Now that the season is over, it's time to look back on this year's version of the Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately when people look back to this year's team, the only thing that will be remembered is the historic late season collapse. Due to some awful luck with injuries late in the year to star pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens in addition to top producers Brian McCann and Chipper Jones battling through their own injuries while in the lineup, it's tough to be very hard on the team. This article will take a look at the hitters with a grade for the pitchers coming tomorrow.
Jason Heyward's shockingly bad season is finally over.
Brian McCann had another strong season.
Brian McCann is among the best catchers in the game year in and year out, and this year was no exception. McCann posted a triple slash line of .270/.351/.466, numbers which took a hit as he spent the last few weeks playing through an injury for the good of the team. McCann's 24 homers and 71 runs batted in actually make his numbers closely resemble last year's when he hit 21 homers with 77 batted in and a triple slash line of .269/.375/.453.
It may not have been a career year for McCann, but you can't really ask for much more than some of the best numbers in the league at his position and a willingness to play in pain when his team needed him.
Freddie Freeman is only scratching the surface of his potential.
When your 21-year-old rookie takes over the every day job at first base and puts up a triple slash of .282/.346/.448 with 21 homers and 76 runs batted in, you have to call it a very successful season. Freeman, who went four for 24 in limited time late last season, hit the wall late in the season after playing a career high number of games.
Freeman's season has put him right into the discussion for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, an award that is a near lock to belong to a Brave. The best news is that Freeman was only 21 years old this season, and he should only continue to progress as he ages. He's already shown better power than what scouts have projected, so don't be surprised if he becomes a franchise player.
After an awful first half, Dan Uggla rebounded to hit a career high number of homers.
Dan Uggla came into Atlanta after posting a triple slash mark of .287/.369/.508 to go with 33 homers for the Florida Marlins last year. It's obvious to say the expectations were through the roof for the slugging second baseman. So when he finished the first half with a .185/.257/.365 line, he was considered a huge disappointment.
Uggla rebounded and actually helped to carry the Braves offense in the second half as he hit .296/.379/.569 with 21 homers and 48 runs batted in. After the strong second half, Uggla's overall line was a respectable .233/.311/.453 with 36 homers and 82 batted in.
Uggla doesn't hit for a high average-his 2010 mark of .287 was a career high- but this year saw him set career lows for each part of the triple slash (average, on base percentage, slugging percentage). He did however hit a career high in homers.
That made him very hard to grade, because he would have had a first half "F" and second half "A". Factoring all of that in as well as his past history, he earned a solid "B" mark for the year.
Chipper Jones just keeps on producing.
Despite turning 39 in April, Chipper rebounded from last year's injury plagued season to have an all star campaign. In 126 games, his slash line was .276/.344/.470 with 18 homers and seventy runs batted in. Chipper also battled through some of his own pain and remained in the lineup for the good of the team, but because of that he hit only .190 with 12 of his 80 strikeouts in the final two weeks of the year.
Chipper had his first all star season since 2008, and in addition to the numbers—excellent numbers for any 39-year-old, let alone one still able to man third defensively—he was the leader of a young team. His "B+" grade factors in his age, recent history, and fact that he was coming off a season-ending injury in 2010.
Alex Gonzalez was forced out of the lineup for the season finale due to injury.
Alex Gonzalez came into the year following a strong 2010 where he had an overall slash line of .250/.294/.447 with 23 homers and 88 runs batted in. Those numbers were a bit inflated by a hot start with Toronto, as he only hit .240/.291/.386 with six homers and 38 batted in during 72 games with the Braves. Gonzalez wasn't able to duplicate his 2010 success, as he managed a slash line of only .241/.270/.372 with 15 homers and 56 runs batted in.
Although he did play solid defense at short, he didn't produce great numbers at the plate, something that gains a bit more focus because of the year Yunel Escobar had in Toronto. Frank Wren hasn't made many bad moves during his tenure as general manager, but trading the now 28-year-old who had a slash line of .290/.369/.413 with 11 homers and 48 batted in to get Gonzalez ranks high on the list of regrettable moves.
