It’s no secret that the Braves are no longer the top-notch organization they were in the 1990s. Although they do have some interesting talent, they lack offensive talent to a unique extent. Brandon Magee looks back in baseball history to find some comparisons to the Atlanta Braves offensive offense.
Eighteen games into the season, the Atlanta Braves have already taken up a position in the basement of the NL East. Losers of their first nine, a brief winning streak of four games gave the Braves a glimmer of hope, only to be dashed with five more losses in a row. With an offensive core that includes nine players over the age of 30, it is not too shocking that the offense is struggling. However, if the struggles continue for the entire season, it may well be historic.
The Braves boast a woeful team batting line of .232/.304/.289. If it is not obvious why this line would be historic, perhaps a look at what the Braves batters did last year could clear up the confusion. Last season, the Atlanta hitters put up a line of .251/.314/.359. While, those numbers still ranked the Braves as the worst offense in the majors (by OPS), the numbers look normal. Because, the third number, the slugging percentage, is higher than the second number, the on base percentage.
How unusual is having a team OBP greater than the teams slugging? The last team to accomplish that feat was the 1943 Chicago White Sox that batted .247/.322/.320 but finished ten games over .500. Amazingly, despite the accomplishment, three other teams had worse offenses during that year, with the Philadelphia Athletics putting up a woeful line of .232/.294/.297 – nearly matching the feat themselves. However, given the nature of the game during the middle of World War II, with a large number of major-league players enlisted into the war effort, the historical oddity of the 1943 White Sox may not be the most valid comparison.
Before that, you would have to go to the final season of the so-called Deadball Era, 1918, to find teams that had a negative differential between SLG and OBP. The Cleveland Indians were one of the best offensive teams in baseball in 1918 with a line of .260/.344/.341. The St. Louis Browns batted .259/.331/.320. The Chicago White Sox, the Detroit Tigers, and the Washington Senators also turned the trick. Of course, the game was radically different. The 16 active teams of 1918 slugged a total of 235 home runs during the season, 299 fewer than the 30 teams of 2016 have hit at the end of the games on Saturday. There were multiple teams that hit fewer home runs in that year than Trevor Story and Bryce Harper have hit individually this season.
Since 1918, with the exclusion of the ‘43 White Sox, only one team has had a non-positive differential between SLG and OBP, the 1972 Texas Rangers. The Rangers, playing in their first season in the Lone Star State after moving from our nation’s capitol, finished at 54-100, 38.5 games in back of the AL West champion Oakland Athletics. With manager Ted Williams at the helm, the offense was led by 35-year-old Frank Howard – who batted .244/.341/.369 – and 25-year-old Ted Ford – who led the team with 14 home runs while batting .235/.297/.382. But it was the inspired batting of third baseman Dave Nelson (.226/.324/.283), centerfielder Joe Lovitto (.224/.306/.267) and backup first baseman Don Mincher (.236/.384/.382) that led the former Senators to have matching OBP and SLG, with a line of .217/.290/.290.
Is it too early to start watching? The Braves line entering Sunday’s game had an OBP to SLG differential of -.016. The team with the second worst differential, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, were a +.026. The MLB average differential entering Sunday was +.083. We are no longer in the Deadball Era. Even after only three weeks of play, this is a significant event. The Braves have slugged just three home runs, which is six fewer than the Miami Marlins who are the only other team in baseball to have not yet hit double digits. The Braves are one of only four teams to have yet to hit a triple. They do have 26 doubles – more than eight other teams – but that hardly moves the needle on their SLG. However, the Braves are more than willing to take a ball four (11th in MLB with 57) or get hit by a pitch (tied for 7th with 8). The early component numbers certainly bear watching.
But, just as importantly, who on their roster is their power center? A.J. Pierzynski had 35 extra base hits last year, but only 18 the year before. It is more likely that last year was a last gasp for the 39-year-old backstop. Jace Peterson jacked six dingers last season, but those six home runs are 1/3rd of his professional total. Erick Aybar managed to get into double digits in home runs once in his ten previous major-league seasons. Adonis Garcia hit ten home runs for the Braves last season, the most he has had in any season since defecting from Cuba after the 2009 season. Mallex Smith has hit a dozen dingers in his five-year minor-league career. And while Nick Markakis was once good for 10-20 home runs a year, he hit only three last year in his first season in Atlanta.
The pursuit of the dubious distinction may come down to Freddie Freeman. The two-time All-Star has had an abysmal start for the Braves, batting just .190/.329/.276 with two doubles and a single HR. Last year, in a season marred by injury, he had 27 and 18 respectively. In 2014, Freeman slugged 43 doubles and 18 home runs. If Freeman can return to his powerful ways, he alone may be able to move the Braves into positive territory.
The Braves did not make significant improvements from last year’s team, who had the worst OPS in baseball. And the moves they did make, for example Mallex Smith replacing Cameron Maybin, will only reduce their slugging percentage. However, even this team is going to run into enough fastballs to pick up some home runs, right? Maybe not. The 2015 crew only cranked out 100, 20 fewer than Miami who was second worst in MLB. Could the Braves “better” the ‘72 Rangers? It will be a tough mission to accomplish, but with an offense this offensive, anything is possible.
A Final Note: The Atlanta Braves hit two home runs in their first game of the season, with Adonis Garcia and Freddie Freeman going yard. Since then, they have had a single HR, by Drew Stubbs in the bottom of the 4th inning on April 10. According to the announcers for the Braves, the team have had over 500 ABs since their last home run as of Sunday.
Bxrandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.