Friday, May 16, 2014

Has anyone used the "Braves offense is offensive" tagline yet?

The Braves can't hit. We all know it, we've all seen it, and we are all pissed off about it. Last season, the Braves finished fourth in the National League in runs scored. This season, they are just two runs scored ahead of the Padres for next to last. And they trail 13th in RS by nearly 20 runs.

So, they aren't scoring.

But why?  Well, there is only a couple of changes from last year's roster. Yeah, Evan Gattis replaced Brian McCann, but the rest of the starting lineup is the same. Ryan Doumit and Tyler Pastornicky are on the bench and Reed Johnson and Juan Francisco/Elliot Johnson are gone, but idealy, they would seem like an improvement.

Just what in the hell is the problem?  Individually, very few players are hitting better than they did last season. As bad as Dan Uggla was last season, he has reached new levels of suck. So much suck that he's sitting on the bench, getting splinters in his ass. Andrelton Simmons still ain't really hitting that well, but at least he's not leading off. Chris Johnson has started to hit, but his production is down. And Jason Heyward leads the team in walks and that's about the only positive you can throw at him when he has a bat in his hands. B.J. Upton is actually better. Somewhat. To a small extent.

On the bench, Ramiro Pena's surprising 2013 has disappeared. Gerald Laird did his best David Ross last season and has reverted back to Gerald Laird. Jordan Schafer is awful. Holy hell, the Braves are starting Pastornicky? PASTORNICKY?

All of these numbers are reflected in falls in team ratio stats. Using fangraphs and their MLB-standing stats, the following table should help reinforce where the Braves have sucked.

Stat 2013 Rank 2014 Rank
BB% 8.8% 6th 7.2% 22nd
K% 22.6% 3rd 24.3% 1st
ISO .153 7th .142 14th
BABIP .300 12th .284 26th
Swing% 47.4% 9th 49.2% 4th
Zone% 44.4% 21st 48.6% 4th

Recently, Mark Bowman also looked at ratio stats and played them up, but a lot of the numbers found with fangraphs' plate discipline section is not that different compared to last year's stats and where the Braves finished last season.  For instance, Bowman writes that "Atlanta has swung as frequently (49.4 percent of the pitches they've seen) as any NL club and made contact with its swings less frequently (75.1 percent) than any other big league club."  I didn't include Contact% in my table, but last season, a year where the Braves offense was again very productive, they made contact on just 76% of their swings, second worst in the bigs. So, that probably isn't a big reason for their 2014 struggles.

However, I believe that Zone% number is the most important. Productive batters are given less pitches in the zone so it's difficult to show whether this is a chicken or the egg proposition, but because the Braves aren't making good contact, they get more and more pitches to swing at in the zone. Pitches Heyward should bash. Pitches Johnson should drive to the gap. Pitches Simmons, by the law of averages, should deposit in the left-field bleachers.

Instead, they become flyouts. Groundouts. And yes, strikeouts.

What's the solution? The Braves have the players and they need to simply produce. If that's through some altered stances or philosophy, that's fine, but to get back to what the Braves do well (hit homers and walk), they need to force pitchers to have to treat them with respect and throw pitches outside of the zone instead of hammering the zone, knowing they will get outs. They need runners on base to force the pitcher to treat hitters carefully.

Sadly, the 8th-place hitting pitcher probably isn't the answer. But hell, it's something, I guess.

As an aside, I am done for the semester with my school-work so I'm hoping to blog more over the summer. Actually have a few ideas on what to use. Plus, this weekend, I plan to start the Random Prospect of the Week series back up. Thanks for reading!

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