Who Are The Braves So Far?

This will largely be a compiling of the Braves’ team and unit ranks across MLB, but it does help paint a picture to see who the Braves have been so far, and who we might expect them to be going forward. It’s easy to look at a won-loss record and form your conclusion that a team has simply been good or bad, but there’s a lot of encouraging performance thus far that may lead you to believe that while we will probably not be a playoff team, this team’s strong play may not be a total fluke. They are plenty of indicators that lead to some concern, however.

It’s important to note that this season has started without some key players the Braves are expecting to contribute. Johan Camargo, Ronald Acuna, Luiz Gohara, and Tyler Flowers are expected to be difference-makers on this team, and they’ve been absent in the early outset. With that said, Ryan Flaherty and Preston Tucker have filled in admirably in the absence of Camargo and Acuna. But Flaherty and Tucker’s replacements, Charlie Culberson and Peter Bourjos, have not. The Braves haven’t needed a 5th starter much, so Gohara’s loss has been palpable as Gohara’s replacement Anibal Sanchez has appeared in two games, one start, and has given up two earned runs in eight innings. Flower’s replacement, Chris Stewart, struggled offensively and was DFA’ed and sent to AAA.

Offense

If home runs are what you’re looking for, then you’ve probably been pleasantly surprised as the Braves are 10th in MLB in home runs. Overall, they’ve been a well-rounded offensive team: 13th in walk rate, 7th in strikeout rate, 8th in OBP, and 4th in slugging. They’re 7th in wRC+ and 4th in offensive WAR, and that will do just fine. Team speed has overall been strong as they’re 5th in stolen bases, their success rate is 75%, and they’re 11th in triples. They don’t have a glaring weakness, and their BABIP (.303 and 5th in baseball) and HR rates don’t necessarily tell me that this is a team performing significantly over their heads. They’re not even bottom third in almost any category, and they’re not sporting some ungodly totals that are clearly the result of small sample size. It’s probably fair to say that their home run rate will digress, but you also have Acuna and Camargo reporting for duty soon, so one might expect an increase in power with them and a decrease from Ozzie Albies. But this is a team that was around a bottom-third team offensively in most categories last year, and this team seems to be benefitting from Kevin Seitzer‘s 4th year at the helm and first with a legitimate helping of talent.

Defense

The team defense is also seeing some significant improvements from last year. A bottom-third defense last year, the Braves are currently a top-third defense in the young season. UZR, defensive WAR, and defensive runs saved all like the Braves so far: 6th, 9th, and 7th in baseball respectively. Flaherty has a positive reputation defensively, but Camargo is a natural shortstop who will be manning third, so perhaps we’ll see some defensive improvement there. Acuna, a natural centerfielder, will undoubtedly best Tucker’s defensive performance, though Tucker may spell Nick Markakis more often in right field, resulting in some regression. Dansby Swanson has been much more sure-handed this year, and Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Ender Inciarte have been as strong as their reputations suggest they should be. Outfield defensive replacements Lane Adams and Peter Bourjos have avoided errors, and they’ve been a marked improvement over back-up outfielders from last year. I see no reason to believe the Braves can’t continue to field the way they have.

Pitching

The pitching is the area of concern for this team so far. Overall, they’re not as bad as you might think. With some strong pitching performances over the last few days, they’re now 18th in pitching WAR in these 12 games. Drilling deeper, though, there’s certainly some cause for concern. The starters are 28th in WAR, and they’re middle-of-the-road in innings pitched. Their K rate is strong (7th), but their walk rate is near bottom-third, and they’ve given up the fifth-worst home run rate. That shouldn’t surprise you. They also have a 7th-worst BABIP, and that could be partly due to a poor groundball rate (19th). On the surface, it may seem like the relievers have been fantastic. They’re 8th in WAR. But we are 15th in K rate, 28th (!!) in walks, and the only thing heavily contributing towards the high WAR total is an extremely unsustainable 0.18 HR/9, by far the tops in baseball. The next closest team is the legitimately strong Cubs with over double the rate. Between you, me, and the fencepost, I am almost certain that will not continue no matter how many groundballs the side-armer Peter Moylan can get. When that number starts going up, you’re going to see a bullpen blowing leads, giving up losses, and that WAR total is going to shoot down. They are also logging the 8th-most innings, so if the starters aren’t able to pitch deeper into games, this bullpen will get taxed very soon.

