Team Preview: Atlanta Braves

When you think of the Braves, you think of old guys. The Braves have had remarkable continuity over the past two decades: even the biggest departures, from John Smoltz to Tom Glavine to John Schuerholz to Bobby Cox, have remained or returned to the fold with the team. (Schuerholz is team president, Cox is a consultant, Glavine is a special assistant to the president, and Smoltz is a color commentator.) All four first joined the team more than 20 years ago — as did Chipper Jones, drafted in 1990 by GM Bobby Cox. And the new manager, Fredi Gonzalez, was hired precisely because he didn’t think too far outside the box. As Jones explained, “The way I see it, we just got a younger version of Bobby.”

But the Braves are a young team in an old team’s image. The faces of the franchise are two 21 year olds on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The names on the lockers have changed, but this is still a team built around young pitching and young talent up the middle. With the injuries on the Cardinals pitching staff, it might be the second-best team in the league. But is that good enough?

The Projected Starting Lineup
1. LF Martin Prado (27 years old)
2. RF Jason Heyward* (21 years old)
3. 3B Chipper Jones^ (38 years old)
4. 2B Dan Uggla (30 years old)
5. C Brian McCann* (27 years old)
6. SS Alex Gonzalez (34 years old)
7. 1B Freddie Freeman* (21 years old)
8. CF Nate McLouth* (29 years old)
* left-handed, ^ switch hitter

The 2010 Braves weren’t a terrific offensive team: they scored 738 runs, fifth in the NL and 13th in baseball. The main deficiency was power. No Brave has hit 30 homers since Adam LaRoche and Andruw Jones in 2006, and the 2010 Braves slugged .401 as a team, tied with the Cubs for 9th in the NL and 17th in baseball. Yet they were fourth in baseball in OBP. They left a LOT of runners on base. Unfortunately, with Freeman and Heyward in the majors, there’s almost no power left on the farm, and none whatsoever in the upper minors. So they moved to address that by trading for Dan Uggla and almost immediately extended him for four more years.

The Braves batted Heyward 7th to start the year and are likely to do the same with his roommate, Freddie Freeman. And Freddie’s the real X factor of the offense. If he keeps hitting like he did in the minors last year — when he was the MVP of the International League as well as its youngest player, producing a Minor League Equivalent OPS above .750 — then he could make it a lot easier for them to turn their lineup over. Regardless of his production, though, their offense is likely a bit better than it was last year, when the team endured career-worst years from Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera, and Yunel Escobar. But with Uggla as the team’s only real power threat, the team will still probably be better at getting ‘em on than slugging them in.

The Pitching Staff
RHP Tommy Hanson (24 years old)
RHP Tim Hudson (35 years old)
RHP Jair Jurrjens (25 years old)
RHP Derek Lowe (37 years old)
LHP Mike Minor (23 years old)

RHP Craig Kimbrel (22 years old)
LHP Jonny Venters (turns 26 in two weeks)
RHP Peter Moylan (32 years old)
RHP Brandon Beachy (24 years old)
RHP LHP Eric O’Flaherty (26 years old)

They don’t have anyone named Roy, but the Braves still have one of the best pitching staffs in the league. What else is new? They allowed the fourth-fewest runs in baseball: only the Giants, Padres, and Athletics kept more runs off the board than the Braves. A year removed from Tommy John surgery, Hudson was an All-Star, though his ERA was so far below his FIP that he’s a likely candidate for regression. The team’s best pitcher was Tommy Hanson, and that will probably be the case for many years to come, as long as he avoids the injury bug that plagues nearly every young pitcher. Jair Jurrjens had an injury-plagued lost year, but he was a 3.8-win pitcher in 2008 and 2009, and if healthy, he can repeat that.

At the back of the rotation are a youngster and an oldster, Derek Lowe and Mike Minor. Lowe isn’t very good, but he’s alright — he’s averaged 2.7 WAR in each of his two seasons as a Brave, just fine for a #4 — and he rarely misses a start, having thrown at least 32 starts and 182 innings in each of the past nine seasons. Mike Minor is the Freddie Freeman of the staff, a rookie left-hander whose prospect stock zoomed up the charts in 2010, who will begin the year at the bottom of the heap among the starters but who is projected as a stalwart of the middle of the rotation (in Freeman’s case, the middle of the order). Minor could very likely be one of the best fifth starters in the league.

