Braves’ Off-Season Analysis

To start, let me say, while I love analyzing sabermetrics, there is one stat that I find useless and irrelevant, WAR. For the non-converted, this is wins above replacement, which is supposedly a way to compare players to see which is more valuable and influential to whether a team wins or loses. In other words, it is supposed to measure how many wins a player is personally responsible for compared to if they were replaced by a minor league player or someone from the waiver wire. They get this number by adding a lot of numbers together, adjust the total for the position they play, and then divide it by a number. This number is not based on a league averages for the position they play (which would be a more useful number to see how much better or worse of an all-round player they are than a real replacement), no, it is a made up player, who doesn’t exist (nor has ever), and, if he did actually exist, would not be on a major league roster, or on a roster of any kind. Also, if you take a team’s total WAR, the number never equals the actual number of wins they are above .500. Add to the fact that different sites calculate WAR differently, and this stat is not only fictional, there is no excepted standard on how to calculate it. Therefore, I will not use WAR in any of my posts, except to dispute arguments that use it as a basis for player evaluation, from here forward.

March 5, 2011; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves fan holds up a sign before a spring training exhibition game against the New York Mets at Disney Wide World of Sports complex. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Luckily there is a stat out there that makes sense, and it is called WAA or wins above average. So, to evaluate whether the Braves have actually improved their team, we will use this stat.

Leaving the Braves are Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Big Time Tommy, Hinske, David Ross, Michael Bourn, Matt Diaz, Overbay, Jurrjens, Peter Moylan, and of course Chipper Jones. To replace these players the Braves have picked up the Upton brothers, Jordan Walden, Chris Johnson, Gerald Laird, and Jordan Schafer. The numbers on the guys leaving add up to a grand total of 4.66 wins above what average players would have gotten, while the players they added give us a total of -1.6. Simple math and logic applied to the numbers and we take away the players leaving from the players gained and we are left with 5.72 wins LESS than we had last year.

Uh oh, right? Well first thing’s first. J Up (my goal this season is to get this nickname to catch on), B Up (this one too) and Chris Johnson (maybe CJ?) are coming from a division top heavy with parks that favors pitchers, to a more neutral division. Therefore if they bat exactly the same as they did in their respective parks last year, their numbers will improve and therefore their WAA’s will improve. Jordan Walden’s WAA was exactly 0 last year, and he will not be in a closer role again this year, so it should stay neutral, and chances are Jordan Schafer won’t be with the Braves’ big club by the time April rolls around without drastic improvement. Either way, his WAA of -1.9 will either not be included in the new guys’ number anymore, or will have improved drastically with his performance. Also, it is no secret that Justin Upton had a down year in 2012, battling a thumb injury and trade rumors all season, and BJ has been constantly under-performing over the past three or four years, so their WAA’s aren’t exactly accurate.

So what to do now? Well let’s take a look at this comparatively based on the line-up Freddi Gonzalez announced he is marching out there this year. Michael Bourn had a WAA last year of 4.1, the highest of his career, which means this number is a bit inflated against his normal performances. He is being replaced by Andrelton Simmons at the top of the line-up, who, in only 49 games, had a WAA of 2.4 last season. Since that is Simba’s only season, we can’t come up with any conclusions on a normal performance by him. The only logical conclusion is he will use the speed he showed throughout the minors giving him an improving WAA. Since we can safely assume Simmons’s WAA is going to go up, and Bourn’s was higher than normal, let’s say instead of a difference of -1.7, we will say Andrelton gains half a win and Bourn loses one, making this total more like -.7.

Batting second is Heyward who was on the team last year, but wasn’t normally in this spot. His run total and steal total should improve as long as he continues to show improvement in his fourth season, with will up his WAA as well. His rookie year he had a WAA of 4.6, while last year it was at 3.8 wins. He will probably end up around 4.5 this season, but it’s hard to predict given the change in order, and the fact that he has had an up and down career so far. We will stick with this number though, because he is just as likely to improve it up to a 6 as he is to drop it down to a 2. Prado batted second the most last year, having a WAA of 3.6, the highest of his career. His WAA has been steadily improving until his off year in 2011, but bounced back last year. It is safe to assume it would have been around 4 this year, so we will put this total at +.5 wins.

