5 reasons to be concerned about your 2011 Atlanta Braves

"Now boarding: Flight 2011, bound for ... glory?" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"Now boarding: Flight 2011, bound for ... October?" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Ever notice how every player and manager always says he’s “excited” about spring training? Because every player and manager always is. Spring training is the fun part. But somebody has to function as a wet blanket, and here I stand. (Or drape, as the case may be.) Here are five reasons I’m concerned about the local nine as it readies for Lake Buena Vista.

1. The defense could be deadly. Dan Uggla will help the batting order, OK? We’re agreed there. But Uggla is a bad defender — 47 errors over the past three seasons, which is a bunch for a second baseman — and he’s the new Braves second baseman. Which means Martin Prado moves to left field, where he has played a total of three big-league games. Even if Chipper Jones is healthy, he’ll still turn 39 in April. And Alex Gonzalez, who turns 34 next month, was a major defensive disappointment.

Think about it: At how many positions do the Braves have a first-rate defender? Freddie Freeman should be fine at first base, but Brian McCann is only OK, and even Jason Heyward had some odd moments in right field last season.  I worry that some fine pitchers will be undercut by the men stationed behind — or, in McCann’s case, in front of — them. But that’s what I do. I worry.

2. Nate McLouth is again projected as the center fielder. That’s a major position on any ballclub, and I haven’t seen anything from McLouth since he arrived in June 2009 that makes me think he’s even a minor asset. (From what I’ve seen, the Pirates got rid of him just as his career took the ol’ Matterhorn nosedive.)

It was noteworthy that Rick Ankiel was the Braves’ starting center fielder in the Division Series even though McLouth was on the active roster. The Braves thought so little of Ankiel they let him leave after the season, and now they plan to run McLouth out there again. Maybe this makes sense to you. It doesn’t to me.

3. Craig Kimbrel walks people. The Braves haven’t officially designated Kimbrel their closer, but they’re clearly leaning that way. And he has everything you’d want in a closer … except control.

Over 151 minor-league innings, Kimbrel walked 95 batters. (That’s an average of 5.7 walks per nine innings, which is terrible.) He walked 16 men in 20 2/3 big-league innings after his promotion. He walked Travis Ishikawa in the devastating ninth inning of Game 3 of the NLDS, and sure enough Ishikawa scored the tying run.

Speaking Wednesday at Turner Field, Kimbrel said: “From right now until the season, [working on control] becomes my focus. I want to improve it.”

It’s not an option. Either Kimbrel throws strikes or he doesn’t work the ninth inning. As Jeff Brantley, himself a closer, once said after watching John Rocker blow a save via bases on balls: “You can’t walk people if you want to close.”

4. There’s still no speed. The Braves ranked 14th in a 16-team league in stolen bases in 2010, and their new position players are Freeman, who’s no deer, and Uggla, who has 19 steals in five big-league seasons. The guess is that Fredi Gonzalez would like to play more Small Ball than his managerial predecessor, but he wouldn’t seem to have the tools.

5. Magic might not be transferable. Last season the Braves won 25 games in their final at-bat. Much went wrong along the way, but enough games went improbably right at the end for this team to slip into the playoffs on the final day. It was a wild ride and a good ride and, not incidentally, Bobby Cox’s last ride, but the doings of 2010 weren’t anyone’s concept of a blueprint.

The 2011 Braves have Uggla and Freeman and Kimbrel but will be missing Billy Wagner and Omar Infante and Troy Glaus — who in one month changed the course of 2010, let’s not forget — and Matt Diaz. This team will again pitch well, and it figures to hit better than it did last season while fielding worse. It took 91 wins to qualify for postseason in 2010, and that number would seem the ceiling for the 2011 Braves.

By Mark Bradley

387 comments Add your comment

Jamaaliver

February 9th, 2011
1:50 pm

whatev

February 9th, 2011
1:53 pm

Can you at least get to Spring Training before you start taking a dump on the Braves. Theres always unknowns with any team. Thats why you hold judgement until some games are played.

