2012 Organizational Rankings: #8 Atlanta

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers
#18 – Colorado
#17 — Miami
#16 — Diamondbacks
#15 — Cincinnati
#14 — Cubs
#13 — Milwaukee
#12 — San Francisco
#11 — Washington

#10 — Tampa Bay
#9 – Toronto

Atlanta’s 2011 Ranking: 5th

2012 Outlook: 57 (tied for 9th)

If I remember correctly (it has been a few months) Atlanta’s 2011 seasons did not end quite the way the wanted it to end. Perhaps the superstitious think that those “bad vibes” are going to hang around and ruin Atlanta’s 2012 as well. There are some other less pressing issues, but the Braves are in a position to make yet another run at the playoffs.

It will not be easy. The Marlins invested in free agency, and exciting young talent like Logan Morrison and especially (and frighteningly) Giancarlo Stanton should continue to improve. The Washington Nationals also seem to be moving out of their wilderness years. Despite injury issues, the Phillies have enough pitching that they should not be dismissed too quickly.

While the East may have more legitimate contenders than it has in years, at the moment the Braves look like the best of the group (if by a smaller margin than the Phillies of recent years). This may be the season that the Phillies’ clock runs out; the injuries are telling in more ways that one. The Marlins and Nationals are close, but are not quite on Atlanta’s level (check in with me again after the season). The Mets are still pulling themselves out of a multifaceted mess.

As for Atlanta, it may be hard to remember, but had a good year overall in 2011 despite the late collapse, and in many ways they should be better in 2012. Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are still on the upswing, Dan Uggla should be better, and a full year of Michael Bourn should also be an improvement over the Braves pre-Bourn Gong Show in center field. Tim Hudson is going to miss at least a few weeks as he recovers from surgery, but I think I heard somewhere that the Braves have some decent young pitchers.

2013+ Outlook: 57 (T – 3rd)

One could argue that this “future” rating is too optimistic, even if the Phillies are on the downswing and the Mets take years to recover for their current situation. As noted above, the Marlins new free-spending ways, should they continue, could make them a continuing threat for the next few years. The Nationals have money and young talent.

Moreover, the Atlanta’s formerly great farm system is now generally considered by many to be middle of the pack. Their best minor league prospects are pitchers, which is nice, but pitching prospects are much riskier than hitting prospects, and Atlanta is generally acknowledged to have poor positional talent down of the farm.

With those qualifications noted, the Braves still have a very bright future. Their minor league system may not be what it has been in the past, but any system that graduates hitters like Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman is going to be in a downswing. Heyward had a rough 2011, of course, but his past performance in the majors and minors did not simply disappear. Freeman may have had the most underrated rookie performance of 2011: like most people, I would rather have Eric Hosmer, but it is worth noting that Freeman is only a month older than Hosmer and actually had a higher wRC+ in 2011.

Chipper Jones is going to be gone after this season, but while the team will miss the second-greatest switch-hitter in baseball history and his lectures to younger players about playing through injuries while putting in his typical Ripken-esque schedule, the team has been slowly learning to live without him the last few years. Freeman and Heyward may be the only position players with tons of upside currently on the major league team, but given their age, it is impressive upside. Uggla and the weirdly-underrated Brian McCann should both be better in 2012 and should be good for the Braves through at least 2013.

About that minor-league pitching talent: yes, it could all go wrong. Ask former Atlanta farm system guru and current Royals GM Dayton Moore about the volatility of pitching prospects. However, Atlanta’s future pitching is not just to be found in the minors. Do I really need to say it? The Braves have a boatload of young pitching that is already in the majors. Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Craig Kimbrel… both the rotation and the pen are young and loaded. Yes, plenty could go wrong, but the depth in both the majors and minors gives the Braves’ group of hurlers more “padding,” both now and in the future, than just about any team in baseball.

Every team has questions about their future, and Atlanta is no exception. Overall, their young talent is promising.

Financial Resources: 49 (T – 15th)

The Braves are right in the middle of the pack on Forbes latest team valuation rankings, and that is where they rank here, too. The “Turner Days” are long over, and while a payroll between $80 and $90 million is not terrible, it is not all that great, either, especially in the current NL East. Moreover, the Braves’ TV deal is underwhelming and is not up for renegotiation for a long time.

On the other hand, the Braves currently do not have any potential albatross contracts on their hands other than maybe Uggla’s, so even with arbitration raises over the next few years, they should have some payroll flexibility in the future. The reliance on young, cost-controlled talent comes through again keeps the Braves from slipping lower in this category.