Gonzalez did contribute solid defense at short and gave 15 homers at a weak position across the league, so I couldn't be too hard on him. The fact that he put up a slash line of .367/.383/.633 in September for a struggling offense was enough to elevate him from a "C" to a "C+".
Can Jason Heyward figure things out in time for 2012?
Jason Heyward had a spectacular rookie season in 2010 despite being only 20-year-old for the bulk of the year. He posted a slash line of .277/.393/.456 with 18 homers and 72 runs batted in. The hype coming into this year was just crazy, as some compared him to Ted Williams because of his eye for pitches and plate discipline. There was only one red flag, and that was the fact Heyward had been a bit injury prone as a rookie and in the minors.
Heyward came in with many expecting him to take the next big step in his development, but he managed a slash line of only .227/.319/.389 with 14 homers and 42 batted in. He missed time with injuries and was even held out of the lineup for chunks of the year in favor of career minor leaguer Jose Constanza.
So what went wrong? It all starts with the mechanics of his swing, which scouts are calling "a mess." The exact reason for that is unknown at this point, but many are expecting news to come out shortly that Heyward was dealing with an injury that forced him to alter his swing. If that's the case, an offseason of rest will do wonders for Jason, even though we will always worry about his health for the remainder of his career.
If there is some silver lining, Hewyard's September slash line was his best of the season at .258/.375/.364 since he saw himself post a line of .263/.354/..525 and seven homers in April. Something happened to this kid that fans aren't being told about, because he is simply too talented to ever have a slash line like his May line of .098/.229/.122 in 41 at-bats.
Acquiring Michael Bourn from Houston worked out well for the Braves.
When Frank Wren acquired Michael Bourn at the trading deadline for a bunch of second-tier prospects, it gave the Braves their first true leadoff hitter since Rafael Furcal departed. Bourn was having a career year for the last place Astros with a slash line of .303/.363/.403 with 39 steals.
Bourn may have slowed a little in his 53 games in Atlanta as he hit .278/.321/.352 with a homers and 18 runs batted in to go with 22 steals in 29 attempts. That led to an overall season line of .294/.349/.386 with two homers, 50 batted in, and 61 steals in 75 attempts.
Bourn did exactly what he was supposed to do for the Braves-spark a bad offense as well as play strong defense in center. He's an exciting player that fans will enjoy watching patrol center for at least the next couple seasons.
One interesting thing that happened in the season ending loss to the Phillies is that Bourn was called out on a close play during steal attempt at third base in the third inning. Further replay showed that Bourn actually beat the tag and should have been safe. Why this matters is because when Dan Uggla came up just a few batters later and hit a home run, Bourn should have been on third and scored a run on the play. That run would have given the Braves a 4-3 victory.
Injuries frustrated Martin Prado this year.
Martin Prado enjoyed a breakout season in 2010 with a slash line of .307/.350/.459 to go with 15 homers and 66 runs batted in, and only injury robbed him of the chance to add to those numbers. The 27-year-old came into the year with many expecting him to improve upon those numbers as age 27 is a popular age for players to have breakout seasons.
Prado didn't quite play up to expectations this year, as he managed a triple slash line of only .260/.302/.385 to go with 13 homers and 57 runs batted in. After a slow April, Prado had a strong month in May and quality start to June before getting hurt. He came back with a below average July, but then came just plain awful months in both August and September.
Prado is another tough grade because his numbers are being effected by injury, but I went with a "C-" because the numbers were actually a bit below last year's at the time of the injury. An offseason of rest should have him back to the productive version we all expected this year.
Can Nate McLouth return to his all star form?
After making some adjustments heading into spring training, many Braves fans were hoping to see the version of Nate McLouth we saw in 2009, the year he was acquired from Pittsburgh. Last year the former all star regressed to the point where his slash line read .190/.298/.322 and he only managed six homers and 24 runs batted in while playing 85 games.
McLouth improved in 85 games this year, but only to the point where he hit .228/.344/.333 with four homers and 16 batted in. Then he missed the remainder of the season with an injury, not something that really hurt the club too much.
McLouth can still be the guy we saw in Pittsburgh as well as his first season with the Braves, but he needs to make some adjustments if we are ever going to see that player again. Anything out of him in the future will be a bonus now that he's been replaced in the starting lineup by Michael Bourn.
