The strength of the Braves in 2009 was, it is said, pitching. There’s a lot to be said for this. They finished fourth in the NL in fewest runs allowed per game with 3.96; they actually allowed one more than third-place St. Louis, and the other teams ahead of them (SF and LA) have big park advantages. Their quality start percentage was the best in the league. The bullpen wasn’t that great, but certainly there’s nothing that the pitching has to be ashamed of, especially as they were working with a generally poor defense.
Yet, the Braves missed the playoffs, so it must have been the hitting. But the hitting wasn’t that bad! The Braves scored 4.54 runs per game, sixth in the league. Only the Dodgers were ahead of them in both offense and defense. The Braves were fifth in on-base percentage, the most important component in scoring runs.
The Braves’ pythagorean record was 90-72, four games better than their actual record and even with the Rockies, just two behind the Phillies. Before they took the last six games off, the Braves’ pythagorean record was usually ahead of the Phillies for the last two months. The Braves’ projected records have generally trailed their real records the last few years. Some will blame this on Bobby Cox. I tend to think that it’s just one of those things.
The projections do go to another level; it’s not just that the Braves’ runs scored and runs allowed show that they “should” be better than they are, but their offensive statistics show a team that “should” score more runs than it does. The problem is that the Braves don’t score the number of runners that they should considering their team OBP and SLG. Even considering the lack of home run power that hurt the team most of this past year, they stranded a lot of runners. I’ve noted that the Braves had a lot of trouble scoring runners from first on doubles and second on singles. They’re a slow team. I pretty much discount stolen bases, but a good way to tell is that the Braves were third in the NL in doubles — and last in triples.
Do the Braves need offense? Remaking the team to add speed seems like a dumb idea to me. Wren has done a good job fixing the pitching staff while adding some offensive help around the edges, but there’s little more he can do at that level. What they need is power, a big bopper in the middle of the order, to score those guys who are jogging around the bases. Jason Heyward might be that guy someday, but not yet. Adam Laroche did some of that, but I don’t think you can rely on him even if the Braves re-sign him. They would have to look outside for a big hitter, and it would be costly.
I think they have to look.