Baseball Operations: 49 (T- 11th)

The difficulties in evaluating baseball operations from the outside is rather obvious. We know so little, we probably should not even do it. That is why we do not let people who have never held office vote or even express their opinion about politics, right? Obviously not, but we FanGraphers think the Braves do a pretty good job, anyway.

The Braves have a reputation among fans as a relatively traditional front office, but that may be a bit misleading. Of course, every team in baseball utilizes some degree of “objective analysis,” but that really is not what this category is about, at least not for me. Whatever methods they use, are they doing a good job (again, allowing that we have to infer a good deal about the process from the results)?

On the negative side, one could point to Atlanta’s relative stinginess in the draft the last few years as one problem. More more obvious are the horrible failures in their attempts to upgrade the outfield in trades for Nate McLouth and Melky Cabrera. Thus far, the Yunel Escobar deal looks like a big loss for the Braves, at least from the outside — we do not really have the “inside information” necessary to judge it otherwise.

I cannot discuss every transaction, of course, and there is no doubt those trades did not work out well in terms of the Braves’ return. But while the Yunel deal is a bust for Atlanta given what we know, look at the other two trades — as bad as McLouth and Cabrera were, did the Braves end up giving away anything that turned out to be very valuable? I suppose Charlie Morton might still be a useful starting pitcher, but he is hurt. I did not think Javier Vazquez would collapse like he did after the Braves traded him for Melky, but it happened, and the Braves got exciting (if currently out with Tommy John) pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino back, as well. The point is that as bad as those trades may look in terms of what the Braves go on the field (so far), that they seem to have a good track record of not giving up much for those guys, either.

Some might see the team’s inaction during this off-season as an organizational failure. I disagree. Even if we put budgetary issues aside, this could be looked at positively — why make a move just to make a move? The team reportedly shopped players like Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado, and while neither are world-beaters, there is no sense in just giving them away if they are still useful.

Finally, while the low draft spending has probably contributed to the farm’s current dearth of really good position players, it is worth noting again that Freeman and Heyward are relatively recent graduates. Moreover, the Braves’ scouting staff have even shown they can work around that — Brandon Beachy, my pick for 2011 NL Rookie of the Year, was signed as undrafted free agent.

Atlanta’s current front office has made some questionable trades. It will probably never live up to the mythology of the Schuerholtz era. However, once once compares the budgets (relative to the rest of the league) of the 1990s Braves with the current team, and takes a closer look at Frank Wren and company’s trades, the current group starts to look better. Given what little we know, it seems quite fair to put the Braves’ front office in the top half of the league.

Overall: 57 (8th)

If the Phillies survive their injuries, the Marlins have a monster year, and the Nationals young talent plays up to its potential, ranking the Braves this high might seem silly in September. However, for a few years now the Braves have been contending on an increasingly tight budget with a higher proportion of homegrown players. The minors might be thin now, but that is because they have so much good, high-upside talent already in the majors. If the position players hold up their end, there is enough pitching depth that the Braves should be contenders in 2012 and beyond.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

35 Responses to “2012 Organizational Rankings: #8 Atlanta”

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  1. Ted Williams Head says:

    Ninth for 2012, I find that very hard to believe

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    • Ben Duronio says:

      Which way?

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      • cable fixer says:

        interesting point. i think the concluding paragraph summed it up. atlanta could be in the WS or 4th place in the NL East and would people be surprised either way?

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  2. JT says:

    I have a question. Earlier Toronto had a score of 60 on the 2013+ Outlook section and it said they were tied for 5th. Now Atlanta receives a score of 57 and it says that they’re tied for 3rd. It’s probably just a typo, but some clarification would be nice. I’m guessing the typo is in the score for Atlanta’s future talent, as their scores shouldn’t average out to 57 currently.

    Otherwise great article.

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  3. wilt says:

    Good evaluation. As a Braves fan I don’t want to go ahead and place all of the offensive woes last season on bad luck, but I do believe there is a fair amount of regression due for most players. This article from CAC shows the xBABIPs compared to actual BABIPs from last season. As you can see, Bourn and Freeman were the only two players to exceed their xBABIPs, and even then it wasn’t by much. Most everyone else was off the mark quite a bit. Still I’m not attributing it all to luck– as Heyward’s BABIP was definitely brought down by his constantly pulling the ball to second base and hitting an IFFB seemingly every other at bat.


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    • Ted Williams Head says:

      Wow, that was a great article, I wish xBABIP was available on Fangraphs player pages

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      • Bronnt says:

        xBABIP is still really speculative, and hardly as reliable as something like FIP or even xFIP.

