So the season is just about halfway complete (Stats thru July 3 games) and it is time to examine just where the Braves stand individually, and collectively, with half a season left to make a push for the playoffs.
LF Martin Prado- A
I know, right now it seems hard to give anybody on this team an A with the way they’ve been playing, but Prado is worthy of it. Offensively, he’s the perfect two hitter for this team, thanks to suddenly recognizing the value of a walk. If you want any explanation as to why Prado is headed for a career year, that is it. He’s already drawn 32 walks, his previous career high was 40. The result is a stellar .383 on base percentage. He’s also quietly put himself in position to push for 20 stolen bases this year, while having been caught just once. Defensively, he’s been very solid and helps round out perhaps the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball. After what he gave us last year, Prado’s year has been nothing short of outstanding. He deserved more all star consideration than he got.
CF Michael Bourne- A+
Wait, really? The first two players receive As on a team we’re all this frustrated with right now? Well, things may change once we get out of the outfield. What has Bourn not done well? I tell you, those contract years can be awfully motivational. On the merits of his defense alone, at a position where stellar defensive player can be a huge difference maker, Bourn is having an above average season. He’s the best defensive outfielder in the national league, and should be well on his way to his second gold glove. Should the club stay in contention however, he should also find his name in the MVP conversation if he keeps up his offensive pace. All he’s done there is gone and managed to put himself third in hits and second in runs scored, while being third in the league in stolen bases. He’s already set a career high in home runs, and could push to do the same in doubles, triples, and walks. It’s a crying shame we’re hoping Braves fans can click a mouse enough times to get him in the all-star game.
RF Jason Heyward- A-
Some might argue Heyward deserves higher marks, but one can’t forget the slumps he’s prone to, and been through. Remember, before an absolutely torrid June, Heyward was the subject of a lot of venom from Braves fans, so we can’t act like this season has been a total bed of roses. Heyward’s defense has been exceptional, which is reason to keep him on the field as much as possible. Given more regular playing time, especially against lefties, Heyward started getting in a groove and producing. His RBI numbers may be down, but that’s what happens when you place arguably your most complete hitter at the bottom of the order. They should improve as long as he keeps hitting behind Bourn and Prado. We know he won’t have a repeat of June, but we should see something similar in production from him, and with his stellar defense, clearly, right field is not a problem spot.
3B Chipper Jones- B
He only gets a B because of the games he’s missed due to injury or needed time off. When in the lineup, he’s been fantastic, but when he’s out of the lineup, we suffer, and suffer big time. The drop off from him to Juan Francisco or Matt Diaz is steep and precipitous, and one we simply can’t afford. When on the field, it’s easily arguable Chipper has been the best offensive player on the team. His power numbers trail Heyward’s only slightly, and that can be attributed somewhat to the adjustment period coming back from injury. Chipper has only had 185 plate appearances, whereas Michael Bourn has had 338. That’s a big difference. For Chipper to get into the A range, he’s going to need 200 to 225 I believe in the second half, and I honestly can’t say at this point we can expect that from him. And that’s unfortunate, we need his bat.
SS Tyler Pastornicky- D
I won’t give him an F, simply because he was overmatched to begin with. You might also wonder why I’m not listing Andrelton Simmons here. Simple, Pastornicky played in almost twice as many games at shortstop as Simmons did in the first half, so when grading the Braves shortstop to this point, Pastornicky’s production gets weighted a little heavier. Offensively, he did have some big hits, but he struck out at a 4:1 ratio, and had an OBP of .281. Those can be tolerated at shortstop if good defense is played. Well, about that…..
2B Dan Uggla- C+
He’s been in a massive slump the past month, and that has probably dropped him a full letter grade. Defensively, he’s not been a liability. His errors seem to stand out to us because we expect so many from him, but he’s having the best defensive season of his career. Remember, there’s more to playing good defense than not making errors. Offensively, there’s still plenty of hope for him. His OPS stands right now at the exact number he finished 2011 with. So if we can get his usual second half surge, his end of the year numbers should again be more than okay. Cutting down on the strikeouts would be a big help, as Uggla’s BABIP is over .300, he just needs to put more in play. Furthermore, his home run to fly ball ratio is the lowest of his career, and by a pretty good margin. If that can come closer to the norm in the second half, we could see a 20 home run close to the season. One other reason to stay optimistic is his new found patience at the plate. He’s on pace to draw over 100 walks for the first time in his career. So while right now he’s not been anything too special, we can hope at the end of the year that’s turned around.
