Posted: 3:37 pm Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Braves enjoying view, despite some issues 

By Jeff Schultz

Evan Gattis' pinch hit two-run double Wednesday followed his walk-off two-run homer on Monday.

Evan Gattis’ pinch hit two-run double against Miami on Wednesday followed his walk-off two-run homer on Monday.

The Braves are 21 games into the season. It’s a large enough sample size to form initial impressions but too small to assume anything over the next … well, 141 games.

They defeated Miami Wednesday 3-1. They received another strong start from Aaron Harang (who is this guy?), a pinch hit, two-run double by Evan Gattis (been there) and a three-batter/two-strikeout save by Craig Kimbrel (not dead).

At 14-7, and having won six out of seven series, the good has far outweighed the bad.

But here’s an early progress/regress report.

Three things that haven’t been a problem:

1. Starting pitching. To anybody who says something is not possible, I now respond: “Aaron Harang.” He allowed one run in six inning Wednesday — and his ERA went up (from 0.70 to 0.85). So much for the angst of the team’s starting pitching. The five starters and their ERAs: Harang 0.85, Santana 0.86, Alex Wood 1.54, Julio Teheran 1.80 and David Hale 2.93. Mike Minor’s imminent return likely will prompt a move with Hale, either to the bullpen of the minors. The next major decision will come when Gavin Floyd is ready to come off the disabled list. But if you’re Fredi Gonzalez or Frank Wren right now, how can you even think of taking Harang out of the rotation?

2. Freddie Freeman. The Braves’ best player last year is still their best player. It’s what you want if you’re Liberty Media and you just signed off on the longest contract extension in franchise history (eight years, $135 million). Freeman leads the Braves in nearly every offensive category, including hitting (.338), RBI (14), on-base percentage (.426), and batting average with runners in scoring position (.438). He is the Braves’ only regular who has started every game (Justin Upton was out of the lineup for the first time Wednesday).

3. Evan Gattis. Letting Brian McCann go in free agency was partly about economics, but the decision to go with Gattis as the full-time catcher carried some risk. Forget whether Gattis could replicate his hero-worship moments of a year ago (21 homers, 65 RBIs, 11 game-winning RBIs in 105 games). The bigger question was whether he could handle everyday catching duties. He has. Gattis should be given some credit for his handling of the pitching staff. Defensive results are mixed: He has three errors (tied for third most among major league catchers) and has thrown out four of 14 runners attempting to steal (.714 stolen base percentage ranks near the middle of the pack). But the offensive heroics continue, winning two games against the Marlins (with a walk-off homer Monday night and the two-run double in the eighth inning Wednesday).

Three things that have been a problem:

1. Oy-fense: The Braves have one of the best records in baseball. That’s in spite of their offense, not because of it. They rank 24th in runs scored, 18th in batting average, 24th in batting with runners in scoring position, third in strikeouts. Two of the reasons are listed below. But in the big picture, Greg Walker was hired as hitting coach to help fix some of the problems. The results need to be better.

2. B.J. Upton: His batting average made it up to .200 for one day in 2013. It has been 200-plus for 10 days in 2014. Progress! But at .205, he’s still far below where he needs to be for an everyday player, let alone one in the second year of a $75 million contract. For anybody who wants to draw a parallel between Upton and Dan Uggla (.227), there’s one signficant difference between the two players: With runners in scoring position, Uggla is hitting .333 (5 for 15) with nine RBI, while Upton is hitting .071 (1 for 14) with one RBI. If Schafer (.214) were started hitting better, he would give manager Fredi Gonzalez to think about, especially since he can bat leadoff.

3. Jason Heyward. Maybe he’s starting to shake out of his funk. A modest five-game hitting streak, including two hits Wednesday, has elevated his average from .136 to .198. But as the guy who rescued the Braves last season when he stepped into the leadoff role, Heyward isn’t yet at the level he needs to be offensively if the Braves’ lineup is going to be productive. When he struggled a year ago, it largely was because his timing was off following two extended absences (once for an emergency appendectomy, the other for a broken jaw after getting hit by a pitch). The only other two other players on the roster who could be effective leadoff hitters are both backups (as of this typing): Schafer and Ramiro Pena.

43 comments
BravoDawg
BravoDawg

#1  BJ still stinks

#2  Uggly still smells

 #3  Fredi still makes out dumb lineups


Heyward & Johnson deserve time to work out their slumps, BJ & Uggly need to see the view form the bench!!!

macdaddyt
macdaddyt

I'm tired of all of our "Fair weather" fans. If you remember blackout games and tickets for $1 EVERY game, you shouldn't be saying anything negative about our team.

