Grading the Atlanta Braves Hitters at the Halfway Point
The 2012 season is exactly halfway over for the Atlanta Braves. The up-and-down season has the Braves at a fairly disappointing 42-39 record; however the team does have the potential to put everything together and make a run deep into the playoffs.
This article is a follow-up to my article in May that graded the Braves hitters at the quarter-season mark. This article will take a look back at what has happened throughout the first half of the season and also take a look at how the Braves hitters have done in the second quarter of the season.
Brian McCann: C-
Let me first start off with Brian McCann and note that this season is the first full season in his career where McCann has not made the All-Star team.
After six consecutive selections to the All-Star game, McCann will be staying home this year. However he's having the worst season of his career to date.
At the quarter point in the season McCann was hitting .260 with six homers and 24 RBI in 33 games.
Since then McCann has managed to drop his average to .225 while hitting just three homers and batting in 11 runs in 31 games. McCann has been struggling badly at the plate, and isn't even the best hitting catcher on his own team this year.
McCann's triple-slash line of .225/.294/.379 would all be new career-low marks for him. He's also on pace to tie his career-low in homers with 18 and set a new low mark in RBI with 70. Those are still decent power numbers for a catcher, but nothing more.
McCann received a "B" grade in May, but his struggles since then have him looking like a below-average catcher this season. As much as I want to give him a higher grade, a catcher with his stats is a liability at the plate.
The good news is that McCann still has plenty of time to turn things around and begin to play like he normally has.
Freddie Freeman: B
Freddie Freeman used a hot start to the year to help him post a .275/.335/.503 batting line with seven homers and 32 RBI. It had looked like the second-year first baseman was on his way to a breakout year, though injuries and inconsistent play have quickly brought him down to Earth.
After struggling a little in the second quarter of the year Freeman's line is now .256/.312/.439 with 10 homers and 47 RBI. While each number of the triple-slash line is below his totals from a year ago, he is on pace to finish with a similar number of homers and set a new career-high in RBI.
Freeman earned an "A" grade in the first quarter, but like McCann the drop in production in the second quarter will cost him a bit. I'm still going to give Freeman a "B" grade, as his defense has been solid and his power numbers are very solid compared to a year ago, while his triple-slash line is only a little lower than the mark he posted a year ago.
Dan Uggla: C-
Though he will be the starting second baseman for the National League All-Stars next week, Dan Uggla is another member of the Braves that has struggled in the first half.
However it is worth noting that Uggla hasn't struggled the way he did in the first half of last year, when he hit just .185.
Uggla is hitting .229/.359/.400 with 11 homers and 43 RBI, though his average was above .240 until a recent slump brought it down. Although just like McCann and Freeman, Uggla's second-quarter numbers are down from his first-quarter stats of .270, five homers and 24 RBI.
Uggla's batting average is a bit down from his career mark of .256, but it's his power numbers that are a bit concerning. Uggla's 11 homers have him on pace to hit a career-low 22 and his .400 slugging percentage is well below his career mark of .476.
Uggla earned a "B-" in the first half despite his power numbers being on pace for a career low, but his average has taken a big drop. That means his overall grade is also set to take a bit of a hit as he isn't a good fielder, meaning his bat has to carry him.
Chipper Jones A+
At the quarter mark of the season Chipper Jones had earned an "A+" grade, as he had started his final season off red-hot.
After joining the team late due to recovery from an injury, Jones hit .307/.372/.485 with five homers and 24 RBI in 28 games. Jones had shown everyone that he still had plenty left in the tank.
Jones second quarter didn't get off to a great start as he missed time with a deep bruise that required draining, and returned in a slump. He has righted the ship since then and has his overall line up to .317/.392/.485 with six homers and 33 RBI in 47 games, which has helped him get a spot on the All-Star team.
Jones second-quarter numbers have seen him raise his average and on-base percentage while keeping his slugging percentage at the same mark despite only hitting one homer in the quarter. Jones has done nothing to take away from his first quarter-grade, and his overall line is deserving of the All-Star selection that he received.
Tyler Pastornicky: C
The Braves handed the starting job at shortstop to rookie Tyler Pastornicky from the moment the team decided to allow Alex Gonzalez to walk as a free agent.
Pastornicky got off to a very slow start at the plate, followed by a hot streak before cooling down again. However he is now back in the minors as the Braves decided to improve their defense.
