With the recent struggles of this Atlanta Braves team I have heard all kinds of explanations as to why it’s happening. Some people are saying it’s just a bad week and it’s nothing to worry about. Others are more concerned and saying that there’s something fundamentally wrong with this team. Some blame the pitching others claim we’re not hitting well enough with runners in scoring position and of course the always popular blame Fredi explanation. Which I will touch on in this article because I feel that’s actually not a bad explanation as to what’s happening in Atlanta.
I have many great memories of being a fan of this ball club. 14 straight division titles, one world series championship and getting to see some of the best pitchers of my generation all in a Braves uniform. However one thing that has always haunted Braves fans, especially of this generation is the lack of post season success. In fact it’s been a full decade since this Braves organization has one a playoff series.
As many of you remember the last time we won a playoff series was in 2001 when we swept the Houston Astros in the Divisional Round. We would then go on to lose 4-1 to the eventual World Series Champion D-Backs. Each of the following years of the playoff run, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 all resulted in quick 1st round exits.
So for fun I’ve tried to figure out what the differences were between say last years team or teams of the past few years and that very successful 2001 team. Now you can say that the 2001 Braves were not that great but they were good enough to reach the National League Championship Series which I’m sure we would ALL take right about now.
1) Runs Batted In:
The Atlanta Braves haven’t had a player drive in 100 runs since 2007! Yes the past 4 seasons we’ve been without a 100rbi bat in the middle of our order. So that’s where I will start the comparisons there. Yes, Uggla can hit home runs and he hit 36 of them last year which is very impressive. But he didn’t drive in nearly enough runs for an impact middle of the order hitter. If we are going to put Uggla in there simply for his power which I’m completely 100% fine with, he needs to be surrounded by RBI type players.
2001 Atlanta Braves Top 3 Run Producers-
1) Andruw Jones: 104 RBI 2) Chipper Jones 102 RBI 3) Brian Jordan 97 RBI
2011 Atlanta Braves Top 3 Run Producers-
1) Dan Uggla 82 RBI 2) Freddie Freeman 76 RBI 3) Brian McCann 71 RBI
Now I’m not trying to pick on last years Braves club. That’s not the purpose of this. However that team is obviously the most similar to what we have now so it’s the best pin point I can use for comparison purposes. As you can see that’s a HUGE difference in run production.
That’s 303 runs for the middle of the order driven in during the 2001 season vs just 229 runs driven in for the middle of the order last year. What’s the argument here? It’s more of a point of interest. Yes the Braves line up is very deep BUT would they be better served to lose 2 players in that line up in exchange for true run producers? Is that type of move what could change the fortunes for this club?
1) Where are the starters in the 7th inning? Forget the 8th or 9th
The 2001 Atlanta Braves got 200+ innings from three different starters. The reason this is important is obviously it deters wear and tear on your bullpen and also shows that you can count on your starters to lead you to victories.
Greg Maddux 233 innings, Tom Glavine 219 innings and John Burkett 219 innings.
Now if you compare that to the top 3 innings eaters of 2011 you’ll see quite a big difference
Tim Hudson 215 innings, Derek Lowe 187 innings and Jair Jurrjens 152 innings.
Yes, there were injuries that really prevented Jurrjens or Hanson from getting any where near that 200 innings. However the facts are still the facts. We only had 1 pitcher get over 200 innings vs the 3 we had in 2001. Even this year there is still some difficulty for these starters to get into the 7th or 8th inning which as a ball club you occasionally need.
3) Over worked bullpen leading to Sept collapse:
Now the previous facts will lead into the next statement. Yes, the bullpen needs regular work to stay sharp. That point I will never argue. But most of us could argue that 40 hours a week is enough at our jobs to “stay sharp”, we really don’t need a 60 hour work week to get our juices going. Do we sometimes need to do it? Of course. However it’s not optimal if it can be avoided.
Braves Bullpen 2001; Top 4 in Appearances-
Mike Remlinger 74 appearances, Jose Cabrera 55 games, Kerry Lightenberg 53 games and Steve Karsay 43 games
Now if you compare that to the innings worked by the 2011 Braves bullpen you’ll notice a startling difference.
Johnny Venters 85 appearances, Craig Kimbrel 79 games, Eric O’Flaherty 78 games and Scott Linebrink 64 games
That’s 306 innings vs 225 innings. Again we’re talking about MAJOR differences here. That’s equal to NINE FULL GAMES worth of extra bullpen innings. Venters, Kimbrel and O’Flaherty were each going out there on an average of EVERY OTHER day due to the amount of close games that we were forced to play due to lack of offense and the starters inability to go deep into games.
Right now the Braves are still 4th in MLB in runs scored and they are still currently 22nd in runs allowed. So as far as stats go the blame needs to go on the pitching staff and not the offense. Could we score more runs? Of course, every team would like to score more runs. But to say we’re out scoring 26 other teams in baseball, we really don’t have a ton of room to complain.
I still think this team needs to focus on key hits in big situations. Moving guys over and getting them in. If this Braves team is going to win the division this year I will have to say that we will need at least one batter to reach the 100 rbi milestone and have at least 2 other batters close to 90. So the middle of our order has their work cut out for them.
By: Bob McVinua