In 2013 the Atlanta Braves were the best team in the NL at preventing runs and they did so with a pitching staff not much different than the one they will open the 2014 season with. Subtract Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, and Kris Medlen and add in Freddy Garcia, Gavin Floyd, and Ervin Santana. Figure that Medlen and Santana were near equals in ERA last season and that Santana is moving from the AL to NL and that can be considered a lateral move. Freddy Garcia and Gavin Floyd could go either way but consider that Tim Hudson was just short of a 4.00 ERA in 2013 and Maholm was well over it and Garcia and Floyd should be equally serviceable as back of the rotation starters. In reality the Braves 2014 starting rotation isn’t much different than the 2013 variety and that doesn’t even factor in the improvements Julio Teheran saw in the second half, that the Braves will get a full season from Alex Wood, and the prospect JR Graham could help the Braves at some point this season.
The Braves starting rotation isn’t much different in 2014 than it was in 2013, but it wasn’t because of the starting rotation that the Braves were the best team in the NL at run prevention. With an outfield of Justin Upton, BJ Upton, and Jason Heyward the Braves have the best defensive outfield in baseball. They cover ground like no other and any line drive hit to right field is going to be caught and that doesn’t even factor in how Heyward’s arm can control the running game. Heyward is a Gold Glove caliber right fielder, BJ Upton is a very solid centerfielder, and Justin Upton is a left fielder with the arm and range of a right fielder. Add all that up and not very many balls are going to drop through the net that is the Braves outfield defense.
Excellent defense doesn’t stop in the outfield for the Braves. On the infield Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive player in the NL. Simmons finished 2013 with a 24.6 UZR meaning that by himself he prevented 24.6 runs more than an average defender at shortstop. With shortstop being one of the most important and most difficult positions to play in baseball it makes it that much more impressive. More impressive for Simmons is that he adds 2.4 wins to the Braves before he even swing a bat, and he isn’t the only great defender on the Braves infield. Freddie Freeman at first base is one of the best in baseball at being a large target. He can pick it and stretch like no other first baseman in baseball, and this helps all of his infielders by allowing them to wing the ball towards first instead of having to worry about being to fine. Combine Simmons and Freeman and it almost doesn’t matter who is at second and third.
When it comes to preventing runs what made the Braves the best in the NL was mainly the defense helping the starters get through five or six innings while their powerful offense got them the lead and handed the game over to one of the best bullpen’s in baseball. The Braves starting staff ranked fifth in the NL in ERA and fourth in FIP. Neither ranking is bad, but the Braves bullpen was first in both ERA and FIP. Craig Kimbrel gets all the attention but both David Carpenter and Luis Avilan finished the 2013 season with under 2.00 ERAs. The Braves will also be getting Jonny Venters back at some time this season and Jordan Walden is a live armed fireballer that can be dominate at times. That gives the Braves both a deep and overpowering bullpen to go along with a defense that makes it difficult for any ball in play to become a hit.
What made the Braves great at run prevention in 2013 was an elite defense and bullpen and serviceable starters. The Braves had no true number one starting pitcher in 2013 and that hasn’t changed heading into 2014. The loss of Kris Medlen is a bad one, but there is a good chance that Ervin Santana can replicate what Medlen would’ve done and as far as Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia over Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm they should both be able to hold down the back of the rotation while Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Alex Wood continue to develop into mid to front of the rotation starters.
Injuries to Medlen and Beachy look bad, but the 2013 Braves didn’t have Beachy and still were the best run prevention team in the NL. Starting pitching gets the glory and the money, but it isn’t all that goes into run prevention. The Braves defense and bullpen are still just as good heading into 2014 as they were in 2013 and that combined with a powerful line-up make the Braves just as good as they were in 2013 and still a team that has to be dealt with despite suffering two devastating pitching injuries before the season has even begun.