Contrary to the party line, Braves need bats more than bullpen help

Even the Braves’ elders are awed by John Coppolella’s latest move. (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)

New Atlanta Braves general manager John Coppolella, center, speaks as Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz, left, and Braves president of baseball operations John Hart look on  during a news conference at Turner Field on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 in Atlanta. The Atlanta Braves have promoted John Coppolella to general manager following three seasons as assistant GM. The move was announced on Thursday by Braves president of baseball operations John Hart. The team said in a statement Coppolella has agreed to a four-year contract through the 2019 season, a term that will include the Braves' first three seasons at their new SunTrust Park. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)  MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

The three Johns ask, “How do you spell relief?” (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)

Two of the Atlanta Braves’ three Johns — Schuerholz and Hart — went on TV during last Wednesday’s game and said their primary offseason focus was on upgrading the bullpen. The third John — Coppolella — was asked during the press conference held the next day to announce his promotion to general manager what the P.O.F. would be. “The bullpen,” he said, making it unanimous.

I understand that part: The Braves’ bullpen was terrible. It finished next-to-last among big-league teams in ERA and blown saves; it was third-worst in opposing batting average. It was seventh-worst in bullpen losses, a ranking that actually  improved over the season’s final two months, there having been so few leads after the trade deadline.

So then. Bullpen: Awful. Bullpen: Needs improvement. Check and check.

Here’s the thing, though. The Braves were second-worst in the majors in relief pitching. They were worse — meaning they were the worst — at scoring. They were 30th of 30 teams, and not a close 30th.

The second-worst offensive team (Miami, essentially without Giancarlo Stanton) outscored the Braves by 40 runs. The Mets, who were so desperate for offense they raided the Braves for the journeymen Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, outscored the Braves by 110 runs. Philadelphia and Cincinnati, the two teams that lost more games than the this one, outscored the Braves by 52 and 67 runs, respectively.

The Braves needed three home runs in the season’s next-to-last game — the opener of a double-header on the season’s last day — to crack triple digits for the year. Even so, their 100 home runs trailed the second-worst yield (also Miami’s) by 20. The Braves finished 15th in the majors in batting average and 17th in on-base percentage, putting them in the middle of the pack. They had the second-fewest strikeouts, trailing only Kansas City. It wasn’t that they didn’t put the ball in play; it was that the balls they hit amounted to so little.

Even as we stipulate that two baseball games are the tiniest of sample-size blips, we note that the winners of both wild-card games had two things in common. First, both the Astros and the Cubs had a 20-game winner and possible Cy Young winner starting for them. (Dallas Keuchel for Houston, Jake Arrieta for Chicago.) Second, the Astros and Cubs scored a total of seven runs in the two games. Five came via the home run.

The Astros finished second in the majors in homers. The Cubs were fifth among National League teams. Of the 10 teams that made the playoffs, seven finished among MLB’s top 12 in homers. But I’ve buried the lede, as we say in the news business, for effect:

The team that led the National League in strikeouts? The Chicago Cubs.

The team that led the American League in strikeouts? The Houston Astros.

The Braves’ three Johns obviously hated everything the one and only Frank Wren did, but the thing they hated most — maybe second-most, after Wren’s alleged neglect of the farm system — was the clout-or-out approach to building a lineup. His Braves led the National League in home runs and strikeouts in 2013; they also won 96 games and the NL East. It was only in 2014, when the homers stopped coming, that the Braves’ offense (and record) went south.

As constituted, the Braves have one power hitter, meaning Freddie Freeman — and even he’s not apt to be a 30-homer man. (His career high is 23.) Cameron Maybin’s best power season was the one just completed, when he managed 10 home runs. Throw in Adonis Garcia, the 30-year-old Cuban who doesn’t really have a position, and you have the entire list of Braves who hit double-figure home runs in 2015. Nick Markakis, the 31-year-old right fielder, had three. Apart from Freeman, no Brave had even 60 RBIs.

