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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Infielders: Questions To Be Answered Later

Next up, the infielders of the Braves.

1B Troy Glaus - (32 PA, .172/.250/.241, 2 2B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 32 OPS+)
2B Martin Prado - (503 PA, .307/.358/.464, 38 2B, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 117 OPS+)
3B Chipper Jones - (596 PA, .264/.388/.430, 23 2B, 2 3B, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 118 OPS+)
SS Yunel Escobar - (604 PA, .299/.377/.436, 26 2B, 3 3B, 14 HR, 76 RBI, 116 OPS+)
UT Omar Infante - (229 PA, .305/.361/.389, 9 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 27 RBI, 100 OPS+)
SS Diory Hernandez - (93 PA, .141/.198/.212, 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 9 OPS+)
IF Brooks Conrad - (58 PA, .204/.259/.407, 1 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 74 OPS+)

The Braves have great talent in the infield, but they also have some questions that need to be answered:

  • Can Chipper Jones rebound from his worst season in five years (2004), despite his obviously advancing age (38 in 2010) and constant health questions?
It's easy to say that Jones, now the longest-tenured Brave on the team, is going to continue to get worse because he's getting older. However, it's not particularly fair or smart to guess such a thing. Jones is only a year removed from leading the National League in batting average and on-base percentage and two years removed form leading in OPS and Adjusted OPS+. The end is near, but I'm not betting on it being this season.

  • Can Troy Glaus rebound from his lost season and resume putting up quality 120 OPS+ seasons?
If he does, not only will it benefit the Braves, but it will secure their first base position until Freddie Freeman is ready. Glaus signed a one-year incentive-laden contract with Atlanta, which contains an option for the 2011 season. First base would become a problem if Glaus gets hurt, because all the Braves have to fall back on at the position is Eric Hinske, and Freddie Freeman is not quite ready to take over the position. If the production comes mainly from Glaus, the Braves should be fine at the position.

  • Can Martin Prado continue his .300+/.350+/.450+ production to ease some Braves fans' unrest about the moving of former second baseman Kelly Johnson to Arizona?
Of course, there's no guarantee that Prado will continue to put up those kinds of numbers, but his pro career does show an encouraging trend:

Note: 2003-2007 are his minor league statistics

2003: 251 PA, .286/.358/.350, - BABIP, 2 2B, 6 3B, 0 HR, 23 RBI, 24/30 BB/K
2004: 467 PA, .315/.363/.422, - BABIP, 25 2B, 6 3B, 3 HR, 38 RBI, 30/47 BB/K
2005: 488 PA, .298/.353/.395, .341 BABIP, 20 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 45 RBI, 41/65 BB/K
2006: 448 PA, .281/.321/.360, .326 BABIP, 18 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 38 RBI, 26/63 BB/K
2007: 443 PA, .316/.374/.420, .345 BABIP, 23 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 41 RBI, 34/41 BB/K
2008: 254 PA, .320/.377/.461, .357 BABIP, 18 2B, 2 HR, 33 RBI, 21/29 BB/K
2009: 503 PA, .307/.358/.464, .320 BABIP, 38 2B, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 36/59 BB/K

I don't have data for the BABIP of Prado's first two full seasons. However, the trends of his career are reasonably consistent.

Prado hasn't batted lower than .280 and it seems as if his OBP norm would be over .350. His slugging might take a dip according to his stats from the minors but there is little indication that his batting average will take a dive because his BABIP doesn't fluctuate much.

  • Can Yunel Escobar continue to produce as one of the top shortstops in the National League?
I'd say so. He has two and a half seasons of at least 100 OPS+:

2007: 355 PAs, 118 OPS+
2008: 587 PAs, 108 OPS+
2009: 604 PAs, 116 OPS+

Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki are in another league by themselves, but Escobar is as roughly (VERY roughly) as good as Jimmy Rollins, just without the speed and stolen bases.

  • Can the Braves have another decent bench infielder besides Omar Infnate?
That remains to be seen. Brooks Conrad will get a shot to win a job out of spring training, as will utility infielder Joe Thurston. All I know is that Diory Hernandez, last year's replacement for an injured Yunel Escobar, is not going to cut it with another 9 OPS+.

If all the answers to those questions come up well for the Braves, the team should be well on their way to having a successful 2010 campaign.

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