May 30, 2014

What’s Wrong with the Offense?

In his Thursday blog post, David O’Brien of the writes the following:

No, I’m not saying you have to bunt a lot – it’s a bit late for the Braves to suddenly become a good bunting team – I’m saying you have  to put the ball in play with runners on base and less than two outs. Hit a grounder to the right side to get a runner to third, hit a fly ball (not a pop-up or a strikeout) get a runner in from third.

Last year the Braves were 4th in the NL in runs scored, 3rd in OPS, 5th in OPS+, 3rd in wOBA, 3rd in wRC+.  They also led the league in strikeout rate.  With men on base they led the league in strikeout rate. With men in scoring position they led the league in strikeout rate.

The Braves of 2013 and the Braves of 2014 just aren’t that different, in terms of specific players and in terms of style of player.  They still have a team that will strike out a lot but they also have guys with decent on-base skills and with power.  (They also have some good baserunners and defensive players.)   The loss of McCann will hurt them some.  Chris Johnson won’t be the same player he was last season.  But when all is said and done, this team is not all that different offensively from last year’s Braves.

The Braves, entering Thursday’s play, are 6th in the National League in homeruns with 51. The Rockies lead the way with 61. The Giants are second with 60. The Brewers are third with 56. The Marlins and Dodgers have 55. Then come the Braves. So not a whole lot of difference in the 4th-6th ranked teams, a difference of four homeruns. Their Isolated Power (ISO, slugging percentage minus batting average) is 6th in the National League.  As it stands now, the Braves are in the middle of the pack in slugging and near the bottom in OBP. Their walk rate is middle-of-the-pack.

So the Braves are hitting their share of homeruns, they are hitting for extra-base power, and while they aren’t drawing walks at an outstanding rate, they haven’t been too bad at it either.  The Braves have a .289 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), 4th worst in the league.  A normal BABIP is .300, so the Braves batted balls aren’t finding holes and falling in for hits at a normal rate, indicating they are hitting into some bad luck.

Much has been made of the Braves’ struggles with men in scoring position.  They’ve hit just .228 and they lead the league in strikeout rate with RISP.  But they are 6th in walk rate, 5th in slugging percentage, 3rd in ISO, and have hit the 6th most homeruns though they have the fewest plate appearances with RISP.  So with RISP the Braves are again drawing their share of walks, hitting their share of homeruns and hitting the ball hard.  So far this season bad luck seems to be a bigger issue for the Braves with RISP than it has been overall, as they have just a .267 BABIP with RISP, 5th worst in the league.

The Braves aren’t a perfect offense.  Obviously the ideal would be a team with on-base and slugging abilities and an ability to avoid the strikeout.  But, again, they were fine last year with a high strikeout rate and it’s near impossible to build a lineup full of perfect hitters who don’t strike out and also get on base and slug.  There just aren’t that many players around with that skill set, so teams should prioritize on-base and slugging over everything else.

Also, again, Chris Johnson isn’t going to repeat his 2013 and Brian McCann’s loss will hurt.  The Braves have had weaknesses with Uggla getting as much playing time as he did the first month-and-a-half and with players like Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and Chris Johnson getting off to slow starts.  Then there’s B.J. Upton.  It’s hard to know if he can bounce back, though he’s shown promise lately.

With all their weaknesses, the Braves still have the potential to be as good offensively as they were last year.  There is a lot of just plain old bad luck at play for the Braves’ offense.  They are more or less taking an approach that works, especially considering their skills.  The results just haven’t been there so far.  And many of the players off to slow starts will get better.  The offense needs better results and there’s no reason to think it won’t.




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