Braves will be better off if they’re more aggressive on base

Michael Bourn will be doing a lot of running for the Braves this season, but the entire team needs to be more aggressive on the bases. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Michael Bourn will do a lot of running for the Braves this season, but the entire team needs to be more aggressive on the basepaths than last year. (Jason Getz/AJC)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Braves believe one thing that gives them hope this season is that, no matter how many knocks and pings they encounter over 162 games, the road can’t possibly be littered with as many engine parts as we witnessed during last rites last September. But what if it happens again?

What if Jason Heyward in Year 3 isn’t much better than Jason Heyward in Year 2. What if Dan Uggla flails for too many weeks, Brian McCann wilts and this time Martin Prado develops, I dunno, gout? The Braves need a safety net. Actually, what they need is a new mindset.

Most expected this club to become more aggressive last season under manager Fredi Gonzalez. That didn’t happen. If the Braves’ offense wasn’t quite the sit-back-and-wait-for-the-long-ball team we had come to know in the 1990s, they certainly didn’t epitomize small ball. More like dead ball.

Their pitching staff ranked fourth in the majors in ERA (3.48) and batting average (.240). Making the playoffs never should have come down to the season’s final spasm. But the Braves were buried by an offense that ranked 22nd in runs scored (641), 26th in batting average (.243) and 27th in stolen bases (77). This isn’t all about injuries and slumps. It’s fundamentals: hitting a grounder when needed, hitting a sacrifice fly when needed, advancing runners, taking an extra base.

The heart of the Braves' lineup: Brian McCann, Bourn, Chipper Jones and Jason Heyward. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Four important members of the Braves' lineup: Brian McCann, Michael Bourn, Chipper Jones and Jason Heyward. (Jason Getz/AJC)

The Braves whiffed at so many “situational hitting” crucial times last season: .249 with runners in scoring position, .219 with a runner on third and two outs. The firing of hitting coach Larry Parrish didn’t come as a surprise.

But this isn’t just about clutch moments. The team seldom made opponents uncomfortable in the field.

“We want to put a little pressure on teams any way we can,” said first-base coach Terry Pendleton, who in the mid- to late-1980s played for a team, St. Louis, that excelled in manufacturing runs out of little. “We have some speed. We have guys who can take the extra base. We just need to start doing that. I hope we’re going to be more aggressive this season. But it’s a mindset, and it has to start here [in spring training].”

It starts with Michael Bourn. This will be the first time the Braves enter a season with speed at the top of the batting order since Rafael Furcal. Bourn, acquired at the trade deadline last season, played in less than one-third of the Braves’ games (53), yet led the team in stolen bases (22). He will tell you that he has been fast “ever since I came out of the womb.”

But this is about more than speed. Bourn is only the centerpiece of an adjusted floor plan. Baseball has changed. Chemically aided power numbers are diminishing. As Gonzalez said, “The days of just sitting around and, bop, playing slow-pitch softball are over with for a lot of the reasons you know [performance-enhancing drugs].”

No team has done it better than the Cardinals. The Braves aren’t built like those Whitey Herzog teams, but they can bring elements of that mindset to their game, and they need to.

“In St. Louis, we knew what we were and weren’t capable of doing, and we had to stretch that out,” Pendleton said. “We had guys with speed, we were able to put the ball in play, and when you have that, you’re able to put pressure on other clubs.

“The only way we were going to score runs was with our legs. So we tried to take advantage of that, whether it was push-bunting, hitting a ground ball to second to get a runner to third, squeezing him home, going from first to third, stretching out a single to a double. We had to do those things — and we had to do it starting in spring training, whether we got thrown out or not.”

Something will go wrong this season. It always does. But an aggressive approach doesn’t have to change. That’s something the Braves have lacked.

By Jeff Schultz

Previous columns from Braves camp

Chipper Jones takes shots at drug cheaters (but he considered it too)

Hanson ready to move on with a new delivery (and a new car)

Braves convinced everything can’t go wrong again


150 comments Add your comment

Sose

February 28th, 2012
3:34 pm

I’d love to see more running. I was thrilled with the Bourn acquisition and had hoped that the Braves wouldn’t hold him back.

FJR

February 28th, 2012
3:46 pm

How about they stop swinging at bad pitches and either missing or hitting into weak double plays. How about they get a little less aggressive and wait on a pitch to hit or take a walk.

ugh

February 28th, 2012
3:49 pm

this is so stupid. the reason the braves didn’t score last year is because they had a .308 OBP. they need to be LESS aggressive. take walks. work counts.

sigh.

