The Atlanta Braves Strange Balance


Jul 2, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop

Andrelton Simmons

(19) fields a ground ball in the second inning against the Miami Marlins at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

This past week the Braves only had one All-Star selection in closer Craig Kimbrel. Many Braves fans feel Freddie Freeman would have been a worthy selection and while I personally don’t agree, it doesn’t really matter anyway. The All-Star game is a fun exhibition and not a serious measurement of player performance so who cares?

What did interest me though, is that while no Braves besides Kimbrel made the game I cannot make a compelling argument for any snubs. Was Freeman really better than Votto, Goldschmidt, Craig, or even Adrian Gonzalez? I don’t think so and there aren’t any other Braves who merited strong consideration. If no Braves were really All-Stars during the year it does seem rather odd that the Braves are in 1st place by five games and 13 games over .500. The Braves have achieved their good record by a rather remarkable balance of players all having good years with only BJ Upton really having a bad year.

The Braves have nine position players that have been worth between 1.0 and 2.0 fWAR. This is actually rather remarkable and suggests the Braves had a ton of good players but no great players. I don’t think this is really the case, it’s more that the Braves have had several players have monster stretches mixed in with either extended slumps or DL stints.

Justin Upton was the best player in baseball in April when he had a .466 wOBA and was worth 1.6 fWAR. Justin on the season has only been worth 1.2 fWAR meaning he has been below replacement level since the end of April. It isn’t good but it isn’t as if his April was necessarily a fluke. No Justin will never put up a .466 wOBA for an entire season but he is capable of being a dominant hitter and certainly isn’t a replacement level player.

This highlights the trend for nearly every Braves player though. Jason Heyward was the Braves best player in June when he was worth 1.1 fWAR but was a replacement player in April & May. Heyward’s poor months were mostly due to bad luck and an appendectomy but again his season has been a strange combination of dominance and ineffectiveness.

Evan Gattis has a .373 wOBA but has half the plate appearances of Andrelton Simmons due to injury and being a part time player when healthy.

The most consistent hitters for the Braves have been Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson but their consistency has only netted them overall value equal to the boom or bust players. Freeman had a .371 wOBA in April, a .372 wOBA in May, and a .369 wOBA in June. His performance has seen no slumps but also no set the world on fire streaks. Freeman & Johnson have both been worth 1.4 fWAR slightly ahead of icy/hot Justin Upton but below McCann & Gattis who have each been terrific when they play but have also each missed half the season. Freeman of course did have a DL stint and Johnson was a platoon player to start the year but both have far more plate appearances than Gattis or McCann.

The Braves best player overall has probably been Andrelton Simmons who leads the team in plate appearances. Simmons has gone out every day and been the best defensive player in baseball and has also been an absolute mess at the plate. Very consistent in both though. Overall his godly glove and hellish bat has been worth 1.6 fWAR third on the team behind Gattis & McCann. I agree with Franklin Rabon of Talking Chop that fWAR underrates Simmons because in an infield of otherwise poor defensive players Simmons has been the difference between the Braves being an elite run prevention team and a very poor one. DRS has Simmons as being worth 25 runs so far this year, easily the highest mark in the league and on pace to set a record since the stat started being kept. The Braves have allowed the 2nd fewest runs in baseball despite not having a dominant starting pitcher, and despite an infield that features Stonehenge defense from Dan Uggla and Chris Johnson. Simmons deserves a huge amount of the credit for this and I don’t think WAR really does this properly. Simmons is the primary reason the Braves pitchers are 11th in fWAR but the team is second in runs allowed. I think it’s reasonable that Simmons has been the Braves best player this year despite his .277 wOBA.

The other key part in evaluating the Braves unique balance this year is that Brian McCann leads the team in fWAR despite being on the DL for more than the first month of the season. McCann’s .385 wOBA leads the team and if he maintains this pace he can be the dominant MVP force the team needs. But as Braves fans have learned from all their other players’ performance this year hot streaks are balanced out by cold streaks. The question for the team going forward is how many players will stay hot into September and October and will any of their capable players be that consistent force that can carry a team through tough times.

The good news is the Braves have multiple players capable of doing this. It’s not unreasonable that tomorrow Justin Upton will go back to being the best player in baseball. It is feasible that Heyward’s poor start was all bad luck and he will finish in the top ten in baseball in fWAR like he did last season.

Or it might not happen.

We will see, but overall having a lot of good players capable of dominance is probably better than a lineup of two elite players and a lot of trash. The Braves have had a unique season in terms of how they have won but I think it bodes well for future success as the rest of the season unfolds.