What the Heck Is Going On With the Braves?
The Atlanta Braves are kind of in a funk right now.
After finishing up an 0-8 west coast trip on Wednesday afternoon, the Braves are in the midst of their longest losing streak since April of 2010. And with the Washington Nationals’ walk-off victory over the Mets on Thursday afternoon, Atlanta enters Friday 4.5 games back in the NL East, at 58-56.
They own a run-differential of +3, which is only seventh-best in the National League, and are in a complete free-fall. And while their pitching has been relatively solid this season (their starters’ ERA of 3.44 and bullpen ERA of 3.28 are both 5th-best in the NL), their offense has been brutal, especially compared to last year (NL rank in parenthesis).
|2014||.245 (9)||.309 (8)||.369 (12)||89 (11)||426 (13)||22.2 (13)|
|2013||.249 (T-8)||.321 (6)||.402 (2)||181 (1)||688 (4)||22.6 (15)|
Especially notable are the power numbers, which were so good last year and have fallen off a cliff this year. They fell from 2nd to 12th in slugging percentage, 1st to 11th in home runs, and have seen their isolated power (ISO) fall from 2nd last year (.153) to 11th this year (.124).
So what’s going on here? Who is responsible for this drop-off?
|Player||2013 HR||2014 HR|
Obviously, the 2014 home run totals are incomplete, but are meant to show the pace at which Atlanta players are going yard this year. The Braves are sorely missing the bat of Brian McCann, who signed a free agent contract with the New York Yankees this off-season. While Gattis has been a more-than-capable offensive replacement at the catcher position, the Braves have lost the power output both he and McCann generated together, with Gattis in the outfield.
The continuing decline that led to the release of Dan Uggla also crippled the Braves in the homer department. Last year, through his struggles, Uggla still managed to finish third on the team in homers, with 22. This year, he had two before he was finally released. And barring a hot streak over the last month and a half, Justin Upton will fall short of the 27 he hit last year, and Andrelton Simmons will fall well shy of the 17 he hit in 2013.
In addition, Atlanta isn’t making up for this loss of power in other areas, with the eighth-worst on-base percentage in the National League and the ninth-worst batting average. They are still among the league’s worst teams in Ks, striking out in 22.2% of their at-bats, 13th out of 15 NL teams.
Three players in particular are having terrible offensive seasons.
As you can see, all three players have nERDs this year in the negative range, meaning their bats are scoring fewer runs over a 27-out game than a league-average player. Simmons’ fWAR is almost entirely built on his legendary defense, and Johnson, who finished 2nd in the NL batting race last year at .321, is not surprisingly having a hard time duplicating that success.
B.J. Upton’s failures are becoming legendary. Since signing a five-year, $75.25 million deal before last season that goes through 2017, he has been a full-fledged anchor around the neck of the franchise.
But Atlanta fans, here’s the good news. Your pitching is still really good, and the Nationals haven’t taken advantage of your team’s struggles. Washington has gone just 5-5 in their last 10, despite having the league’s best run differential at +79. And at just 4.5 games back, our projections say the Braves still have a 21.3% chance of making the playoffs and an 11.8% chance of winning the division.
It’s not a slam dunk, but they’re still in the mix for both the NL East crown or one of the two wild cards.
As long as they start hitting the ball.