According to Freddi Gonzalez, Justin Upton will take over the third slot in the order which was held by Jason Heyward more than anyone else last year. We just went over Jason’s stats, so we will look at J Up’s. Obviously the move is going to help Upton improve his .6 WAA from last season, even though a year as good as 2011 is not as likely as some would have you believe. All signs do point to his batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, RBI HR, etc. improving this year, so a WAA of around 3.5 seems more likely. This gives us a difference of -1 win in the three hole.

Chipper and his 1.5 WAA spent most of the time batting clean-up last year, but if we look at the past three years, this is a .6 WAA improvement over the average during that time. He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary BABIP wise, he simply scored 2 more runs, walked more, and struck out less, all in fewer games, making for a higher WAA. He would probably be expected to drop back down to a more realistic performance of around 1.3 had he not retired. He is being replaced by McCann, who struggled last year big time, which led to a negative WAA. The thing to notice here is he’s been consistently performing worse over the past three years, until his WAA bottomed out at -.7 last year. No one knows how he will bounce back from surgery, but if he is makes a recovery, his WAA should go back up to a range more like his 2008-2010 range, where it was between 3 and 4. To be safe we will call it an optimistic 2.5 WAA, which gives us a +1.2 at the clean-up spot.

Batting fifth is BJ Upton, replacing Freddie Freeman and his 0.4 WAA in the order. A quick look at Freeman’s numbers proves he will likely improve, even though he ended the year on a little bit of a skid. How much though, is an uncertainty. A conservative estimate is in order here, 1.2 WAA sounds about right. BJ, on the other hand, did not end last year on a skid, he ended 2008 on a skid and still hasn’t recovered. His WAA has climbed out of the negatives over the past two years, however, and just like his brother, a switch in ball parks and uniforms should help. Since Freddi has him down in the five hole, his speed will be burned, making his steal and run totals go down. But with this, his RBI total should go up. It won’t, however, counter act the decline in speed numbers, meaning his WAA is set to stay around .5, giving the Braves -.7 wins.

Dan Uggla batted sixth last year, but will be replaced by Freeman, whose stats we have already gone over, so let’s look at Duggs. After what equates to an under average 2011, he actually bounced back a little in 2012 (contrary to popular belief) to become an above average player once again. His WAA went from -.1 to a positive 1 win last year, mostly due to his 94 walks. If you look at all the peripheral stats, his numbers last year actually paralleled his 2009 season, but his performance numbers were extremely better. If you are looking for good news, 2010, the year after the similar year, was arguably the best year of his career. This was the position he hit the worst in last year, but he did finish the year strong. With an improvement in swing %s that suggest he’s learning to be more patient, look for his WAA to bounce back to around 2 wins, but to be conservative, we will call it a 1.5, giving a -.3 win total here.

Uggla will be sliding over the seventh spot, replacing David Ross, who batted in this spot more than anyone, carrying .3 WAA. With him now being the Dodger’s starting catcher instead of the Braves’ back-up, I could say any WAA here I wanted, but I won’t. I will keep it at .3 to be honest. The thing here is, I said Dan Uggla was expected to have a 1.5 WAA, and I firmly believe he will, if he bats in the 6-hole where he hit over .280 last year. In the 7-hole, however, he struggled. No, he stunk. He was terrible, disastrous, and completely miserable. In fact, out of all the spots his named was written in, the seventh spot was his worst. He hit .181, only had 2 HRs, and only slugged .290 in 24 games. I will get more into this later, but we do have to account for this when considering his WAA while hitting in the seventh spot. The good news? Over his career it hasn’t always been that way. So, while he has shown signs of improving, his WAA will probably stay right at 1 while batting 7th, giving us +.7 win improvement here.

There were a slew of people that batted in the last positional player slot in the order last year, but the one who spent the most time there was Paul Janish. While he was at least serviceable in the eight hole, it should come as no surprise that he rated out as a below average player last year, with a WAA -.8. There’s not much to analyze here, because his WAA has been all over the map during his career, so we will keep it there. The problem is analyzing the platoon that makes up third base. Juan Francisco had a WAA of -.4 last year, which has been steadily decreasing the more at bats he sees in the pros. While the move to Atlanta, and the tutelage of Chipper was supposed to turn him into a better hitter (in July it looked like it was working with his +.400 average), it doesn’t look like it took (sub .200 BA in August and September/October). There are good signs that he may be getting it as a young hitter, but until then, his WAA will stay right at -.4 to me. Chris Johnson has been much like a right handed hitting Juan Francisco, (great power potential, high strike out rate, can’t hit lefties), but he’s always had a worse WAA. The difference is he seems to be trending up, while Juan’s is trending down. Either way, if neither one of them have what would be considered a break out campaign we can assume both of them combined would be another -.4 here. There is good news though! They still end up as an upgrade in the 8 spot, with the combination getting a combined +.4 wins above last year.

