CHICAGO, October 8, 2013 — In 2012, the Braves went 94-68 and claimed one of the NL Wild Cards, but lost the Wild Card game to the St Louis Cardinals. This year they were two games better, finishing 96-66 but won the NL East by ten games. Unfortunately, they lost in the ALDS to the Dodgers 3-1, so it is time to say better luck next year to the Atlanta Braves.
What Went Right: The Braves bullpen was lights out, posting a major league leading 2.46 bullpen ERA. While there were many standouts like Luis Avilan, Anthony Varvaro and David Carpenter, the star was Craig Kimbrel.
Craig Kimbrel has been arguably the best closer in baseball for three years now, leading the NL in saves each year. He posted his highest save total, 50, in 2013. Kimbrel’s peripherals slipped a bit this year as he struck out a career low 38.0% of the batters he faced, still roughly twice the league average, and walked 7.8% of the batters he faced.
Freddie Freeman enjoyed the best year of his young career with a .319/.396/.501 slash line, good for a 144 OPS+, and produced 5.4 WAR. Freeman has lowered his strikeout percentage and increased his walk percentage every year of his career so he is on the right development path and will be only 24 in 2014.
Chris Johnson was considered an afterthought and platoon candidate in the Justin Upton trade, but finished second to Michael Cuddyer for the NL batting crown in posting a .321/.358/..457 slash line and provided 2.0 WAR.
Evan Gattis took the long road to the majors, but his arrival was worth it as he posted a .243/.291/.480 slash line in his rookie campaign. These numbers are great for a super utility player who can split time at catcher, first base and the corner outfield spots. Gattis will not likely be able to replace McCann full time behind the plate if he leaves as a free agent, but does offer some flexibility.
What Went Wrong: The Upton brothers were the big offseason acquisitions, but largely failed to live up to expectations in their first year in Atlanta. BJ Upton signed a five-year, $75 million contract and he proceeded to have the worst year of his career. BJ Upton posted a .184/.268/.289 slash line, good for a 53 OPS+, and produced -1.8 WAR. Justin Upton looked like a world beater compared to his brother, posting a .263/.354/.464 line, a 122 OPS+, while producing 2.6 WAR. Upton’s numbers would be fine for most, but he is a former number one overall pick who showed in 2011 he is capable of so much more and should be nearing his prime.
Paul Maholm did what was needed when the Braves acquired him at the trade deadline in 2012, but struggled this year. Maholm logged 153 innings with an ERA+ of 88.
The Braves seemed to have more starters than spots, in theory, but were really hampered by injuries this year. The Braves finished the year with pitchers Brandon Beacy, Tim Hudson and Jonny Venters on the disabled list and saw Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Evan Gattis miss time with injuries at various points in the season.
What to Look for in 2014: The Braves have a young enough roster and the payroll flexibility that suggests they will be back in the postseason hunt next year. They do have some decisions to make with Brian McCann and Tim Hudson becoming free agents though. The team also needs to determine what to do with Dan Uggla, as he is under contract for two more years but struggled so badly, the team left him off their playoff roster.
Free Agents/Options: Brian McCann, Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, Eric O’Flaherty, Reed Johnson (Club Option), Luis Ayala, Scott Downs, Kameron Loe
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