Going forward, you’re going to see some offensive regression across the board. And accordingly, they’re not going to be able to out-hit teams the way they’ve been. But there’s nothing that necessarily says that this team has to come down to earth, so let’s enjoy it while we can. Off-day. Feel free to keep the party going.

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57 thoughts on “Who Are The Braves So Far?”

  1. The starting pitching will catch up especially as the temp warms. And the addition of Gohara (and hopefully Soroka after the ASB) should move the needle in the correct direction. The bullpen needs some upgrades. Viz has blown two games; I hope he regresses to being better. Freeman, Winkler, and Minter are fantastic. But Jackson, Carle, Moylan, Sanchez, Ramirez….. ugh. I hope the addition of Biddle and Fried sooner than later can bolster the pen significantly. But the trade deadline needs to bring some sort of shutdown veteran.

    I also disagree that last years offense was so bad. They were a high average team and decent OBP. They had too many roadblocks on the basepaths to really play small ball (i.e. the Matt’s). I got tired really fast of seeing them score 2 runs on 11 hits. Even now, bringing in a slugging 3B on an expiring contract would be good (think Beltre).

  2. The 2017 Braves were 25th in wRC+ and 21st in OPS. They had their moments, but this was certainly not a good run-producing squad.

  3. Great analysis of the team so far. Things will have to fall into place, but I wouldn’t say that we probably won’t be a playoff team just yet. I think the health of McCarthy and the resurgence of Gohara are they keys. If we are hovering at .500 around the All Star break, we could be buyers instead of sellers and depending on the competitiveness of the wild card teams we could have a shot. Obviously we will have some regression from the bullpen, but I think we’ll be about league average or slightly better. I think that can also be said for starting pitching (depending on Gohara and McCarthy) and hitting.

  4. SSS alert! 12 games is too early to make any judgments about what is likely to happen the rest of this year.
    Even so, this team has been much more fun to watch so far than the past three years. Some of that is the improved defense and speed as Rob notes.
    And although I know better than to jump to a conclusion, I’m pretty optimistic about our keystone combo. Ozzie could be very good, and Dansby may yet turn out to be the solid player he appeared to be before last year’s disaster.

  5. We should be buyers at the deadline no matter what. It shouldn’t matter what the team’s record is or how close it is over or under .500. It’s about that time. The rebuild has worked well enough that it’s now in the hands of the GM to finish the job. And if there’s value to be had at any point, I imagine AA is going to act.

    Like, the Brewers, I think, were sort of fluky last season, and without Jimmy Nelson for half the year, it was hard to see them as legit contenders in this past offseason. But they did the right thing adding Yelich and Cain because it expedited their timeline. They’ll add pitching when the opportunity arises, and then they’ll be there. We’re almost at the same point.

  6. I think I agree with Adam R. We have a farm full of prospects a lot of sellers at the deadline are looking for. It’s time to be shrewd shoppers as opposed to selling for more prospects 2-3 years away. It really doesn’t matter if this team is in the thick of things at the deadline, we know what key pieces we need to get there. The core of our lineup is starting to look pretty good, so.

  7. One day out of Acuna Day and Ronaldhino is banging a tight little 120/185/160 in Gwinnett’s early going. 6-25 with 2 walks and 10 Ks.

  8. @8 Please, for the love of goodness, don’t rush another prospect. Haven’t we been through enough?!

  9. The deadline is for two things:
    – when you’re not in the hunt and you want to get something back for impending FAs
    – when you decide you need to bite the bullet and rebuild and so you sell off the few good longer-term assets you have for prospects, usually quantity over quality, but who knows

    We should be on the lookout for the latter type of team, not the former. And there’s no law against teams committing to take the rebuild plunge before the deadline, so who knows how helpful thinking about the deadline itself even is. If AA isn’t surprising us at some other time, IMO he’s not doing it right.

