Posted: 11:58 pm Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Braves: 3 issues, my votes (starting with Uggla) 

By Jeff Schultz

Is it time for Braves to give prospect Tommy La Stella (now in Gwinnett) or Ramiro Pena a shot at second base job? (Karl Moore)

Is it time for Braves to give prospect Tommy La Stella (now in Gwinnett) or Ramiro Pena a shot at second base job? (Karl Moore)

Despite ending a seven-game losing streak Tuesday night, the Braves affirmed their 2-1 win over St. Louis actually didn’t change much in the big picture. They lost the  following to the Cardinals 7-1, dropping their third straight series (and falling to 1-5 on this homestand).

As I wrote in a column Tuesday night, the Braves’ biggest concern isn’t that they’re running out of time. It’s only May. The problem is that their major issues now are pretty much the same as they were a year ago: an unproductive offense (they rank 29th in runs scored), punctuated by a lack of clutch hitting (.220 and ranked 27th with runners on base; .201 and ranked 28th with runners in scoring position).

The Braves have scored one run in four of the last six games, and two or fewer runs in seven of the last 10 and 15 of 33 overall. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has made one significant change, batting the pitcher eighth in the order.

Here are a few other issues he may be looking at (and my vote):

Issue 1: Dan Uggla or Ramiro Pena? Pena has started two of the last three games at second base, but Gonzalez has been hesitant to make the change permanent, or even commit to a platoon system. It’s hard to know if he really believes Uggla — who is hitting .184 for the season and 3-for-34 in the last 10 games — can turn it around, or if he just lacks confidence in Pena as a full-time player. But Uggla has even lost his power. He has two homers all season (coming in the same game April 14) and his slugging percentage (.272) is 182 points below his career average (.454). It’s time to see what Pena can do in a full-time role. If he doesn’t work out. the Braves can always switch back to Uggla or call up Tommy La Stella from Gwinnett (where he’s hitting .306).

Issue 2: Jason Heyward or Option 2 leading off? I’m hearing from a lot of fans that the Braves need to make a change at the top of the order. Here’s the problem: There is no Option 2. Pena is a possibility (he’s 9 for 27 with a .400 on-base percentage in his career as a leadoff hitter). Possibly Andrelton Simmons (he’s had less success: .219 BA, .255 OBP leading off). But neither provide the speed or power that Heyward gives the Braves leading off. Heyward is hitting only .209 with a .295 OBP this season. That’s not close to what he accomplished as a leadoff hitter last season (.322, .403). But the lack of a viable option right now and Heyward’s potential make this an easy decision. Despite the pleas of others, Heyward needs to remain as the leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future.

Issue 3: Alex Wood, Aaron Harang or Gavin Floyd to the bullpen: I weighed on this three weeks, writing that with six healthy starters (now that Floyd is in the rotation), Wood was the logical choice. You agreed: With over 1,200 votes cast in a poll, 32.7 percent said Wood should go to the bullpen, followed by Floyd (24.2) and Harang (14.4). For complete results, click here. That option became even more logical Tuesday night when Floyd, making his first start in a year after Tommy John surgery, allowed St. Louis only one run in seven innings. Harang has had five great outings (three earned runs in 32 2/3 innings) and one bad one (nine runs in 4 2/3). When Ervin Santana returns from a thumb injury, Wood seems like the odd man out.

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93 comments
sergeantgallaher
sergeantgallaher

I have been complaining for years about the color of the batters background at the Ted. The Braves have finally painted it black but the forgot the part the batter looks at the most. Look at the fence, it is a light blue and could make it hard to pick up the spin on the ball. I looked around at other parks and their fence is a dark green or black. To me, that could be a big reason player that come to Atlanta have a hard time and have the lower BA. What do you guys think?