Pastornicky hit .248/.281/.324 with a homer and 11 RBI in 45 games, however the homer and all of his RBI came in the first quarter. Pastornicky actually only played in 11 games in the second quarter, but it was enough to drop his average from .274.
Pastornicky's slump along with his weak defense and the play of Andrelton Simmons in the minors helped the Braves decide to make the switch at a time when the team was really struggling.
Still, for being thrown into the role without being prepared, Pastornicky was able to do a decent job. That's why he earns a "D" grade in spite of being one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game and not producing much at the plate overall.
Pastornicky does have a chance to re-group in the minors and eventually become a solid big-leaguer, though more likely as a utility player or second baseman than a regular at short.
Martin Prado: A+
Martin Prado had a breakout year in 2010 when he hit .307 with 15 homers on his way to being named an All-Star in his first season as a full-time starter.
Then he battled injuries last year which limited him to a .260 average and 13 homers. The disappointing 2011 season had Prado on the trade block all winter, as he and Jair Jurrjens were rumored to be being shopped around the league.
The Braves actually got lucky that Prado didn't get dealt this winter. He is hitting .322/.384/.463 with five homers, 35 RBI and nine steals. That falls right in line with his first-quarter numbers, when he hit .324 with three homers and 21 RBI.
Prado may have been snubbed from the All-Star team, but he's been one of the most valuable players in the Braves lineup. Prado's first half earns him an "A+" grade, as he is on on a pace to beat or come close to his career-highs in numerous offensive categories.
Michael Bourn: A+
Just like Martin Prado, Michael Bourn was snubbed from the All-Star team. Bourn came really close to making the team after making a late run in the final vote, but ended up finishing second to David Freese.
He still has a chance to make the team, though, as he is the favorite to be named if Giancarlo Stanton is unable to play due to injury.
Bourn got off to a great start to the year as he hit .329/.386/.416 with a homer, 11 RBI and 12 steals. That was in part due to one crazy stretch where he reached base nearly 50 times in 100 plate appearances.
Bourn hasn't slowed up much in the second quarter of the year; his batting line is .310/.359/.456 with 32 RBI and 23 steals. He has also already set a new career-high in home runs with seven; his previous high was five back in 2008.
Bourn has also played great defense in center field and given the Braves their best leadoff hitter since Rafael Furcal played in Atlanta. His "A+" grade from the first quarter is going to stay the same because he has impacted the club in every way possible this year.
Jason Heyward: B+
Everyone knows the Jason Heyward story. He was the top prospect in the game, getting compared to Ted Williams and other greats before he made his big-league debut.
He debuted with a historically great rookie season for a 20-year-old, though Mike Trout has been even better this year. Then due to injuries he struggled so badly last year that he was benched for a while in favor of Jose Constanza.
Heyward spent the whole offseason working hard with new hitting coach Greg Walker, and the work has paid off. Heyward got off to a red-hot start, but then went through a major slump, and after being red-hot again has a very strong stat line for the year.
At the quarter mark of the season Heyward was hitting .248/.346/.444 with five homers, 20 RBI and nine steals. Since then Heyward has started to unlock his power potential as he is now hitting .270/.340/.496 with 13 homers, 39 RBI and 11 steals.
Add in good work with the glove and his throwing arm in right field, and Heyward is emerging as a complete player.
Heyward had a case as an All-Star, though him not making the team isn't a surprise with the number of outfielders having strong seasons. Still, Heyward is on pace to hit .270 with 26 homers, 78 RBI, 32 doubles, eight triples and 22 steals.
To me, that along with his defense earns a strong "B+" grade.
Andrelton Simmons: A+
Andrelton Simmons nearly made the Braves out of spring training, but the club made the right choice in sending him down to further his development. The Braves allowed Simmons to get healthy from an injury that bothered him this spring as well as add more experience before promoting him.
In 29 games since being called up Simmons is hitting .311/.351/.476 with three homers and 14 RBI.
Maybe even better than that is the fact that Simmons has seven walks against just 11 strikeouts in his first 111 plate appearances, showing he isn't over-matched despite only playing a limited number of games about High-A in the minors. He's also collected six doubles and a triple, showing better-than-expected power.
Simmons' offense has been a big boost for the Braves, but that's not why the team promoted him. Simmons is also a great fielder at shortstop with an arm strong enough to reach the upper 90s with his fastball in college.
