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Colby Wilson’s Atlanta Braves Report: Retro Braves

 

Atlanta BravesClarksville, TN As far back as I can remember, the Braves were fine. Nearly always good, occasionally great. Sure, there was that 2008 team that was underachieving and unfortunate and doesn’t bear any measure of discussion. But from the time I started paying attention to baseball, I could nearly always count on Atlanta being involved in meaningful games in August and September.

So 2015 will be slightly different.

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) celebrates after scoring a run against the Boston Red Sox during the fourth inning at Fenway Park. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) celebrates after scoring a run against the Boston Red Sox during the fourth inning at Fenway Park. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

2015 harkens back to the dark ages that my father—who becomes wiser with every passing year—always called the 1980s, right down to the one big bat (Dale Murphy in the 80s, Freddie Freeman now) desperately trying to buoy an offense of punchless has-beens or faceless utility players. I assume my father used to mutter veiled curses about Len Barker the same way I do sometimes about Williams Perez.

The point of the last 12 months, as I understand it, was to tear everything down in order to build it all back up. Lacking a payroll to just go out and buy players—and a history of completely screwing the pooch when they did decide to splurge (see Uggla, Dan or Upton, B.J. for full details)—the better solution was to sell everything that wasn’t bolted down and bank on a revamped farm system to rocket the team back to prominence from its post-2005 malaise of always being sort of in the discussion but not really. Whether you liked all the moves, some of the moves or none of the moves—and I still don’t quite know if I agree with the Kimbrel deal and I’m not sure if Hector Olivera can be good enough to justify the ransom paid for him—you couldn’t deny that they were ballsy in a way that Atlanta has not been in the front office for a long time.

But, in an effort to not paint the franchise into a ‘Philadelphia 76ers of baseball’ shade, John Hart and the boys paid lip service to the notion of remaining competitive in the interim. And when the team was playing .500 ball into July’s second week, it seemed more than lip service—it seemed that Hart was the genius so many projected based on his stops in Cleveland and Texas.

Perhaps he is, but the potential for an 80s-era renaissance was always there and it has borne fruit over the last two months. We don’t have to go through the gory details here—use the phrase ‘12-31 since the All-Star break’ and show a picture of a bewildered Shelby Miller in the dugout after another great start shot to hell and you’ll get the general idea—because if anything, they haven’t regressed FAR ENOUGH back to the mean. Baseball Reference’s Pythagorean W-L expects that the Braves would be 50-82 by this point, so they’re really four wins up if you view it that way.

I prefer this.

It’s taken a long time to get to this point—and I’d still rather have Kimbrel and probably the haul delivered for Olivera too—but the team being generally awful and me making snarky comments on Twitter is a lot more fun than watching a team that had good parts frustratingly fail, time and again, to put the pieces together. I don’t know if Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz and all the rest will gel into a rotation that wins a pennant, but I know that a core line-up featuring two Upton’s, a Gattis and a Johnson was always going to top out at NLDS fodder. I’d rather have the hope, and if it takes two or three years reminiscent of Glenn Hubbard’s salad days, so be it.

(But it better work , or John Hart may get the Frank Wren Memorial Pink Slip.)

What to Read

After all that I just wrote, you’ll be unsurprised to note that Talking Chop’s September story lines piece (I assume the office title was ‘Why you shouldn’t give up on this trainwreck’) is pretty bleak. If fWAR and an outside chance at the No. 1 overall pick are the big selling points, chances are things aren’t going that great for you.

Stat o’ the Week

So why was the first half a moderate success and the second half an unmitigated disaster? I wish I could point to one thing, because that would be easy. Instead, everything about Atlanta’s pitching and defense has gotten worse between the first half and second half. Not a lot—but just enough that, combined together, they exacerbate the problems you see now. A sampling:

Category First Half Second Half
Pitchers Swinging Strike Percentage (relievers) 10.5 9.7
BB/9 3.23 3.83
Strand Rate 73.0 68.3
Isolated Power .112 .106
Strikeout Rate (batters) 18.2 18.8

 

If you only catch one game of the Nationals series, make it…

The Shelby Miller Saga has officially crossed over from sad to immoral; I feel bad watching his starts now, the same way I feel bad when I see a particularly gruesome car wreck on the interstate.

(Of course, like most people I slow down and gawk when I see bad car wreck on the interstate. This feels no different. Also, Miller’s going to break this thing eventually and in this sad, miserable season his teammates will react like they just walked on water after winning the World Series. And I hope to see that.)

Complementary Old-Timey Baseball Quote

“You hear ten people ask, ‘Who is going to pitch for the Yankees tomorrow?’ where you don’t hear one ask, ‘Who is going to be elected?’” – Columnist Will Rogers, Sept. 24, 1928

Best Performance by a former Brave last week

Ol’ #SMELLBASEBALL himself tossed a dandy against the Astros last week, getting the win for a Wild Card-contending Twins team thanks to seven shutout innings that included a season-high 10 strikeouts. Ervin’s going to play with every team in baseball at some point, and probably pitch pretty well because he appears to be aging backward and may be the product of some weird ritual that produced a baseball player who improbably gets better and younger-looking as he ages.


About Colby Wilson

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