The bullpen will be headlined by three men who had successful debuts in 2010: Kimbrel and Venters, who may share closer duties, and Brandon Beachy, an undrafted player who jumped from single-A to the majors in less than two years, who will probably be tapped as a long reliever/spot starter. Groundball specialist Peter Moylan tired at the end of the year, as did O’Flaherty, who battled mononucleosis; they’re the ROOGY and LOOGY of the bullpen. But the bullpen will live and die with Kimbrel and Venters: with his filthy stuff and your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine control, Kimbrel could be a second Carlos Marmol; and with his mid-90s sinker, Venters was nearly as effective a one-pitch pitcher as Mariano Rivera. On the other hand, one of them has no control and the other basically only has one pitch. So success isn’t exactly guaranteed.

Key Player
In each of the past several years, people have written that the key to the Braves season was the health of Chipper Jones. No more. The key to the 2011 Braves is Jason Heyward. After completing the best season by a 20-year old Braves right fielder ever, he’s probably the team’s best player, and as soon as this year, he could be one of the top five to ten players in the league. As long as he stays healthy. His minor league career was marked by a seemingly unrelated series of nagging injuries, as was his rookie year. If he settles in as a 145-game a year player rather than a 160-game a year player, the team will be able to endure, but the Phillies rotation ensures that the Braves will be battling for the Wild Card for the next year or three. Every game counts, and at this point in their respective careers, the Braves can afford to lose Heyward far less than they can afford to lose Jones.

Summary
The Braves have a solid mix of young players and veterans, and the organization is one of the best-run in baseball. They won the Wild Card in 2010 and are a solid bet to repeat that in 2011. For better and for worse, their talent is pretty well spread out: they have a few four- to five-win players — McCann, Hanson, Heyward, and potentially Uggla — but, unless Heyward takes a quantum leap forward, no one true superstar. Like the Braves of old, they’re a good bet to make the playoffs, but not a great bet to go deep within them. Again, what else is new?




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


87 Responses to “Team Preview: Atlanta Braves”

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  1. LeeTro says:

    You may want to look at Venters’ slider. By linear weights, it was worth 4 runs per 100 pitches, and pitch f/x has it at -3.5 inches of vertical movement. He will need a changeup eventually, but he definitely has 2 pitches right now.

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    • He only has 80 major league innings to his name, and he threw the fastball nearly 80% of the time. So I’m not ready to put too much stock in the slider stats just yet. But it would be a real help if that were true.

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      • LeeTro says:

        I agree the linear weights itself doesn’t tell you much, but a 27.5% whiff rate should make it seem more legit.

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    • Ben says:

      Elite relievers only need 2 pitches… hence why they are relievers….

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  2. Dale says:

    And for anyone playing at home, Fredi’s announced “ideal lineup” goes
    1. LF Martin Prado
    2. CF Nate McLouth*
    3. 3B Chipper Jones^
    4. 2B Dan Uggla
    5. C Brian McCann*
    6. RF Jason Heyward*
    7. SS Alex Gonzalez
    8. 1B Freddie Freeman*

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    • Thanks, Dan. The team certainly will give every opportunity for Nate McLouth to try to demonstrate he’s actually a top-of-the-order hitter, despite last year. We’ll see.

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    • LeeTro says:

      There are many problems with this lineup, and the 2 biggest ones are with the 2 kids. Heyward and his near .400 OBP hitting 6th is as big of a waste as you could have. Freeman hitting 8th could really stunt his growth. He’s never had a great walk rate so he likes to be aggressive, which is not always effective hitting in front of the pitcher. McLouth has walked at a good clip the last 4 years, so he should handle hitting 8th better than Freeman. The lineup works better with Heyward hitting 2nd.

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      • spike says:

        I certainly agree that the lineup could be tweaked, but I suspect (hope?) the relative hitting of Freeman v Gonzalez and Heyward v McLouth will force an adjustment sooner rather than later. And if McLouth really can amount to something this year, that lineup suddenly becomes a whole lot less fun to pitch to, even in this construction.

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      • Preston says:

        At this point doesn’t Heyward have a lot more power than Chipper. I would bat Chipper 2nd and Heyward 3rd. Chipper’s most valuable skill at this point is taking walks and Heyward is probably giong to be able to drive in more runs.

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    • Guy says:

      Ugh, this is depressing to hear and I’m a Mets fan. McLouth taking at bats away from Heyward.. ugh

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      • Matt says:

        Not going to necessarily disagree with you, but I am going to play devil’s advocate.

        .276 avg. 26 HR. 23 SB. 113 Runs. 94 RBI. 853 OPS.

        You may already know, but that’s McLouth in 08. You don’t put up those kind of numbers if you don’t have SOME kind of talent.

