2015 Atlanta Braves: Two steps back

Tommie Aaron

Tommie Aaron combined with brother Hank to set the major-league record for most home runs by brothers. Of course, Hank did most of it, hitting 755. Tommie hit 13 in his seven-year career with the Braves, which stretched from 1962 to 1971. Both Aarons played in the 1969 NLCS, which the Braves lost to the Mets in three games. Tommie’s only appearance was as a pinch-hitter. Tommie Aaron hit eight of his home runs as a rookie in ’62, when he hit .231 in 334 at-bats. He never played as frequently again. He got 283 at-bats and batted .244 in ’68, and he hit two more home runs in 1970 in 63 at-bats. The Aarons lead the DiMaggios by 195 home runs — Joe (361), Dom (87) and Vince (125) combined to hit 573. The Cansecos hit 462 (all by Jose, none by Ozzie), the Boyers 444 (Ken 282, Clete 162), the Boones 378 (Bret 252, Aaron 126) and the Alomars (Roberto 210, Sandy 112) 322. The Uptons (Justin 164, Melvin 139) are at 303, and counting. Tommie Aaron’s career numbers: .229 average, 13 home runs, 216 hits, 94 RBIs, 9 steals, 437 games, 944 at-bats, .619 OPS, 75 OPS+, .788 minor-league OPS, 147 minor-league homers, -2.8 WAR.

On deck: The Braves are finally past Dan Uggla, $61 million and 79 home runs later. The Braves transitioned through Tommy La Stella and Phil Gosselin last year and will through Jace Peterson and Alberto Callaspo, but all of them lead to Jose Peraza, a 20-year-old Venezuelan with a career .306 minor-league average. Peraza is, if the Braves are right, a bigger verson of Jose Altuve: a .300-plus hitter who doesn’t reach base otherwise, but steals them often. Peraza has 124 steals over the last two years at an 80% success rate, and batted .339 last year in a season split between high A and Class AA. His on-base percentage was .364, but would have been higher had he walked more than 17 times. Peraza might be ready this year, but the Braves might not be. Why should he be good for the major-league team when it isn’t?

Trivia: Who was the winning pitcher in the clinching game of the last playoff series the Braves won? Hint: Not a Hall of Famer. Answer below.

What he said: Braves GM John Hart on his offseason moves: “Let’s be honest: This team finished 29th in offense. It’s not like I’m breaking up the ’27 Yankees.” What he meant: “It’s going to get worse before he gets better.”

Outlook: It may be that nothing stays the same, but does so much have to change at the same time?

No team has had as much turnover and transition as the Braves this offseason. They changed general managers, firing the guy (Frank Wren) who built 94- and 96-win teams in 2012-13 and replacing him with Hart, who then changed directions.

The Braves won 89 or more games in the four seasons previous to 2014, and made the playoffs in three of them. Hart deterred any thought of that in 2015 by moving catcher Evan Gattis and two-third of his outfield — Justin Upton and Jayson Heyward. The third member, B.J. Upton, changed his name to Melvin, though he didn’t say how that will help him cut down on his 173 strikeouts or improve his .208 average (which was a 24-point upgrade on 2013).

The Braves rid themselves of players who hit more than half their 123 homers last year and stole more than half their 95 bases. Ranked 29th in runs scored in 2014, the only team that scored fewer was the Padres, who added Justin Upton. Guess who’s a good bet to be 30th this year?

The Braves have the potential of a good rotation, though Mike Minor (shoulder) might start the season on the DL. Combined with closer Craig Kimbrel, it might be good enough to prevent 90 losses, but the Braves will be the most offensively challenged team in MLB.

Apart from Freddie Freeman, there’s not one projected regular who’s above-average at bat. The left side of the infield, Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons, had on-base percentages of .292 and .286 last year; the catcher, Christian Bethancourt has a career .679 OPS in the minors; veteran left fielder Eric Young has a career .653 OPS in the majors, but that’s with the benefit of four-plus years at Coors Field; the returning Upton had a .620 OPS last year, which was better than his .557 of the year before; major free-agent signee Nick Markakis hasn’t topped 20 home runs since 2008.

If the Braves get a rash of pink-eye, like the Brewers did, their hitters won’t need to ban high-fiving because there won’t be many offensive successes to celebrate.

Freeman demurred, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “having Jason Heyward hitting leadoff for you is not a well-constructed lineup.” Freeman might want to stick to hitting and lay off the analysis as he does bad pitches. Heyward had a .351 on-base percentage and 20 steals last year, scoring 74 runs; perhaps Freeman can explain how Markakis, who led off for Baltimore last year with a .342 on-base percentage and four steals,or Young and his .299 on-base percentage would be an improvement.

“We didn’t have a guy in the first or second hole to get on base to set the table,” said Freeman. “It was me and Justin (Upton) trying to get on base and set the table with two outs, and then hope for the best. Now I think we’re more built like the Royals. Maybe we won’t hit as many home runs, but we have guys who are going to fight for every at-bat.”

The Braves may have guys who are going to fight for every at-bat. Too bad they’re going to lose most of them.

Heyward may not have seemed like a leadoff hitter to Freeman, but he was better at it than anyone the Braves are likely to replace him with this year.

That’s true at a lot of positions this year, and for all Hart’s contention that the Braves are going to be a lot of fun at the dance, his team’s offense has two left feet. Hart, who was hired last fall, didn’t take much time on the job to look at his roster, look at the Nationals, and start building the team to go with the new stadium — they’ll both be ready in 2017.

Tanking is chic these days, if you can do it right, like the Cubs. It’s unsightly if you don’t, like the NBA’s 76ers.

Hart may be right — the Braves added multiple prospects in their offseason deals, and ESPN analyst Keith Law ranked their farm system sixth. It wouldn’t have been anywhere near that high without the restructuring — four of the Braves’ six top-100 prospects came in the trades.

But given the shearing the big-league team took, he’d better be.

Trivia answer: The winning pitcher in the clinching game of the last playoff series the Braves won was John Burkett, who started Game 3 of the 2001 divisional series sweep of Houston. Burkett worked into the seventh inning of a 6-2 win, followed by Steve Reed, Mike Remlinger, Steve Karsay and Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who finished all three games of the series. Rudy Seanez won Game 1 in relief of Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine won Game 2.

Team song: John Kirby Sextet: I May Be Wrong

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2 Responses to 2015 Atlanta Braves: Two steps back

  1. Thomas Callahan says:

    Just left game. The following is not (totally) unprecedented: trade Sandberg for Joe Madden. At least HoFer will have some slack in Chi and Madden will bring some kind of leadership and direction. Or let Bowa take over and buckle down for a nuclear winter.

    Tired of all the Rueben bashing. Where is Sandberg’a leadership. A pro team doesn’t need much. But it does need some. He shouldda got himself tossed when DeFeatus got tossed.

    Sent from my iPhone


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