TideDawg
TideDawg

It appears to me in my limited mental capacity that: 1. They leave Uggla in the lineup because he might eventually hit another homerun. 2. They keep BJ in the lineup because he is fouling off more pitches and they call it improvement. 3. Gattis can't get in a groove because he's in and out of the lineup every other day. 4. All Braves starters swing for the fences. 5. Hardly any player on the Braves team can bunt, including pitchers.6. Can't say much about the pitchers. They are taught to get that first pitch in the strike zone and it only took the Cardinals 1 inning to adjust and start swining at the first pitch. 7. Don't try to squeeze in a runner with a hitter that probably only has a 50-50 chance of getting a bunt down. 8. The Braves are well schooled in the finer parts of the game but not the simple basic things that lead to losses if you can't perform them.


And, if no one has noticed,...the Braves don't look like a very enthusiastic bunch in the dugout like they did last year. They go through the motions but something Is missing. No fire, no joy, only a look of despair. Maybe I'm just looking for an excuse but I only have to look at 2 players as the cause...Uggla & BJ.


Of note: I read this morning that BJ is helping coach Justin's hitting. That is a riot!!!

RONMERIDIAN
RONMERIDIAN

Here' s what the Braves should do: Release Uggla, its been long enough. Trade for Bonafacio from the Cubs. Line-up as follows:

Bonafacio 2nd

C.Johnson. 3rd

Freeman 1st

Gattis C

Heyward RF

J.Upton LF

Simmons SS

B. Upton/Schafer CF( Platoon).

Bench: Pena, La Stella, Laird, Schafer/B.J., Pastornicky

Rotation: Teheran, Minor, Floyd, Santana,Harang

Bullpen: Kimbrel, Walden, Carpenter,Hale,Woods, Varvaro, Avilan

So get rid of Uggla and Duomit. Bonafacio is a switch hitter and can play 2nd ,3rd and all outfield spots. Gives a lead-off man and lots of lineup choices.

BethlehemDawg
BethlehemDawg

If I had to write the line up I would make some serious changes.


1. Todd Cunningham CF

2. Philip Gosselin 2B (He's hitting better than La Stella)

3. Freddie Freeman 1B

4. Justin Upton RF

5. Chris Johnson 3B

6. Evan Gattis C (Bethancourt is not a hitter)

7. Joey Terdoslavich LF

8. Andrelton Simmons SS

9. Pitcher

MikeS777
MikeS777

So Schafer tells Gonzalez he want to play more.  Gonzalez tries to say that BJ and Heyward are swinging the bat well enough.  Maybe this is part of the problem.  Schafer has not had a lot of at bats yet and most of those were against hard throwers.  I say replace Heyward or BJ with Schafer.  If we are going to call for Pena over Uggla, then we have to replace Heyward or BJ or both as well.  All 3 are the worst performers in a lineup that isnt performing well except for Freeman, Justin Upton, and Simmons.  Might as well give Schafer a shot after how well he played last season (compared to his career anyway).

RangeRover
RangeRover

After 23 seasons I finally had enough of Bobby Cox baseball and gave up some of the finest seats at the TED, right behind the plate.  Now with his offspring, doing even worse, I truly haven't missed going at all and haven't the faintest desire to drive from Kennesaw to watch the most boring brand of baseball in the bigs led by indisputably the single dumbest man to disgrace a uniform in Gonzalez.  

I don't mean to be mean or cruel here; I truly think he has a very low aptitude evidence by his inability to remember anything about the games he just managed moments earlier.  In an interview a couple of days ago he wasn't even sure how many games the Braves won last year to win the division!

I'm not glad about this but it's sad a lifelong Braves fan and season ticket holder over two decades is completely indifferent about his home team.  I do not like anyone hoping failure for my fellow man, but the day this man, and Wren along with him, are dismissed I will most definitely reconsider purchasing season tickets.  I'd really like to take my wife and kids to see a game again, but I know I'd be bored out of my mind, my kids will see the disgust in my eyes, and I'll most certainly want to leave by the 8th inning...that's utter indifference! 



MikeS777
MikeS777

Overall, I agree that Dan Uggla needs to go, but don't be surprised if he revives his bat somewhere else.  I think both he and BJ need out of Atlanta before they completely ruin their careers.  It's going to be hard for someone to take their salaries on though.