        The hope is McLouth can do what you want out of a 2 hole (assuming whiff rate goes down). He was a pretty solid player in Pittsburgh.

        Really what I think may happen is Chipper gets hurt and/or slumps and Heyward takes over the 3 spot. That’s what kind of hitter he is. God bless him, but Chipper is a dinosaur. I know he loves hitting three but at some point he’s got to give that up. If he’s having a bad year I’d rather him 6 than Heyward.

        You can’t bat Freeman 7th bc then you’d have to bat A-Gon there.

        PS – Imagine if the Braves hadn’t traded for Teix. This would be their lineup:

        Andrus
        Prado
        Chipper
        McCann
        Uggla
        Heyward
        McLouth
        Freeman

        And Feliz would be a closer (prolly not start). I’d find it hard to believe that team wouldn’t be favored over the phils.

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  3. chris says:

    Venters does have a slider so I wouldn’t go so far as compare him to Rivera in that regard. Also, exactly how many runs did the Braves, Giants, Padres, and Athletics keep off the board last year?

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  4. tmh says:

    Nice write-up, Alex. One small correction: EOF is a lefty (which you mentioned in the body of the article) but in the “Pitching Staff” section he’s labeled as a “RHP.”

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  5. Oddibe McBlauser says:

    The Braves bullpen is buoyed by their continuing stream of young arms gurgling out of their system at all times. I’m sensing decent odds of a pretty good and cheap relief factory in ATL succeeding in the next couple years. With the low rate of value-added success on mult-yr middle reliever deals historically, the bravos may be the envy of all those teams on bullpen carrousel.

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    • Anon21 says:

      They really would do well to convert some of that pitching surplus into help at SS or CF, though.

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      • spike says:

        I am pretty sure they’d love to, but the Kemps and Rasmuses of the world seem to have inordinately high price tags at the moment, if even available. Here’s hoping one of Salcedo or Lipka pans out.

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  6. Brent says:

    Nice article, Alex. Perhaps a bit too pessimistic about the Braves chances in the NL East over the next 3 years (or are you being too optimistic about the Phillies?). What will be really interesting is watching the battle for the 5th spot in the rotation this spring. So far, Beachy has looked really sharp, but I suspect they will look to move him in a trade to bring some depth to the left side of the infield.

    I really hope Gonzalez is telling everyone McClouth will bat second just to give Nate some confidence. No way he actually does it, right?

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    • I’m being a little overly pessimistic. I don’t necessarily think the Phillies are the odds-on favorite to win the division in 2013. But at least in 2011 and 2012, they’ll be awfully tough.

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      • Ryan says:

        c’mon! The phillies have one player in the lineup under 30 this year and pitchers are notorious for attrition and injuries. Sure, the phillies are the better team this year, but their offense is a ticking clock. Howard’s laughably bad contract has yet to even go into effect, Utley and Rollins are middle infielders that have propensity for the DL and they’re too heavily left handed, which hurts them in the late innings. 2012 should have the braves beat the phillies.

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  7. Jim says:

    And of course, let us not forget that the “old team image” even comes with an older player who’s best days are behind him–3B Chipper Jones.

    Jones has said he’d like to play between 140 and 145 games, but that seems like a pipe dream. When(not if) he goes on the DL, it seems likely that Martine Prado would take over at 3B(and probably will go back there permanently once Chipper finally retires, what with Uggla at 2B now), leaving an opening in the OF. I think it’s likely McLouth, in that case, would play LF, with former top prospect getting Jordan Schafer a chance to show what he’s got in CF for possibly an extended period.

    Another question: The Braves showed willingness to forgo Super Two/early free agency concerns with Jason Heyward last year, so it seems likely they do the same with Freddie Freeman this year. But if they do send Freeman to AAA to start the season for the first 2 months or so, who would play 1B for that period? Eric Hinske? Someone not currently on the team?

    (Like I said, all indications are that Freeman will start the season with the team, but one never knows.) ;)

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    • philosofool says:

      You could leave him on the farm for 10 days to get the extra service time. The Braves lost Heyward’s age 27 season by starting him last season, in a move than cannot be called anything besides remarkably stupid.

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      • That’s simply unfair. I really, really, really wanted Heyward on the farm to start the season, entirely because of service time. But I don’t think they’d have made the playoffs if he hadn’t started the year with the team.

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      • Ben Duronio says:

        I’ll take Illogical statement for 500.

