Saturday, July 6, 2013

Don't Panic!

I know Atlanta has lost three consecutive games and goes into tonight's tilt with the Phillies in need of the ever elusive road victory.  I know that people are still very worried about the Nationals, who are threatening to climb to three games over .500 for the first time since May 18th.  And I know that fans, in general, are crazy about the littlest of the things and mute on the more subtle ones.

It's not that I don't understand that, but how about we take a breath and look at things with a clear head?  Yes, Atlanta is 15-15 over their last 30 games, which is good for the 14th best record in the majors during that time.  But it's only four games off the pace for the best team in the last 30 games, a tie between the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Pirates.  No team is really playing that tremendous right now.  Expected contenders also "struggling" over the last 30 games includes the Rangers (15-15), Indians (15-15), Cardinals (14-16), Reds (14-16), Diamondbacks (13-17), and Giants (10-20, tied for the worst past 30 games).

The 15-15 record is tied with the Phils for the worst past 30 games in the NL East, but it's not the likely suspect that is making up space as the Nats are just a game better.  The Marlins and Mets are both 18-12 over their last 30.  Sometimes, teams get hot.  It happens and quick tip, it'll happened again before this season is over.  Even the Astros will have a good run or two.

Meanwhile, the better teams merely hold their ground during their bad stretches.  Atlanta is doing that.  They're not getting embarrassed, but they aren't moving forward.  Despite their struggles, only three teams have a better run differential than the Braves and those three are considered the class of the first half (Red Sox, Tigers, Cardinals).

You might be wondering why the Braves can't win on the road.  Their road record is 20-24 (.455), but that is still slightly better than the league average mark of 19-23 (.452).  Now, to be fair, the win-loss record is the third worst road start among teams with a record at-or-better-than .500 (only the Indians and Nats are worse).  16 of those 44 games on the road have come against teams with a record north of .500 and the Braves are 7-9 in those games.  Those strange struggles against below-500 teams on the road can help explain that while the Braves have the fourth best record against teams over .500, they are only 8th against those below .500.  But, for that matter, the Tigers are worse than the Braves.

But it would seem foolish to not think the Braves road record will eventually even out toward the end of the season.  Teams are traditionally worse on the road than they are at home, though there will always be exceptions.  Atlanta has been bad, especially compared to the record of contenders on the road, but dropping 7 of 9 on the road will give you a false impression of how bad they are away from Turner Field.  The Braves, for whatever reason, have posted an OPS that is 50 points worse than their home OPS on the road.  Turner Field, though, is a traditional pitching park.  If they can hit in Turner Field, they can hit anywhere.

What Atlanta has done so far has been fairly remarkable, especially considering they have a .298 OBP leading off the game, largely a product of batting the worst hitter in the lineup at avoiding outs first.

I know that our first impulse when a couple of loses get strung together is to want to burn everything down and start over, but the Braves have a good squad.  They have underplayed their run differential and have had a wealth of things go wrong.  Only two starters are outperforming what could have been expected from them and just one more is about where we expected.  That means five players have underperformed what we thought they were capable of.  Jason Heyward is showing signs of breaking out.  Dan Uggla hasn't been all that bad since his contacts either.  Don't get down on this team that hasn't even shown you how good they can be.  Still a long season and over 70 games remain.  A little tinkering is fine, but don't panic over a team that is "struggling" without finding the proper context. 

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