Due to injuries Jordan Schafer never lived up to the hype of being a top prospect.
Jordan Schafer was the Braves Opening Day starter in 2009, and began the season hot until injuring his wrist. After that he wasn't the same player and struggled so much that he didn't even see any major league action in 2010. After posting weak minor league numbers the past two seasons, the former top prospect was a bit of an afterthought heading into 2011.
Due to injury to Nate McLouth, Schafer got another shot at patrolling center in Atlanta. In 52 games Schafer put up a slash line of .240/.307/.316 with a homer and seven runs batted in along with 15 steals in 19 attempts. Another injury sent Schafer to the disabled list, and while there he was sent to Houston as part of the Michael Bourn deal.
Schafer wasn't exactly awful for the Braves, providing good defense, stealing some bases, and being a big piece in the deal that got the Braves Bourn. A change in scenery is likely to help Schafer, as he will no longer have the same type of pressure from the fans to produce.
Eric Hinske provided versatility off the bench as the top bench bat.
Hinske was the top bench option for Freddi Gonzalez, and even though his numbers are a bit down from last year they are still very solid for a guy that is used as a utility bat. Hinske had a very good 2010 with a slash line of .256/.338/.456 in 251 at-bats to go with 11 homers and 51 runs batted in. Those were great numbers for a reserve to put up, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he slid a bit. Still, he had a solid season putting up a slash line of .233/.311/.403 in two hundred 36 at-bats with 10 homers and 28 batted in.
Hinske was solid, but unspectacular and when you consider he could have done better just by taking a look at his 2010 numbers, it's hard to give him anything higher than the "B" he earned. Still, Hinske was a valuable piece of the 25-man roster capable of filling in to give a starter a night off or pinch hitting—a role some players have a hard time adapting to.
David Ross is the best backup catcher in baseball.
The first thing I think of when I think of Ross is that he's the best backup catcher in the league. After his strong 2010 when he had a slash line of .289/.392/.479 with two homers and 28 runs batted in, numbers especially impressive because he had only 122 at-bats, then you have to be happy he's willing to be the backup to a guy he has no chance of stealing a job from. Ross could have signed elsewhere after 2010 and competed for a starting job, but decided to return to Atlanta and be the backup.
The decision that Ross made turned out to be a great one for Braves fans as he had yet another strong season. Sure his slash line decreased to .263/.333/.428 in 152 at bats, but he increased his homers to six and batted in 23 runs. Numbers impressive for anyone in that limited time, especially your backup catcher.
Brooks Conrad's numbers fell back to Earth in 2011 after a special 2010 season.
Brooks Conrad had a magical 2010 season, as he not only had a slash line of .250/.324/.487, but in only 156 at-bats he posted eight homers and 53 runs batted in. He also had his share of special moments like the walk-off grand slam that beat the Reds in late May.
His 2011 season didn't go quite the same way however. Conrad put up a slash line of .223/.325/.388 in 103 at bats, and his power numbers shrunk to four homers and 13 batted in. Those numbers are more fitting with his abilities, and aren't bad numbers for your top pinch hitter to have.
Conrad got the "C" because his numbers were very average for his role. He wasn't really special for what he did, and he could have been worse. The decline in numbers didn't really factor into the grade only because it was a near guarantee he couldn't keep playing above his head as he did last year.
For a short time Jose Constanza was able to spark the Braves.
Heading into the year, Jose Constanza was a 5'9" 27-year-old career minor leaguer that had never seen the major leagues and hadn't hit more than one homer in an entire season since he hit two in High-A ball for Cleveland in 2007.
So when Constanza got called up and went on a tear, it surprised many. Constanza finished the year with a very strong slash mark of .303/.339/.385 in 109 at-bats, and added two homers, 10 runs batted in, and stole seven bases in 11 attempts.
Those numbers marked a special season for Constanza. He was so good that he was able to start and leave Jason Heyward out of the lineup-although in Heyward's defense he was struggling badly. The magic couldn't keep going though, as Constanza got injured and when he came back he slowed considerably. Still, he earns the "A+" grade for giving the team a sudden, but needed spark on offense.