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  8. David N says:

    1. LF Martin Prado
    2. RF Jason Heyward
    3. 3B Chipper Jones
    4. 2B Dan Uggla
    5. C Brian McCann
    6. CF Nate McLouth
    7. 1B Freddie Freeman
    8. SS Alex Gonzalez

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    • KB says:

      Exact same as mine (at least out of all the realistic options). It’s sad that things can be this obvious to fans, but the guy that gets paid to do it thinks Heyward at 6 is a great idea.

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      • Bronnt says:

        Of course, batting order doesn’t really matter all that much, so we can deal with it and hope that the value of dealing with big league ego’s and ideas is worth the balance of 1 or 2 runs that a not-terrible line-up construction will get you

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      • award6 says:

        What Bronnt said

        Freddie Gonzalez was shaped in Bobby’s image, so it makes sense that he would try to give McLouth a boost to his confidence with this sort of lineup. On paper, his “idealized” lineup isn’t optimal (at least to most fans), but McLouth is a player that has seen his ups and downs and Gonzalez is hoping to work his managerial magic. I definitely would rather see Heyward hit at the #2 or 3 spot and am skeptical of McLouth (still love him though).

        My only worry is how long Freddie waits for Nate to ‘turn it around’ before readjusting the lineup. So far, Nate is having a polar opposite ST from last year, so there’s hope in that.

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  9. Ryan Bones says:

    The braves look good, but not as good as the cards.. world series win in 5 games or my name isn’t ryan bones.

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    • ToddM says:

      So, you posted just to tell us what your name ISN’T? If you’re trying to share, it’d be much more informative to tell us what your name IS.

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  10. Paul says:

    I like Minor, but Beachy is going to win that job and be the rookie story of the year.

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    • Temo says:

      I predict the same. I think Minor spends his time in AAA, as an injury replacement.

      Making him, I guess, the best 6th starter in the bigs, not so much the best 5th starter :o

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  11. Jonathan says:

    No mention of lefty killer George Sherrill? He should be very valuable against the Phillies.

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    • There are a few other names in the bullpen I didn’t mention, notably Sherrill, Scott Proctor, and Stephen Marek. One or two of them is likely to see significant service this year. But none of them is assured a job, and none of them is likely to be particularly good.

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      • Ben Duronio says:

        Marek is the best guy out of that bunch. He will have an impact.

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      • I like Marek, but he’s 27, and he’s never done anything in the majors. I’d rather see him than Sherrill or Proctor, certainly, but still.

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      • Temo says:

        This is actually year 2 of the Proctor reclamation project, and he’s looked good so far this spring, velocity-wise.

        I think he’s the favorite of the group to have an impact.

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      • Justin says:

        You also forgot Linebrink. Sherrill and Linebrink are guarnateed roster spots (since they are costing millions of dollars each) and Marek likely gets the other spot.

        You said Beachy will be the long man, but that’s probably not true either, considering Martinez had it last season, and performed well there.

        Beachy will more than likely start in AAA just waiting for the injuries to happen.

        The bullpen likely shapes up with Kimbrel, Venters, Moylan, EOF, Sherrill, Linebrink Marek and Martinez with Huddy, Hanson, JJ, Lowe and Minor rounding out the pitching staff.

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    • hk says:

      I think comments about the Phillies being very vulnerable to left-handed pitching are a little overstated. Last year, the Phillies had the 4th highest team OPS vs. LHP’s in the NL and before giving too much credit to Jayson Werth for that ranking, know that Werth was better vs. RHP’s than LHP’s in 2010. Also, Utley has a higher lifetime OBP and the same lifetime OPS vs. LHP’s as he has vs. RHP’s and both switch-hitters Rollins and Victorino are better vs. LHP’s. If Charlie Manual would learn about lineup optimization and bat his better hitter Utley 2nd instead of relying on old school thinking and batting him 3rd, they could separate Utley and Howard with a switch-hitter or right-handed batter – I suggest Victorino in the 3-hole – they could negate the impact of LOOGY’s late in games.

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      • Ben D says:

        They are overstated by people who don’t know baseball much. Good pitchers are more important than pitchers with good splits against one side. Guys like Sherrill, Linebrink, and Proctor were wasts of money as the Braves had people who could fill those roles for much less and probably even more effecitively in Stephen Marek, Lee Hyde, and a number of other replacement level relievers who are better than Proctor.

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  12. Scott says:

    I would bet money that Beachy isn’t in the pen. It’s likely the best option. But the Braves pen will almost certainly be

    Kimbrel
    Venters
    Moylan
    Sherrill
    O’Flaherty
    Linebrink
    7th man. Most likely Christian Martinez.