  10. Yeah, for him, “TL;DNR” obviously means “Total Loser; Do Not Resuscitate”.

    We’re joshin’ around, blazon.

  11. @17

    Both can be equally true. If someone wants to trade us their Jaime Garcia in exchange for their Huscar Ynoa (or more to save payroll), that’d be just fine. It just depends on where we are. Shoot, even though it didn’t work out for Texas, I would do the opposite equivalent of Harrell/Alvarez for Demeritte. We looked like geniuses at the time, but gee whizz, do you think Texas even missed Demeritte at the time, let alone now? It took about 124 High-A PAs for us for the sheen to rub off.

    Uh oh, I’m going to go Casey Stern on everyone: prospects are cool, parades are cooler.

  12. Austin Riley got 178 at bats in 48 games at AA last year. In those at bats, he slashed 315/389/511 (900 OPS.)

    In 7 games this year (a meager 26 at bats) he’s improved on that line to a tune of 346/414/692 (1.106 OPS.)

    This while playing 2-3 years younger than the league.

    That said, once Johan Camargo is recalled to Atlanta, Gwinnett will only have Rio Ruiz (and presumably whomever is designated for assignment) to play 3B at AAA. I think it’s reasonable to say that if Riley continues to punish baseball like this into next week or so, he’s earned a call up to AAA when Camargo is recalled.

  13. Unless the Reds plan on moving Eugenio Suarez back to short once his thumb is healed up, they have two superb ML ready 3B (Suarez the incumbent, Nick Senzel doing the Acuna at AAA Louisville until his arb clock runs a little longer.) If they don’t trust either as a full time SS, the Braves should be on the horn with them constantly. The Reds need pitching and someone better than Jose Peraza or Scotter Gennett up the middle.

  14. If the Braves could come up with a 3B ala 1991 Terry Pendleton, we might be set to shock some people this year — provided the rotation can make some strides, of course.

  15. Acuna is actually 2-25, not 6-25. I think it might be wise to let him figure out his slump first before calling him up.

  16. @14, can’t do it. Gonna keep rushing them. Acuna is next. Then Soroka. We’ve already talked this over, and AA and I are on the same page. I’ll do my best to use my powers wisely.

  17. I like Aaron Blair. I hope for him the best recovery. He’s had some rotten luck, and I honestly believe he has middle-of-the-rotation potential if he can just get back on track. Unfortunately, I believe he has a few voices in his ear/head that are causing him to press. I’m sure he’ll right the train though.

  18. @21

    You’re singing my song Sam from a month or two back. Go do it, i believe a Reds pitcher the other day walked 5 guys in a row.

    We can take advantage of the time delay by deftly removing Swanson from the package.

    Rob…joshing today, sure…fun…it sure didn’t look like it to me a couple of days ago. We’ll forget it.

  19. @31, Yeah, that was excellent. Let’s see what he can do 0-2 with the bases juiced and two outs.

  20. Has Sanchez thrown anything at over 90 mph? I knew he had lost some velocity in Detroit, but this is really different than what I’d read about.

  21. Anyone who is actually getting to see the game: How does Sanchez look? The box scores make him look really good, but I’m surprised by his effectiveness only throwing 87-89 mph.

  22. Kade Scivicque released. Geez, doesn’t it seem like Coppy’s guys are getting the treatment Wren’s guys did?

  23. He is striking guys out, so it’s not like it’s smoke and mirrors. It would be quite a nice surprise if he turned out to be a useful BOR piece.

  24. Hannibal is over the Alps.

    Color comments by visiting Cubs announcer – Two silhouettes on the shade.

  25. If they’re bringing Vizcaino, I hope they have him on a short leash with someone else ready to go.

  26. If Swanson is no longer a pumpkin, what about an infield of Swanson, Simmons, Albies and Freeman with Camargo as a backup? That would be some serious range.

  27. @53

    my point was a real one…

    Ozzie is already more valuable/productive than Andrelton after two months in the Majors. Pretty incredible.

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