1B Freddie Freeman- C-
He was off to a good start, then suffered those eye problems that seem to be an issue only with the Braves. Why that is, I’ll never understand. At any rate, he’s had some spurts here in there, but collectively, the year has been a disappointment. He may be on pace for 100 RBI, but he benefited greatly from batting in the three spot, a spot hopefully he won’t be back in for the remainder of the year, at least not until his offensive game finds consistency. He’s walking a good deal less this year and that has contributed a bit to the decline in production at the plate. A turnaround from Freeman would be extremely helpful to this sputtering offense, because as of right now, he’s not much more than just an average first basemen.
C Brian McCann- F
Yes, here’s where the first F of the year gets doled out. This is due in large part to what’s expected of McCann, and ultimately, what this team needs, to be really good. If you think about it, if you put a typical Brian McCann year at the 3 or 4 spot in our lineup, we probably have 4 or 5 more wins right now, at least, and aren’t chasing the Nationals, we’re staring eye to eye with them. One has to think though that McCann will snap out of this. His OBP is .060 lower than his career mark, and his slugging is almost .100 lower. This sort of drop off is NOT expected from someone 28 years old, even at the grueling catcher position. Some of his drop off can absolutely be attributed to just bad luck, his BAbip is at a paltry .228. His career mark is .295. So this should eventually start to balance out. When it does, the Braves offense will look demonstratively better. But until it does, we’re going to continue to struggle at times to score runs.
Starting Lineup- B-
So just by looking through the typical starting lineup for the season, one should be able to see why we may be near the top of the league in runs score, yet we all feel so frustrated with the offense. When guys like Freeman, McCann and Uggla are hitting, and doing what we expect, this offense is as good and explosive as any baseball. However, when guys you count on the middle of your order to produce your power are slumping as bad as these guys are prone to, you’re offense is going to have a hard time putting together any sort of consistency. There are enough bright spots to still keep this team in contention, and give us hope, but we need more of the expected big boppers to start bopping.
Juan Francisco- D-
He’s had some nice moments filling in for Chipper Jones, but for the most part, he’s one of the reasons Braves pinch hitters have been among the least effective in the majors. Anybody who has 38 strikeouts compared to just 3 walks, there’s a problem there, a big one. The positive side is he’s shown a little power, and has produced some runs, but a .248 OBP is just unacceptable. Unfortunately, Chipper’s need for time off will ensure he sees more playing time in the second half.
Eric Hinske- F
If there was an F-, Hinske would get it. I don’t even know where to start with how terrible he has been this season. He’s of no value defensively, and offensively, his slugging percentage is lower than the on base percentage of every current starter on the team. A mere five extra base hits from your supposed power source off the bench? Randall Delgado has a comparable slugging percentage.
Andrelton Simmons- A
How can this be anything but an A? He’s simply come in and in one month in the league established himself as one of the finer defensive players, not just at shortstop, but in all of baseball. And at a key defensive position like shortstop, that can be more important any offense contributed. But it’s not like the 22 year old hasn’t held his own there either. He’s hitting .323, but more impressively for such a young player with such little seasoning, he’s walked seven times to just eleven strike outs. He’s shown decent power at the plate as well. The key will be how well he adjusts once everyone starts adjusting to him. For now though, he’s been spectacular for the Braves.
Matt Diaz- C-
Diaz personifies platoon player, or I should say, he personifies an average platoon player. He’s good against lefties, but not great. However, against right handers, he’s among the worst hitters I’ve ever seen. This includes pitchers. Using a roster spot for someone that one dimensional, and then letting that one dimensional player take away playing time from your best all around player, it’s baffling. But I can’t penalize Diaz for Fredi Gonzalez being a moron, can I? The Braves need to find a reserve outfield bat, and Hinske’s ability to play 1B probably makes his spot safe, even if his overall production is significantly down from just about everyone’s. The more I write, the more I want to lower the grade, but his serviceability against left handed pitching keeps it out of the D range.
David Ross- B+
Ross is another guy prone to slumping, although it’s usually when he’s called upon to start regularly, which is clearly not his forte. However, when it comes to the backup catcher position, not many teams can do much better than David Ross. Unfortunately, his struggles when playing everyday make subbing him more often for the slumping McCann an exercise in futility. He’s a solid defensive catcher, calls a good game, and and is a threat with the bat. From his position, there’s not a lot more that you can ask for.
Jack Wilson- C-
Wilson isn’t here for offense, he’s here for defense, so his offense shouldn’t weigh too heavily into the discussion. However, as a late inning defensive replacement and not much more, you really don’t get the chance to impact that many games that way, though he did perhaps save one by himself with his glove. So, what he does at the plate as a pinch hitter, it does make a difference. Being called on to pinch hit and then failing to execute a sacrifice bunt, yeah, you don’t get high marks for that. Wilson’s been worse than Hinske at the plate this year, and it’s actually not even close, that’s how bad he’s been. But he’s been solid at what his primary job is, so the rating comes in at just below average.
