All about the Braves and baseball events.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Nothing To Panic About

As you know, Braves starting outfielder Jason Heyward was hit on the face by an errant pitch from Mets starter Jon Niese and suffered a broken jaw.  He's out for four to six weeks, which is the duration of the rest of the regular season, at most.

David Schoenfield wrote about how important Heyward was to the Braves' surging in the summer months and simply concluded with this:
The big picture for the Braves is getting Heyward healthy for the division series. It's really pretty simple analysis: They're not as good without him.
That's true enough.  But is it a cause for panic?  After all, the Braves once had a 9 1/2 game lead in the wild card in 2011, and injuries and ineffectiveness caused them to go into an 11-21 tailspin and they lost out to the Cardinals on the final day of the season.

It's almost like history is just waiting to repeat itself.


Yes, the Braves aren't as good without Heyward.  In fact, their leadoff hitter problems might re-surface with him on the shelf.  But the truth is the team got along well without an effective leadoff hitter.  Here are the lines for the now-healthy members of the Braves that have at least 60 plate appearances in the first spot:
  • Jordan Schafer - 91 PA (77 AB), .299/.400/.494
  • Andrelton Simmons - 294 PA (275 AB), .222/.259/.338
  • B. J. Upton - 62 PA (55 AB), .200/.290/.364
This is a problem that might actually solve itself; Fredi Gonzalez loves speed to lead off, Simmons was bumped from the first spot in favor of Heyward and B. J. Upton's in the doghouse thanks to his batting average.  Look for him to put Schafer or Simmons there.

Now for defense.  In a general sense, I like to use UZR/150 as a gauge, but it's clear that the Braves did lose their best outfielder:
  • Evan Gattis: -8.8
  • Schafer: -10.8
  • Joey Terdoslavich : -22.8
  • B. J. Upton: -1.7
  • Justin Upton: -12.7
What this means in real-world practice, I believe, is that a handful of hits will fall in because Heyward isn't patrolling the outfield.  Will they be critical, Braves-dooming hits?  It's all about when it happens.

The real reason that I don't think there is reason to panic is this: pitching.  The Braves still have plenty of it.  As of this post, the team leads the National League with a 3.41 ERA and they've given up the fewest amount of walks.  Their relief ERA of 2.38 is the best in the majors; most teams would be devastated if they lost relief aces like Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters.  The Braves seamlessly replaced them with Luis Avilan and David Carpenter.  And there is, of course, Craig Kimbrel, who is already the Braves' most-dominant reliever in their history.

I don't expect a repeat of the collapse of two years ago.  I think this Braves team can hold their own until Heyward heals from his injury.  They have the pitching, a capable "classic" leadoff hitter in Schafer and their outfield defense may be putrid, but most won't notice it.

As they say: time will tell.

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