Aside from the Washington Nationals, the National League East was really bad in 2017. How bad, exactly? The 72-90 Atlanta Braves finished third in a division battling for second place. The second through fourth spots were separated by just seven games, but the Braves still finished 25 games behind the division winners.
Now, the Braves are a bad baseball team, but they’re not horrible. The issues they have are merely problems with conversion. By this, I mean they get runners on base, but they don’t convert runners into runs. Defensively, they don’t commit many more errors than the rest of Major League Baseball, but they seem to struggle converting batted balls into outs. If they figure out how to tweak these things, the Braves could turn things around. Let’s explore this deeper.
At the plate, Atlanta has zero power. Singles are the name of the game for the Braves with the fourth-best hit total in the NL, but they’re 11th in slugging. Singles don’t win games, you’ve got to get extra-base hits if you’re going to drive runners in, and the Braves weren’t doing that this season. The other major problem they had was patience at the plate with too many strikeouts (most in the NL) and too few walks (13th in the NL).
The pitching staff wasn’t awful by most standards, but they weren’t good. They kept the ball in the yard and allowed only 1.2 homers per game. However, they didn’t throw many pitches for misses, which led to a lot of hits and a lot of walks. Braves pitchers tossed a 2.15 strikeout to walk ratio, third worst in the NL. Allowing so many base runners led to a 4.72 team ERA, 12th in the NL.
The Braves committed 97 errors as a team, which is still three more than the league average. The glaring number the Braves defense put up this season was the .683 defensive efficiency, good enough for 11th in the NL. However, when the pitching staff is essentially lobbing up meatballs, opponents are bound to put the ball in a gap, which makes it tough to make outs.
First and foremost, the Braves need some power in their lineup. It’s nice to win with defense, but you can’t win if you can’t score runs. That being said, this team a long-term project that needs to be built on all sides, so the Braves will likely be looking to the top levels of their farm system to build for the future. Outfield prospect Ronald Acuna could be getting a call next season. The top prospect in Atlanta’s farm system, Acuna hit .344 and slugged .548 through 54 games with the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves in 2017. However, he’s just 19 years old, so the Braves might take their time and let him continue to develop in the minors after shortstop Dansby Swanson‘s underwhelming debut season in 2017.
The Braves need to make a few adjustments before they’re a winning team. Unfortunately for them, those changes will likely take a culture or personnel overhaul and it’ll take time.
Photo by Brigham Berthold