Atlanta Braves: Why They Will Be The NL's Best in 2010

Richard NiehContributor IOctober 7, 2009

ATLANTA - AUGUST 23:  Omar Infante #4 of the Atlanta Braves celebrates in the dugout after scoring in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Florida Marlins on August 23, 2009 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Braves season ended in disappointing fashion after getting swept by the Nationals at home and seeing low attendance in the Marlins series.


To make the fans feel better, there is really not much the Braves can do after the Rockies won four straight in the week and may be more if they were not already clinch the wild card on Thursday.


However, the Braves ended the season with 86-76 record and leading the NL in starter ERA, with 3.52. I personally thought they did pretty well in the major part of the season and Wren built a team (and still improving) can win championships for next four seasons or more.


The Strength of Starting Pitching


In 2008/2009 offseason, Frank Wren improved the pitching staff by inserting three starters into the 2008 injury plagued rotation. They performed satisfactorily and improved the starters win total by 15 games (65 wins over 50 wins) and decrease the starter ERA by 1.08 point.


Not only the offseason signing shows promising for the Braves’ future, the even better feat that Braves possess is that Jair Jurrijens proves his fine rookie season was not a fluke and the super hyped prospects Tommy Hanson shown that not only he has one of the best stuff in the major league level, he has the mental strength to be the elite pitcher like Roy Holladay or Tim Lincecum.


Note that Tommy Hanson did not pitch full season. Before he joins the Braves, the fifth starters for the Braves have the stats: 1-4, 6.50 ERA for 44 innings pitched and what is sad is that was in total of nine starts, which means they did not even make it through fifth inning on average.


Note that a lot of spots for the fifth starter this season are started by Derek Lowe (the No.1 starter…well) because of the way the schedule arranged.  Braves did not have to use the fifth starter. Therefore, they might lose a few more games in 2009. Say they have Hanson from start of the year with the same schedule and he would probably perform at the same level. Based on this existing record, he would have 5-2 in those nine starts. That record alone can possibly bring the Braves to tie with Phillies in the NL East with eight games to play to end the season and two-game lead in wildcard.


Remember, Braves did hit reasonably well in April and beginning of May before the abysmal June offense. In addition, Hanson averaged seven innings every outing against less than five innings for the Braves fifth starter. It may mean about three less outing for Peter Moylan, who had miserable beginning of the season.


Now, assume that they don’t change anything this offseason. Hudson will definitely improve Kawakami’s W-L record based on the way he was throwing. Kawakami will stabilise the bullpen much better than any Longman Bobby used. The pitching staff alone will bring Braves 10 more wins in the standing even without any improvement for the line-up even with Francoeur, Schafer and Kotchman for their part of season in 2009. That is how good the Braves stuff will be in 2010.



A Decent Line-up


Before we criticise how bad that they did not give our starters enough run support, let look at some of the stats. The Braves are 6th in RS with 735 runs, 10th in home runs and 10th in slugging. It is easily shown that the line-up is built that required series of hits to score. It does not combo well when you don’t show much speed by only stolen 58 bases all year, just in front of the Cubs. However, 735 runs produced a +94 run difference this year and it was the third best in NL.


If the above stats is not convincing enough to say the Braves has a good line-up, here is something more to support my argument. The Braves scored 362 runs in the second half, which is the shorter half. It is good for the second place in run score, better than the Phillies. They are fifth in homeruns with 81, which only behind No. 3 team by four and they are sixth in slugging. All those offensive stats rank the same as those top teams. That is why their record increases massively in the second half. With Mclouth, Prado, and Diaz able to play for a full year in 2010 and both Escobar and McCann will only improve. Anderson had a better year than I thought but I believe Jason Heyward will be an upgrade over him. They may close to score 800 runs next year. That is more than enough to support a rotation with a great 3.52 ERA and may be even lower next year.



The Problem of the bullpen 


The Braves were fifth in bullpen ERA 3.68, which is good. They have blown 21 saves (in 59 chances), which is a bit too much but the arms of Gonzalez, Soriano, and Moylan are definitely one of the best trios in the league. Too bad Mike and Rafael are free agents after this year and likely not coming back next year. Neither of them are shunt-down closers so if somehow Braves can sign a big name during the winter, it would be great. However, if they try to go cheap and use Moylan to close, the Braves can be in trouble if Moylan cannot prove to close. There are half dozen closers on the FA list but only couple of them are decent. If Braves can sign one of the closer type player and somehow resign mike or Rafael, they will once again to have a good bullpen but not if they using Moylan to close and unsure who to send in before him, Braves will be in trouble.



2010 schedule is so much better than 2009 schedule


In the beginning of the season, I pointed out that the Braves need to improve their record against the Phillies and keep bashing the Mets and take advantage when against weaker teams.


They actually did all of them except the swept from the Nationals and the Reds but I guess it is acceptable when you are out of contention. The one series against the Reds really hurt but it matters less if you consider Marlins, Phillies, or Rockies all had their bad stretch so basically, Braves did not do that bad against some of the teams as it seems. They were not exactly lucky neither because they often run into a team with hot streaks. There is really nothing much you can do about it.


Anyway, the only thing I found harsh was the two weeks playing Boston and Yankees for nine games in those 15 interleague games. They needed to face Josh Beckett twice in one week and Boston was extremely hot back then. Plus they lost twice to the Orioles (against, they started their hot streak and probably the only hot streak they had all year.), the interleague games really hurt them when you look back.


In 2010, they are going to play Twins, Rays, Royals, White Sox and Tigers. They are no slouch but who would you rather face, Boston and Yankees for nine games or AL central teams whose records are about the same as the Braves.




Frank Wren had announced he will focus on adding a bat or two in the line-up and possible upgrade the outfield. I think he will have a very easy job to do this season since the Braves is already a good team and it is very hard to mess the team up when you are sure the core players are coming back for a whole season.

The only scenario I can imagine for Wren to mess up this team is to trade away great young players and too much pitching for big names and they end up underperforming or suffer injury. The last offseason turn out to be great for Wren’s decisions but I feel he made some rush decisions after he failed to achieve a few targets. Yes, it is good to have upgrades for the line-up but I hope Wren can make a wise decision rather than a rushed one. He will under a lot less pressure this year and I believe it is going to be an very interesting offseason.