three seasons suggest his true talent level is among the best in the game in center.
He probably will not have as much luck on balls in play as he had last year (.369 BABIP in ’11 compared to .341 for his career), but he has had two seasons with a mark over .366, so it is possible. Bourn should also walk a bit more, which should keep his on base percentage around the same .345-.350 level that it has hovered around throughout most of his career, sans 2008.
Three year WAR average: 4.6
Fans projection via Fangraphs: 4.1
My prediction: 4.5
McCann was in the midst of one of his best seasons ever until he ran into a late season slump. In the season’s final two months, he batted just .180/.292/.346 compared to .306/.374/.514 from April until July 26. That was the last day McCann played before hitting the disabled list, and he returned on August 14 when he put up that awful slash line to end the year. There is legitimate reason to believe the injury hurt his performance, so I do not expect the poor tail end of the season to linger on into 2012.
The rough end of the year left McCann’s WAR at 3.7, the lowest since 2007 and second lowest of his entire career. McCann has a lot of games and innings behind the plate now, so injuries could unfortunately become more prevalent. Hopefully he is able to stay injury free, but at this point I am at least a bit skeptical of whether that will happen.
Three year average: 4.2
Fan projection via Fangraphs: 5.0
My projection: 4.1
Beachy is my pick to provide the most value from the rotation in 2012. His phenomenal rookie year was somewhat quiet on the national scene due to his low win total (he ended the season just 7-3) and the fact that he threw just over 140 innings.
Beachy’s strikeout rate was simply outstanding, and there is little reason to expect that number to drop below one per inning. He led the league among starters who threw over 140 innings, slightly edging out Zack Greinke. Even if Beachy’s strikeout rate regresses, expecting over a 16.2% decrease (the percentage difference between his 10.74 mark and 9.00) in his strikeout per nine rate is being pessimistic. Most signs point to Beachy’s ERA decreasing, as the spread between his ERA and FIP, SIERA, and xFIP is rather vast. If he remains healthy and all things remain equal, Beachy should be the top pitcher on the Braves’ staff next season in terms of WAR.
Three year average (one season): 2.8
Fan projection via Fangraphs: 3.6
My Projection: 4.0
Hanson suffered a similar fate as McCann. Stellar start to the year followed by an injury, trailed by an attempt to play through the injury which subsequently destroyed his statistics. In his first 17 starts, he had a 2.44 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 35 walks in 103.1 innings. His season at that point was comparable to almost anyone in the league, and there was little reason to expect his performance to drop the way it did, though a slight regression was expected due to the spread between his ERA and FIP.
Three of those 17 starts actually occurred after returning from the disabled list, but the rotator cuff tendinitis began to bother Hanson in mid-July, causing him to throw just 26.2 more innings in the season to the tune of an 8.10 ERA. Hanson’s ERA ballooned up to 3.60 from the aforementioned 2.44, and he missed the remainder of the season due to the complications in his shoulder.
I expect Hanson to return to his ~3.30 FIP performance, but the shoulder issues leave some cause for concern that he will be able to throw 200 innings as he did in 2010. Expecting him to pitch around 180 innings is probably more realistic at this point, which will likely cause him to fall shy of the 4.5 win mark.
Three year average: 2.9
Fan projection via Fangraphs: 3.2
My projection: 3.8
The joke around the Braves blogosphere and on twitter was that Dan Uggla should have won the comeback player of the year due to his performance in the second half of last season compared to his performance to start the year. The oddness of Uggla’s start to his tenure in Atlanta is well documented, and he straightened everything out to put up a rather productive offensive season that was just a tad below what was to be expected based on his career averages.
Uggla’s performance seems to be tied to his BABIP. When he has had a BABIP north of .300, he has put up 4.5, 4.6, and 4.9 win seasons. When his BABIP is below .300, he has had 2.7, 2.7, and 2.5 win seasons. In fact, in the years that his BABIP was below .300, it was never eve above .279. Uggla has only had a BABIP below .279 or above .309, which to me is just incredibly strange. This makes projecting him on a year-to-year basis very difficult, as he has really only had very good or decent seasons, with no solid good years in between.
Three year average: 3.4
Fan projections via Fangraphs: 3.7
My projection: 3.5
Tim Hudson was excluded from this exorcise due to the fact that this version of WAR dislikes him so much. Fangraphs’ WAR uses FIP, which does not account for Hudson’s ground ball tendencies. He has consistently outperformed his FIP over his career, and should be one of the top pitchers on the staff if his back injury does not cause him problems over the course of the season.
If my projections are accurate (far from certain), the Braves will have five players with a WAR higher than 3.7. The outfield would go from being an annual weakness to potentially harnessing the top two most valuable players on the roster. A full season of Bourn and a rebound from Heyward make that rather likely, so the projections do not have a ton of optimism in them.
A newly acquired left fielder could also provide performance north of 4.5, but I doubt this is the type of player the Braves actually do acquire. It seems as though Wren is confidence that his team will be able to rebound, in the depth of the rotation, strength of the bullpen, and anticipated performance of the offense. Make no mistake, the Braves still have a quality roster despite being very quiet this offseason.