Jim in Murray

February 9th, 2011
1:53 pm

If Chipper hits like, well, Chipper, then the Braves will be OK. If not, then welcome to third (or fourth) place.

Maddux

February 9th, 2011
1:53 pm

To quote Tom Glavine when Bobby came out to get him after several infield errors … “Which infielder have you come for?”

Freeman will be forced to play Earl Weaver baseball.

always high

February 9th, 2011
1:54 pm

I don’t think the sky is falling yet. You worry too much, MB.

jp

February 9th, 2011
1:55 pm

don’t forget the fact that this lineup still lacks a table setter at the top. Prado is good but who’s #2? I hope Heywards moved down to 5 or 6

Dan

February 9th, 2011
1:56 pm

Agree…speed is a big thing for me, with speed a walk can turn into a run…puts a lot of pressure on opposing teams and really how many catchers are really good atthrowing out runners consistantly? Maybe Posey in the NL Chipper may not get to as many balls but if healthy and yes a big if he will be fine..Uggla is a bit worriesome but I am confident the defense will be ok….As a lifelong Braves fan I know part is wishing but I do think these guys will be in the thick of things all the way through.

JoeFan

February 9th, 2011
1:57 pm

The Braves are like most MLB teams. They have a solid piece here and there but mostly they have question marks or holes that need to be plugged. That’s what makes the season interesting to see which teams can overcome thier liabilities and put a competitive product on the table.

Bob Pettit

February 9th, 2011
1:57 pm

Is “Chipper” his middle name and “If” his real first name??????

Alpharetta Steve

February 9th, 2011
1:58 pm

No joke. Lets really wait until we see until spring training starts before we say our Braves suck. No one had anything nice to say about them last year either. We all know that you have to play the games to see who wins.

gt

February 9th, 2011
2:00 pm

Mark, do you ever have anything positive to say? Let’s wait and see. I guess I shouldnt let it bother me though because you’re almost always wrong.

EW

February 9th, 2011
2:01 pm

Coming up in MB’s next blog post…MB predicts world will end in 2012…Seriously, stop with the negativity!

Coach13

February 9th, 2011
2:01 pm

I completely agree Mark. No speed,sketchy D, and no legit threat in the lineup. They upgraded with UGgla no question but 30 HR a year isn’t exactly eye popping in these days.

chewyandrw

February 9th, 2011
2:02 pm

@whatev and @always high Please get off his back. He isnt taking a dump. Be open minded enough to take some criticism. He isnt bashing or even giving mostly opinion. Look at how many facts he has posted. Don’t just bash a writer just because you may not have liked everything he has ever written. I would rather have honest truth than sugarcoating everything just to tickle people and make them smile for the sake of doing so. What do you want him to write? That Nate McClouth is going to be amazing? That Chipper is going to the fountain of youth and all of a sudden remember how to play third base like he did 10/15 years ago. That all of a sudden, Brian McCann is going to catch every pitch thrown in the dirt. Give me a break. I watched/went to/listened to every game but 4 last year and MB is absolutely correct. Great article Mark. It must be awful writing in a city where everyone is so critical of what you write but no one goes to games to support their hometown teams.

chewyandrw

February 9th, 2011
2:03 pm

Dang people pitchers and catcher report in 5 days….it is time to start talking Braves baseball…the good comes with the bad. You people are such babies.

Jamaaliver

February 9th, 2011
2:04 pm

I suddenly have very little hope for the Braves this season. Yikes.
Could be a long season.

whatev

February 9th, 2011
2:04 pm

@chewyandrw I’m not saying to sugarcoat anything. Lets just wait and see before we make any judgement. I don’t see whats wrong with that.

TC

February 9th, 2011
2:05 pm

Seriously, what smells in here? Oh, Mark Bradley just took a dump on another Atlanta team.