The thing is, we can sit there and say "Get rid of BJ, Uggla, and Heyward!"  But then what are we going to replace them with?  Hitters of the same caliber?  More guys to come in here and disappear in the current Braves hitting culture?  We can't afford better on the current team budget.

We have been dealing with this for years.  2010 is the last season we even had a decent batting average.  2009 is the last year we were above .260.  The last 4 years have seen averages slip to .258, .243, .247, .249, and now we start 2014 at .234.

This is what happens when you have a team with over half their position players hitting below .260.  You have to go back prior to the 2002 season to find averages this low for the Braves.  Replacing one or two guys isnt going to bump the average back up to .265 or .270.

Freeman, Justin Upton, and Simmons are the only 3 guys hitting above .255 right now.  LOL

cvan32802
cvan32802

I certainly agree with your solution to Issue 1 - Uggla is toast.   Time to stop the bleeding.  


I do think Mike S777 makes a valid point about the fact that there is a growing list of offensive players who have come to Atl from other teams and flopped, as we are pleased to watch every night with the overpaid underachieving performance of Uggla and BJ.   While the hitting coach is certainly something to investigate, a bigger issue is that even in the glory days of the 90s the Braves were built on the home run and that is even more so today.   However, the pitching velocity has gotten better and the overall number of strikeouts has increased which means that statistically your ability to win swinging for the fences is limited -- Uggla is a poster child for that approach.  That means less runners get on base, less opportunities with RISP, and overall less runs, which is a big problem now since the pitching no longer uber-dominant as it was in April.   Jeff Issues 1 and 2 are the big problems -- it will require a vast improvement on offense to make the playoffs this year.  

oldcrackerfan
oldcrackerfan

There was also the small matter of N. Mc. getting clocked in right center by J. Heyward.  That injury was almost as bad as the one to the 80s era catcher whose name I can't remember.  He got run over blocking the plate and was never the same.

MikeS777
MikeS777

To underscore my point, Dan Uggla's situation is very similar to Nate McLouth.  He came in here a solid performer and dropped off so badly they optioned him to AAA.  The next season he goes to Baltimore and hits over .260 for them.  Hit near that the year after for them as well.  

Uggla and McLouth are not great players, but they are good and much better than what they have shown in a Braves uniform.

The only way to do better without looking at the hitting coaching is for Liberty Media to open up the wallet and allow the Braves to compete for the elite talent in free agency.  Anything less than that is coming in here and struggling.

MikeS777
MikeS777

1.  Hitting coaching.

2.  Hitting coaching

3.  Hitting coaching.

You can rotate any number of names up there in place of Dan Uggla.  BJ Upton and Heyward are not hitting any better.  Justin Upton is doing fine now, but last season he dipped sharply after a hot start.  Chris Johnson is off to a bad start.  Jordan Shafer still seems to have left his bat in AAA.

Heyward was hitting the cover off the ball in AAA and had a solid rookie season.  Uggla and BJ were not near this bad until putting on a Braves uniform.  Shafer was solid in AAA.  Chris Johnson is a career .286 hitter with a current average of .246.

I agree something has to be done, Jeff, but Pena is hitting .229 right now in a limited roll.  If he was hitting the cover off the ball, OK, replace Uggla.  But he's hardly doing that.

Evan Gattis has cooled off since his hot start last year, batting currently under .260.

There's something wrong with how the Braves go about coaching or preparing hitters.  There are way too many guys under performing in a Braves uniform to call it otherwise.

Freddie Freeman is the exception, not the rule.  

iamvlad
iamvlad

6.  frank wren - should probably be #1

7. schuerholtz - lived off a couple of good trades early and then did squat afterwards.

iamvlad
iamvlad

issue 4:  bj upton

issue 5. hitting coach

issue 6: more to come once we deal with 1-5

Dsyelxia
Dsyelxia

Issue 1: Dan Uggla or Ramiro Pena? Give Pena a shot. If he fails, bring up La Stella or give Pastornicky a shot. Whoever it is, you have to give him at least a week to prove himself. Not just one game, Fredi!

