June 24, 2013

2014 Braves: Take Good With Bad

A lot of media has focused on the Braves 'Jekyll and Hyde' team makeup this season, when it's going well they are called the best team in baseball; when it's going bad they are the best team in a bad division and not a World Series contender. If you broke down the Braves season up until June 22, it is a series of 6 streaks:
Young Braves Arms Minor & Teheran
have been stellar so far in 2014.

4/1-4/18   13-2
4/19-5/3   4-10
5/5-5/9      4-1
5/10-5/15   1-5
5/17-6/5   15-4
6/6-6/22   6-11
Total   43-33

...let's just hope it's tilting toward the good side come October (ha!) but I there are fewer reasons to believe the lack of success recently is less about pitchers and teams 'figuring the braves out' and more about random hot and cold streaks this team is prone to have (and will continue to have). Atlanta has been one of the more active teams at the trade deadline in recent history; in 2010 the Braves went out and made a move for Derrek Lee, 2011 was Michael Bourn and 2012 was Paul Maholm (after failing to acquire Ryan Dempster). Don't expect anything like that this year. This in my opinion, based on all factors considered is the ideal lineup:

RF Schafer
3B Johnson
LF J Upton
1B Freeman
C McCann
CF B Upton
2B Uggla
SS Simmons

Heyward is the obvious omission but I believe he contributes in a major way rotating the 4 outfielders to give them days off and coming in as a pinch-hitter often. Schafer shouldn't be out of the lineup right now, he brings so much to the team in multiple areas and he's getting on base at an over .400 clip. Johnson gets on base and puts the ball in play, Justin Upton hitting third separates the series of high strikeout guys in himself, Uggla and his brother. Teams are pitching around Freeman to face those guys. I believe problem #1 is Simmons in the leadoff spot, he is a great player and big contributor, especially defensively, but has 16 walks in almost 300 AB. You can't have that from a leadoff guy hitting 250, he's just not a good enough hitter yet to be a table setter / leadoff guy and it's much easier to pitch to Braves lineup (power threat) and risk going after hitters / conceding solo homers with bases empty.

Bottom line is this team is still a very good one, especially economically comparing it to others around the league, here are a few of the big spenders (payroll ranking):

#1 Yankees 233.5 MIL (41-34, 3rd AL East)
#2 Dodgers 220.4 MIL (32-42, 5th NL West)
#3 Phillies 170.8 MIL (36-40, 3rd NL East)
#6 Angels 127.9 MIL (33-43, 4th AL West)
#9 Chi Sox 119.6 MIL (31-42, 5th AL Cent)

Some people have even thrown around the idea of dealing Heyward. The Braves should not trade him; (#1) you won't get a significant return because his value is at a career low, with his age and control by the Braves his upside is far more valuable and appealing that the pieces he would bring back in a trade. I still believe he could be one of the premier players in the game. Say there is even a 50% chance of this- do you move that for bullpen pieces or a mid-level borderline everyday player with another club? absolutely not. He's way too young and talented to be moved, and I think he still starts a ton the rest of the way. It could be worse, but it is what it is... and 2014 has given Braves Country many reasons to believe that 2014 will be special, after all... It's all about who's hot in October, and this team, win or lose, will be there.