Braves First Half Review: Everyday Lineup


Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Brad R: Taking a look at the lineup through 95 games is incredibly interesting. On one hand, it’s alarming to see some of the big names struggling through “down” years, but there have also been incredibly positive season from a handful of players. The “dream” outfield of Justin Upton, BJ Upton, and Jason Heyward has, without question, underperformed this season, as each of them has struggled to varying degrees at the plate. Justin Upton tore the cover off of the ball to start the season, but as of the break, he has 5-year lows in both batting average and on-base percentage while falling behind on his normal 18-20 stolen base pace, and playing (by far) the worst defense of his career. BJ Upton has been a documented train wreck at the plate, with a comical .266 OBP and .300 slugging percentage, but at least he’s playing defense (I’m trying). Heyward has been up-and-down for much of the year, but he’s provided more value than his offense would lead you to believe. His 10.4% walk rate has helped sustain a respectable-ish OBP (.324), and his Gold Glove level defense hasn’t disappeared in right field either. On the whole, I would’ve expected a good deal more from the outfield, and that brings the grade down significantly. The infield is a much more accurate reflection of what we “thought” they’d do in the preseason. Andrelton Simmons is a pretty bad hitter at this stage, but when you’re the best defensive player in all of baseball (not hyperbole), it masks a lot of sins. Dan Uggla leads the team in home runs (18) and walk rate (13.9%) while hitting exactly .200 and playing bad defense… which sounds about right. Chris Johnson has certainly exceeded expectations and Freddie Freeman has, although to a much more mild degree, done the same, but neither has been that much better than expected since Johnson’s defense and lack of walks have kept his production in a reasonable place. Overall, I would expect better things from the “everyday” portion of the lineup, and with the outfield’s production thus far, it would be aggressive to give the lineup significantly better than a “passing” grade at this stage. Grade: C+

Carlos: Like Mark, I found the everyday lineup to be the toughest to grade. On one hand, the team is near the top of the league in runs, OBP, SLG, and ISO which is good. On the other hand, this offense is one of the most streaky I have ever watched. We knew the strikeouts would come and they really aren’t much of a problem while the walk numbers are good. The problem is when multiple hitters struggle at the same time. The team has been shut out 11 times and we haven’t had a ton of consistency with the exception of Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson (who in the eight hole doesn’t help a ton). I expect that to improve in the second half with the health of Brian McCann and (hopefully) a healthy Jason Heyward. During the first half, the team has led the NL in homers (114) and strikeouts (826), which we fully expected. The one thing that hasn’t been talked about as much as I would have expected however are the stolen bases. With an outfield of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and BJ Upton I figured we would have a strong team on the base paths. While we do have some good base-runners, it hasn’t really translated in the SB/CS column. Last year the team ended the season with 101 stolen bases while being caught just 32 times. With over half of the season gone, the team has stolen just 31 bases and been caught stealing 19 times. That’s a 62% success rate so far this year compared with the 2012 76% rate. It’s not a huge deal as the team is still scoring runs but it is a bit disappointing considering it was supposed to be a strength coming into the season. The biggest reasoning for my grading however is how disappointing the starting outfield has been as a whole combined with the streaky production. Fortunately I don’t see them being this bad in the second half. Grade: B-

Mark:  I found the starting lineup the toughest to grade. One one hand, the Braves are third in the National League in runs, fourth in OBP, third in Slugging, and third in OPS, all of which is completely understandable. The Braves hit a lot of home runs (first in NL), and walk a lot (2nd in NL).  But the big, glaring hole all season long has been strikeouts. The team goes stretches where it simply can’t make contact. I will say that, before the season began, we all knew this team would strike out a lot, and that is exactly what is happening, and what will continue to happen in the 2nd half. Trust me, I realize simply making contact means moving a runner over, or even scoring a run at times. But it is what it is.

The Good:  Freddie Freeman: Ladies and gentleman, this man is good at baseball. At some point in his career, he will win a batting title, and probably an MVP or two. To say he his clutch is an understatement. Big hit, after big hit, after big hit. On top of that, I feel he is a greatly under appreciated defender at first.

Brian McCann: After returning from injury, it appears McCann has put the disappointing 2012 season behind him. He has been an absolute tear recently, and I don’t see him stopping. In what will most likely be his final season in Atlanta, he is making it a memorable one.

Justin Upton: Yes,I know Justin went into a big slump in May and June. But lets not forget he carried this team in the month of April, and it now appears he has found himself at the plate again. Expect a big second half, folks.

Chris Johnson: When I first heard Martin Prado was included in the Justin Upton trade, I was a bit deflated by most Braves fans. However, when I saw we got Chris Johnson in return, I perked up. I was familiar with Chris before he was a Brave, and knew he would be a pleasant surprise. What I didn’t expect is that he would lead the team in hitting. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, but he has done enough with the bat in the first half to be included in the “good” list.

