|NL EAST||W||L||WIN %|
|New York Mets||79||83||.488|
Braves 2014 Overview:
The biggest question for the Braves coming into the 2014 season would be how the pitching staff would perform after losing 40% of the starting rotation to injuries in Spring Training. Remarkably, there was not too much of a drop-off in production from the 2013 season to the 2014 season. The staff ERA went up a fifth of a run (3.18 to 3.38) and the FIP was essentially the same (3.44 to 3.47). There was an increase in BABIP, and a corresponding increase in hits allowed, and there was an increase in BB/9; putting the increase of hits and walks together lead to an increase in runs allowed (548 to 597). If 10 runs is equal to a win, that’s 5 more losses caused by the pitching staff; which still makes the Braves a 90 win team.
So, if the Braves pitching staff still performed at a level to get the team to 90 wins, how did they end up finishing the season with a losing record? Specifically, from 2013 to 2014, the Braves hit 58 fewer HRs (181 to 123), and the overall power output dropped just as precipitously; the Braves’ Isolated Power (ISO) dropped from .153 (above average) to .119 (below average). The team’s overall batting average and walk rates also declined slightly. Having few men on base and far fewer extra base hits, their wOBA dropped 22 points (.318 to .296), dropping them from a slightly above average offence (wRC+ 101) to a below average offence (wRC+ 86) which scored 115 fewer runs than it did the season before (688 to 573).
In the spring, I had mentioned three areas of concern for the Braves offense: replacing Brian McCann, getting Uggla and B.J. Upton back on track, and the regression of Chris Johnson:
The Braves were not quite able to duplicate the offense they got out of the catching spot that they did in 2013. Gattis certainly did his part, creating slightly more runs than McCann did in 2013, but the tandem of Bethancour and Laird could not match the results of Gattis and the 2013 version of Laird. Still, this was not the entirety of the drop-off, as it was only a drop of about 25 wRC.
Dan Uggla continued to struggle, leading to his benching, and eventual release, and my predicted call-up of Tommy La Stella. But La Stella did not even match the down year output of Uggla in 2013; he hit much better than Uggla, but with far less power. B.J. Upton did improve upon his dismal 2013 at the plate, but he still only hit .208/.287/.333 in 2014 and his wRC+ was only 74, meaning he was merely a bad hitter this season instead of the terrible one he was last year. These two spots were essentially a wash in the overall offense.
Chris Johnson had a career best offensive year in 2013, so expecting him to duplicate that output would be unrealistic and a regression was expected. When a regression is expected, one would hope that it is a regression back to the mean, back to career averages. Unfortunately for the Braves, this was not the case with Johnson, as he followed up one of his best seasons at the plate with one of his worst in the Majors. His batting average, on-base percentage, and wOBA all dropped by 60 points from last season and his slugging percentage dropped nearly a full 100 points. In 2013, Chris Johnson was in the same class as Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, and Jayson Heyward in terms of wRC+, all in the 120 to 130 range. In 2014, his peers were La Stella, Ramerio Pena, and Phil Gosselin, all in the 75 to 85 range. That’s a big drop for someone who was a key contributor.
There was one other key player that regressed mightily at the plate this season for the Braves that covers most of the rest of the drop in offense: Andrelton Simmons. In 2013, Simmons was a slightly below average hitter at the plate, and in the spring, I had expected him to improve upon that to league average. He did not, and continued a downward offensive trend since his debut season in 2012. In a season where the team knew going in that the offense would be less formidable and players would have to pick up the slack, the regression of Simmons and the extra large regression of Johnson were too much to overcome.
Much of the continuity of success can be attributed to Ervin Santana who was able to match the Kris Medlen’s fWAR of 2.8 in 2013, essentially replacing the value lost to injury. Julio Teheran and Alex Wood made big enough strides this season to make up for the value lost by Tim Hudson signing with the Giants. Mike Minor’s performance went off a cliff, picking up nearly a run of FIP and a run and a half of ERA. But this was offset by a remarkable season by Aaron Harang, and Minor’s numbers were not too terrible for a de facto 5th starter.
Aside from Minor, the Braves’ bullpen, most notably Luis Avilan, also had a bit of a regression, with an ERA nearly a run higher than in 2013. But, 2013 was a year on the plus side of the ledger anyways, so this may been seen as more of a return to normal than anything.
Looking forward to 2015, the Braves have to expect a similar amount of bounce back in the offense that they expected to regress in 2014. Simmons and Johnson should have better years than this season and La Stella has not reached the offensive potential of which he is capable. Ryan Doumit and Gerald Laird are free agents, so Christian Bethancourt is likely here to stay. Center field is the obvious position to improve in the Braves’ lineup, but B.J. Upton and the $46 million he is still owed will present the biggest headache for whoever the new General Manager will be. Santana and Harang are both free agents after this season, and Medlen and Beachy are recovering from their respective Tommy John surgeries, so the biggest question mark for the Braves may once again be the starting rotation.