Jose Costanza- F
I seriously do not, for the life of me, understand the love affair with this guy. He doesn’t walk, he strikes out, had just one extra base hit, and he didn’t steal a base. Yet people clamor for more playing time from him. I’m going to start dismissing anyone who wants more playing time from Costanza (because that would mean less for, you know, three VERY good outfielders) as people who aren’t actual Braves fans because apparently they don’t pay a lick of attention.
Because at this point, technically Simmons is the starting shortstop, and was never used as an actual bench player, there is very little to like here. David Ross is a big bright spot, and Jack Wilson’s defense is solid enough. After that though? It’s atrocious. Even D- might be a bit generous. The bench needs upgrading in a big way. For all the woes of the offense, the inability to rest a slumping starter and hope one of your reserves comes in and breathes a little life into the offense makes snapping a team out of a funk all the more difficult. Most of our bench players, on other teams, even the worst in baseball, would still be lucky to be on the major league squad.
Tommy Hanson B-
Yes, he’s 9-5, I understand all of that. But a pitcher is about so much more, okay, pretty everything more, than wins. Hanson’s allowed 16 home runs, which is only two more than the much maligned Mike Minor. He’s also walked just one fewer hitter, even if in 14 more innings. Hanson’s record could, and should be better. Many times over the course of the season the Braves offense has given him a lead, only to see him come back in in the very next inning and surrender it. Great pitchers don’t do that. Originally Hanson was supposed to be an ace pitcher. We’re about to that point in his career, that if he’s going to be, it better happen soon. As it is stands, he’s a solid two or three. Unfortunately, this rotation calls on him to be the ace.
Mike Minor- D
Would you believe he’s thrown the second most innings on our staff. I guess if you want an explanation as to how this seemingly talented team can struggle like it does, the fact this is the pitcher you’ve relied the second heaviest on speaks volumes. Minor’s troubles don’t really need to be documented, do they? He walks too many, and can’t keep the ball in the ballpark. The result? Way too many innings where three or four runs get scored. I haven’t done the research, but I’d bet Minor is among the team leaders in percentages of innings thrown without giving up a run. Unfortunately, when he gives them up, he does so in a big way. His inconstancy and unreliability makes him a big weak link in this rotation.
Brandon Beachy- A+
Unfortunately, there’s no reason to go any further here, since it will be next year at this time, at least, before he pitches again. He was the ace this staff needed. Now, he’s the dominant starter turned cheerleader it did not need.
Randall Delgado C+
You might be surprised to see his grade nearly the same as Tommy Hanson’s. Consider though Delgado wasn’t supposed to even be part of this rotation, Hanson was supposed to be an ace caliber pitcher. Delgado has been beleaguered, but he’s simply gone through the struggles of a young pitcher. You have to remember he’s only 22, and after some rough starts early on, for the most part, he’s settled down. He still walks too many hitters, and that gets his pitch count high, among other things, but that can be worked on with experience in the majors. He does a good job of not allowing home runs, and he’s a solid strikeout pitcher. Fans wanting to give up on Delgado already, they just need to be quiet. Give the kid a chance.
Tim Hudson B+
His two terrible first innings against the Nationals stand out, as does the fact he’s been roughed up a few times this season in Minoresque mode. However, he’s also been the dominant Tim Hudson of old at times as well. Unfortunately the bone spurs in his ankle leave him somewhat of a question mark every time it is his turn to pitch. However, aside from Beachy, he’s clearly been the best starter on the team. Unfortunately, with Beachy down, for this rotation to be befitting of an elite team, it needs someone like Beachy heading it, and right now, Hudson just isn’t that.
Jair Jurrjens- C-
Which Jurrjens are we grading? Pre AAA stint Jurrjens (F), or the one we’ve seen since (A-)? Amazingly, this team managed to win two of his first four starts, thanks to 24 total runs scored in two of his starts. So, Jurrjens didn’t hurt the team as badly as initially feared. Though, it would have been nice to have had him humming along so Delgado could have replaced Minor, and not Jurrjens. In any event, he’s been solid his last three outings, in fact, just three earned runs in three starts with 18.1 innings pitched. He’s only walked four hitters in that stretch and not allowed a home run after allowing 10 walks and five long balls in his first four starts while pitching just 16.1 innings. The turnaround is immense. If Jurrjens can continue that upward climb, he slots in nicely in the two or three role. More consistent performances by Hudson and Hanson would leave Jurrjens in a wonderful niche as three, possibly four starter pending trade, down the stretch.