Issue 2: Jason Heyward or Option 2 leading off? J-Hey at leadoff worked for like two seconds. Give it up.

Issue 3: Alex Wood, Aaron Harang or Gavin Floyd to the bullpen: Why mess with what works? Stick with Wood. He has given up 2 or less runs in 6 of 7 starts. Harang turns 36 tomorrow. His April was all he had left in the tank. Trade him before somebody figures all that out.

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

You get what you get. It's a team full of high risk/ high reward hitters. They live and die by the long ball. Problem is that if they were hitting 30-40 hrs I could deal with striking out 180 times.

Striking out that much while hitting .240/15-20 is just plain terrible.

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

I'm fine with Wood going to the pen. He's still facing major league hitters.

Pena/Pastornicky deserve a shot at 2b. They've been here, they deserve a shot.

Schaffer needs to replace Upton in CF, or at least platoon with Schaffer playing againt righties.

THe only reason Struggla and Upton are still in he lineup is their contracts. Period.

Do you wanna win or do yo wanna worry about hurting egos?

mdet
mdet

Heyward was only a lead off hitter for 20 games last season. This season's sample size is already a lot bigger.

NastyNas
NastyNas

Find a team desperate for starting pitching, offer them their choice of Harang or Floyd, but they also have to take Struggla, braves eat whatever amount of salary they have to...if the move frees up just 4-5 million it would be worth it.  It really doesn't matter what player we get in return.  A ball boy would be fine.   #86STRUGGLA

Waredawg
Waredawg

The Braves problems are not fixable with the current roster. Everything fails due the BJ/Uggla dilemma and the lack of a leadoff hitter. I've been posting since last Winter that the Braves single biggest need was a viable option at leadoff who could play CF or 2nd. And it wasn't money that kept this from happening, if took the money we used to sign Floyd and Doumit (yes, I know it was a trade, but payroll is payroll), added a little to it (based on the signings, funds were available), and acquired a Martin Prado

type (wince) we solve a lot of our problems.


However, this was never going to happen, because it would have forced Wren to admit that BJ was a huge mistake, and still is. If this could still happen, Braves' lineup is instantly transformed. We create 

run scoring opportunities at the top of the order ( we have 2 or 3 options to bat 2nd), lose a "black hole"

(either BJ or Uggla, preferably both), move Heyward back to 5th or 6th (to take advantage of his power), and hopefully score a ton more runs. 


It's obvious that the whole team is pressing, particularly Heyward. He was never a leadfoff hitter.Since a dream trade seems unlikely, what do we do?


Give Schaeffer a shot. I doubt it will work, but right now there is no other option. Try Pena, Rev, or LaStrella at 2nd (Uggla is a lost cause). Any of the above or CJ can hit 2nd. 3rd -7th should be some combo of Freeman, J-Up, Gattis, Heyward, and CJ (if not hitting 2nd), Simmons should always bat 8th. 


Play Gattis more. Laird is useless on O this year, and Doumit, never understood that move. 


Make situational hitting mandatory for everyone. No one and I mean no one shouldn't be required to bunt, hit and run, etc. with consequences (benchings or fines) for failures. The goal should be at least 1 "manufactured" run per game.


Even if we do all the above, the team is still seriously flawed - way too many free swingers, strikeouts, and defensive problems ( our players are either really good or really subpar - there doesn't seem to be much in-between).


Even if everything else improves, Freddi will cost us 5+ games with bad strategy or poor lineup choices. I hate to say it, but it might already be "fork time". I predicted 85 wins pre-spring training, right now that might be a reach. I'd take our pitching almost over anybody, but who in our everyday lineup, other than Freddi, Simmons, and J-Up (when he's not in funk) really excites you. 


Right now, small miracle and some big changes to make the PS, WS - sorry folks forget it. 


