Saturday, July 20, 2013

2013 Atlanta Braves Myths: Part VI & VII

Back to dispel a myth or, rather, two myths.  The first was a common answer I intended to answer.  The second came from the research as I was attempting to answer that first myth.

1. Atlanta doesn't make productive outs because of strikeouts.
2. Atlanta seems to fall behind early and has to play catch-up.
3. Atlanta can't win if they keep striking out so much!
4. Anyone would be better than Uggla! 
5. Unless Its a Save Situation, Don't Use Kimbrel.

6. A Lack of a Leadoff Hitter Will Kill the Braves

On many a blog, the mantra has been clear.  The Braves don't have that speedy guy who gets on base and causes havoc.  And it's true.  There is no more Michael Bourn on this team.  Rafael Furcal is long-gone.  So is Otis Nixon, Deion Sanders, and even King Kelly.  The Atlanta Braves have stolen 31 bases this season and are on pace for just 21 more.  You can make a rather compelling argument that they won't come close to that considering their leading thief, Jordan Schafer, is on the mend and will likely be out until the end of August.  

Beyond that, the most-used leadoff hitter this season, Andrelton Simmons, is one of the absolute worst leadoff hitters in the game.  The average MLB hitter has posted a .267/.330/.391 slash.  Simmons as a leadoff hitter?  .226/.263/.329.  Even if you include the other people who have led off this season, most notably Schafer, you only get a team .303 OBP out of the number one spot in the order, good for the fifth WORST mark in baseball.  

However, do the Braves lack a leadoff hitter or a manager willing to better utilize his hitters?  Both are true to an extent, especially the latter point.  But more to the point, will the lack of a leadoff killer hurt the Braves if they get to the postseason?  Like any individual detrimet to a team, it's not that simple.  The 2011 Cardinals used two primary leadoff hitters.  Ryan Theriot posted a .324 OBP out of the spot and was replaced by Furcal, who posted a .296 OBP.  However, Furcal got hot in the postseason and that erased a lot of the issues the Cardinals had at the top of the lineup.  And doesn't that change everything seemingly each postseason?  Who's hot, who's not?  

One thing is clear, though.  Batting Simmons leadoff has significantly stunted any kind of offensive growth with the Braves.  And too often for our sanity as fans, that leads to a lot of goose eggs - even nine of them - and good teams don't have to worry about that because...

7. No World Champion gets shut out as often as the Braves.

You really only need to go back three years to crap on that belief.  The 2010 San Francisco Giants relied on starting pitching, a good bullpen, defense, and getting some extra base hits.  However, they had significant issues scoring runs, finishing ninth among 16 NL teams in runs scored with a run differential just a shade over a hundred.  Atlanta hasn't had nearly as much trouble in scoring runs, currently third in the NL in runs scored with a run differential of of eighty runs.  

But one thing the Braves and 2010 Giants have in common was how many times they were shutout.  So far this season, the Braves have been held scoreless eleven times, most recently on June 22nd, the second of two shutouts pitched by the Milwaukee Brewers.  During their World Championship-winning season, the Giants were shutout 16 times, including four times in twelve games during September as they battled for a the NL West division lead.  

As the Braves were struggling to score in late June, being shutout for 24 innings between their final six innings of a series with the Mets and back-to-back shutouts by the Brewers, fans spoke of how good teams don't have this level of offensive ineptitude.  Wrong again.  The 2010 Giants matched the Braves with 24 scoreless innings between May 21st and May 25th.  And just last year, that version of the Giants were shutout over 20 innings from July 27th to July 30th.  

It should be noted, though.  While the Braves have some similarities to the 2010 Giants, they lack the top-of-the-rotation forces that both Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were at the time.  They also are a much better offense.  

In the end, while the Braves can tinker with the lineup in efforts to make it more efficient, and they should, a lot of their postseason future is out of their hands.  If someone could figure out how to make sure you enter the offseason hot, they would be a rich person.  But because that's not too possible, Atlanta has to get there and do everything in their power to give their team the best chance to win...use your best players the most, for instance.  Still, if those players are slumping....well, I imagine a great deal of Braves fans will be quick to call this team a massive failure.

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