The great hope is that Hector Olivera, another 30-year-old Cuban, will develop into a big bopper. That the Braves felt compelled to trade three major-leaguers and a highly-regarded-by-some prospect to the Dodgers for the unproven Olivera underscored the absence of power-hitting prospects in their higher minor leagues. Hart and Coppolella have moved heaven and earth to find young pitchers, but we note that the Cubs went the other way — they targeted young hitters — and  just won 97 games plus one in the postseason.

I like that the new Braves are smart and creative. I like that they have a plan. If you do your work well enough in this era of baseball, it’s possible to get really good after being really bad. The Cubs and the Astros and the Royals and the Pirates have done it. The Rangers just won 88 games a year after losing 95, which is how many the Braves lost. I think there’s a real chance the Braves won’t be lousy for very long. My hedge is this:

At some point, they have to find hitters, and not just Hector Olivera. They’ve positioned themselves to use some of their pitching stockpile to make a trade for a position player, but all the young pitching in the world plus a presumably beefed-up bullpen can’t win a game 0-0.

The worst-to-first season of 1991 wouldn’t have happened without Glavine and Avery and Smoltz (and Leibrandt, too), but it wouldn’t have happened without Otis Nixon, whom Schuerholz plucked from Montreal on April Fool’s Day and who scored 81 runs and stole 72 bases while hitting .297. And it wouldn’t have come close to happening without the free-agent signee Terry Pendleton, who won the batting title and was named the league’s MVP. Between them, Pendleton and Nixon had a value of 8.3 Wins Above Replacement. The Braves won the NL West by one game.

OK, they also needed a late-season bullpen jolt — Alejandro Pena, acquired from the Mets on Aug. 28 — to finish first. But that’s my point. If you’re good enough, you can find a reliever almost any time. I’m not sure that needs to be Job 1 of any offseason, least of all for a team that finished last in runs.

Reader Comments 0

147 comments
Jpace
Jpace

I believe that the Braves "party line" is so far off as to be fraudulent. They totally screwed themselves into a losing position with the contracts they signed with free agent losers. Then after firing (rightly) the GM, they bring in John Hart who throws in the towel on the 2015 season before spring training while telling Braves fans that they would be trying to compete in 2015 while focusing on getting ready for the new stadium with a revived team. The results in 2015 speak for themselves and the prospects received in return for the bad contracts did little to change our position relative to other teams. I believe that JS has either taken his eyes off what's happening to a once great franchise or has simply lost interest. And once you get above him you get to someone living in Colorado who doesn't even pretend to have any interest in the Braves. His name is John C. Malone who is chairman of Liberty Media. Anyone out there who has heard of him? Fan attendance follows wins and losses. Who wants to go see a 95 loss team play?

58Supersports
58Supersports

Mark, Braves have Bourn making 14 million next year and Swisher making 15 million next year with option for 2017 for 12 million. That's 29 million of Braves 96 million pay-roll...$29 million would pay for a good hitter and pitcher. Can't see those two not worth it  players making third of all team pay-roll . Trade them both if you can find a taker.


Mark also do a report on who Braves may take in draft at #3... thanks

Seadog67
Seadog67

@58Supersports A big chunk of that money was sent over by Cleveland in the

trade while they picked up CJ's longer contract. Actually saved money and

reduced length of commitment to 1 year.

Bob_the_Blogger
Bob_the_Blogger

I've been concerned about the lack of the Brave's aggressiveness in pursuing hitters for some time.  Assuming 1B, SS, 3B, and RF are locked down for the next few years, that only leaves LF, CF, 2B, and C for upgrades offensively.  Hopefully, Peterson, Bethancourt, and Mallex Smith show that their ready to be productive before 2017.  That still leaves a big hole in LF; that's where the Braves need to focus their attention and money.