GO BRAVES!

slydawg
slydawg

1. Fredi G is not all that bright of a baseball manager.

2. Frank Wren is a weasel and has constructed another mediocre roster.

3. As long as John S. continues to run things, they will win and lose in the same fashion.

This franchise has done nothing but be consistent in it's successes and failures: a bunch empty regular season wins and no titles. Most can't remember the last time this franchise made it out of the first round of the playoffs. The Braves have always been good at getting journeymen pitchers and getting results. Check. The Braves have always had decent pitching and defense. Alas, the Braves have always had poor RISP. This team is missing the magicians who covered up the stink of this mediocre franchise for so long: Glavine, Smoltz, and Chipper. Their clutch play has covered up the job the non championship but I hope we get lucky mentality governing this team from the top for the past 20+ years. Get mad all you want. The results speak for themselves. How many more bad contracts will Wren give out? How many more interviews does Scooby Doo need to mutter himself through? How many good pitching prospects will Shuerholtz handcuff while this team continues not hitting?

chrisbeyer
chrisbeyer

Heyward is an overrated player if there ever was one.    He is still surviving on the aura of having been considered a potential star player at the time he came up but it isn't happening.   He is an excellent fielder but is a near sure out at the plate.   Mr. potential unrealized.

keendaddy
keendaddy

Ten's of Thousands of us watch every game, and we pull for the Bravos to win every game. Not enough attention is being paid to our two hitting coaches. Schultz, why don't you sit down with both of them and try to uncover the real reason for our lack of offense. You may have to read between the lines of what they tell you, because they will cover for Freddi G. They should either turn in their resignation, or explain why we're terrible. If you dig hard enough, you may get a sliver of the truth out of them! Two questions I would ask: #1...Do our players (all of them, listen to you and execute your instructions? #2...Honestly, how many players on this team , can lay down a bunt without striking out or popping up to the pitcher/catcher every time?

countryboyy
countryboyy

i still think  they need to bring up the aaa team  i feel gaddis  is a one year fluke they need to think about bringing up the catcher from aaa   because they dont have a catcher out of the three that can  get the job done 

58Supersports
58Supersports

J-Hey is not a lead-off hitter period.  Speed and power not worth a damn if you can't hit and get on base...a joke.  The team does not put fear in other teams or their pitchers, not very exciting to watch anymore.


Uggla was not here before Fredi --- SaltGrass

SaltGrass
SaltGrass

Heyward was not hitting at all last year when he was not in the lead off spot and there is nothing that suggest he would do any better batting anywhere else in the order. The leadoff man is only once a game and when hayward has batted in other situations he has fared no better. Fredi's  hands may be tied  because the front office has signed all of the contracts and appears to be calling the daily line up.  Uggla has been here even before Fredi and the results have always been less than remarkable. Everyone says Uggla is a nice guy, but when some of he othere braves are suscessful, he rarely congralates them in the dug out.  

JamesIrish
JamesIrish

@sergeantgallaher I never thought about that but since you mentioned it, I looked and your right. I wonder what effect if any that would have on hitters. Might explain the reason good hitter from other teams suck when they come here.

TomGaff
TomGaff

@MikeS777 I agree, give Schaf 3-4 weeks of regular play and let's see what he can do? He is not suited for PH and playing twice every two weeks? Need some older veteran guy, happy to be on a team to PH and play once or twice every two weeks! But what do I know about the game? Why want Freddie accept that BJ is not going to get better, are we expected to watch him for 3 more yrs?

Rick_C
Rick_C

@MikeS777  Well it is worth noting that offense has been declining league wide for years.  This isn't just an issue for the Braves.

shod7908
shod7908

@oldcrackerfan   I have always felt the collision with Heyward is what ruined McClouth in Atlanta. He was an excellent player when they got him.

theoriginaltruth
theoriginaltruth

@MikeS777 You like Uggla? Sign him for your team and take him off of the Braves hands....after all they'll pay you to take him.........

