The Braves are above .500 and are in a good spot through the first couple of months, but it’s thanks to their run prevention. The offense has struggled, especially recently. As I write this on Wednesday night, the Braves are next-to-last in runs scored and on-base percentage and are in the middle of the pack in slugging percentage.
Much is being made of the Braves’ lack of offense with runners in scoring position. They are third from the bottom in batting average, next to last in OBP, and middle of the pack in SLG. With runners in scoring position and two outs they are last in batting average, next to last in OBP and last in SLG.
So how concerned should we be about the Braves’ offense?
Well, first of all, let’s address the RISP thing. I don’t think there is anything that is causing the Braves to struggle in that particular situation. History suggests that success or failure to hit with RISP that differs greatly from overall hitting is randomness and is unlikely to continue. If a team or a player can hit, it/he will hit regardless of situation, given enough chances. So, no, I do not think the Braves’ issues so far with RISP are a sign of some sort of lack of skill or ability to hit in these situations.
As far as the overall offense, while there is room for improvement, we shouldn’t be all that worried. The Braves finished fourth in runs scored and third in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+, a measure of a teams’ runs created, adjusted for ballparks and based on the run value of outs, hits and walks) last season. They didn’t make a lot of changes this off-season. They lost Brian McCann. While Gattis is no McCann and probably won’t match McCann’s production from 2013, McCann didn’t have a great season. Chris Johnson was due for a decline. Dan Uggla has continued his downward spiral (but there’s a good chance Tommy La Stella will replace him soon). Aside from those spots, it was reasonable to expect the Braves to hold steady or improve.
Johnson, Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton have been disappointing so far. Although Johnson was due for a decline, no one expected him to be as bad as he’s been. Heyward and B.J. have picked up the pace over the last couple of weeks. This is especially encouraging for B.J., given his awful season in 2013. With Uggla’s continued decline, given his age and the trends from the last several seasons, it seems a change is coming soon and his replacement certainly can’t do any worse.
Anything is possible, of course. This is baseball. Players will stray from expectations one way or another. But only three players have been a concern so far this season, and two of those players have shown signs that they will reach or exceed expectations when all is said and done. Maybe those players won’t, maybe others will falter, maybe there will be more players who falter than exceed expectations or vice versa. As of right now, at the beginning of May, I don’t think we’ve seen anything definitive enough to indicate that this team, when all is said and done, will stray from our preseason expectations offensively. As Annie Savoy said in “Bull Durham,” “It’s a long season and you gotta trust it.”