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      • Shane H says:

        @bronnt. Matt Cain disagrees.

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      • Ben Duronio says:

        Definitely not reliable, but something that looks favorably heading into the year. Heyward needs to hit fewer grounders and pop-ups, which most don’t need xBABIP to figure out.

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  4. harry says:

    “[Chipper Jones’] lectures to younger players about playing through injuries while putting in his typical Ripken-esque schedule”

    Damn, even I think that was cold-blooded, and I’m a Phillies fan.

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    • Bronnt says:

      It was really annoying, following the team last year, when Heyward’s shoulder was hurting, and there was no remedy for it other than rest, and Chipper Jones was complaining that he wasn’t doing anything. Especially since, about 5 years ago, Chipper got called out for lingering with his injuries too much by John Smoltz. And when Heyward came back, he wasn’t hitting nearly as well as he had been, was in fact a below league-average hitter after that point, so it seems like he felt the pressure to rush back into the line-up because a respected older player made some unwarranted comments.

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    • TK says:

      Seemed like a needless cheap shot to me. I liked the article otherwise. I could honestly see the Braves winning the East every year from 2013-15 or missing the playoffs every year. The young talent is mostly volatile (health and performance) or unknown how well they’ll do (young starting pitchers).

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    • bstar says:

      Bronnt, I’d like to think Chipper Jones knows when his body is ready a little more than John Smoltz; that’s hardly the first ex-teammate Smoltzy has “blasted”. Of course it was a cheap shot at Chipper.

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  5. Ben Duronio says:

    This was a very good writeup of the Braves’ current and future situation.

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  6. manuscript says:

    Probably better have somebody edit this quick before these comments get snarky on your spelling, syntax and punctuation. (No, this is not editorial snark thinly disguised as in polite tones.)

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    • Ryan says:

      Sometimes I do wonder if ANYONE copy-edits anything on this site. To me it takes away a bit of legitimacy.

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  7. Bronnt says:

    I just wonder if the Financial Resources ranking might be a bit generous. At least they’ve got some money coming off the books, but this past offseason they let Alex Gonzalez walk, they dumped $5 million of Derek Lowe’s salary, and they were STILL essentially maxed out on their payroll. They’re signed to a pretty terrible TV deal that has no opt-out or renegotiation clause for 25 years while other teams are getting huge TV deals. And they’re not spending heavily in the draft, while having never spent very heavily in the international market (with the two notable exceptions being Julio Teheran and Edward Salcedo).

    The situation for Atlanta could be worse than middling in just a couple of years.

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    • TK says:

      If the TV deal is really going to hamper them from having any chance of succeeding, I think it would make sense for both parties to negotiate out of it. If the Braves start to suck, it will not be as good for the network or the Braves. Could the Braves negotiate a huge TV deal while providing the current TV partner with a good chunk of money to make them willing to walk away? Of course, this wouldn’t put them in line with the teams that don’t have awful deals right now, but it would mitigate their problem a bit.

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      • Bronnt says:

        I’m not sure if it works this way, though. I don’t know if a RSN will decide that, if a team is struggling and ratings are down, that it needs to spend MORE money for that team’s TV rights. They’re already on a crappy network that struggles to sell its advertising space, even when the team made the playoffs two years ago. That year, it seemed like every single commercial break also included one of those PSAs about crystal meth.

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    • Todd says:

      “but this past offseason they let Alex Gonzalez walk, they dumped $5 million of Derek Lowe’s salary, and they were STILL essentially maxed out on their payroll”

      This is what happens when you are a mid-market team who traditionally does not dabble too deep in the FA market that also has a large core of players in or about to be in their arb. years.

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  8. cable fixer says:

    uh oh. this looks to be shaking out with the phillies as the #6org.

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  9. Brent says:

    I would have thought the Braves operations would actually rate out higher, given their track record. There have been a few duds under the current regime, but for the most part Frank Wren has done an amazing job. The trades of Edgar Renteria and Javier Vasquez were huge wins for the Braves, and the Braves paid well under market for Michael Bourn and (at the time) Nate McClouth. Plus they have consistently drafted and developed legitimate major league talent while maintaining a reasonable budget.

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  10. Bronnt says:

    It’s interesting that this write-up suggests that the Braves might possibly be favorites in the East, but on the predictions post earlier today, not a single Fangraphs’ writer picked them to win the East, and more than half of them predicted the Braves would miss the playoffs.

