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After another heart-breaking end to their season, the Braves look to continue their regular season success in 2013. Can Atlanta get over the hump and succeed in the playoffs?
[Editor's Note: Every weekday, from now until the start of the season, you'll be able to drop in and see a saber-slanted preview of each team in the bigs, written by one of our staff members. Today, we'll be focusing on the Atlanta Braves.]
19.8%: The Braves’ K rate for non-pitchers last season. Already one of the highest in the league, the Braves now have to replace Chipper Jones with Juan Francisco or Chris Johnson, Martin Prado with Justin Upton, and Michael Bourn with B.J. Upton. All three of the replacements have higher K rates than the previous player, so there is a good chance the Braves could end up with the second-highest K rate in league history, though I don’t see them "catching" the ’09 D-Backs at 24.2%. This may result in some struggles keeping a consistent offense throughout the season.
4.83: Julio Teheran’s FIP in AAA last year. Teheran had a poor 2012 season, and his 5.08 ERA was not just a product of bad luck. His ability to miss bats has decreased since entering AA, and his flyball tendencies have led to a big increase in home runs allowed. He is essentially assured of a spot in the rotation, so he will need a big improvement to be of any positive value for Atlanta. The organization is allowing him to return to his more natural throwing motion, so that is the main source of hope for him to show why he was a top-5 prospect before last season.
2012 Season in Review: After losing their first four games of the season, causing a slight panic, the Braves took off, ending with a 94-68 record, earning the first wild-card. However, for the second time in three seasons, their season ended with defensive problems and a lack of timely hitting, losing to the Cardinals in the Wild Card Game.
Key Offseason Moves:
Chipper Jones retires: A staple in the Braves lineup since 1995, Chipper hung up the spikes after last season. The clear leader in the clubhouse the past decade, he was still a viable force in the lineup, and either Francisco or Johnson will hear all the questions of replacing a legend.
Signed B.J. Upton to a 5-year, $75.25M contract: While this may be an overpay, considering that no team was apparently within $20M of this total, the Braves get a multi-dimensional player who is still in his prime at age 28. His plate discipline took a step back last season, but if the walks return and his emerging power continues, he could be a big addition to the club.
Traded Tommy Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden: After the worse season of his big league career, Hanson was traded before his arbitration salary kicked in. His fastball declined another 1.5 MPH, so a Jair Jurrjens (non-tendered by Atlanta this offseason) implosion is possible. Walden is a power reliever who has had good performance when healthy, but injuries have prevented him from full seasons so far in his career.
Traded Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, and three minor leaguers to the D-Backs for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson: Giving up Martin Prado, the glue to the Braves lineup the past three seasons, the Braves finally got their high-end right-handed power bat to complement Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman in the middle of the order. Justin joins his brother to form one of the most exciting outfields in the game. Johnson is battling Juan Francisco for the starting third base spot, though neither one of them is likely to exceed average production this season.
Depth Chart: This is probably the biggest departure from years past, as the quality of the bench is way down. The best backup catcher in the game, David Ross, has moved on to Boston, with Gerald Laird replacing him. Reed Johnson was retained as a backup OF, and Ramiro Pena looks to be the utility infielder. There isn’t much behind Teheran in the rotation until Brandon Beachy returns from TJ surgery, with minor leaguers J.R. Graham and Sean Gilmartin as the likely sixth and seventh starters.
2013 Outlook: The Braves will likely finish in the same spot as last year, a very solid second place behind Washington. The lineup is deep, though the bench is light. The starting rotation is as thin as it’s been since the 80’s, but the bullpen may be the best in the game, with Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Walden as quality relievers.
Bold Prediction: The Braves set an NL record and tie a MLB record with seven 20-HR hitters. The Uptons, Heyward, Freeman, Francisco/Johnson (assuming they don’t split time too much), Dan Uggla, and Brian McCann could all eclipse that mark. Apparently, the Braves specialize in deep power lineups, as the 2003 and 1965 Braves are the only NL teams to have six 20-HR guys.