The Braves sure know how to finish, don’t they? The team made it to the final week of the season in contention and decided they’d had enough drama for one season, so they packed up and went home a week early. The end result: a six-game home losing streak to the Marlins and Nationals. By Thursday, I had stopped watching again.
I’m going to spare everyone the stats for this week and focus instead on a few positive signs for next year:
- The Braves had three starting pitchers finish the season with an ERA under 3 in at least 20 starts: Jurrjens, Vazquez, and Hanson.
- Jair Jurrjens didn’t fade in the second half like he did in 2008, and he finished with the best ERA on the starting staff. Javier Vazquez was more dominant, and it’s going to be immensely tough for him to sustain his 79.4% strand rate, but there’s no denying that he got excellent results. His peripherals suggest he didn’t make great strides from 2008 overall, so I’d expect to see him settle back into the low-to-mid-3.00 range in 2010. Still not bad for a 23-year-old.
- Speaking of young pitchers, Tommy Hanson pitched well enough to deserve the Rookie of the Year award, and he looks like a present and future ace. He finished with a better ERA (but one fewer win) than the Phillies’ J.A. Happ. Other batting contenders like Chris Coghlan, Casey McGehee, and Garrett Jones had good seasons, but each has a pretty strong weakness in my mind. Coghlan hit for high AVG but only middling power, while McGehee and Jones didn’t play quite as much. None were particularly great in the field according to UZR. I think Hanson probably finishes third in reality behind Coghlan and Happ. It’s pretty close, but I think that would be a shame for Tommy. He deserves it.
- Tim Hudson and Kenshin Kawakami combined for 32 starts with good results, further demonstrating the Braves’ wealth of starting pitching talent. Derek Lowe is the only Braves pitcher needing a big rebound year in 2010, and the Braves can afford to pull the plug on him as a starter if the other five are productive.
- Adam LaRoche was somewhat predictably outstanding in two months after returning to Atlanta. I have no idea why he can’t seem to produce in the first half, but he’s an elite hitter in the second half of the season. Hopefully the Braves can afford to re-sign him; 2007 didn’t work out so well with Scott Thorman starting the year at 1B, and the Braves made a poor (in retrospect) reactionary trade for Mark Teixeira as a result. I don’t think Freddie Freeman is ready yet (where’s the power?), and there’s no other heir apparent for LaRoche.
- An outfield upgrade is in sight. Nate McLouth is probably a little better than he seemed at times in 2009, although he’s not a good defensive center fielder. Jason Heyward will hopefully make the team out of spring training and see plenty of at bats. It’s possible he’ll platoon with Diaz, but I’d like to see him get to hit lefties as well. Ideally, Jordan Schafer would play center field, since he’s a better defender than McLouth, but he’ll need to show signs of life at the plate. If the Braves trade for a right-handed bat, as they’re rumored to be trying to do, some of these pieces may move in that deal. But it will get better than the Anderson-’09 Schafer-Francoeur trio we saw for much of the year.
- Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado were solid up the middle, at least offensively. Escobar has a defensive reputation that isn’t really backed up by the numbers (at least not UZR); realistically, they’re both pretty close to average defenders. Maybe I’d concede that Escobar is a bit better, especially when he’s playing hard. Yunel was tremendously lucky at the plate with RISP in 2009 and won’t be so fortunate in the future. Both appear to be above average hitters considering where they play on defense, and both are young enough to keep improving.
- Brian McCann had another excellent year, although Joe Mauer clearly made strides to widen the gap between him and the rest of the field among all MLB catchers. Still, McCann is establishing an excellent early baseline for his career, and I think he’s got a .300-30 homer season in him within the next year or two, since he’s still young enough to forecast some improved power. I’ll also mention that David Ross had an excellent year backing him up…that was an incredibly wise signing in retrospect.
The Mets will regroup somewhat next year, although they still have a ton of question marks. The Phillies will of course return strong to defend their division title. The perpetually-young Marlins will be a year older. They were very fortunate to finish second this year, but I suppose they shouldn’t be overlooked. The Nationals, well, they’ll play next year too.
Are there any other positive signs worth mentioning for the Braves?