Can Jason Heyward rebound in 2012?
The Atlanta Braves' historic collapse in 2011 was caused by a long list of issues. The fact that numerous players struggled with performance issues and injuries was certainly a main reason. Players like Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, Martin Prado, and Brian McCann all suffered through extended slumps; others, like Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Peter Moylan, had significant injuries.
This article takes a look at five players who will need to bounce back from disappointing seasons if the Braves are going to contend for the World Series in 2012.
Brian McCann suffered through the worst slump in his career during August and September.
Brian McCann suffered through a major slump at the end of the year, despite the fact that his numbers, .270/.351/.466 with 24 homers and 71 runs batted in, were actually almost equal to his 2010 stats: .269/.375/.453 with 21 homers and 77 runs batted in.
McCann's numbers were heavily supported by a strong first half where he hit .310/.381/.514 with 15 homers and 50 runs batted in.
The second half numbers made him one of the worst catchers in the National League. He only hit .203/.301/.384 with nine homers and 21 runs batted in. Sure, injuries contributed to his slump, but it couldn't have come at a worse time for the team.
While you can't blame McCann for the team's struggles, his .200 average in September certainly didn't help the team during that month's collapse.
For the Braves to win, they need their All-Star catcher to lead their lineup. If McCann can rebound, the Braves will certainly benefit.
Dan Uggla needa a more balanced year in 2012.
Dan Uggla's final line on the year was only a little below his career averages—but that doesn't tell the whole story of his season. Uggla was so bad in the first half, following a trade from Florida, that Braves fans were thinking the trade and contract extension had been a mistake.
In the fans' defense, Uggla hit an ugly .185/.257/.365 with 15 homers in his first 92 games in a Braves uniform. Not exactly what fans had envisioned when Uggla was acquired.
Sure, Uggla rebounded over his last 69 games to hit a spectacular .296/.379/.569 with 21 homers and 48 runs batted in, but that still made his season look like the worst season in his six year career. That was despite a career high 36 homers.
For the Braves offense to be balanced, they need Uggla to not only bring his totals back to his career averages of .258/.343/.482, but they also need him to spread out his production over the course of a whole season.
Uggla spreading out his production will help the Braves offense find the consistency they lacked in 2011.
With just a little more offensive consistency, the Braves starting pitching staff will get a little more support. That support, along with the best bullpen in the game, will surely result in more wins.
Martin Prado looked lost at times after his injury.
Many Braves fans are down on Martin Prado because his numbers took a significant drop off from his 2010 line of .307/.350/.459 with 15 homers and 66 runs batted in.
They see his 2011 stat line of .260/.302/.385 with 13 homers and 57 runs batted in and they see that in August and September he had a .228 average.
What these fans are forgetting is that Prado put together a solid first half before getting injured. His first half line of .277/.324/.438 with eight homers and 33 runs batted in was slightly down from last year, but it wasn't too far off.
It goes without saying that for the Braves to maximize their potential in 2012 they need the healthy, productive Martin Prado in the lineup, starting in left field and at third base. A healthy Prado would not have struggled so badly down the stretch; his return to form shouldn't be too hard for him.
Tommy Hanson's health will be monitored closely this winter.
Tommy Hanson took a step forward this season and finally started to look like the ace that scouts projected. He was among the best pitchers in the game in the first half, despite an All-Star snub.
With a first half line of 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA and a 9.5 strikeout per nine inning rate, Hanson was getting ready to lead the Braves to the playoffs. That's when his season took an ugly turn.
Hanson's shoulder started to cause him pain, but he tried to pitch through the injury and made five more starts, going 1-3 with an 8.10 ERA. Those awful starts brought his season line to a below average 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA. Every time he seemed to get close to returning, he suffered another painful setback.
The Braves need to have a healthy Hanson at the front of the rotation in 2012 if they are going to have any chance to win another World Series. His health remains a question mark, so Braves fans will closely be following any updates on that front.
Jason Heyward must rebound in 2012.
Did you really expect to not see Jason Heyward on this list?
After one of the best rookie seasons ever for a 20-year-old, Jason Heyward was expected to do a lot this year. He got off to a strong early start, hitting .263 with seven homers through April 29, but the rest of the season was a struggle.
After battling through injuries, Heyward lost his swing.
Heyward tried to work through his issues, but didn't seem to have much success. That led to him apparently losing all confidence in himself (for what was likely the first time in his life). He was even benched for career minor leaguer Jose Constanza for a little while on his way to finishing the year hitting .227/.319/.389 with 14 homers and 42 runs batted in.
Heyward's struggles were a huge blow to the Braves offense. The Braves were heavily counting on him this year, and for the Braves to be serious World Series contenders in 2012, Heyward needs to at least match his rookie numbers of .277/.393/.456 with 18 homers and 72 runs batted in.
It's a good sign that Heyward saw his numbers improve a bit in September to .258/.375/.364, but the power wasn't there and he only drove in four runs. For the Braves to succeed in 2012, the number one priority this winter is for Heyward to find his swing and confidence.