Seadog67
Seadog67

@Bob_the_Blogger Mallex is a near lock for CF. Doubt team will give up on Jace

just yet, also with Castro who can hit, as a back up. Agree for the need

a C and LF...Maybin has trade value, still waiting on Toscano who is playing

in Puerto Rico soon.

BravesFanForever
BravesFanForever

@Bob_the_Blogger What about Adonis Garcia in leftfield? He seems to have been forgotten about. He hit 10 homeruns in only 191 at bats. Over a full season that's 30 home runs. Sure he could use a few more walks... None the less, he is a great addition to the bench and can fill in at 3B and LF.  I agree they could use a big hitter out there.

mthomas
mthomas

Keep Minor if he's 100 percent by Opening. He'd be a bargain at $5 million. I say get free agent Matt Weiters to be our catcher. Then you solve 2 problems--you beef up the hitting and solve the catching problem


1957brave
1957brave

@mthomas Weiters has been on the shelf alot in the past two years. We don't need that.

58Supersports
58Supersports

@mthomas  Minor is not signed for next year and made 5.6 million for nothing this year...he will I guess be up for arbitration. Let his @@@ go.

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

I would not put it past Coppy to move Teheran this off season -- for more of the same -- prospects


Even though he has a cost effective contract and is under team control for a while I would not put anything past this FO


There were rumors that they might entertain moving Teheran over the course of the season. 


What I do not get is why -- why bother with Minor when he is a sore arm waiting to happen. I would let him go and not offer arbitration


I also would not put it past them to move Simmons out of the blue -- they have done some unexpected things


And the farm system is not that great -- only one of the top 100 prospects


The hype over the rebuilt farm system is PR fools gold & they have sold much of the fan base a line of bunk about the rebuilt system -- Do not believe it

Seadog67
Seadog67

@VeryDisgusted Farm system is pretty deep if you check out the 100

list for ATL. No way Teheran goes. He, Shelby and Wisler are seen as the

new rotation anchor.

BravesFanForever
BravesFanForever

@VeryDisgusted Trade Simmons? Seriously? He is one of their franchise players who is under a long term contract. I hardly think they would deal him. (What player has been traded who is under a long term contract that you considered a huge asset--and don't say Craig Kimbrel because you never know about reliever's arms and he won't be needed for a couple of seasons and frankly he can be replaced)

Jpace
Jpace

I remember all too well the "party line" of Braves management before this season. They were going to focus on the present and the future simultaneously. What did they deliver? Second worst team in all of MLB and maybe (only maybe) a slightly strengthened farm...only one of MLB's "Top 100" prospects. I don't trust them to deliver first class baseball any more.

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

@Jpace 


I am glad someone else is seeing through the ruse about the farm system


Its a little better -- but there are no studs there


As long as you have this ownership here I do not have much hope

AABraves
AABraves

I think their heads are in the right place. Improving the bullpen will help the young starting pitchers develop. Foolish to spend the cash it would take to bring in the big bats until you have the pitching where it needs to be. If some big money player comes in and buys the Braves then bats first might make sense because then you can go and buy all the parts but that is not reality. I don't think anyone predicts that the prospects they have acquired will develop into Number One starters. If we can fill out 2 to 3 rotation slots and a bullpen player or two we did great. Hopefully Miller will still be a number two guy.Then we can go after a number one in free agency if we have to and a bat when the team is closer to maturity.

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

Hitters are a premium this day in time -- Hart and Coppy overestimated their so called currency with their mid tier pitching prospects they got from other teams. 


The only one I see as a real MLB SP now is Wisler.  I see him as a solid number three and possibly W Perez as a four or 5


Forget Folty he is a bust -- another Kyle Farnsworth type


Olivera is an ordinary player -- Adonis is better than that scrub -- that was the worst deal they made since the Len Barker trade


We have the worst ownership in baseball and one of the worst GM's at this point -- In Hart/Coppy I do not believe


All they have done in the past yr is antagonize the fan base and the people are not going to the games anymore or watching them


Lets see them try to fix this mess


Watch them draft more pitching in the first round next yr



1957brave
1957brave

@VeryDisgusted Pitching is a commodity that you can not have enough of. the very next pitch might be the last one for a good long while. Arms are a gamble. Hitters go through hills and valleys. Uggla was hitiing for the braves when he first came. Then we all know what happened.

