Braves Baseball: 6 Early-Season Braves Stats That Tell You All You Need to Know
Just half a game behind Washington and Miami for first place, the Braves are on a bit of a slide, losing eight of their past 10 ballgames. Their run differential is also down to a mediocre plus-three.
Through 33 games, plenty of the season still remains. However, some conclusions can be drawn and trends identified. Everyday players have tallied more than 100 at-bats, and many starting pitchers have already thrown 50 innings. This is the time of year when statistics start to take shape, and things can actually be learned from the numbers.
When it comes to Atlanta, the numbers speak clearly. There exists a stark contrast between what this team excels at and what it struggles with. What follows are half a dozen of the stats that speak loudest in terms of who the Atlanta Braves are.
2.64 Team ERA
The Braves, as a roster, have accumulated a 2.64 earned run average. This figure is astounding.
It is good for first place in the majors. It is also the only team total under 3.00. Going back 14 years, no team this century has finished a season with a team ERA below 3.00 before. The best mark was attained by the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, who finished with a 3.02 ERA.
Atlanta's pitching has been anchored by a fabulous starting staff. Aaron Harang, Ervin Santana, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood have all been stellar so far this season. With Gavin Floyd and Mike Minor recently returning from injury, the Braves sport the deepest rotation in the league right now.
The staff, combined with Craig Kimbrel and company in the bullpen, has given up just 102 runs on the season. No other team in the NL has allowed fewer than 110. For some comparison, the Arizona Diamondbacks have already allowed more than 200 runs on the year!
By limiting walks and pitching deep into games, the starting staff has made things easier on the bullpen, which, in turn, has led to Atlanta having the best pitching in baseball.
.614 Opponent OPS
The ERA doesn't always tell the whole story. A better indicator of success is OPS—on-base plus slugging. This is where Atlanta really separates itself from the pack.
With an opponent OPS of .614 on the season, Atlanta pitchers are turning every batter they face into Nick Swisher. In fact, only 28 batters in all of baseball currently have an individual OPS below .614.
While .614 seems impressive—being that it's 20 points better than any other team mark in the league right now—it is hard to put in perspective. Going back to that 2011 Phillies squad seems like a fair comparison. This was the team led by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, with Ryan Madson closing for the only successful time of his career. Even that team couldn't hold opponents below a .650 OPS, finishing the year with a mark of .657.
By holding opposing batters off base and limiting their total bases when they did reach base, the Braves are on their way to one of the best pitching years this century.
.295 Team OBP
It's not all good news for Atlanta. If it was, this team would be better than 18-15 right now. What's holding the Braves back is their offense.
While the Braves have a number of talented hitters, the roster composition has led to this. The roster is filled with players who strike out a ton and rarely walk. Dan Uggla has 31 strikeouts and six walks; Chris Johnson has 31 strikeouts and four walks; Evan Gattis has 24 strikeouts and three walks. Even Andrelton Simmons never walks, though he doesn't strike out either.
Great early-season slugging numbers from the likes of Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Gattis and others are being squandered because no one is on base to score runs.
105 Runs Scored
By failing to get on base at a reasonable clip, the Braves are making it very hard for their players to score runs. Atlanta has just 105 runs scored on the season, good for 29th out of 30 teams.
While pitching is great—and limiting opposing runs is important—a team cannot win without getting its own runners across home plate. A very poor OBP leads to fewer baserunners in front of power hitters and a 1-6 record this month. In the lone May victory, Atlanta won by a score of 2-1.
Losing close games obviously puts an "L" on the record sheet, but it also demoralizes the pitching staff and the team as a whole.
Justin Upton's .403 BABIP
Justin Upton has been great this season. Other than Freeman, he has been the Braves' main source of offense. His nine home runs and 71 total bases pace the team.
However, Upton's .303/.378/.597 splits may be due for some major regression. It isn't only that he started off scalding hot last season as well before tailing off precipitously by the second half of the year: he is currently batting .403 on balls in play.
The major league average on balls in play is roughly between .290 and .310. Outside of luck factors and defense, 30 percent of most batted balls fall in for hits. As FanGraphs points out in that article: "If you see any player that deviates from this average to an extreme, they’re likely due for regression."
While 30 percent is just the league baseline, Upton's career BABIP is .334, slightly above average but a far cry from his current .403. His career-best mark came in 2009 as a member of the Diamondbacks when he batted .360 on balls in play.
Unfortunately, with an ungodly 34.4 percent K rate, he can't afford to lose too many base hits to lady luck. This is bad news for Atlanta and its scuffling offensive production.
B.J. Upton's Positive WAR
B.J. Upton has been the butt of jokes for two years now. He was so bad last season, Atlanta probably wished Major League Baseball would have taken a page out of the NBA's playbook and created an amnesty clause.
But while Boss Junior is barely hitting his weight, he has accumulated a positive WAR of 0.3 thus far this season, according to FanGraphs. This is because he is able to contribute in ways other than swinging the bat.
That FanGraphs chart shows Upton has already been a big minus at the plate. However, his defense and baserunning have made up the difference, bringing a net positive to the Braves' starting lineup.
For some comparison, Freeman has looked like Babe Ruth at times this season. His bat has been on fire. However, because of very poor baserunning and limited defensive worth stemming from playing first base, Freeman's net worth to this team is only 0.6 WAR, just 0.3 more than Upton has brought.
With casual fans looking at his .211 batting average and calling for his head after the 2013 debacle, it would be easy to agree. However, B.J. still brings other tools that make it necessary to keep him in the lineup.