The “Meh”:  Andrelton Simmons: I know, I know, I will catch a lot of flack for putting him here. Heck, I’m giving myself flack because of it. Simmons is magical on defense. I love watching him play defense. It is such a beautiful thing. His offense is what puts him here. Am I being unfair? Yeah, probably. But this is based on the fact Simmons has been in the lead off spot a majority of the season, and has flat-out struggled to get on base. His infield fly ball percentage of 18.1% is dreadful, meaning he is struggling to square up the ball. The offense will come around, I have no doubt. Just keep doing your thing on defense, Andreton.

Jason Heyward: Heyward’s horrific beginning to the season is a big reason he is on the “meh” list, when he was hitting around .130 before his appendectomy. Since, Heyward has raised that average almost 100 points. It has been hovering around .230 for some time now. Hopefully he can break past that barrier in the second half. A good thing, is that Heyward is hitting line drives at a much higher rate than he ever has, so it’s only a matter of time.

Dan Uggla: I will probably catch flack for including Dan in this, and the “Ugly”section. Yes, his defense is not that great, and yes, he is struggling to stay above the Mendoza line. The saving grace for Uggla is that he has found his power stroke again. He’s on pace to hit over 30 homers this year, and the man can and will take his walks. Since getting contacts, Uggla is making more contact, and that average ever so slowly creeps up week by week. I don’t see Dan ever being the man who hit .287 for the Marlins in 2010, so enjoy the OBP and power numbers.

The Ugly:  B.J. Upton: Well, you all knew this one was coming. Words can’t describe the first half B.J. has had in his first season in Atlanta. Everyone will look at that batting average, which yes, is absolutely dreadful. But you need to dig deeper to understand just how painful it has been. All season the biggest complaints about this lineup were the strikeouts and lack of contact at times, and B.J. Upton is at the head of the class. For starters, he is striking out almost a third of the time, and 32.1%. Then there are his numbers with runners in scoring position, with a runner at 3rd etc, the list goes on, all of them awful. All that being said, I still have faith. He will occasionally show glimpses of turning it around, and perhaps when he returns from the DL, he will do just that.

After all that, I still am having a tough time finding a grade to give this starting lineup. A lot of good, with some ugly mixed in. At the end of the day, it’s hard to criticize a 54-41 record and six game division lead.  Grade: B

Eric:  Let me mention this right off the bat, everything I am talking about has to do with hitting, I’m leaving fielding out of the equation for right now.  So don’t WAR out on me.  The Braves lineup this season has been baffling to say the least.  One day they will hit 4 bombs and score 10 runs, the next they will Barve their way to a shutout.  They are a frustrating offense to watch, but I think they have been a bit better than people have given them credit for.  The Braves are 3rd in the NL in runs even with all the injuries and slumps they have endured.  The biggest bright spots so far have been Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Chris Johnson and ill throw Justin Upton in there too.  Freddie and Brian were All-Stars and CJ2.0 has been Mr. Consistent in the lineup since Fat Juan was traded.  Justin was white-hot the first month of the season and started to catch fire again towards the end of the first half.  Those 4 guys are the 4 Braves regulars with an OPS over .800.  Dan Uggla has been good, but because of his low average and high strikeouts he has been underrated.  Uggla is the epitome of a three-true-outcome player.  52% of his plate appearances end in either a homerun, walk or strikeout.  BJ Upton and Jason Heyward have been a bit disappointing in my eyes.  They have picked it up lately, but because of such awful starts for both of them they will be playing catch up the rest of the season.  I expect Heyward to possibly be our best hitter going forward barring injuries.  Last but not least you have Andrelton Simmons.  Simmons has had an up and down year with the stick, but his issues have been magnified by Friedi Gonzalez continuing to bat him first.  PLEASE TAKE HIM OUT OF THE LEAD-OFF SPOT FREDI!!  Andrelton is NOT the guy that should be getting the most plate appearance on the team.  I think Simmons will end up being a better hitter than he has shown, but he HAS to stop popping up on the infield and learn better plate discipline.  Overall theses guys have been good, but are nowhere near their ceiling, which if you think about it, could be really scary for opposing pitchers.   Grade: B

Harris:  The Atlanta Braves position players lead the NL in fWAR with 16.2 wins. The teams 105 wRC+ is the second highest mark in the National League trailing only the Cardinals. As a whole, the Braves have the second best offense in the NL when accounting for park effects, and have a very good defensive team. On the surface, this suggests the Braves lineup would deserve an A for the first half. Not necessarily, as 4.3 of the 16.2 wins came from the bench and another 0.8 wins has come from the pitchers. Therefore, the Braves starters have only been worth 11.1 wins. Still a very solid number but one that leaves room for improvement. As I talked about last week the Braves position players have been an odd mix of icy/hot production with only Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons being a steadying influence on the lineup. The bad news for the Braves is that the bench production is likely unsustainable for the second half. The good news is that Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Brian McCann are likely to be some of the most productive players at their positions in the second half assuming injuries and bad luck finally breaks the Braves way. Now the gambler’s fallacy tells us bad luck does not magically even out, but the talent in the Braves lineup is certainly there for the lineup to carry the team. I will give the starting lineup a B for the first half and will be optimistic that the Braves will continue to lead the NL in fWAR the rest of the way. However, I do think they will get there in a more orthodox manner than they did in the first half.  Grade: B