Heyward will be fine, Uggla is hitting the ball hard (most of the time), and BJ is a plus defender most of the time. Andrelton should hit second to protect Heyward, and BJ should hit eighth ahead of the pitcher's spot ... his OBP would definitely increase with either more fastballs to hit or more opportunities to walk with the pitcher up after him.

Wren has done a fantastic job for years. If our players play and our leadership leads, then we'll be just fine. I'm hoping that's not too much to ask of Braves' fans. Just cheer on your team and accept that YOU will not be the deciding factor for wins and losses.

I'm proud to be a Braves fan and hope for championships, but I love this team because it is my team. If you want to complain about them all the time not doing better, maybe you should review the 80's and get a reality check.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Anyone who isn't performing when there's a better option available should be benched, regardless of salary.  That money's spent, gone, nothing you can do about it.  What you can do is put your ego aside and deal with the folks pointing and laughing at your free agent busts and put the best nine out on the field.

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

Braves fans just need to accept the inevitable and prevailing  truth of the situation. Regardless of how badly they perform, BJ an Uggla each make way too much money to be benched -- not benched permanently, except the most dire circumstances (like Uggla last year for the play offs), or even strategically, in game situations where sitting them down for a pinch hitter would make a lot of sense.  


If that is not evident from last year, then it never will be. Wren has way too much at stake here, so any hit that may come at any time is necessary, and even the most remote possibility of seeing them get a hit is all that is required to justify possibly the worst two deals in Atlanta Braves history. And don't count on poor fielding to do it. Neither one of them could loaf enough or make enough errors on defense to be benched. The Braves are winning on the backs of stellar starting pitching (except for the bull pen, which may be finally coming around), and like last year, as long as Wren can win (not dominate or create a juggernaut, or run off with the division -- just win) with great pitching, and just a few guys hitting, he will do it. Another division win will do just fine and be plenty as fare as he is personally concerned,  as long as he can keep starting sub par performers and winning. 


So, on the positive side, let's just be thankful that BJ and Uggla are actually improving vs. their 2013 performance. Hopefully, BJ will catch up with  Uggla and they will both move into at least the .250 to .260 range.  And even more,  that the Braves' offense wakes up. Heyward is struggling terribly, and Johnson is no where near last year's performance. If we can start getting consistent hitting out of the six hitter line up we had last year, and pitching remains where it is, the Braves just might win a division and a pennant in spite of it all. 

Getting_Older
Getting_Older

For all the people who like to complain about Frank Wren, I think they all need to come out and give him the credit he is due for this pitching staff. When we said we didn't know who the ace on the staff would be, I don't think anyone guessed it would be because we couldn't decide who was best between all 4 aces.  Right now, this is like the Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and Avery days.  I know they  can't keep this up all season, but for now, Wow!


Not to mention the bullpen.  We lose 2/3 of O’Ventbrel and we are still going strong.  Walden comes in and strikes out the side yesterday with runners at 2nd and 3rd?


Lastly, as has been said before, having the foresight and enough influence with Liberty Media to get the young players signed to long term contracts, Wren should be the GM of the year.    Just as every player can't get a hit every time at bat, sure Wren as whiffed on a few.  But overall, he is truly having an MVGM type of year.


Go Braves!

Dawg69
Dawg69

I don't know that we need to be too critical of Gonzalez for playing Uggla and BJ (although he does make some bone-headed moves some time).  Realistically, I'm sure he doesn't call all of the shots about who gets the majority of the playing time.  Wren signed both Ug and BJ to big time contracts so both have to play to earn all that money.  If you saw the movie 'Moneyball' you saw how the GM calls some of the shots.  I'm sure that was fairly accurate.  I would like to see both of them on the bench, but you don't invest that kind of money to let guys get splinters in their back side.

GSUEagle
GSUEagle

Last 7 games - Schafer - .429; Heyward - .308.  Try Schafer at lead off for a few games and move Heyward to 7.


kenhotlanta
kenhotlanta

Does the AJC not employ proofreaders anymore? There are over a half-dozen grammatical errors in this column, so I guess we have to pay for a service like that now?

Furman Bisher is rolling over in his grave. 

Teddy_B
Teddy_B

J-Hey has NO PROTECTION with B.J. Slumpton batting behind him. None whatsoever. The pitchers throw J-Hey junk because they know that B.J. isn't going to impact the game either way, so he doesn't get ANYTHING to swat at. Go ahead and put someone who hits consistently behind J-Hey and see how much of a difference that would make.

