The Autopsy of the Braves

The Braves are only mostly dead, but at this point not even Miracle Max could save them. There will be no storming of the castle for the 2014 Atlanta Braves and evil Prince Humperdinck is going to marry Princess Buttercup. The Braves are in a comatose state waiting to be taken off life support and pronounced dead. Instead of waiting for them to be completely dead I’m going to fully acknowledge the fact that they are still technically alive but I’m going to put on my apron, snap on my latex gloves, and do my best Dana Scully impersonation.

It isn’t hard to figure out what went wrong with the Atlanta Braves. They are fourth in the NL in runs allowed per game having allowed an average of 3.66 runs a game. The easy narrative is to say it isn’t easy for a team to win a division when they loss two of their three best starting pitchers before the season starts, but in this type of run environment a team can pull a journeyman pitcher like Aaron Harang off the scrap heap and get 183 2/3 innings of 3.72 ERA ball. Not as good as Medlen or Beachy would’ve given but that extra quarter to half a run an outing doesn’t make much of a difference. Despite the pre-season loss of Medlen and Beachy the Braves pitching was still very good. Their starters produced the fourth best ERA in the NL without Medlen and Beachy and their bullpen was as solid as ever producing the fourth best reliever ERA.

The problem for the Braves wasn’t in the pitching. The Braves offense was terrible, and the weird part about this is Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, and Jason Heyward all had good offensive seasons. The worst of those four players was Heyward with a 112 wRC+ and with his defense in right field, above average offensive production is more than acceptable. Especially given the fact that he gave the Braves a .354 OBP out of the lead-off spot (the 94 times Fredi Gonzalez was smart enough to have Heyward leading off over BJ Upton).

Now this is sort of the problem the 2013 Washington Nationals had. Their offense ended up much better than the 2014 Braves, but the players expected to perform did perform. It is the other players that are the problem. The good offensive players on the Braves were good, but the Braves already willingly have one offensive deficit in Adrelton Simmons and can’t survive much more. Simmons is an excellent defender. Arguably the best overall defensive player in the NL, but he can’t hit. Even for a shortstop Adrelton Simmons cannot hit. The NL average wRC+ for a shortstop is 88 and Simmons is at 70. So even compared to other below average hitters Adrelton Simmons is below that. His defense makes him a valuable player, but the Braves need production out of other positions in order to make up for Simmons shortcomings with the bat.

The two players who are going to get the most blame for this are BJ Upton and Dan Uggla. Uggla deserves every bit of it. His 36 wRC+ is laughable. It is a complete joke. Even with Dan Uggla being right around a league average defender at second this season a 36 wRC+ is terrible. It is beyond terrible. It is so bad it makes the Braves forget about the big contract and cut you anyway. Tommy La Stella has been an improvement and his wRC+ of 88 is higher than the NL average for second baseman of 86, but not by much and for a team in such desperate need of offense they need better than just average.

BJ Upton is the other big contract player on the Braves who has not performed. His wRC+ of 72 is better than Uggla’s of 36 and it could almost be acceptable if BJ Upton were as good in center field as Adrelton Simmons is at short, but Upton has been a below average center fielder this season and despite the reputation for center field being a place for below average hitters the average NL center fielder has a wRC+ of 103 which makes it a position you expect to get slightly above average offense.

Interestingly enough the NL average third baseman is actually a worse hitter than the average center fielder in 2014 with a wRC+ of 101. So while traditionally third base is considered a spot for a power hitter Chris Johnson and his 79 wRC+ is not as far below the average for his position as BJ Upton. It is still very bad, and not something the Braves can live with. Look at the Braves line-up. They have four above average offensive players, one in Tommy La Stella who is average for his position, another in Adrelton Simmons who is in the line-up more for defense, and then a center fielder that can’t hit, and a third baseman that can’t hit, to go with the pitcher at the bottom of the order.

This is the equivalent problem the Nats had in May when Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, and Wilson Ramos were on the DL except that the Braves don’t have anyone on the DL. They have four good hitters and then five below average offensive players in the line-up. This gives them a line-up that is too easy for opposing pitchers not named Stephen Strasburg to get through. And that is the crux of the Braves problem. The pitching has been good, the defense has been great, and Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Evan Gattis have all been plus offensive players. Their only issue is by major league rules they have to have five other players come to the plate. This is why the Braves ran their car off the road, crashed into a tree, and are now lying comatose in the ER with the doctor looking at his watch counting down the seconds until he can call it.

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