Ron Roberts

February 28th, 2012
3:51 pm

AMEN. The most agonizing part of watching the Braves go through a batting slump isn’t the lack of clutch hits; that’s part of what comes with the territory. Everybody goes through ‘em; but speed doesn’t go in a slump, and if you have players who have speed, for crying out loud, use it! Bunt your way on; take a base; hit and run; make something happen. The sedentary nature of the game lulls fans to sleep enough; jarring your opposition with an occasional “what the?” can make something happen positive, and even snowballs to something dramatically BAD for the opponent.

Besides, it’s those little “jarring” moments that can often lead to not only reversal of fortune, but some energy in the dugout; a little boost in confidence .. and so on and so on.

Sitting in the dugout waiting for something good to happen instead of being proactive has always nagged at me when the entire team gets mired in a slump.

PMC

February 28th, 2012
3:52 pm

Good stuff Jeff, many of us have been hoping for this style for years with this lineup.

PMC

February 28th, 2012
3:52 pm

Would love to see a craig council type approach somewhere in this lineup.

STRETCH

February 28th, 2012
3:57 pm

ABOUT TIME SOMEBODY WROTE THIS!

Jipper Chones

February 28th, 2012
4:06 pm

More aggressive??? That’s a HORRIBLE strategy for a team that’s been swinging out of the zone and screwing up bunts and giving away outs.

This team isn’t gonna make it, folks. Fundamentally … whack.

Luke M

February 28th, 2012
4:08 pm

Yeah, since we didn’t waste enough outs with botched hit and run attempts last season.

Bubdylan

February 28th, 2012
4:10 pm

Noooooooooo. :(

Karl Hungus

February 28th, 2012
4:13 pm

So the Braves only stole 77 bases in 2011, but they were caught 44 times. That comes out to -3.3 runs on the year. That’s not a lot over the course of 162 games, except when you consider that the team missed the playoffs by one game on the last day of the season. When you exclude Bourn’s contributions (22 of 29), stolen base attempts cost the team 5.7 runs. Yes, even Jose Constanza’s 7 of 11 mark negatively impacted the team. The benefit of stealing a base is far outweighed by the cost of being caught stealing.

GT Alum

February 28th, 2012
4:13 pm

Braves need to be smart on the basepaths. Yes, the Braves need to take the extra base when it’s there, but a bunch of guys running into outs will do more harm than good.

And, no, speed doesn’t go into a slump, but speed is useless if the player who has it can’t get on base. A more patient approach at the plate will be far more beneficial than a more aggressive approach on the bases.

More Aggresive?

February 28th, 2012
4:15 pm

I can’t believe this is real. Really? REALLY?? They’ve flown the coop.

FJR

February 28th, 2012
4:18 pm

“hy house is burning down, I keep trying to put it out with this watery substance labeled gasoline!”

More Aggresive?

February 28th, 2012
4:23 pm

FJR, you have to sling the gasoline really hard, using the same arm over and over and over again. There are charts on how other fires have been put out successfully, but please ignore those. Failing all that, drive over the fire in a Harley.

DogTheMan

February 28th, 2012
4:27 pm

We need to change the mindset of the ENTIRE organization to be more aggressive. Noone seems to be pushed. The management and players seem to be ok with the collapse and are not cbumping at the bit to go out and compete.. THAT IS THE PROBLEM!!!!! This team lacks attitude and nastiness!!!!!!

George Stein

February 28th, 2012
4:30 pm

Oh God. More nonsense about situational hitting? How about they just hit!

George Stein

February 28th, 2012
4:31 pm

Karl Hungus

February 28th, 2012
4:31 pm

Yes! Forget about trying to draw a few more walks. The key is to lead the league in nastiness.

More Aggresive?

February 28th, 2012
4:32 pm

Joey

February 28th, 2012
4:32 pm

So, the Braves are gonna be different this season? And why? Fredi?

A leopard can’t change its spots . . .

bulldogbubba

February 28th, 2012
4:35 pm

Is someone working with Constanza? I f we develop him into a hitter we could have a running team. It seems we do have resources.

bulldogbubba

February 28th, 2012
4:36 pm

Where is Clusters?

Joey

February 28th, 2012
4:36 pm

Fredi left players up in the batting order that had no business being there. Holes in the lineup. Just like guess who?

Fredi = Bobby.

Only without the 3 Hall of Fame pitchers . . .

Jon

February 28th, 2012
4:37 pm

Constanza vrooooooom!!!! C’mon, a career backup MINOR league player is not going to develop into a hitter at his age.

More Aggresive?

February 28th, 2012
4:38 pm

Braves’ll be different alright. 3rd or 4th instead of 2nd in the NL East. A couple of key injuries and we could see 5th.