So, when you break it down it ends up being, a combined .1 win increase from last year, based on projections, and the line-up Freddi said he was going to run out there. Basically, by the end of the day, we can expect the same offensive output from this team (with this line up).

Now, to the pitching. We will define the rotation as the pitchers with the top five games started, the next six players in appearances who had a defined role as a reliever will be considered the bullpen, and Kimbrell returns as the closer, so there is no need to discuss him in this post. Also, we will include Beachy in the rotation this year since he is due to return mid-season.

The Braves lost Delgado and Hanson out of the rotation and Chad Durbin out of the ‘pen, while having Jordan Walden in the bullpen. If you look at the returning players from last year that will fill in these roles full time this season, you can add Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm, and possibly Julio Teheran if he beats out Mike Minor for the fifth spot in the rotation (we will do this theoretically, but still use Minor in the rotation for the final number).

With Hanson leaving, and taking his -2.1 WAA from last year with him, it opens up a spot for Medlen to begin the year in the rotation. I won’t go over the numbers for Medlen in full, because of how great they are, you’ve probably got an idea to them, but I will tell you, and it should come as no surprise to you that he accounted for 3.4 wins, giving us a +5.5 in the win total, IF Medlen replicates is numbers. The problem is, to expect that output from Medlen in a full season seems a bit unrealistic. In fact, in 2008, when he actually started more games than last year, he had a more realistic year. It was still very good, 6-2 with a 3.68 era, 1.19 WHIP, and a 3.9 k to BB ratio, and the argument can be made that he is growing as a pitcher and has come back stronger after his surgery. But if you look at his BABIP, it was only slightly above average in 2008, where it was extremely below last year. Look for this number to move back towards the league average of .300, which will lead his numbers to move more towards normal. Also, this will be his first full season, and pitchers tend to tire towards the end of the year in their first full season. However, without getting into the technical of it, he will still put up well above average numbers, so look for his WAA to stay around the 2.6 mark. However, as my earlier post on the Walden trade indicates, Hanson is on his way down until he figures out why his velocity is down, or learns to pitch as a finesse pitcher. Because of this, his WAA will continue to drop, and probably be around the -3.5 mark by the end of next year. This gives us a difference of +6.1 with the Medlen upgrade here.

With Malholm replacing Delgado and his -.9 WAA with his own WAA of 0 (which proves the eyeball test that Malholm is an average pitcher), again we find an upgrade. I’ve already laid out my thoughts on Delgado, and his WAA won’t stay at that level, but next year I won’t grow as much as it will in the future. Look for his to stay around 0, but we will be nice and project him as a .2 next year. Malholm, on the other hand, had the lowest era of his career after joining the Braves mid-season last year. He also hit career highs in strike out rates and strike out to walk ratio, while posting his lowest whip, and walk rate. A different couple of factors could have influenced these numbers, like actually playing for a winner, but chances are he won’t keep up the pace in 2013. However, we are going to keep his WAA at 0, because he’s been right around that mark his whole career anyways. So, after a second look, Malholm for Delgado is actually a down grade going into this year, costing us a whopping -.2 wins.

Durbin was not nearly as bad last year as I remember, actually improving everything than his walk and strike out percentages. With that being said, he had moved towards being an average pitcher, putting up an -.1 WAA. Jordan Walden, as mentioned in an earlier post, should be expected to put up the same numbers as last year, in which he posted a 0 WAA. So, while it is an upgrade, it is not nearly as big of one as some may assume, only worth a .1 increase in wins.

If you break down Teheran and Minor, which I will in a different post, theoretically Teheran would actually be a .6 WAA upgrade. Since the fifth spot in the rotation is Minor’s to lose, we will assume he will keep it in this article, and not include this number.

So what does this all mean? Well, with all the fuss being made over the moves in the field, you only gain .1 win with the line-up Freddi plans to send out there every day. However, with Medlen replacing Hanson in the rotation, when Beachy comes back, the pitching staff gets even stronger, gaining 6 wins with all of the changes combined. Meaning, as good as the Braves were last year, on paper at least, they should improve their record by three wins, making them winners in the off-season this year.

Topics: Atlanta Braves, Off-season, Outlook

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