Meet The Braves Bench

Major League benches to me are similar to offensive line play in the NFL. This is where you win hard fought games in the trenches. Where a base hit off the bench in the bottom of the 9th can send you on ward in the playoffs or even clinch a division title late in the season. Some will argue that with a good starting cast you can win without a great bench, which is why a lot of teams over look their benches when finalizing their team in Spring Training.

The Braves bench production is amongst the worst in baseball and is without question holding the team back as they try and make a climb within the division standings. The bench unit ranks 27th in pinch hitting average with a .159 mark. Only 3 teams in baseball are worse; The Angels, White Sox and Rangers. Yes those 3 teams are highly competitive within their divisions and within the A.L Wild Card but that goes to show you the difference between the American League and the National League.

With managerial decisions being critical in the N.L a manager must lean on his bench a lot more. The pitchers spot is guaranteed to come up every 3 innings if not sooner and with each of those at bats you must make a decision. Do we let the pitcher hit? Or do we replace him? The bases are loaded with 2 outs do we replace the pitcher to try and take the lead in this critical spot? Or do we risk letting the pitcher hit because he’s retired the last 13 guys he’s faced? Nothing is more demoralizing then when you pinch hit for a pitcher who’s been brilliant all night in hopes of breaking the game open, only to have your pinch hitter strike out and not get the job done.

The Brave are dead last in the N.L in pinch hitting average. The Nationals on the other hand are the best in the league sporting a .290 team average in pinch hitting situations. That’s incredible. To have pinch hitters who are likely to come up in some pretty big spots late in games to be hitting close to .300 as a group that’s what could be making the difference in the National League East race right now.

The Braves bench player stats are so bad it’s almost unbelievable. I’ll lay them out for you so that you can see for yourself. Now this is the main crop of bench players we’ve had for the majority of the season. I understand that now Pastornicky and Constanza have been throw into the mix but they were not there for the majority of games played in the 2012 season.

Matt Diaz:  .222avg/2 home runs/ 13rbi’s The lefty killer. I actually don’t mind Diaz being on the bench and that’s the truth. He is outstanding against left handed pitching and could provide a late inning spark against a lefty reliever who’s just come into the game. The only issue is Diaz is a “specialist” so he’s kind of a one trick pony. This wouldn’t be bad if we had other reliable hitters on the bench but since we don’t he just gets lost in the shuffle.

Eric Hinske: .202avg/ 1 home run/ 12rbi’s Mr Clutch. Eric Hinske has had some really big hits for the Braves in the past and that’s exactly why Wren signed him to a 1 year deal. I was 100% in favor of this deal when it happened so I can’t go back on it now. However Hinkse really hasn’t been to clutch this year as he’s hitting only .202 for the season, just barely out of the dreaded .100’s. Hinske provides us with a liability in the field that can only be made up for by his offensive ability. When you can’t field your position or hit the ball effectively you really don’t provide much value at all. I know Hinske is a player favorite in the club house so the drop in morale could be the only concern about letting him go before the season’s end.

David Ross: .272avg/ 5 home runs/ 12rbi’s By far the best bench player Fredi Gonzalez has and possibly one of the best back up catchers in all of baseball. His .272avg is more then respectable for a guy who regularly comes off the bench and he’s a very solid back up to Brian McCann so giving him a day off each week isn’t a problem at all. I have no real complaints about David Ross what so ever and I think the Braves would have a very difficult time finding a better back up catcher.

Juan Francisco: .225/ 6 home runs/ 19rbi’s Juan is the team’s most productive bench player in terms of home runs and runs batted in. This is also because he probably gets the most at bats of any one. He plays regularly in replace of Chipper Jones and he’s often one of the first options off the bench in terms of pinch hitting. To me Juan Francisco is a “home run specialist” if there was such a thing he’d be it. This guy swings for the fences just in case he hits it. He’s great as a home run threat off the bench but again here’s another Braves bench player hitting well below .250. Yes the threat of a home run is nice but often you just need a base hit or a sac fly late in close games which is something Francisco struggles with because he fails to put the ball in play due to the large amount of strikeouts.

Jack Wilson: .109avg 0 home runs/ 4rbi’s This is Major League Baseball and I don’t believe anyone is a sure out but Jack Wilson comes the closest to changing my mind. Forget dipping below the .200’s in the average our buddy Jack is barely hanging onto the .100’s. Jack Wilson almost leaves us a man down in terms of hitting, I’d almost rather see Tim Hudson up there trying to hit then Jack Wilson. However Jack Wilson brings a great glove to the Braves that is valuable during the late innings of a close ball game. But when Simmons is healthy and playing he’s an outstanding fielder himself. We don’t need to replace him in the late innings and in terms of giving him a day off he’s so young he shouldn’t need many at all. Why not look for a better utility bat off the bench? Someone who can play SS/2B competitively but can also give us a big hit off the bench?

 

I think that finding a quality starter to bolster this rotation is Wren’s number 1 priority because our starters are posting an era of over 4.00 which is in the seller of the National League. However this bench needs to be his second priority. Bench players of decent quality won’t requite a ton of return in exchange for timely late inning hits that could easily take this Braves club to the next level. I think that Hinske and Jack Wilson could be guys that are up for replacement. A utility infielder who can play 2nd and Shortstop and maybe someone who can replace Hinkse, a player who can cover 1st base and both corner out field positions.

By: Bob McVinua

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