Getting the swing of things…
With all the concern about the back of the Braves rotation, there has not been much attention paid to the fact that Atlanta hitters are still trying to get in the groove, especially with Chipper Jones having been out of the lineup for a stretch of 19 games.
The Braves come into to the first of a three against the Indians having scored the fourth most runs of any team in the National League. They have even outscored the mighty Mets offense by a 302-297 mark. You would think that run-scoring is not the problem. But I found some rather interesting quirks about the Braves offensive attack that bears deeper look.
The 1-2 spot tandem of Edgar Renteria and Kelly Johnson have combined to score 88 of those 302 runs… that’s nearly a third for those keeping score at home. Johnson is on pace to score 114 runs this season and Renteria is on track for 110. Outstanding production from the middle infielders who set the table for Atlanta’s big sticks.
Using "on-pace" statistics is a far from 100% accurate look into the projected future of a player. It is a relative term. It does not take into account the fact that as players get hot or start a streak where production is far and away above the norm. Some hitters find themselves heating up with the weather, some explode out of the gate and still others do their best work down the stretch. I’ll get to all of this as we continue.
What it does show is the numbers that are in store if the current trend stretches on throughout the rest of the season. Take it for what it’s worth, the trend I’m about to point out is one that will need to improve as the season wears on. Now that I’ve placed a very thorough disclaimer, let’s continue.
Run scoring for several of the Braves middle of the order hitters is not on pace to match the levels reached in 2006 (in the case of Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann) or year in and year out (in the case of Andruw Jones).
With just 30 runs scored through his first 67 games, Francoeuer is on-pace for a 74 run season, coming on the heels of an 83 total in 2006. McCann is experiencing the most marked drop-off. Yes, as a catcher he will play less games than Francoeur or Andruw, but in 130 games last season, McCann scored 61 times. Having crossed the plate just 18 times through his first 55 contests of 2007, McCann is on-pace to score just 47 times.
Andruw has struggled mightely, but has still managed to keep himself "on-pace" for a 100+ RBI season. His run-scoring pace is also down considerably from last season, and his year-in-year-out norm. Andruw routinely scored between 90 and 100 runs a year. With only 30 through 66 games this year, he is "on-pace" for just 73. You can probably attribute a handful of the shortage to the fact McCann is on pace for just a total somewhere just north of 70, one year after driving in 93.
This may seem a bit out there, and bordering on having nothing better to do than crunch numbers on a Friday afternoon, but two of the Braves most productive players have combined to out-score Kelly Johnson (a player who was not even guaranteed a starting job this spring) by a mere three runs, 48-45. It’s at least a little distressing.
It’s not that Francoeur or McCann are not doing their job by getting on base. The hitters that follow, the 7-8-9 spots in the Braves order have not come through this season. No one expects much out of the pitchers hitting in that ninth slot.
Craig Wilson was just a shell of the player he was for Pittsburgh, earning a quick release on May 17. That has left Scott Thorman to assume everyday duties at first base. In 24 games since Wilson’s release however, Thorman has hit just .171 with a pair of homers and six runs batted in.
The recent absence of Chipper Jones for nearly three weeks forced the Braves to shift their entire lineup. Renteria dropped down to routinely bat third, and the trio of Pete Orr, Chris Woodward and Yunel Escobar played the team’s games at third base from May 24 through June 14. During Chipper’s stint on the DL, Orr, Woodward and Escobar drove home four runs. That total does not exactly set the world on fire.
Having Chipper back is definitely going to pay dividends, but the Braves may take a look at the trade market to see what kind of bats are available. I won’t be venturing into fantasy baseball mode and throw out a bunch of names that may or may not be made available. We’ll all have to see what happens, when/if it happens. A little more balance in the offense would certainly go a long way.
Till next time,