Reliving the 2017 Season: Atlanta Braves Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: Atlanta Braves Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP

The pitching for the Braves came out of the gates a little suspect before enjoying a fairly long stretch of being no worse than average, before rinsing and repeating. They were never really dominant, but competence has it’s role, and they displayed a fair amount of that over the course of the season. The upticks are less encouraging, but for a rotation that came into the year comprised of past their prime vets and green rookies this looks acceptable. The trick will be building upon it for next season after losing all of the old hands. The bats were a lot more exciting early on before Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp got hurt then things got out of hand. That middle trough is pretty depressing, and the length that it covered has to have the Braves flummoxed as to how to do better in the next run. One of the tricks will be replacing one-dimensional or unexciting, everyday players with guys that can give more. A challenge the Braves are not alone in facing.

Both facets were a little worse than average, which leaves the team in a relatively tough place. It is fairly easy to upgrade bad players, but going from a little below average to good or great is a much higher hurdle. The pitchers saw a bit of misfortune on their balls in play, but as a staff they still walked too many without getting enough strikeouts. It’s a problem that could be solved by adding a top of the rotation arm during the offseason, but I’m not fully satisfied that throwing money at the problem is a panacea. The bats put plenty of balls in play as they avoided strikeouts well, but this also dragged their walk rate down, as well. It feels like an aggressive approach driven by guys like Brandon Phillips and Ender Inciarte who just want to put the ball in play as early as possible. It’s not an approach I would advocate, and could change considerably next season with plenty of expected roster turnover coming.

Freddie Freeman is one of the better all around players in the game. Once again his season was cut short by a coward pitcher hitting him on the hands, and when he returned he clearly lacked the power he has been showcasing over the last few years after coming up with more of a contact-first approach. The Matts Kemp and Adams are unlikely to still be rostered in 2018, but over this past season each showed that they can really hit, and little else. Neither should own a glove, but they ran very similar figures for both balls in play and those that didn’t get there. An American League team should consider giving very little for one or even both of these guys if they are desperate for offense.

There are other unexciting names like the recently extended Kurt Suzuki or Nick Markakis, but there is also some new blood coming through. Both Tyler Flowers and the wunderkind Ozzie Albies, just 20 years old, put up above average production last season, and each plays a premium position, to boot. Flowers is a low key star player, already, due to his very good glove, and Albies could push that even higher if the bat continues to develop as he becomes more physically mature. These two with Freeman feels like the backbone for the future.

Adding to that nucleus could be a couple of wildcards in Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte. The former hasn’t shown much with the bat so far, but did underperform his expectations on balls in play, while also posting an enviable walk rate that didn’t cost him oodles of strikeouts. Inciarte went the other way by putting lots of balls in play, and seeing dramatically better results than should have been expected by his exit velocity and launch angle combinations. He is exactly the type of player that breaks this model (fast, sprays laterally) so I would not be surprised if his contributions continue to come in better than listed here. These two players have the potential to solidify the offense as a couple of more average or better hitters at premium defensive positions.

In his first full season Dansby rode the roller coaster with more failure than success, but as a young player with a sound glove any amount of success is going to lead to more opportunity. He struck out around league average while walking a good bit better than that, whole posting fairly weak contact scores. Adding in some underperformance from his modest expected results and you can see why folks might be overly sour on the lad. I don’t think he’ll ever be a superstar, but if folks have patience and just let him play I could see him becoming a 2-3 WAR guy that gets pushed to more of a utility role on a contender. The Braves aren’t that so he will be given plenty of chances to sink or swim.

Another year of Matt Kemp’s buffoon routine in the outfield overshadowing that he is quite an accomplished hitter. When healthy. He came out of the gates stroking with both observed and expected results quite strong. Then he got hurt, as he seemingly does every year. When he got back he was more of an average guy for a long stretch, but his observed results were much worse with the gap persisting over the rest of the season. Playing through a weakened hamstring leads to less power output and makes it impossible to leg anything out so I’m not surprised to see that gap. Despite the heavy price tag there should be several American League teams interested in adding this legit very good bat, and then ensuring he never sees the field. The Braves should be able to pick their poison of shedding the contract for little in return or paying a good chunk of it to garner a potentially useful future piece.