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      i wouldnt pay a lot of attention to the predictions. the writers seemed to take a “lets pick someone who isnt mainstream that we think will have a really high WAR” approach. id imagine if the writers were betting real money on what they thought, dan hudson wouldnt be a CY pick. its for entertainment and to get attention by going against the grain, not useful for analytical purposes.

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  11. Kevin says:

    A cheap shot at Chipper and one that isn’t really fair. Chipper averaged over 153 games during the first 10 years of career (and 1995 was a shortened season). How is Jason Heyward doing in that department so far? When Chipper was young he was one of the most durable players in baseball. Heyward is either an injury-prone 22 year-old or soft. I’ll let you pick.

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    • Ben Duronio says:

      Nobody would confuse Heyward for Cal Ripken at this point either, but Chipper really had no place saying that Heyward should play through injuries last year. It was similar to when Smoltz got at Chipper for a similar issue.

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  12. Bob says:

    While the Braves long-term financial outlook is not good because of their TV deal, next year looks very good. Lowe’s $10M and Chipper’s 14M come off the books which will give them much more flexibility next offseason for extensions and a free agent or two. That coupled with their youngsters’ continuing development, should make 2013 a special year in Atlanta.

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  13. TomahawkChopper says:

    It is encouraging that Heyward, despite his injuries and struggles last season, put up the 15th best Age-21 season since 1990. The 14 on the list above him include Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr, Andruw Jones, Juston Upton, A-Rod, Mike Stanton, Ryan Zimmerman, Adrian Beltre, Sterlin Castro, Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera, Pudge Rodriguez, Delino Deshields Sr, and Juan Gonzalez.

    Pretty good company for such a terrible season. Remember, he is young!

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  14. geo says:

    I’m not certain how Freeman had the most underrated rookie performance last year when he finished 2nd in AL ROY voting and Hosmer finished 3rd in the AL behind – drum roll, please – Mark Trumbo. Trumbo ahead of Hosmer means to me that Hosmer’s year was the most underrated.

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  15. Kevin says:

    My comment was intended to be more of dig at the author than a slight to Heyward. Unfortunately, I don’t think I really succeeded in that regard. The irony is that I actually like Heyward quite a bit. I also have a sneaking suspicion that he’s destined to be a super talented player who can only get on the field for about a 135-145 games a year (also known as JD Drew Syndrome). The point I was trying to make was that the author has gone out of his way on multiple occasions to bash Chipper about one comment he made during an 18 year career. Chipper was asked a question by a reporter and he gave an honest, albeit slightly misguided, answer. I see absolutely no relevance between that one quote and the Braves’ organizational ranking or, for that matter, Chipper’s place among switch hitters. Yet, somehow, it was brought up in both articles.

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    • TomahawkChopper says:

      Chipper was on the Braves before the Braves were in the NL East. Enough said?

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  16. Ben Hall says:

    This doesn’t really matter, but Atlanta’s numbers don’t compute. When you put in 57, 57, 49, 49, you get an overall of 53, which is both a) not 57 and 2) not higher than the Blue Jays 54. Just curious which numbers are off.

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  17. Mekons5 says:

    That was a very fair analysis, speaking as a Braves fan. I think the position players in the minors are a bit better than usually thought and there is an unending supply of good young pitching, the Braves’ hallmark since the Cox/Scheurholz era. During their futures game, J.R. Graham got clobbered but he wowed everyone with his electric stuff. A lot of Braves fans grew up with a dynasty and can’t deal with less than that. I go back to the Milwaukee days, so I have seen incredible ineptitude. This management seems to be doing a great job on a relatively skimpy budget. Sean Gilmartin is almost ready for the majors and looks like another Mike Minor pick. Christian Bethancourt and Evan Gattis are both terrific catching prospects, although Gattis probably won’t last at catcher. The Matt Lipka move to CF seems to be paying off. I think their position player situation is underrated. For the rest, the comments appear to be accurate. This year, four divisions have clear winners before the season starts. But both East divisions are way to tough to call, since both have four really good teams. Toronto and the Nats might be overlooked, but those are two good, solid teams with tons of young talent. Which, to me, is what makes baseball fun. I hate dynasties, even when it’s my team. I like being surprised, and those two divisions are almost certain to have surprises.

    I think the best comment here was about the front office. Wren et al are doing a pretty great job of turning marginal prospects who have no chance in Atlanta into pretty decent players, a couple of whom did not pan out. We can never know, but perhaps his greatest strength is in the trades he didn’t make. We haven’t coughed up a single top prospect, and the reason is simple…no one offered a bat with equivalent talent. I’ll stick with great pitching and filling in where necessary, as opposed to finding sluggers and tossing out AAAA arms.

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