Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Are the Braves good or what?

The Atlanta Braves are a weird team. Last night's game against the Marlins showed it all too. The Braves pitched brilliantly, but could not hit and struck out fifteen times. The Braves have pitched brilliantly all season--good enough to build a terrific 13-7 record. But the offense is so hit or miss that one wonders how far the team can go. Are the Braves good or what?
The projection systems are not kind to the Braves. PECOTA still thinks the Braves will only go 71-71 the rest of the season and give the Nationals the NL East crown. But that was supposed to happen last year too and did not. Will the Braves' pitching stay this good? And will the offense get more consistent?
The pitching was supposed to be a problem. They lost Mike Minor. They lost Kris Medlen. They lost Brandon Beachy. That was supposed to sink the team. But the rotation has been fabulous.
Ervin Santana has terrific and sports an 0.86 ERA. Aaron Harang's ERA is at 0.70. Julio Teheran is at 1.80. Alex Wood is at 1.50 and even David Hale is holding his own at 2.93. And that starting pitching has been aided greatly by a rangy defense which is itself a bit of an up and down.
The Braves get to more balls than anyone else, but they have the second lowest fielding percentage in baseball too. But since the former is so much more important than the latter, it works. And it can only help the pitchers. In fact, the pitching staff has only a .275 BABIP against.
The BABIP figure is one that makes you wonder about how good the pitching will remain. If the BABIP normalizes somewhat, then their current success cannot sustain. The same can be said for the team's strand rate. That strand rate is currently at 79.5, the second highest in baseball. Can that be sustained? One statistic that is not luck dependent is keeping the ball in the ballpark. The Braves are doing really well there.
The Braves have had the best bullpen for years. But that bullpen is a bit in flux right now. Craig Kimbrel has been dealing with soreness and Braves' fans are holding their collective breaths. He is still striking out batters like some super-human. But he has given up three earned runs in his last two outings.
The rest of the bullpen has been a bit of a mess, frankly. Bullpens are the easiest things to fix, however, so that is not a big worry. Kimbrel has to remain healthy for the Braves bullpen mystique to continue.
Then there is the offense. The Braves have four starters with a wOBA of less than .300. They are second in baseball in strikeout percentage and only 21st in walk percentage. Justin Upton, one player who has an excellent wOBA, has struck out 35.9% of the time. Chris Johnson has walked only once all season.
Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton are both struggling at the plate again this season. Both have really high strikeout rates and really low on-base percentages. Jason Heyward has struggled. Evan Gattis has struggled up until recently and his backup at catcher, Gerald Laird, hasn't hit at all.
And yet the team if fifth in baseball in home runs. You just have to wonder what kind of offense this is going to be and how it will all play out. You just have to go back to last year and remember how the team's defense and pitching bailed out its spotty offense and took them to the post season.
Then again, Freddie Freeman is a star and Andrelton Simmons' offense is starting to catch up to his defense.
The Atlanta Braves were not supposed to win the division last year. But they did. They were not supposed to be on top of the division this year. But there they are. Somehow, the team gets it done. You just have to wonder sometimes if it will all crash and burn somehow. The post asks if the Braves are good or what. After writing it, I still have no idea.

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