Seadog67
Seadog67

@VeryDisgusted Your view on Olivera stands in contrast to the vast number

of scouts who see his talent and why Dodgers paid 63mil bonus. Was injured

yet still showed some stuff. Solid player. Adonis can hit but no glove.

Jpace
Jpace

@VeryDisgusted  I saw a reference today about the difficulty the "Three Johns" have in selling their plan to "the masses", presumably referring to Braves fans. I completely agree that they have huge difficulty. A big part of the difficulty is self-made. I can't help but recall when John Hart arrived last year and the really soft answers he was providing to anyone who asked about the 2015 Braves. He simply couldn't say the Braves were headed into this season and next with a rebuild plan that would be complete enough for us to field a competitive team in 2017...the year the team becomes my neighbors in Cobb County...and that sacrificing 2015 and 2016 was the price that would have to be paid. As things turned out, 2015 was sacrificed and I can't see them being much better next year. As for 2017...who the heck knows. The "Three Johns" knew they would be bad in 2015. The tip off to me was when I began to receive phone calls from Braves representatives (probably housed in a call center) encouraging me to come to games and offering discounted tickets. I go to just a few games each year (less than 5) and for them to call me, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. The representatives could hardly have been nicer but they had absolutely nothing to sell. I saw enough of the Braves on my big screen TV to convince me they weren't worth the cost in time and dollars to drive to the games, pay for the tickets, parking and way overpriced food and get back home close to midnight. I was a graduate student at UGA in 1966 and that beautiful spring frequently drove to the stadium to arrive about the time the gates opened. I'd buy a field level seat for $3.50, as I recall, and would watch BP and infield practice and do homework in the stands. The team was generally bad for the first 25 years and then good for 25 years. Now they have been turned bad again and I doubt I have another 25 years to wait for them to get better...and now they are headed into my neighborhood as the second worst team in MLB and an upgraded minor league system that only has 3 obscure players in MLB's Top 100 Prospects.


As for ownership, I doubt that John C. Malone (Colorado resident who is chairman of the corporation who owns the Braves) knows he is the owner of the team...and doesn't care if he does know. We deserve so much better than to be treated as Braves call center prospects. I'm totally disgusted with Mr. Malone and the Three Johns. 

50yearfan
50yearfan

I am sure the Braves would have scored a lot less if Shelby Miller could pitch every day. I am still puzzled by how the Braves view Adonis Garica. Garcia was clearly the best power hitter the Braves had the last two months of the year. He hit 10 home runs in a little over 2 months; he showed the ability to hit in the clutch as well.  He is a guy who could give you some power, yet he seems destined to be a backup next year to Olivera at 3rd or Swisher (who was mediocre as a Brave) in left. People talk about his age but he is the same age (30) as Olivera. Olivera showed some promise this year but the Braves pretty much have to play him at 3rd now to justify the trade with the Dodgers.

reckingball
reckingball

The Braves FO is looking for hitters. Hitters are hard to find, when found, hard to acquire. 
Like Beasley said, relief pitchers not as hard to come by.

The whole pitching staff appeared to be showing improvement, the last two or three weeks, of this past season.

reckingball
reckingball

Some,,.....of the other teams, especially the ones with money to spend.