    Beachy is the emergency starter as of right now.

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    • That’s also a strong possibility. AAA Gwinnett is just a few miles away from Turner Field. I may have engaged in some wishful thinking; Beachy’s simply a much better pitcher than George Sherrill or Scott Linebrink.

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      • Tom says:

        Maybe you should look at Sherrill’s splits before you say that.

        When used properly, Sherrill is going to be a fantastic addition the Braves bullpen, he will absolutely be in the Braves pen all year long. He will almost never face RH batters.

        He is wonderful against LH hitters. .192 AVG .286 OBP .288 SLG .573 OPS in 2010, which is just above his career norms. With the amount of quality LH hitters in the NL East (especially Philadelphia), I would be shocked if he wasn’t the LOOGY for the Braves.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Well, the Braves are already carrying a pretty good LOOGY in Eric O’Flaherty (although he does get some appearances vs. RHBs too). Which is just to say that maybe they can afford to move Sherrill.

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      • I know Sherrill’s splits. He’s the least flexible player on the Braves — he turns left-handed hitters into Mario Mendoza and right-handed hitters into Babe Ruth. Moylan and O’Flaherty aren’t GOOD at getting out opposite-handed hitters, but they aren’t catastrophically bad at it. If Sherrill is brought into a game and the opposing manager sends up a right-handed pinch hitter, the Braves are screwed.

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      • Tom says:

        I guess I am just more curious as to what you want to do with Sherrill and Linebrink. They both have major league contracts, so we cannot keep them in the minor leagues, so you suggest what? We just release two players we acquired this off season, costing us 3.2 million?

        They will both be on the roster, with other pieces kept in AAA gaining experience and still under Braves control.

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      • Tom says:

        Yup. Didn’t think I would get an answer to that. Logic is a bitch.

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  13. xdog says:

    My main complaint with the article is there’s too little mention of the best catcher in the NL.

    Freeman will be a big disappointment if his power is muted, but even if it’s not the question is whether he hits 240 or 280.

    A bigger concern to me is CF. Either McClouth or Schaefer has to give them better play than CFers last year for the offense to thrive.

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    • There’s just not much to say about McCann — he’s amazing, he’s a five-time All-Star in his offensive prime, and he has the same year every year. As long as his vision thing is fixed — which it appears to have been as of the second half of last year, when he stopped dilating his pupils with overcaffeinated energy drinks — he’s just about the Braves’ most reliable player.

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      • award6 says:

        Apparently he’s started applying a gel or ointment to his eyes before games to prevent his eyes from drying out while wearing contacts. I think I heard this during the ESPN televised ATL-DET game…

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  14. JMS says:

    Fortunately I dont think it is unreasonable to ask the Braves current CFs to beat the almost unfathomable -2.5 WAR put up by Melky/McLouth last season. Even if McLotuh, Schafer, and Young combine for a 1.2 WAR that is a massive improvement.

    I think Freeman is likely to hit on the higher end of the 240/280 scale, but I doubt he shows power this year.

    If the Chipster can get a 125 OPS+ in 450 PAs (plus be healthy down the stretch) – both big ifs – Atl will thrive.

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  15. ToddM says:

    I question the wisdom of letting Matt Diaz walk. Was 4.5 mil over 2 years too much for the Braves to pay, or was it Diaz searching for more playing time elsewhere?

    He didn’t have a good 2010, but he’s still one of the better hitting 4th outfielders out there, and can be used primarily against LHP. How many guys with a lifetime 800+ OPS (in about 1600 plate appearances) can be had for just over 2 mil a year?

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    • Ben D says:

      He would have had no where to play and has no positional flexibility. He would not start against left-handed pitching in left or right field, the only two positions he could play. Mather at least provides the ability to play all four corner spots and potentially even center in a pinch.

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  16. bvillebaron says:

    Good article, but I agree with one of the other posters, the notion that the Braves with their already in the bigs youngsters (Hanson, Jurrjens, Venters, Heyward, Freeman, and Kimbrel) and soon to be there (Teheran, Viscaino, Beachy, and perhaps Delgado) will only be playing for second place this year, yet alone for two more is giving way too much credit to the Phillies (only one every day player under age 30 and Halladay, Lee and Oswalt also being on the north side of 30).

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    • Don’t forget Kris Medlen! The Braves have a terrific pitching staff and terrific pitching on the farm. But their starters simply aren’t the equals of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels. As long as those four pitchers are on the same staff, I’ll be conservative with my predictions for the Braves’ chances.