OR we could get someone who is a typical leadoff guy and let J-Hey hit 3rd or 4th. He is a better producer than a table setter, we just don't have anyone else who is capable enough to bat first. His OBP is .309, so he is taking some walks...still too early to tell, but I think he's shaking the funk off just fine now. He is hitting the ball with more authority, and I'm not in the least worried about him because he'll fix his problems.

slydawg
slydawg

Same old Same old. Same with UGA, Tech, Hawks, and Falcons. Why get caught up in all of the emotional highs and lows?

SOB
SOB

Oh by the way Jeff, why did you say in the video the Falcons have never reached a Super Bowl? Want a video of Super Bowl XXXIII?

SOB
SOB

Heyward is not a lead off hitter in any way, shape, fashion, or form. Like the once immature Jordan Schafer, he sees himself as a power hitter as does pretty much every player on this team. I would like to see Schafer given one last chance as a lead off hitter. Bunt (only player on the team that's good at it!), draw walks, slap it around the infield and run like a deer, and the ocassional gapper for an automatic double or triple wouldn't hurt either. Very capable of that! Forget the long ball. Play the game he was designed to play as the Braves do not have anyone like him on the team of wanna be power hitters. But he has to play to prove my point. Fruiti will most likely not change and Schafer will be the talent that was never given a chance. If he bats .230 that is a sight better than Heyward, B. J. Upton, and Dan Uggla while bringing something the Braves desperately need to the table every game. Speed! Every pitcher's worst nightmare...

58Supersports
58Supersports

J Hey, BJ and Uggla can't hit the side of a barn.  What a joke. Wren needs to be looking for a outfield bat.  Uggla at 2b is killing us, can't catch or throw.

Greg Walker is doing a good job but he can't make $14 million players do what he tells them...players in ML  should know how to hit when they get here. He can't perform miracles and that's what it will take for BJ, Uggla and J-Hey. Ok, the Braves are still my TEAM.... Go Braves!

DrPhill
DrPhill

What about the manager?

Baghead
Baghead

Aside from starting pitching, this team is a joke.

journalist jimmy smith
journalist jimmy smith

uggla may be hitting .227 but that's with 22 strikeouts and he leads all baseball with errors at 2b and that's more than any two other 2b combined.  this journalist also notes uggla has .925 fielding percentage.  not very good, huh?

9awebb
9awebb

Maybe its my age but i would be happy as a pig in mud with 100, 2-1 wins! 

Rick_C
Rick_C

lol, are you really evaluating situational stats after 15 ABs?  Come on man.

THEBuckeyes1
THEBuckeyes1

What does "AnsweredThis" get for being "first?"  Did I miss a contest or something?

RangeRover
RangeRover

Jeff,

Good work.

Heyward is not and never will be a leadoff hitter.  There's absolutely nothing remotely about his hitting that resembles a leadoff hitter.

As for this comment:  "If Schafer (.214) were started hitting better, he would give manager Fredi Gonzalez to think about, especially since he can bat leadoff." how can he--or anyone else--possibly hit worse?  I still say that if given the chance to start on a regular basis Schafer has the ideal game--at the plate and guarding Center Field--for this team.  He needs consecutive at bats!  

I'll take it a step further.  Shafer could make this entire lineup better as it would get BJ out of it, get Heyward out of the leadoff position, thus leading to two table sitters for Freeman.  Freeman could have 30 RBI's by now with legitimate #1 & #2 hitters in front of him.  

Lastly, what will keep this team from ever winning three straight short series for a WS title is their manager.  Nice guy but dumb as a box of rocks...no other manager would be penciling in Heyward and Upton at the top of the order.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

First to say you are spot on about everything in this blog!

CynthiaTuckerrhymeswith
CynthiaTuckerrhymeswith

@kenhotlanta 2 things: 1 - AJC writers write and then upload pretty much directly from their computers; different days, but still they have deadlines.  They run spellchecks, but not 'grammar' checks. So perhaps that's what we notice. 2. Regarding proofreading - the best way to do it - and yes, it's hard to do it for yourself -  is to read the piece backwards from the end to the beginning - forces you to do it word by word...but that way you also could make mistakes in grammar and syntax.  OK?

scientist2
scientist2

@kenhotlanta you have to learn to read through them. People who have pride in what they write proof read their own work and know how to do so so that they can spot their own mistakes (it's difficult to proof one's own work). It's about pride in the product and that seems not to be part of the makeup of these writers.