More aggression is going to make them look like clowns. And especially if they try and make Heyward more aggressive. They’ve come close to wrecking him already after smartly following his patient lead for his rookie year. This freaking team makes me sick.

FJR

February 28th, 2012
4:38 pm

Constanza, you mean this guy: http://cdn3.sbnation.com/fan_shot_images/208958/ilFLbg.gif

You think he’s the key to turning this team around? That guy?

Jon

February 28th, 2012
4:42 pm

Exactly, FJR. While we are at it, lets create a whole outfield of Charles Thomas, Jose Constanza, and Willie Harris. VRROOOOOOOM!!!!

George Stein

February 28th, 2012
4:43 pm

That’s a great GIF, FJR.

George Stein

February 28th, 2012
4:44 pm

What we really need to do is focus on small ball and bunting! That’s how you score runs. Wait, what?

Brian

February 28th, 2012
4:44 pm

Heyward wins MVP after 50 homers…..in 2015 lol

George Stein

February 28th, 2012
4:46 pm

He’d be 26 then, Brian. I’d be fine with that.

Brian

February 28th, 2012
4:47 pm

no doubt I was just saying we need it this year.

Jon

February 28th, 2012
4:48 pm

I’m all in favor of giving away outs, as long as the other team is doing it.

George Stein

February 28th, 2012
4:50 pm

We need to remember that he’s about the same age as some of the players in last year’s draft. I think he’ll be fine, but if he can just be almost as good as he was in 2010 (when he was worth 5.1 fWAR), that’d be just fine.

Brian

February 28th, 2012
4:52 pm

I think Pendleton knew what he was doing then he got switched to base coach and then Heyward struggled cause the next guy prod tried to do too much. Lets hope Walker gets it right. If not im all in favor of Pendleton being hitting coach again

Brian

February 28th, 2012
4:53 pm

stevie zero

February 28th, 2012
4:53 pm

totally agree jeff. situational aggressive offense. pressuring the defense to make plays and pitch perfectly and keep them on their heels. (toes?)either way, great point.

Peter

February 28th, 2012
5:31 pm

Can they be patient at the plate knowing the zone, taking the walk, and then being patient again, and again…….I saw the braves walk 2 guys and the third batter grounded into the double play on the first or second pitch.. rally over.

I will have to say I for one am happy Gonzales, Lowe, and Nate are gone….. What Diaz is doing back here someone please tell me.

More Aggresive?

February 28th, 2012
5:36 pm

stevie zero, situational aggression would be one thing. But with Fredi, the situation will be “there’s a guy on first base and less than three outs. Go!”

More Aggresive?

February 28th, 2012
5:37 pm

Wow, unfortunately, I doubt we’re being trolled by the writers. By the baseball gods, maybe.

George Stein

February 28th, 2012
5:41 pm

C’mon, More Aggressive. You and I both know that situation calls for a sacrifice bunt.

More Aggresive?

February 28th, 2012
5:46 pm

You’re right, George, I wasn’t thinking. Unless it’s a free swinger at the plate with three balls on him and a fat man on first. Then: hit & run baby.

George Stein

February 28th, 2012
5:48 pm

They’ll never see it coming!!!

Mark's for the Braves

February 28th, 2012
5:50 pm

I so agree with Jeff on this article. If we’d play some small ball like we did when Otis, Lemke, and Blauser were playing, we might score more than 3 runs per game. Need to attack those bases!

Sonny Clusters

February 28th, 2012
5:51 pm

Braves will be better off with a more aggressive mindset . . . and Fredi opens camp with a golf outing. Chipper goes fishing and gets sunburn. “Sunscreen is for sissies.” So is the DL.

Sam

February 28th, 2012
5:54 pm

By every measure the Braves were far more aggressive last year than the year before. It resulted in one of the worse offensive performances by the Braves in years. The Braves swung at many more balls out of the strike-zone as well as many outs on the base-path when slower runners were forced in aggressive hit and run situations. If a team is swinging at so many balls out of the zone it makes the entire lineup easier to pitch to. One of the most patient teams in the league just won the World Series by never panicking or pressing at the plate. That is the real lesson to take from last year.

George Stein

February 28th, 2012
5:56 pm

It had nothing to do with McGriff, Justice, Gant, Klesko, or Javy Lopez, did it, Mark’s for the Braves?

chuck

February 28th, 2012
5:57 pm

Enter your comments hereDoing the same thing over and over with the same players, and expecting a different result is you know what.

Jeff Schultz

February 28th, 2012
6:05 pm

FJR — Don’t confuse being aggressive on the base paths with a lack of patience at-bat. Two completely different things.