      Of course, it’s only March, and Domonic Brown and Chase Utley are already injured. So you never know.

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    • spike says:

      What a difference a week makes, Baron.

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  17. CircleChange11 says:

    Since when is averaging 2.7 WAR make a pitcher “not very good”?

    How many teams would like to have that as their #4 starter?

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    • Ben Duronio says:

      So you’re saying a 2.7 WAR is very good? If you aren’t, then you would agree that it is “not very good.”

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      • Louis says:

        Oh come on. “Not very good” implies less than good. It does not imply less than “very good.” Literalism…

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    • This is what I wrote: “Lowe isn’t very good, but he’s alright — he’s averaged 2.7 WAR in each of his two seasons as a Brave, just fine for a #4.”

      You’re not disagreeing with me.

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  18. JMS says:

    If you parse it as not very good then the statement is probably incorrect, since I just looked and his 2.7 WAR would make him the 52nd most valuable SP in the bigs – Very strong for a 3rd starter, to say nothing of a 4th. If we parse it as not very good then I agree, since hes definitely overpaid. A team with 2.7 WAR from all 5 SPs and 8 position players would be well over .500 even with 0 contributions from the rest of the roster, so I say it sounds pretty solid, definitely a bigger asset than hes made out to be.

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  19. Justin says:

    I can easily see the Braves winning the division this year. The Phillies are already breaking down and the season hasn’t even started yet.

    Halladay and Lee are quite the formidable pair, but Oswalt and Hamels are not on the same level as Halladay and Lee.

    Oswalt has never pitched that effectively against the Braves. Hamels – which guy is the real deal? The guy who was lights out in 2008? The guy who was bad in 2009? The guy who was so-so in 2010? Hamels doesn’t worry me.

    He’s about as good a #4 as there is in baseball, but he certainly does not belong in the same conversation with Halladay and Lee.

    The Braves’ rotation 1-5 is better than the Phillies 1-5. The Phillies have the better top-of-the-rotation guys, but not by much. Many teams would kill to have Hudson and Hanson as their 1-2 punch.

    And the Braves definitely have the advantage in the bullpen and on the bench. The Braves may have the best bullpen in baseball this year, and with Ross, Hinske and Mather coming off the bench, they have some late-inning pop.

    The Braves’ offense also does not trail Philly’s by much – if at all. A lineup of Prado, McLouth, Chipper, McCann, Heyward and Freeman is nothing to scoff at.

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    • KB says:

      >Braves rotation is better than the Phillies rotation

      Lol no.

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      • Justin says:

        Jurrjens – Oswalt
        Hamels – Lowe
        Minor – Blanton

        One could make an argument for the Braves pitches in each of those matchups.

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      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        Jurrjens – Oswalt
        Hamels – Lowe

        ‘One could make an argument for the Braves pitches in each of those matchups”

        May I see the data supporting said argument?

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      • Anon says:

        Oswalt FIP: 3.35
        Jurrjens: 3.85

        Pretty similar to me…not.

        And I’ll take a 28 y.o. Hamels over a guy who’s turning 38 during the season.

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      • Jason B says:

        And the Hamels-Lowe comparison would be even shakier than the Jurrjens-Oswalt one. It’s OK to like the Braves chances, and think they’ll be better than expected (or the Phillies worse than expected, or both), but it can be done without making weak, unsupported (unsupportable?) arguments.

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  20. alan says:

    As a Braves fan I’ll admit without argument that the Phillies rotation is better, but just not as much as everyone says. I think where the difference will be negated is in the bullpens. The Phillies pen is just not that good, and the Braves is. Linebrink, who is finally out of a HR park, and Venters will make great setup men with. Also everyone here is giving Oflaherty much too little respect. In 2010 he pitched nearly identical time against RH and LH. RH hit .229 compared to .231 by LH. Moylan and Sherrill will play their respective roles and I trust that Martinez/Marek/Proctor will have to earn their spot by proving they are capable pitchers.
    The lineups are another thing I dont understand in regard to their rankings. I believe the Braves lineup is stronger,simple as that. The Phillies are LH heavy, and there are just so many questions. Is Utley okay? Who plays RF? Can Ruiz really put up those numbers outside the 8 spot? And in case somebody missed it, Howard’s OPS was .859 last year. And can we just go ahead and say that Rollins decline is real. Even in ’09 when he played 155 games his OPS was .719. Questions in the Braves line up? Well will Chipper be healthy? Nobody knows how he will hold up, but they won 91 games last year with him only playing in 95 games. I think he could easily play more games than that this year. What about Freeman? Well he has adjusted and hit every level he has been to. He could struggle, but in my non-professional opinion I think he will be a plus offensively in the 7th spot. And finally, what about CF? So far,so good this spring with McLouth. And 2010 was a freak year, he has been a plus offensive CF every other year. Jordan will also be ammasing playing time in AAA and could eventually find himself in the majors in the starting role or at least playing those days Chipper needs a rest.

