August 11, 2012

The Braves are a Balanced and Deep Team

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.



9 Responses to “The Braves are a Balanced and Deep Team”

  1. 1
    hairybuckeye Says:

    Thanks for the very objective article. Keep it up.

  2. 2
    Jared Says:

    I appreciate your comment about Uggla’s fielding ability. Last month many were slamming him about the hitting performance, which no one can deny was far less than is expected of him. But I noticed quite a few people saying that if he’s not going to hit and he’s not a good fielder, he needs to sit out more or even be traded to free up payroll for players who produce. I realize Uggla is know as a less than stellar fielder, if you judge him by the typical measures of fielding percentage and number of errors. On the MLB web site, he is average when judges by those two statistics. But if you sort their chart by other fielding numbers, you will find that he is first in double plays, 2nd in assists, 1st in innings, 6th in putouts, and 1st in games started. He is also 2nd in total chances, and it’s reasonable to assume that the more often a players handles the ball the more errors he is bound to make.

    My point is that what Uggla may have been lacking at the plate he has certainly made up for with his reliability on the field. And he seems to be coming around with his hitting since the first of the month. I’d like to believe it’s for real because he hasn’t been too explosive since the first. Rather, he has been making good contact and taking his walks. I would be cautious if he had hit 3 home runs in the first 3 days of the month. I might think we need to check the record books and see if he was playing against a pitcher or team he has hit well in the past.

    In any case, it’s hard to think that the Braves need to win even more games than they have over the last 2 weeks. The Nationals don’t seem ready to let up on their incredible winning pace. Atlanta will even have to be fighting just to stay in a wild card slot.

  3. 3
    Shaun Says:

    Jared, I don’t think Uggla is a very good fielder. His value is exclusively on the offensive side and while he hasn’t been great, he’s been okay for a secondbaseman, if you take his season stats on the whole.

    I do think Uggla’s days as one of the top offensive secondbasemen in the game are pretty much done, which is why I think the Braves should at least explore a trade in the offseason. He probably still has some value to a team, even with the big contract. I don’t know that the Braves could find a favorable trade for them, for sure, but they should probably try.

  4. 4
    Walker Says:

    So Shaun you don’t think Uggla has another 2010 like season left in him? That was a good year for him.

  5. 5
    Shaun Says:

    Walker, I think it’s possible that he does, and that’s what would make him a valuable trade piece. It’s very possible he could have another season like that or close to it. I think it’s likely that overall he’ll be around a league-average offensive performer, if not slightly worse, with sub par defense.

    The fact that he’s probably not going to be horrible and that there’s the possibility of another big season plus the fact that his contract is rather large, makes him a good trade candidate to a team that is better suited to afford such a player; if the Braves can work our the right deal. If they can’t, well, at least they aren’t likely to have an awful player on their hands until the end of his contract. But I would explore the possibilities to see if anyone bites.

  6. 6
    Carlos Collazo Says:

    The real question is… if Uggla does go, who do you expect to take over second base? Tyler Pastornicky? Or would you want to see Prado go to second? Personally I want Prado at third for the rest of his career. He’s awesome over there.

  7. 7
    Shaun Says:

    Carlos, I think Prado’s best position is thirdbase. I think the Braves realize this. I think if they do explore and Uggla trade and can make it work, they will try to acquire a cheaper secondbaseman, either for Uggla or in another transaction.

    Pastornicky could be an option but I don’t know. They may want to get him some more experience there before they throw him out there at the major league level. They may need to see more and see if he can convince them that he’s a major league secondbaseman. I suspect they’ll go with someone outside the organization, if they trade Uggla and hope that Pastornicky could possibly be a secondbaseman of the future, perhaps.

    I think Pastornicky could hit enough to be a decent secondbaseman. I doubt he’s a superstar but he could stick there.

  8. 8
    Carlos Collazo Says:

    His arm is a much better fit at second where he won’t have to try and force it so much. I feel like if he had enough practice there he could turn into a pretty good regular. He’s still very young, and the Braves want to turn him into an Omar Infante type, but we see where Omar ended up: starting second baseman. Maybe I’m just trying to convince my self that TP can start somewhere still, I really like the kid.

    But on the Uggla note, I really don’t think we are going to trade him. No team is going to want to pick up his contract at this point and everyone knows he still has some gas in the tank.

  9. 9
    Shaun Says:

    Carlos, I suspect the Braves would have to eat some contract to move Uggla. That may or may not be worth it. The fact that he still has something left, probably, would seem to make him a desirable trade piece. I think the Braves could trade him fairly easily, in fact. It’s just a matter of what they would get in the way of players and/or salary relief. That’s what it comes down to.

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