Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
The Atlanta Braves strike out a lot. The Braves lead the National League in strikeout percentage, with Braves hitters striking out in 22.7% of their plate appearances. This is a 1.7% increase on the Braves strikeout percentage in 2012 when the Braves ranked 4th in the NL in strikeout percentage. Now some fans and media members have talked about this 1.7% increase as if it were a disaster that has doomed the Braves. The fact is though whatever anyone thinks about the aesthetic appeal of a team that leads the league in strikeouts, the Braves offense has improved substantially in 2013.
The Braves offense as a whole put up a .247/.320/.389 line in 2012. To this point in 2013, the Braves offense improved on their 2012 rate numbers, with a .251/.324/.411 line. All three numbers are improved with by far the largest increase being in slugging percentage. The Braves are getting on base at a higher rate this year and they are hitting for much more power. Now while these numbers demonstrate a clear improvement I don’t think they totally capture the extent of the improvement. The Braves have not played a complete schedule yet so their numbers can’t be taken at face value without accounting for park factors. It is possible the Braves offense has played more of their games in pitcher friendly or hitter friendly parks, with a correction coming in the future. It is also important to remember that the offensive environment of the league can change from year to year. It is common knowledge that a player hitting 50 homeruns in 2013 is different from a player hitting 50 homeruns in 1998. The same is true of offenses as a whole, so the Braves triple slash numbers need more context to be understood properly.
Fortunately, a stat already exists that provides this needed context. wRC+ is a stat that corrects for park factors and overall league offensive environment which makes it easy to compare raw stats from year to year. The Braves offense as a whole has a 104 wRC+ this year which is a substantial improvement over 2012, when the Braves offense had a 93 wRC+. Since wRC+ is scaled so that each point is worth a 1% change, what this means is the Braves offense has been 11% better in 2013 than it was in 2012. The Braves were tied for 7th in the NL in wRC+ in 2012 while in 2013 the Braves are in second place, trailing only the Cardinals. The Braves offense has gotten 11% better overall, while jumping five places in the rankings from 2012 to 2013. In fact, the Braves have their highest wRC+ since 2003 meaning this is the best Braves offense in 10 years.
All of this is to say that while a 1.7% increase in strikeouts isn’t a good thing it isn’t crippling either. Everything in baseball and in life in general is a tradeoff. The Braves have traded the pain of 1.7% more strikeouts for more homeruns, a better batting average, and the ability to get on base more often. This is a good trade since strikeouts do not measure the effectiveness of an offense, they just measure how some outs are made. The Braves are getting out less and hitting for more power. While the Braves offensive philosophy may not appeal to everybody, there is no doubt that is has been effective.