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    • ToddM says:

      I do think the Braves are closer to the Phillies than many pundits are saying, but the overall quality of the pitching staffs isn’t as close as you’re predicting. On a team with four or even five quality starters (which definitely describes the Phillies, and may even describe the Braves), the bullpens aren’t nearly as important.

      Put it this way — barring lengthy injuries to two of the Phils five starters, you can pretty much guarantee Phillie starters average over six innings a start, and actually pretty close to SEVEN. Last year, Halladay averaged 7.6 innings/start, Lee averaged just under 7.6, Oswalt 6.6, Hamels 6.3, and Blanton 6.2. Lee and Blanton both spent time on the DL, and yet the quintent made 154 starts. How many quality relievers do the Phillies actually need?

      If (in terms of 10 being major league best and 1 being major league worst), Philadelphia’s starters are a 10 and their bullpen is a 5, while Atlanta’s starters are an 8 and their bullpen is a 9, Philadelphia still has a better pitching staff overall.

      Another look — ERA is crude, but it paints a picture. In 2010, Atlanta’s team ERA lead Philly’s by 0.11. Philly gets to boot Kendrick, gets a full season from Oswalt, and of course gets Cliff Lee. Atlanta gets what should be a full season of rebounding Jurrjens, and improving Hanson, and what’s likely a decline from Hudson.

      Anyone care to take the bet that Philly’s ERA is at least a third of a run lower than Atlanta’s this year? I’m making the number big enough to make it interesting, I admit — but would anyone even dare to take a straight ERA bet? I doubt it. Philly has the better pitching staff, because starters are far more important than relievers.

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      • Jason B says:

        Totally agreed – its as simple as:

        Halladay >> Hanson (and everyone else, for that matter)
        Lee > Hudson
        Oswalt > Jurrjens, albeit close
        Hamels >> Lowe
        Blanton ? Minor/Beachy (wouldn’t be a surprise to see it tilt in the Braves favor)

        Still, it’s an easy and clear advantage for the Fightins, no matter how you slice it.

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      • jp says:

        I think everyone here believes the Phils have a great overall staff but over a full season, you cannot rely on having all your starters healthy. Especially when 4 of them are older than 30. Now if they were all in their 20′s it would be different but look at the statistics of history of pitchers. You’ll realize that hardly does a staff have all of its pitchers go healthy over a full season. The problem with the Phils is that they have SO MUCH INVESTED IN THEIR TOP 4. I emphasize that because we all know at least one of them will get inured and miss significant time. For instance if Oswalt gets injured than Kendrick becomes their 5th starter. That’s a difference of may be 5.0 WAR as Kendrick is such a pizz poor pitcher.

        The Braves on the other hand have great depth though not the quality of the phils. If lets say Jair gets injured than he can easily be replaced by Beachy or Minor. Or let’s say if Minor and Jair go down, then they have Medlen and Beachy to take over. The overall depth is better in Atlanta.

        Something you also forgot to mention is the quality of the bench in Atlanta. Their bench with Hinske, Mather, Ross and Conrad is as good as it gets. An injury to Chipper won’t be the downfall to this team as in years’ past with Mather and Schafer both being in the fold.

        Finally, which Brad Lidge will show up this year? The destructive one or the good one? So many question marks with the Phils and so much depth with the Braves I think gives the Braves the edge this year.

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  21. Hizouse says:

    I know this is late, but nice writeup. 1 factual correction:

    Freeman was neither the MVP of the IL (Dan Johnson) nor its youngest player (Jesus Montero), but he did win IL Rookie of the Year.

    Also, I agree with the comments above that Martinez is more likely to break camp with the team than Beachy.

    I think Chipper is the key to this team–the guy with the greatest range of possible performances, from great and healthy to hurt and a repeat of last year.

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    • Sorry for not acknowledging Montero, but Freeman was the youngest player in the IL for much of the season. Also, I don’t know about how the IL awards its MVPs, but this story claims that Freeman won the IL MVP award: “He was named the International League’s MVP, the first Brave to win it since Chipper Jones, on Tuesday because he posted an 898 OPS with 35 doubles, 18 home runs and 87 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett this year.”

