Braves First Half Review: Bench Players


Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Eric: I think the Braves bench has been light years better than anyone could have expected and a big reason why the Braves are in first place right now.  The emergence of Evan Gattis and the re-emergence of Jordan Schafer has been a thrill to watch.  The bench has been great in two different phases.  They have been great in their primary duty, pinch-hitting, by putting up a .290 (31/107) batting average with 6 HRs and 14 RBI. Evan Gattis by himself is 6-8 with 4 HR (!), Schafer is 7-22 with a homer, and Reed Johnson is 10-28 with a homer also.  The other duty of the bench is to fill in for the regulars when players need days off or are injured.  The Braves bench has done this part excellently as well. Gattis, Schafer, Laird and Pena have all filled in as good or better than the player they are taking over for.  Unfortunately, towards the end of the first half the bench has thinned a bit with Pena now out for the season, Schafer and El Oso Blanco both seeing the DL and Fat Juan getting traded.  Hopefully they can put up as strong a performance in the second half as they did in the first, but I predict we will see them fall off a bit just because their first half almost can’t be repeated. Grade: A

Harris: The Atlanta Braves have gotten more from their bench then they could possibly have hoped for. Evan Gattis and Jordan Schafer are both in the top 8 in fWAR for the Braves and Gattis ranks fourth on the team. Gerald Laird has been a very good hitter, as Laird sports a .349 wOBA in limited playing time. Ramiro Pena was a valuable defensive replacement at third base before his season ending injury and Pena hit well above what was expected of him putting up a .336 wOBA. Overall the Braves have gotten 4.3 fWAR from their bench players and that’s not counting the Johnson/Francisco platoon that the Braves started the year with. Every bench player has outperformed expectations and the Braves should be thrilled with the production their bench has given them. If the Braves bench was one player, that player would be 5th in the NL in fWAR (which is incredible). Going forward, expectations should be diminished. Pena is out for the year and Schafer is out for a month. All the bench players have played better than Braves fans should expect from them the rest of the season. But at the halfway point, there is no doubt the Braves bench deserves an A, and they’ll get one from me. Grade: A

Brad R: I am going to agree with my counterparts (for the most part) in that the bench has been leaps and bounds better than anyone could have asked for, and the statistics back that up. Evan Gattis was a revelation before he hit the disabled list, and remember, he went from Double-A slugger to Spring Training legend to top-level slugger. While he’s probably not quite the power hitter that he’s been thus far, his .317 ISO would be 2nd in all of baseball behind Chris Davis, and he has a 1.7 WAR in only 187 plate appearances. Come on. There are two other distinct examples of exceeding expectations, and they come in the form of Jordan Schafer and Ramiro Pena. Schafer was outright released by one of the worst teams in baseball (Houston) before the season, and most people (including myself) believed that he would be nothing more than a 5th-outfielder type in Atlanta. Of course, he has been incredible in limited action this year, going .312/.399/.464 with 9 steals in 146 PA’s, and making the general fan base miss him since his DL stint began. In fairness, he probably isn’t going to keep up this pace (.414 BABIP with only .322 for his career), but at 1.0 WAR off the bench already, that’s like stealing. Ramiro Pena also produced well above his head before exiting with injury (.773 OPS vs. .605 for his career), and he produced his most valuable season (0.5 WAR) of his MLB career even in only 107 PA’s. The rest of the “permanent” bench has been pretty solid also, as Gerald Laird has hit unexpectedly well (.296/.375/.408) in limited action as the 2nd/3rd catcher, and Reed Johnson has done Reed Johnson things, hitting lefties well (.783 OPS) and filling in at all 3 outfield spots. Reasonably, no one could have expected this type of production from this mostly unproven bench, but even with a slight step back, it would be one of the best (healthy) units in baseball as long as the starting 8 doesn’t take a hit and pass that issue down to the bench. Grade: A

Carlos: Like everyone else has said thus far, I think our bench has been excellent. Each and every player that has played a large role on the bench during the first half of the season performed much better than I expected. Jordan Schafer, Evan Gattis, and Ramiro Pena were all fantastic while healthy and at one point we were talking about how to get them more AB’s and time in the field. That’s when you know you have a solid bench. Gerald Laird has hit better than he has any right to, putting up a .296/.375/.408. His career line is a measley .246/.306/.361 to show you just how shocking that is for me. Reed Johnson is about the only player who has performed right about where he was “supposed” to perform, which is good. Against lefties, he’s hit .333/.378/.405. The only real negative I can find with the bench players is that Gerald Laird’s defense has been a real disappointment. However, since his offense has been the exact opposite I can forgive that. The bench isn’t going to be near as good in the latter half of the season because of injuries (no Ramiro Pena, Schafer’s out for a while) but that doesn’t take anything away from what they did up until the All-Star break. Grade: A

Brad S:  When you think of bench players, you think of guys who can come in and fill the role that the starters have left behind when they need a day or, like the Braves as of recent, take over and do enough to give their team the best chance of winning. This has been the case for the Atlanta Braves and their bench players.  It’s a mixed bag of players who have been around the league long enough, like Paul Janish, Gerald Laird and Reed Johnson, to know that they aren’t the everyday guy but still can contribute at a high level and seal a victory. It’s players like the three I mentioned that use their knowledge of the game and can give the younger guys a few tips on the positions they play and them a better player.  But it’s also the younger guys too who have stood up and helped this Braves team to where they are now. Although not an everyday back up player, the story of the year for this Braves team has been Evan Gattis. Pinch hit homer after pinch hit homer, the crowd rises to their feet whenever they see Evan Gattis in the on-deck circle.  Not only does Gattis do it with his bat, but he does in the field too. Gattis fills in when McCann needs a day off and he’s even expanded to the outfield now. It’s been an incredible story to see Gattis and it’s only a matter of time before we see him playing in the All-Star Game.  Grade: A

Mark:  The bench is probably what I’ve been most impressed with this year. Of course, you have to start with Gattis. The man has given us a season’s worth of memorable moments just himself alone. The other backstop, Gerald Laird, has been just as solid. He handles the staff well, and is no slouch at the plate either, as he has delivered some big hits himself.  The rebirth of Jordan Schafer is absolutely shocking to me. He is a completely different player. The biggest thing being that he is hitting for contact, and using his speed, which is exactly the type of player he needs to be. You also can’t forget about the likes of Reed Johnson and Tyler Pastornicky. Both of them have contributed very nicely, especially when called upon for a spot start.  And I almost forgot about Ramiro Pena, who unfortunately went down for the season at the end of May, but whose contributions won’t be forgotten by this fan. With the struggles of a few our everyday players, as well as the injuries, the spot light has shined a little brighter on the bench this season, and they have not disappointed. They have proved themselves as a group to be invaluable.  Grade: A