Rick_C
Rick_C

@MikeS777  I think hitting coaches get too much credit when a hitter is going well, and too much blame when a hitter isn't going well.  Yeah I get that it looks pretty bad when pretty much the whole lineup is failing, but the fact is we just have a lot of streaky hitters.

oldcrackerfan
oldcrackerfan

@MikeS777  

Agreed.  But there's another angle.  Fans, TV, and contract numbers all mitigate against hitters playing to benefit the team.  So any coach would have a very tough time convincing these guys to want to advance runners, hit sac flies, etc.  I think it would take an ex-star hitter, somebody like Chipper Jones, before the long ball swingers would have enough respect to listen.

Doktor13
Doktor13

@iamvlad  Add McGuirk... and there ya have it... the Three Friggin Stooges...

Doktor13
Doktor13

@mdet  "But the lack of a viable option right now and Heyward’s potential"


There's THAT "P" word... again... ermmm... yet... {SMFH}


oldcrackerfan
oldcrackerfan

@Waredawg  

I don't disagree with anything here, and I strongly agree about situational hitting.  I grew up with it.  And we went to games based on the starting pitcher.  But how do you make that change in mid-season?  I'd love it if it happened.  I think it's the most important factor after the starting rotation.  But too many of these guys can't bunt and won't even try to hit behind a runner or move a runner up.  At this time of year, I'd rather watch college softball.  The pitcher's circle is 43' from the plate, and the hitters can get around on a fastball that equates to a baseball speed of 90+ mph. 

slydawg
slydawg

Correction for a nerd: One world series title and 15+ or - division titles.

KatieR620
KatieR620

Hitting Coaches can only tweak an approach. 

It's Frank Wren's job to find guys that hit for average.   This is a lineup of free swinging guys with some power. 

It's model that can work over time,  but more often than not cannot win postseason series.   The Braves don't seem to value hititng for average as an organization.  If they did they wouldn't have put together the easiest to strike out lineup in the major leagues.

Bunting,  and not striking out come down to organizational effort and individual pride.   The Braves don't care if players can bunt and the individuals care more about swinging hard, than putting the ball in play.

All the coaching in the world isn't changing that.

SaltGrass
SaltGrass

Check your facts. Uggla came over when bobby cox was still managing.

Dan Uggla : Atlanta Braves (2011–present)

JamesIrish
JamesIrish

@sergeantgallaher Look at the difference between in BA from day game when the CF fence would be bright and night games at the Ted, .194 in the day .249 at night. Maybe if the fence was black too that would help. Hell couldn't hurt lol.

jamsess
jamsess

@RangeRover @MikeS777


X3 on Schafer--and play Pastornicky at 2d for 3 weeks and let him lead off--and Schafer not only can run, HE CAN BUNT! and he does have some pop in his bat!

MikeS777
MikeS777

@theoriginaltruth @MikeS777  Read what I post.   You think it's a coincidence that Uggla comes in here and forgets to hit along with a good number of other hitters?  I don't have to like Uggla to notice a pattern here.

Just look at the other option...Pena...a .229 hitter.  Yeah that's a real big improvement.  Maybe we can call up another body from AAA to start whiffing as well.

theoriginaltruth
theoriginaltruth

@oldcrackerfan @MikeS777 The bench is where players who refuse to do what the manager say, can spend their time...........


Now does this manager have the stones to start benching the non-cooperative players? That is another story altogether...

NickGranite
NickGranite

@KatieR620 Concur Katie.  A lot of it has to do with needs and what is available at the time but the reality is this; We have one pure hitter in our entire line-up (Freeman).  The rest are susceptible to utter shutdown, particularly from power pitchers.  It can manifest itself for entire weeks, games or the inevitable whiff with RISP (8 out of last 105 with 2 out RISP for anyone not named Freeman).

SaltGrass
SaltGrass

Ok The Braves aquired Dan at the end of Bobbys cox tenure.

SaltGrass
SaltGrass

Cox retired at the end of 2010, so it was my bad memory.

58Supersports
58Supersports

@SaltGrass Fredi is the one who wanted Uggla because  he played for him when he was manager for the Fish....fact!