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  22. Kirsh says:

    Are there any concerns about Kimbrel’s arm not holding up over a full season? Not saying I have those concerns…just wondering.

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  23. jp says:

    hey Alex, care to change your prediction now the injuries are starting to hit the senior citizens on the senior circuit? I’m thinking Braves by a comfortable margin (3+wins) now that Utley and Brown may not be healthy all season. Taking away the 3 and 5 hitters is a serious problem when you have 2 players 38 and older in your lineup hitting 2nd and 6th.

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  24. Reuben says:

    Now its certainly time to re-consider it. The Phillies are so nervous about Utley that they had to sign Castillo. Braves have a better TEAM then the Phillies. Phillies just have four great starting pitchers.

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  25. Josh says:

    No easy outs in this line up. Batting Heyward second is stupid. The 2 hole is responsible for getting the runner over and Heyward needs to drive them in. Chipper is the ideal two hole hitter. It will never happened b/c of what he has done in his past. But Chipper had more At bats and less rbi’s than Eric Hinske. His days as a run producer are over.

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    • Reuben says:

      Chipper was not healthy last year. Look at this last 15-20 games and you will see the old run producer that he was. Look, if Chipper is healthy he is going to produce. The question always is will he actually stay healthy. When healthy, Chipper is still the best hitter on this team and he may be one of the top 5 hitters still in baseball.

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  26. Josh says:

    jasonb, hamels is a joke

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  27. Anthony says:

    The Phillies rotation means the Braves will be competing for the wild card the next year to three? How the hell is that?

    The Phillies rotation is old. Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee average what? 33 years old. In all likelihood they’ll collectively get worse. Hamels and Oswalt might not be on the roster soon. They have a BUNCH of money tied up.

    Roy Halladay, 34, signed through 2013 (60M)
    Cliff Lee, 32, signed through 2015 (120M)
    Ryan Howard, 31, signed through 2016 (125M)
    Chase Utley, 32, signed through 2013

    Oswalt has an option in 2012 that will probably be picked up, but he’s already 33, Hamels has one more year of ARB then will be a FA in 2013.

    In my opinion, with the old, declining lineup, and old, declining rotation, and bullpens as fickle as they are, the Phillies could be great this year and then basically turn into a somewhat less screwed version of the Cubs.

    Think about it, there’s a pretty good chance one of the old 3 gets injured or declines a lot. Who else do they have to pitch? They can get away with that this year with the best pitcher on the planet and 2 other really talented pitcher still carrying the load, but to me this really looks like the peak. No “next 3 years” crap.

    In 2013 they’ll have a 34 year old Cliff Lee, a 36 year old Halladay, a 34 year old, already oft injured Utley, and a 33 year old Ryan Howard who is declining and overpaid.

    Year their market means they can overpay, but it’s not sustainable. If they don’t win, people don’t show up, and it’s pre 2007 Phillies again.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, I see the Braves having a really talented team and a really talented farm system (not a lot of position players but with Prado, McCann, Heyward, and Freeman all pretty young, you can find other guys). To me this means the Braves look to be on the way up, Phillies look like they’re at their peak. Is the peak this year or next? Or was it last year?

    Some people argue that the Phillies NEED the big four to contend. I somewhat agree. That’s really the only thing about Philly that says “playoff team”.

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  28. Anthony says:

    As for the rotation thing, I think SP is all about depth and keeping games close. Halladay vs Hanson, probably a 2-1 game when the bullpens takeover. Atlanta’s better lineup/bullpen mean they can pull it off. Lee vs Hudson, Oswalt vs Lowe, Hamels vs Jurrjens, all similar stories.

    Look at the playoffs last year if you don’t believe me on that. I don’t think Philly will even have the best starters ERA in the NL. Baseball is long and grinding so you need depth. Philly does not have depth. STL didn’t have depth and they lost Waino, now look at them.

    I’d like to see a statistic on what % of your SP miss a significant portion of the season by age.

    Hamels could be the most important part of the Phillies rotation. At 27, however, he’s pitched only about 100 innings less than Kazmir. Kazmir seems to have pitched too much too soon. What if the same happens to Hamels?

    I just think it’s insane to think that such a one dimensional and OLD team like the Phillies are “locks”. It’s almost as ridiculous as saying the ancient Sox who basically traded up for about 3 WAR are “locks”.

    Last year ESPN was saying the Sox with their rotation and blah blah blah. Then it was total nonstop excuses because they all looked like jackasses. I expect the same this year with the Phillies and Sox (again).

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