Atlanta Braves season review 2014: Infield


The 2014 season was not an entirely successful one for the Atlanta Braves. The team finished with a 79-83 record after basically a complete collapse down the stretch, and as a result, virtually nothing is certain as the team transitions toward the 2015 season and beyond. In this space, we will be reviewing what happened during the 2014 campaign, dissecting the roster piece by piece and grading each player based on their performance against what was expected of them. In the first installment, we take a glance at the infield. 


Freddie Freeman

After a season in which he was easily best hitter on the team in 2013, Freeman took a minor step back this season. The first baseman saw his production slip virtually across the board, as a .288/.386/.461 slash line represented a slight decline in each category. Many, including myself, predicted a power breakout for Freeman in his age-24 season (Freeman is now 25), but Freddie blasted only 18 home runs, and only an uptick in walk rate (12.7%, up from 10.5% a year ago) saved him from a complete regression.

This isn’t a negative report on Freeman, who was still soundly among the top two hitters for the Braves (along with Justin Upton), but for the Braves to be “happy” with his progress as the contract numbers grow, there will need to be an increase in power, especially at the first base position. Defensively, Freddie Freeman is still a below-average player by any advanced metric, and even as the public backs him up by praising his “scoops”, the range concerns are real, and if anything, it would be great if Freeman proved to be an average defender in the long term.

Freddie Freeman is a very, very good baseball player, but it wasn’t a perfect season in 2014, and that was magnified by the struggles of others.

Grade: B-

Tommy La Stella/Phil Gosselin

For the purposes of this review, we will lump together the production of the second base “platoon”. Frankly, I am confident that Fredi Gonzalez placed both La Stella and Gosselin in a position to fail based on questionable usage, but the fact that neither of them is named “Dan Uggla” illustrates improvement.

Tommy La Stella finished the season with a -0.1 fWAR, and that certainly isn’t a good thing. The 25-year-old has displayed a real talent for getting on-base throughout the minor leagues, but a .328 OBP with zero power will not win any awards at the Major League level. The 10% walk rate over 360 plate appearances is very nice, but La Stella managed to produce a lower slugging percentage (.317) than his OBP, and with an 84 wRC+, he was clearly a below-average player at the second base position. Defensively, he was probably a little bit of an upgrade over previous perception, but unless the glove vastly improves to near Gold Glove levels, La Stella will need to hit for more power to become an MLB regular.

In the case of Phil Gosselin, we are dealing with a far smaller sample, but he was probably the more useful player. Gosselin doesn’t have the natural batting eye of La Stella (3.7% walk rate in the majors), but he did produce a 140 wRC+ in triple-A this season, and his bat wasn’t an abject disaster in the big leagues with a .304  on-base percentage. Still, the most important contribution for Gosselin is positional flexibility (something that La Stella does not present), as he can reasonably play three infield positions with the option to stick him in a corner outfield spot. Long term, it would be wise to deploy Gosselin in a utility role rather than as a full-time starter.

Grade: C- (Thanks, Dan Uggla)

Andrelton Simmons

First things first, Andrelton Simmons is still arguably the best defensive player in all of baseball. Simmons “slipped” to second across MLB in defensive runs saved with 28 (Jason Heyward had 32), but he is absolutely elite by any metric. To put this on the table, Simmons could probably be the worst hitter in baseball and still be worth deploying on a semi-regular basis, but on the negative side of things, he took an enormous dip in value during the 2014 season, simply because his bat was not playing.

Among qualified shortstops, Andrelton Simmons finished the 2014 season as the third-worst hitter according to wRC+ (71), and his .244/.286/.331 slash line was ghastly. The biggest issue for Simmons was the complete power outage this season, as he was able to overcome a sub-.300 OBP in 2013 on the strength of an unexpected power breakout with 17 home runs. Because of his limited speed (and yes, he is slow), Simmons will never be a high OBP player, but if he is going to continually produce an OBP in this range, he must produce some sort of power production in order to be a viable option in the lineup.

Even with the issues, Simmons was worth 2.3 fWAR and 3.5 bWAR this season, further illustrating his amazing value with the glove, but it was clearly a step back in across-the-board production.

Grade: C

Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson is who we thought he was.

The 2013 “breakout” for Johnson was accompanied by a .394 BABIP that everyone knew was unsustainable. As such, Johnson’s .321 batting average (and .358 OBP) regressed wildly in 2014, as he leveled off with a .263 average and a .292 on-base percentage. There is certainly an argument that the 2014 levels are reflective of Johnson being a bit unlucky, but based on his skill set and the more advanced numbers, it would sadly appear as if 2014 is the more accurate barometer.

The now 30-year-old Johnson isn’t an absolute disaster, and it would be a mistake to suggest otherwise. There is something to be said for a player who can produce double-digit home runs with a semi-respectable batting average and good durability, but frankly, that player shouldn’t be garnering multi-year contract extensions at starter-level money.

Defensively, Johnson remains one of the worst in the league at the position, as he posted a fifth consecutive season with a negative UZR while being charged with a -13 in defensive runs saved. To be frank, Chris Johnson is as bad as advertised defensively, and with his lack of range, the numbers would likely reflect worse on him if he was not slotted next to perhaps the best defensive shortstop of the generation.

All in all, it was a sizable step in the wrong direction for Johnson, and at his age, things likely won’t improve drastically.

Grade: D+

Evan Gattis

With the exception of his disappearance with a variety of maladies late in the season, Evan Gattis was actually quite productive. The 28-year-old catcher finished second on the team in home runs (22) while leading the roster in slugging percentage (.493), and in terms of wRC+, Gattis was the 6th-best offensive catcher in the Major Leagues.

Defensively, the numbers show improvement for Gattis into what appears to be a league-average player, but I remain skeptical. There are some more visible errors for him on the defensive side, and even if we live in a world where the Braves can get by with his defense, there is certainly a lot to be desired for Gattis in that aspect of his game. Still, deploying him at catcher is the only viable option for a National League club, as he would objectively be the worst defensive outfielder in baseball if the organization chose to move him there full-time.

The expectations shot through the roof after a hot start from Evan Gattis, but 400+ plate appearances with a slugging percentage nearing .500 is certainly on the high end of what anyone could have reasonably projected. Questions abound as to what the organization should do with Gattis this off-season, between trade value concerns and the presence of Christian Bethancourt, but in 2014, Evan Gattis was among the top five position players for the Atlanta Braves.

Grade: B


Stay tuned as we continue our post-season evaluation of the 2014 Atlanta Braves, and follow ATL All Day for all the latest on the state of Atlanta sports.