The Atlanta Braves redeemed themselves after the collapse of 2011 by winning 94 games and captuing a wild card berth in Chipper Jones’ final season. Recapping the highs and lows is Lee Trocinski, Editor at Tomahawk Take.
Author: Lee Trocinski
After the defense fell apart in the 2010 playoffs and forgetting how to hit with RISP in 2011, most fans figured the Atlanta Braves wouldn’t have another disappointing and shocking finish. Unfortunately, they were wrong, as both problems emerged in the Wild Card game loss, along with the most infamous infield fly ever. Overall, the Braves had a great season, going 94-68 with a fairly young squad, showing signs of sustainable success.
The position players carried this team through the first four months, providing league average offense and great defense, especially from the outfield. Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, and Martin Prado became the fourth outfield in history to have three 5 WAR players. The combined +61.7 UZR definitely helped the cause, but all of them hit league-average or better, with Heyward and Prado having bounceback seasons after poor 2011s.
Chipper Jones announced his intentions to retire before the season, and then he proceeded to hit .287/.377/.455, the best line on the team. Freddie Freeman was a consistent force, showing some improvements in plate discipline, while his high line drive rate did not translate into a high BABIP. Dan Uggla was the antithesis of Freeman, hitting well in April and May before tanking the next couple months. He managed to hold an average line on the season, but it wasn’t pretty.
Shortstop saw a carousel of hosts, with Tyler Pastornicky showing he could not field or hit at the major league level the first two months, along with Jack Wilson‘s complete inability to hit. Andrelton Simmons was called up in early June, stabilizing the defense and providing some offense to the position. Paul Janish also started 46 games, providing great defense but not even hitting at replacement level. Simmons was not expected to be up so soon, but he should have a stranglehold on the shortstop position for years to come.
There was also some turmoil behind the plate, as Brian McCann had by far his worst season of his career. A plummeting BABIP was most of the cause, but his power and strikeouts were as poor as they’ve been. David Ross held his claim as the best backup catcher in baseball, hitting at an above-average rate and throwing out over 40% of baserunners. The rest of the bench was not so good, as Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske, Juan Francisco, and Reed Johnson did not provide much offense.
The starting staff was very disjointed, but always seemed to have an ace. Brandon Beachy had a 2.00 ERA through 13 starts before blowing out his elbow. Ben Sheets made an improbable comeback, only allowing six runs in his first five starts. Mike Minor started the season with a 6.00 ERA in the first half, really turning it on to almost get his season ERA below 4.00. Tim Hudson was consistent throughout the year, while Paul Maholm was a quality starter after his arrival from Chicago.
The biggest story was the absolute dominance of Kris Medlen. Facing an innings limit, the Braves started Medlen in the bullpen before putting him in the rotation in August. The plan couldn’t have worked better, as Medlen posted a sub-1.00 ERA in 12 starts. While no one expects sheer dominance in the future, he is likely the best pitcher on the team going forward, combining pinpoint control and good offspeed stuff to limit baserunners.
Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson were the major disappointments this season. Jurrjens never seemed to recover from last year’s knee injury, with his velocity way down and ending with a 6.89 ERA and 5.64 FIP. Hanson lost his fastball, as his velocity was down nearly two ticks, and his command of the pitch was terrible. It’s amazing how far each has dropped in the future plans of the team in just one calendar year.
The bullpen was stellar again, led by Craig Kimbrel. His 50% K rate and 0.78 FIP are both all-time records with a minimum of 60 IP. Eric O’Flaherty did not allow an earned run after July 13, ending the season with a 1.73 ERA. Jonny Venters had an up-and-down season, starting tremendous before hitting a rough patch in July.
The minor league system had a rough go of it, with their AAA and AA teams each finishing last in their leagues. High-A Lynchburg won the Carolina League title, while Class A Rome rebounded from a 15-55 first half record to win the 2nd half title. Julio Teheran, Christian Bethancourt, and Edward Salcedo all had disappointing seasons, and none of the other top prospects were able to turn any heads. The system is as far down as it’s been in 25-30 years, though it’s hard to replace the huge number of young players now key contributors in Atlanta.
The Braves have two main positions to fill this offseason: center field and left field/third base. Michael Bourn is a free agent and will likely price himself out of Atlanta, and with Chipper retiring, Prado can only fill one spot. The Braves will be looking for a right-handed power bat, anywhere from Josh Willingham to David Wright, with Prado filling the other spot. If a trade for Willingham happens, the Braves could also look to obtain Denard Span or Ben Revere to man center field.
The pitching staff should remain intact, as Hudson and Maholm have fairly cheap team options that should be picked up. Jurrjens seems like a no-brainer non-tender, while Hanson, Medlen, and Venters all begin arbitration. Even with Beachy likely out until the All-Star break, there are enough internal options, such as Randall Delgado and Teheran, to ably fill the void.
As much as I am disappointed to see another disheartening finish, it’s clear that there is plenty of talent at the major league level. The minor league system will not be replenishing much over the next few years, but there is a lot of team control already. Hitting with RISP and facing LHP have been the weak links of the team the past two seasons, and if they are able to fix those, this group can keep winning 95+ games the next few years.
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