He's been so good that ESPN's Keith Law has already called him the best defensive shortstop in the game. Not bad for a kid that is just 22 years old.
Simmons has given the Braves a major spark at a time when they were struggling. He's been great with the glove and has been very strong with the bat as well. If he keeps hitting like this he is likely to become a fixture on the All-Star team.
Juan Franciso: D+
Juan Francisco has continued to be one of the most used reserves on the Braves in the second quarter of the season. The power-hitting third baseman, acquired from the Reds late in spring training, has been able to spell Chipper Jones at third as well as filling in as a pinch-hitter when needed.
Francisco started off the season by hitting .224 with three homers and 10 RBI in 62 plate appearances in the first quarter of the season. After the second quarter he is now hitting .223 with five homers and 17 RBI in 117 plate appearances. The numbers are actually pretty similar, though they are slightly down in the second quarter.
Francisco has really struggled at getting on base, as his .248 OBP and 38-to-three strikeout-to-walk ratio indicate. While the inconsistent playing time may be part of the reason for this, he isn't looking like a guy the team will be able to count on to fill in for Chipper Jones following this season.
Francisco's on-base struggles, big strikeout numbers and below-average defense are the reasons why his grade drops from a "C-" to a "D+" for the year.
Jack Wilson: D
Jack Wilson was acquired by the Braves right before the end of the 2011 season, then re-signed to be the backup for Tyler Pastornicky at shortstop.
The former Pittsburgh Pirate starter appears to be done with the bat, though he can still work with the glove and is able to help out the younger guys in the organization.
In the first quarter Wilson hit .156/.170/.156 in 49 plate appearances. His numbers are up a bit in the second quarter; he's now hitting .179/.200/.224 in 73 plate appearances, as he has collected his first two extra-base hits of the season and lowered his strikeout rate from once every six plate appearances to once every seven-and-a-half.
The improvements are extremely minor as Wilson has been awful at the plate, but he's been useful for the Braves as a veteran presence behind a pair of young rookies who have split the shortstop job in the first half of the year. His grade will remain the same.
Eric Hinske: D
Eric Hinske got off to a very strong start to the season, hitting .313/.365/.417 with a homer and seven RBI in 52 plate appearances. Those numbers earned him an "A" grade, though they were partly influenced by a strong series in Colorado.
Hinske hasn't done much with the bat since the first quarter. He's now hitting just .206/.278/.289 with a homer and 10 RBI in 108 plate appearances. Those are extremely disappointing numbers for the guy expected to be the top bat off the bench for the Braves.
The sharp decline in his numbers came from nowhere, as Hinske had been a strong bat off the bench in each of his first two seasons with the Braves. There is still time for him to turn things around, considering he averaged 12.3 homers in the four previous seasons.
Still, his "D" grade was earned by his disappointing half-season.
Matt Diaz: C-
After a strong five-year run as a successful platoon player for the Braves, Matt Diaz left the team to sign with the Pirates to begin last season. However after not performing well in Pittsburgh, Diaz was dealt back to the Braves later in the 2011 season.
Diaz looked to have put all of that behind him, as he started the year by hitting .289/.378/.474 with two homers and six RBI in 38 plate appearances during the first quarter of the year.
However, he has struggled since then, as his batting line is down to .227/.283/.340 with two homers and 13 RBI in 106 plate appearances.
Diaz has had some big hits and continues to hit left-handers well, but he is 34 years old and hasn't hit well since 2010. Diaz earned a "C-" grade for the season because he is a bit of a specialist, but the Braves may need to upgrade here by the trading deadline.
David Ross: A
David Ross got off to a great start to the season, hitting .310/.394/.517 with a homer, three doubles and four RBI in his first 11 games. He also threw out one-third of opposing base runners trying to steal on him. While his numbers aren't as high at the halfway mark, he still has a very strong stat line.
On the year Ross is hitting .276/.345/.434 with three homers and seven RBI in 28 games. In addition to being a quality hitter Ross has thrown out 38 percent of opposing base-stealers. The only thing that has slowed Ross is a groin strain, which he has gotten past in recent weeks.
Ross earned an "A+" grade in the first quarter ,although his grade will be a bit lower this time around. Despite his numbers falling back to Earth, Ross is the best backup catcher in the game, earning him an "A" grade.