According to Baseball Reference, the Braves’ run prevention has been better than their run production. Their ERA+ (ERA adjusted to league and park where 100 is average) is 109, which means it’s 9 percent better than league average. Their OPS+ (OPS adjusted to league and park) is 96, which means it’s 4 percent below league average. The Braves’ OPS+ ranks 7th in the National League while their ERA+ ranks 5th. This was certainly a surprise to me and probably is to most of you. The Braves have seemed to have a very good offense this season but have seemed to be lacking in the pitching department. However at least some of the objective data points to the Braves’ pitching as a strength, when we look at the season as a whole.
Every Braves regular that has been in the lineup all season (so that excludes Tyler Pastornicky and Paul Janish) has an OPS+ of 96 or better. They are getting plenty of offense from their outfield, the corner spots, catcher and even Dan Uggla hasn’t been as bad on the season as it seems. Uggla has an OPS+ on the season of 96, which actually is not that bad for a second baseman, even if we expected more. Also Juan Francisco has been a pleasant surprise relative to his early season production. Francisco’s OPS+ is 103. In the playoffs (let’s hope mentioning the p word doesn’t jinx the Braves), he probably is the number one left-handed pinch-hitting option.
The Braves definitely have a good offense but I think they aren’t quite as good as it might seem on the surface because they really have just a couple of guys who have produced at least 15 percent above average (according to OPS+): Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman (and David Ross, if you want to count semi-regulars). The Braves are more of a well-balanced attack that doesn’t have a group of stud hitters, which is sort of what we might have expected before the season started.
The Braves’ bullpen has been fantastic, as we expected it would be, even with the troubles of Jonny Venters. Actually Venters has come around and has an ERA+ of 107 with a strikeout rate of 12.1. The starting staff has been a mixed bag. Of course Beachy was awesome before he got hurt. Hudson has been good. We all know about Mike Minor’s ups and downs. Randall Delgado had his moments but he’s back in the minors. Kris Medlen has been consistently solid no matter where the Braves put him.
But the pitcher that leads the Braves in innings and has been better than many of us probably realize is Tommy Hanson. Hanson by no means has been great. When he was coming up through the minors, he looked like he might be a #2 with perhaps #1 upside. But he’s been inconsistent. He always gives up runs, sometimes in bunches, which is why I think we tend to underrate him. He hasn’t had a start this season in which he has given up no runs. However, looking at his season on the whole, he’s given the Braves decent innings, which has more value that we sometimes realize. There are very few stud pitchers around and few consistently good #2 types. We all wish Hanson could be more but he’s given the Braves something, probably more than it seems. He’s clearly not the team’s best pitcher but he’s sort of been the guy to keep the starting staff afloat this season.
For all that was written and talked about concerning the Braves’ pitching issues, with Minor turning it around and the trade for Paul Maholm, the Braves are just a solid, deep team. For what they lack in star power, they make up for it in solid pieces at multiple spots on the roster. As I mentioned in my power rankings last week, Frank Wren is a master of not wasting roster spots. He’s been an underrated GM because the Braves have a very set payroll limit that they don’t seem to be allowed to go over. So Wren and the Braves have been unable to acquire loads of star talent. Under Wren the Braves have acquired players in bulk who have provided comfortably-above-replacement-level value. On Wren’s Braves over the last 2-3 years there is hardly ever more than one, maybe two roster spots where players could be interchanged for fringe-level talent.