Freddie Freeman is a baseball fan’s baseball player. Each at bat is a battle with pitchers attempting to maintain their composure as Freeman spits on or shits on pitches that most batters do little with. You can see that he was literally off the chart to start the year, before coming down the staircase a little bit. His injury sapped him of power, but he steadily showed more production over the course of the season ending up back at a very high level. He is the middle of the order bat that every team wishes they had one or two of, and he is property of the Braves until his early 30’s thanks to a savvy contract extension several years back. An author runs out of superlatives describing this type of player so just go down to the batter leaderboard below and check out who the only guy better than him thus reviewed.

It is no secret that the Braves have a small army of arms on the way, which is why it made sense to make reasonable deals with some old farts last year to try to bridge the gap. The issue becomes when all of those guys are gone, and none of the kids has really differentiated enough to have confidence in thrusting them into the rotation yet. Colon and Dickey were mostly a flop, while the team did well to sell high on Jaime Garcia prior to the deadline. All three of those starters need to be replaced, but the more challenging this is what to do with Julio Teheran.

Once one of the best pitching prospects in the land, he has taken a step backward with no real weapon to get lefties, while being one of the hardest hit by the juiced ball. He was essentially a league average pitcher as he only cost his teams 5 runs more than average, but the team had to have pegged him as one of the better pitchers in the league, let alone their team. This type of rotation with more quantity than quality absolutely needs Teheran to get back to being a very solid option. Otherwise the team may have to go outside the organization to add a top flight pitcher, which seems silly after already throwing so many resources at the arms side of the equation.

Some of those young arms did make an appearance this year in the form Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, Ian Krol, Max Fried and Matt Wisler. The hope has always been that one of these guys will figure it out, bust out, and become the top of the rotation pitcher this team so desperately needs. In a wildly small sample it looks like the newest addition to the organization, Gohara, gave the most to be excited about this year. Yes, his observed performance was markedly higher than his expected on balls in play so I would expect many folks to be selling him short. I would not walk and strikeout numbers were pure class. When that ball in play gets sorted out as it should he will leap to the forefront and perhaps establish himself as the best in that rotation. Newcomb, similarly, has that chance built on the back of his very strong strikeout rates, but the walks just aren’t going to magically go away. Seeing his contact numbers approach league average is nice to see, so perhaps there is a shot at a mid-rotation future for the southpaw.

I didn’t spend any time covering Folty above, because the numbers, alone, cannot fully describe him. I have him with essentially league average walk and strikeout rates and the expected contact is fairly close to league average. His issues only show up when you watch him on the bump. At some point in nearly every single start he will get pissed off about a borderline call not going his way and utterly meltdown on the mound. So while everything looks rather fine in the aggregate, he ultimately suffers from cluster luck worse than most players. As is, he’s probably fine as a mid-rotation guy as long as he can soak up enough innings to keep the bullpen fresh, but if he could ever get the mental side of his game sorted out there is the potential to be one of the better pitchers in the league.

Teheran was covered extensively above, but one thing that jumps out about him is that dramatic gap where actual production was extremely high when he should have been something like a league average guy, then being a little bit worse, but seeing incredible results. Perhaps this is tied to opponent more than anything, but that was maybe 40% of the season where he consistently, and enormously, saw results far away from what he should have expected. That stretch culminated in his worst performance on the year, which looks fully earned before enjoying his absolute best stretch of the year to close the season. Talk about a maddening season from a player that is being counted upon heavily by his team. No one man controls the fate of his rotation, but the better he is the more it will mean for everyone else that follows him.

Sean Newcomb was another guy that showed some vast differences between observed and expected production. Nearly across the board. From an expectations perspective he had some stretches where he was around league average, rarely below, and some others where he was far, far worse. Coming off his true rookie season it is nice to see him come through standing, but there is considerable work to be done if he hopes to continue to have a big league career. Folks will always pop eyes at the big heater, but throwing it where he wants will be the key.

Leaderboards

Below you will find the top and bottom-20 hitters and pitchers for the eight teams reviewed so far. Further down you will find how each of these teams ranked in the aggregate for both their hitting and pitching.



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