We’re just two weeks into the season, and it’s almost becoming a chore just to watch the games. If it’s close, you just get the feeling the Braves are going to lose. The bullpen hasn’t been good, and the starting pitchers aren’t lasting long enough to give them a break. The lineup’s only piling on the runs when it doesn’t matter. If you read the AJC or any other paper that covers the Braves daily, you’re probably getting the impression that this is a team that can’t perform in the clutch.
To some extent, that’s been true, but I think the more rational explanation at this early point in the season is that the Braves have been unlucky. Two games unlucky, to be exact, as their Pythagorean record is 7-5. Only the Cardinals, D-Backs, and Mets can boast better Pythagorean marks so far, so I’m inclined to believe the Braves will be fine. They’re only two games back in the division, and a half-game back of the other serious contenders (the Marlins have a 1.5-game edge on the Phillies and Mets, and yes, the Mets have been just as unlucky as the Braves so far).
The problem with being unlucky is that there is no “law of averages” that requires all bad luck to be counteracted by an equal stroke of good luck. In other words, those two games are now a sunk cost for the season. That’s common sense, I know, but it’s worth saying. The Braves aren’t likely to finish 27 games worse than their Pythagorean expectation for the season (which they would if the current pace continued), but they’re less likely now to finish above it than they were when the season started.
A little improvement from a better-rested bullpen and a little balance in clutch hitting situations should be enough to counteract this trend, although the former doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
So what do the stats look like after a 2-4 week?
This Week’s Stats
Five biggest plays of the week:
- Matt Holliday hit a go-ahead homer off of Blaine Boyer, capping off the Rockies’ victory at Coors on Monday (-.485).
- Manny Corpas induced Yunel Escobar into a 6-4-3 double play, mitigating the Braves’ 9th-inning threat on Monday (-.245).
- Jon Rauch got Brian McCann to fly out, stranding the bases loaded and ending Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Nationals (-.234).
- Matt Holliday tripled off Chuck James, driving in the first two runs in a 6-run third inning for the Rockies during Wednesday’s 12-6 loss (-.228).
- Jeff Francoeur hit a 3-run homer off John Lannan, putting the Braves on top 4-0 in the top of the first inning in Saturday’s 10-2 rout of the Nats (+.186).
I suppose I left most of my comments in the intro, but I do have a few player-specific things to mention:
- With Soriano on the DL, there was some talk that Manny Acosta would close games instead of Pete Moylan. You probably know my feelings about traditional bullpen roles, so I wouldn’t mind that as long as Moylan (the team’s best reliever) is still used in the highest-leverage situations. Because he’s already appeared in 7 games, though, I would be very careful about where I used him, and I would especially avoid those tempting 3-run-lead-in-the-9th save chances.
- I love Mac’s name for Chris Resop: Chris “Radar Gun” Resop. It’s appropriate, since he throws some high numbers up there despite being a replacement-level reliever at best. I’m not sure he’ll turn it around anytime soon, so I hope Bobby avoids using him in close games from now on. Right now, he’s being used in higher-leverage games than Acosta, Ohman, and Bennett (although for Bennett that may be a result of his long-relief “starts”).
- It’s nice to see Jeff Francoeur’s OPS creeping back toward .900, so perhaps the muscle he added during the offseason is bringing some of that power stroke back. My fantasy team could certainly use more games like Saturday’s 2-homer, 7-RBI performance. I’m afraid his .265 isolated power probably isn’t sustainable, though, so he’ll have to do better getting on base if he wants to keep it up. He’s not hitting that many line drives, either, so the ball will have to keep flying out of the park if he intends to keep that batting average up.
- Amazingly, Francoeur has surpassed Kelly Johnson in the walk department so far this year, but it hasn’t taken much. The Braves’ leadoff man has just a single walk, so he has a long way to go if he wants to match last year’s total of 79. JC speculates that Terry Pendleton had one of “his ‘you need to be more aggressive’ chats” with Johnson, with not-so-surprisingly poor results. Kelly’s OPS is now .650, and he has scored only four runs.
- Back to batted balls for a second: Chipper Jones’ ground ball rate is about 10% above where it has been in recent years. He’s made up for it by hitting lots of line drives (29%), but over half of his balls in play have been hit on the ground, and with his speed, they’ll mostly turn into outs if that keeps up. It’s nice to see Chipper at the top of the batting leaderboards, though, instead of Martin Prado. For what it’s worth, a lineup full of Chippers would be scoring around 11 runs per game this year (A lineup full of Kelly Johnsons: 3.6).
- Brian McCann has been the anti-Chipper, putting a majority of his batted balls in the air, and 13% of those have gone out of the park. He’s even maintaining a solid line drive rate as well. That may not mean anything yet, but I think it is safe to say that Brian’s speed is best used when he’s jogging around the basepaths in a home run trot.
- The Braves are just 3-for-4 in the stolen base department this year, which is actually a nice thing to see. I’m always somewhat afraid that the Braves will send runners even though they don’t have a lot of team speed, just because it feels like the team ought to steal bases more often. As long as they either stay around the break-even success rate (approximately 70%) or avoid attempting steals altogether, they’re probably doing what’s in the team’s best interests.
- Tim Hudson is now 3-for-3 in WPA-based quality starts, while the rest of the team is 2-for-9. Ouch. Hudson has certainly been the ace, and Smoltz has been quite good. If the rest of the team can provide some league-average innings, the team should do just fine. Jurrjens is well on his way to doing so, and Glavine hadn’t pitched poorly before his injury.
- MLB Trade Rumors suggests that the Braves could be a possible suitor for the Brewers’ Dave Bush. I typically think Tim Dierkes’ evaluations are spot-on, and perhaps the Braves should be looking for help. I just don’t think it fits their tendency to trade for someone like Bush at this stage of the season. if we make it another month or two and Glavine and Hampton aren’t healthy, perhaps it would be time to revisit that, but I think Jo-Jo Reyes, Chuck James, and possibly Jeff Bennett will make starts until that proves to be the case.
The Road Ahead
The Braves start a 3-game series with the Fish tomorrow and come home for the weekend to face the Dodgers. Probables for now are:
Tue: Jurrjens vs. Scott Olsen
Wed: Hudson vs. Mark Hendrickson
Thu: Smoltz vs. Ricky Nolasco
Fri: Bennett vs. Derek Lowe
Sat: James? vs. Chad Billingsley
Sun: Jurrjens vs. Hiroki Kuroda