Rick_C
Rick_C

@Teddy_B  If you're right, then it's on Heyward to not swing at bad pitches and draw more walks.

dynesh
dynesh

@DrPhill  The one who won 90 plus games last year. Or the one that has his team 7 games above .500 this year?

OconeeJim
OconeeJim

@Baghead...No what is a "joke" is that stupid comment....... Having one of the best FB in baseball and an MVP candidate is a joke?....Having the best defensive SS in the game (by far) is a joke?....having the best closer in the game is a joke?...Having a rising star of a power hitting catcher with a penchant for getting big hits is a joke? Being one of the most respected organizations in MLB  with one of the top farm systems is a joke?  The only joke might be the performance of BJ and Uggla, and there are viable alternatives waiting in the wings if they continue their struggles.  I bet at least 25 other MLB teams wish they were as big of a "joke" as the Braves are. 

GuyOnThisSite
GuyOnThisSite

Aside from being in first place, they suck, right?

JAFO_
JAFO_

@Rick_C Dude, cmon MAN,  give it up. Jhc get a grip on reality. Did you get kicked in the head and forget last season. He's not comparing 15abs. Stop trying to cover for historic ineptness. without Shultz all we get it is the constant regular season dynasty track. stick with the geritol crowd brah. keep going with the gotta get there cheer. the starters have been simply awesome and out of their minds. this is a good club that has to show it can win in Oct. my kid is a better 2 than 2 and no I don't gas about his abs in the 2 with tpa.  

panamaralph
panamaralph

@RangeRover    As long as we are in 1st place nothing is going to change, if we drop out of 1st something will be done, sad that it has to come to that. 

seminoleking
seminoleking

@RangeRover  


heyward IS a leadoff hitter. THATS been the problem with him. everybody wondered why he wasnt breaking out as a cleanup type hitter. what people, including the braves believed, was that heyward, with his size and power, is a middle of the lineup batter, and a 2nd or 3rd batter at worst. no, heyward has the MINDSET and hitting of a leadoff hitter, WITH POWER. he is just a bigger version of ricky henderson, and the braves found out about it by accident. he has always been too patient at the plate for a power hitter. would take too many close pitches. THATS the mindset of a leadoff hitter. and he has the speed. 

Ugallydog
Ugallydog

Seminole king, you must not know a thing about baseball. Heyward is as far from a productive lead off hitter as you can get. He strikes out to much, can't bunt (at all), can't hit left handed pitching, and is a terrible two strike hitter. A good leadoff hitter (and there are not many out there anymore), must be able to handle the bat (bunt, hit and run, move runners), work deep counts, and put the ball in play with two strikes. Heyward does none of these.

The sample size on heyward is big enough to know what he is and is not. He is a really good defensive outfielder, a plus base runner, and an average to below average hitter. Let's face it he is what his stats say he is.

GuyOnThisSite
GuyOnThisSite

Yeah, who the Heck wants a first place team!

Samurai-Squirrel
Samurai-Squirrel

Actually, our farm system is generally ranked near the bottom third of major league organizations. Our last few drafts have been underwhelming. I think ESPN ranked us in the 19, 20, 21 range.

We can really churn our pitchers and catchers, but little-to-nothing has come out of our system in regards to everyday positions.  

Rick_C
Rick_C

@JAFO_ Critical analysis can be a good thing, but not if the analysis is poor.

RangeRover
RangeRover

@seminoleking  

Ever play the game?  Apparently not if you think Heyward "IS' a leadoff hitter.

A good leadoff should be among the team leaders in:

Average, OB%, walks, Stolen Bases and has such great bat control he can steer the ball to all parts of the field and bunt, especially drag bunting.

Heyward is bad at just about every statistical category you'd want in a true leadoff hitter.

Samurai-Squirrel
Samurai-Squirrel

Not arguing with anything you said, but... Heyward is gonna get PAID after next offseason. ESPN has already projected his salary to be  around $80+ million.

scientist2
scientist2

@GuyOnThisSite yeah and look at the starting pitchers he picked up when we were in trouble before the season even started... Harang and Santana... fire him for sure... a bum. Can't judge talent :-)

Lobosolo
Lobosolo

Another year older but not wiser, eh RangeRover... I was hoping you'd learn more over the off season and maybe learn to think a little deeper, but I see that didn't happen... Experts like you seem to abound on these threads but never seem, with all of their baseball knowledge they bandy about, to actually run a major league team... I guess we'll have to put up with your incessant whining for another season...