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

@reckingball 


They have the money -- they choose not to spend it


And you never hear a word from Mr Malone or Mr Maffei who really could care less about the team


All they care about is asset valuation and legal tax avoidance -- they bought the team for the wrong reasons from a fan's point of view


They created an unentertaining product and ATL is not consuming it

cspecial
cspecial

bottom line, the winning won"t start until management make a commitment to winning, stop worrying about money and bring in a championship manager.they already have him in terry pendelton.the losing will continue as long as fredi gonzalez is the manager.if you had the new york yankees team of the mickey mantle, roger maris, yogi bera, whitey ford area, with gonzalez as their manager they will lose.gonzalez is in over his head as a major league manager.hes a loser

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

Thanks for stating the obvious Mark! The only ones this is not obvious to are the lost in the clouds Braves management team. Thus, I predict a grim future for this team for the foreseeable future!

colt07
colt07

The main thing I have seen in the first 4 playoff games is how far the Braves have to go to be a playoff contender. A very LONG way. Recalling my 5th grade teacher's explanation of math facts, if you don't score you don't win, period. It does not matter how good your pitching is! The Braves cannot score. We need major league hitters, not retreads from other teams. I fear we may now be on a 10 year plan.

MarkAgain
MarkAgain

The only thing the Braves don't need from top to bottom is a SS and 1bman. Everything else can go.

RadioPat
RadioPat

@MarkAgain SS may be the best defensive in lineup but has a Batting Average of 248,244,265 the last 3 seasons. We need more out of him. He also does not take a walk.

ChuckinAlpharetta
ChuckinAlpharetta

@RadioPat


He is Ozzy Smith right now - IOW, any offensive contribution he provides is gravy; stick him down in the lineup where every other team stashes their defensive aces.


We don't NEED anything more from him - his offensive contribution is the runs he saves with his spectacular defense.

patriotdog
patriotdog

And last years World Seriies teams, the Giants and Royals, were 20 & 29th in HRs. Royals back in playoffs again with similar power numbers this year.

HRs are not a necessity, getting on base is. And calling Freeman a power hitter is ridiculous. Now that every team employs the shift against him, his numbers will continue to decline.

58Supersports
58Supersports

The 3 Johns need to watch the play-offs so far... Teams hitting homers like crazy...winners hitting the good pitching except Pirates. Houston has hit 4 and KC 2 now in 8th. 

I believe  Coppy will be another "Yes" man to keep his job....JS,BC and FG need to go.

SunDropMan
SunDropMan

It will be a minimum of 5 years before the Braves are competitive again.  By that time the Cobb Co. folks will have gotten smart and be very tired of them.  This "honeymoon"  will be a short one!

Big Wally
Big Wally

Whatever the 3 John's are selling, I wouldn't buy.

SunDropMan
SunDropMan

@Big Wally "3 Johns",  perfect description of them.  A picture of 3 porta-potties lined up in a row at a construction site popped up in my head.

buellerbuellerbueller
buellerbuellerbueller

Bobby Cox had 3 Cy Young pitchers and couldn't win.      Find some guys who can hit.

Termigator
Termigator

Another major screw-up was not going after Joe Maddon and keeping the 4th Stooge, Freddie Gonzalez.


Andy132
Andy132

@Termigator Doubt they could have gotten Maddon. Chicago was a dream job with all the talent they have and you see where he is today so I think he might a good choice.

Delbert_D
Delbert_D

I may be old fashioned, but I consider doubles to be "power". Freeman and Markakis did pretty well in 2-baggers. Give me a Garry Maddox type any day. The Braves need some more guys that can get on base, period. At 3rd base, I'd love to have Mike Schmidt, but I'd surely settle for Sal Bando. I agree with the Johns that bullpen is a priority; 3 solid arms, I think. A catcher who can hit and catch is a priority, or stretch a bet on A. J. Pierzynski for another year.

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

@Delbert_D 


I agree about doubles but we do not have enough Freeman and Markakis types


They were not the problem and Freddie would have had in the high 20's of HRS had he not gotten hurt and Nick may very well hit 10-12 HRS again not coming off neck surgery


I would take a Garry Maddox over even Cameron Maybin who had a career yr for us -- I give him credit but I want to see the offense from him again -- but Garry Maddox guys are not easy to fine he was an excellent player -- same with Sal Bando -- Olivera is no Sal Bando