As I’ve scanned various season previews on the web and magazine racks, there seems to be general consensus among prognosticators that the Braves will be an 86 win team – give or take a few – again this season.
Far be it from me to spit in the face of popular opinion, but I must respectfully disagree.
Where do so many bloggers and columnists have it wrong? It all comes down to foundation of their argument.
Most observers use Atlanta’s 2009 record (86-76) as starting point for their evaluation. They take an 86-win team and then work through the additions and subtractions made over the off-season. In the end, they conclude that the Braves might be better than last year, but only if the roulette wheel lands on their color. They contend that if Bobby Cox’s troops suffer even an average degree of infirmity or misfortune, we’re looking at a team that is not much – if at all – better than the Braves we saw at the end of last season. Hence… roughly 86 wins.
The problem isn’t with their reasoning, but rather, with their starting point. It’s important to understand that 2009 was very much a tale of two seasons, and the Braves we saw at the end of last season was NOT an 86-win team.
Early in the season, a combination of epic underachievement (Jeff Francoeur and Kelly Johnson) as well as health/vision problems (Jordan Schafer, Garrett Anderson and Brian McCann) rendered the Braves offensively impotent through most of June. Additionally, many forget that the 4/5 slots in the rotation posted a combined ERA in the neighborhood of 6.00 through the end of May. Adjustments made by Kenshin Kawakami and the long awaited arrival of Tommy Hanson would later turn around the back end of the rotation, but it wasn’t pretty in the early going.
As of June 27th, the Braves were playing .459 baseball. To put that in perspective… over a full season, that translates to a 74-88 record.
But then, mid-way through season, everything began to change. Frank Wren unloaded 3 tons of dead weight (“Frenchy”, “KJ” and an injured Jordan Schafer) from the lineup in favor of highly productive hitters. And later, the Braves would swap light-hitting First-Baseman, Casey Kotchman, for notorious late-season masher, Adam LaRoche. Additionally, shortly after an early June arrival, Tommy Hanson made adjustments to Major League hitters and began dominating with regularity.
The Braves would go on to play at an exceptionally high level until the very last week of the season, when it was apparent that their post-season charge would fall short, and the games no longer held any meaning.
From June 28 through September 28 (a span of 82 games), the Braves went 52-30 (.650). Over a full season, that .650 clip would translate to 105 wins.
When the Atlanta front office completed their mid-season overhaul, they had turned over no less than HALF of their lineup. The Braves altered their offense more in the middle two months of the season than they did the entire previous winter. And the addition of young Mr. Hanson was certainly no small upgrade.
My point is simply this: If you’re going to factor the Braves’ early season record into your evaluation of where this team stood at season’s end, you might as well factor in the entire 2008 season too while you’re at it. It would be no less relevant, considering the ‘08/’09 offseason changes were less significant than the in-flight modifications made during the ‘09 season.
Even if you hold those final 6 losses in meaningless games against them, they still played .590 baseball from June 28th on (an 88 game span), which would translate to 96 wins over a full season.
When you understand this fact and use that as you’re starting point, it becomes clear that, under reasonable circumstances, the 2010 Braves are no 86-win team. Unless of course you believe Frank Wren and Co. have substantially DOWNGRADED this roster over the winter, but I’ve yet to hear anyone make that argument.
Now, I’m not Ms. Cleo, and I have no foreknowledge of the season ahead. Lady Luck always holds the trump card. But the fact of the matter is that it would take an above average degree of misfortune to hold the Braves under 90 wins in 2010. Hey, I could be wrong. But I’m not.
Tags: 2010 Braves, Projections
Posted in General, Speculation | 14 Comments »