With Brandon Beachy, it’s a solid rotation. Without, there’s still too many questions. Minor isn’t as much a question anymore, as an explosive inning waiting too happen. Delgado is still prone to get rocked every now and then, and Hudson and Hanson have also lacked the consistency you want from top end starters. Throw in the fact that Jurrjens, despite his recent success, is still a wildcard, and you have a rotation that can ultimately be anything from upper third in the league, to bottom third. That’s too large of a variance. Frank Wren needs to find help, and by help, I don’t exactly mean Ben Sheets.
Craig Kimbrel- A+
Could he be anything else? No, he’s not perfect, but he’s arguably the most dominant closer in baseball today. In fact, he’s turning into one of the most dominant closers of recent memory. You want to strike out 50, walk just 10, and allow a lone home run in your 30 innings of work, with a WHIP of .767, you get an A+
Kris Medlen- B+
Medlen doesn’t really have the stuff to be dominant, and I’m not sure he’s got the stuff to be an elite set-up guy either. But he is still a very good pitcher, who with our problems in the rotation, may ultimately be an answer there. We shall see. In the meantime, he’s ideal for coming into games when one of the other starters has been roughed up early and giving us several innings of work. Of course, by then the game is already in hand. This asset would be more valuable in trying to protect dominant middle inning relief guys from pitching in long inning situations and getting burned out. Unfortunately, we don’t have those anymore.
Chad Durbin- C
Durbin was terrible early, and even I was ready to be rid of him. He’s since settled down, and right now has easily supplanted Jonny Venters as the 7th inning guy, and might even push O’Flaherty for the 8th inning role. The Durbin we’ve seen as of late could be a vital piece to a bullpen, that hopefully when all is said and done is still a team strength, just not with the pieces being who we envisioned at the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, his rocky start still has to factor in to his first half grade.
Jonny Venters- F
Much like McCann, this stems a lot as well from expectation. If you look at his numbers on the whole, he’s a guy many teams would probably still take on their roster. If you look at what we expected from him, and were counting on him, most Braves fans would gladly drive him either to Gwinnett, or to Dr. James Andrews office. Ever since Venters was given some time off for some soreness, he’s been extremely ineffective, and it’s almost become a foregone conclusion that if Venters pitches, the game is over, and not in favor of the Braves. An injury would certainly explain the sudden fall-off. And while nobody wants an injury, one would think, an injury might be easier to fix than totally screwed up mechanics, or a complete lack of confidence. You have to wonder if these relievers are like running backs. In the NFL, it’s a pretty proven fact, you hit a certain number of carries one year, expect a decline the next in production. I’ve got think there are similarities at play here.
Eric O’Flaherty- B-
Another case of the expectations not being matched, and thus, the grade reflecting it. It’s not that O’Flaherty has had a bad year, he hasn’t. But there have been memorable spots where he didn’t get the job done. Last year, there was hardly a time all season he failed to get the job done. Venters struggles have exasperated O’Flaherty’s decline. If Medlen could perhaps move into the 8th inning rule, O’Flaherty might get back to a more comfortable 7th inning role. Who knows. It’s suffice to say though, Eric O’Flaherty has not been the problem in our bullpen.
Cristhian Martinez- C+
Martinez is the case of where the expectations and role actually help his grade. He’s a mop-up, long relief guy, and that’s a role he’s more than capable of filling in a solid fashion. His only real fallacy is his trouble keeping the ball in the park, but other than that, he’s been a very serviceable mop-up pitcher. Is he anything special? No. But he’s not a weak link, and for his role, he’s been quite effective.
Livan Hernandez- C-
Like Pastornicky, because he appeared so often, his performance for the first half counts towards the entire teams. Hernandez had the same role as Martinez, only he didn’t perform as well in it. He wasn’t horrible, and he ate a lot of innings in games where we were hopelessly behind at times it seemed. But that said, Cristhian Martinez outperformed him….
The presence of Craig Kimbrel alone keeps this bullpen above average. He’s that good. The massively disappointing season of Jonny Venters drags it back down, and the coming back to earth of Eric O’Flaherty (without falling OFF the earth) steadies it out as a slightly above average bullpen. Less Venters, a continued improved Durbin, and more Medlen though could turn this unit back into a real strength.
Fredi Gonzalez- F
I don’t really even want to spend the time dissecting the ways Fredi Gonzalez deserves an F. I think they’re all pretty well known and documented. I’d rather hear some reasons he doesn’t.
Overall Grade B-
We’re slumping now, obviously, but we’ve seen what this team can do when things are clicking. There are some pieces that have started to come back around in the bullpen, and in the rotation that could benefit the pitching in the second half of the year. Are we an elite, title contender right now? No, of course not. Can we be? Yes. Though, I’d feel more confident if the man in charge of making the adjustments, and of adapting to players themselves coming around, or falling off, wasn’t a complete and total idiot.