KEV

February 9th, 2011
2:06 pm

Remember last July when Bradley said we WOULDN’T squander that seven game lead? Then we DID in early September. It seems that the opposite of what he says will happen usually ends up happening. So if he’s concerned then we’ll likely win it all.

whatev

February 9th, 2011
2:07 pm

@chewyandrw If you what to give the WS to Phillies already be my guess. Excuse me me if I have a little faith in my team.

Shug

February 9th, 2011
2:08 pm

It’s all about pitching and timely hitting. (Of course, fielding may affect the pitching.) In any event, I doubt this crew blows a game where they’re leading 10-1 after 3 innings.

Curious George

February 9th, 2011
2:08 pm

Will Jason Heyward get benched again for having “too much” of that AL-Style batting approach at the plate, you know, the one that typically yields a HIGHER average?

Bama Aaron

February 9th, 2011
2:09 pm

Is it too much to ask for the season to at least start before we begin with the Debbie Downer columns? February is supposed to be a time of optimism in baseball. Heck even the Pirates think they have a shot this time of year. So take the chill pill MB and wait until at least after opening day to be a pessimist.

goski99

February 9th, 2011
2:09 pm

ya still got pitching and the is where EVERYTHING starts in this game

TC

February 9th, 2011
2:09 pm

I just got over my crappy GT football team and my Falcons fall flat on their face. I want to be hopeful for the Braves so I can endure this summer. And now I have to read this? Thanks MB

Ray Pugh

February 9th, 2011
2:10 pm

1) Whatever defense we lose w/ Uggla, we will gain at 1st base and left field (Prado HAS to be better Melky). Heyward is one of the best corner outfielders in the game and Chipper will be the same as last year…

2) McLouth will not be the opening day centerfielder if he doesn’t get his act together. Jordan Schafer would at least provide superb defense and speed, and Wren will swing a trade (Grady Sizemore) midseason if neither pan out.

3) Kimbrel is still young, and will no doubt require some seasoning, but his other skills more than make up for a high walk rate. If not, Venters is more than capable of taking over the closer duties.

4) Speed is overrated. OBP, power and defense are far more important, all of which will be better than last year.

5) Not even gonna discuss this unquantifiable nonsense…

But as always, I can promise 2 things about this season: 1) Braves fans will remain ignorant and complacent, taking this wonderful organization for granted, and 2) more bad baseball writing from Mark Bradley

goski99

February 9th, 2011
2:10 pm

oops, “that”

Jt

February 9th, 2011
2:10 pm

Mark- I am a Braves fan. Therefore I am biased and optimistic. Your concerns are valid. I am not certain of the numbers, but supposedly Uggla’s defense has improved each year, so optimistically he wiil be better this year than in year’s past. But concerns that he will not is valid.

Each year that McLouth has been with the Braves, there is always optimism that he is going to be the player the Braves traded for when he was with the Pirates, but the reality is that he looked as “lost as a ball in high weeds” most of the time last year and no data indicates that he will improve.

I am not as concerned about the closer spot as many fans are- Wagner was “lights out” most of the time las year, but I think closing games is more mental than physical. Why is pitching a shutout in the ninth any more difficult to do than the 6th, 7th, or 8th innings? Hopefully if Kimbrel struggles then Venters or some combination of pitchers can close games out.

Can’t remember the last time the Braves had speed at any position. The Phillies can steal bases and hit and run from multiple positions. Why can’t the Braves find someone who can steal bases. Oh yeah, they had him- his name is Elvis Andrus- superior fielding shortstop and base runner.

As far as the magic is concerned, I think last year may have been unique. It started with Heyward’s homerun in his first at bat- maybe Freeman can jumpstart it this year with a similar feat and hopefully Conrad is mentally healed from last year’s division series

Dave in Buford

February 9th, 2011
2:11 pm

The defense is bugging me … those teams in the ’90’s had great pitching, but they also had pretty good defense behind them too, and I’m (unfortunately) with you, Mark … unless the defense plays reasonably well, the Braves could easily be undone by it. I think they’re gonna score a ton, but you still win with defense and pitching.

Ray Pugh

February 9th, 2011
2:12 pm

Coach @ 2:01

30 homers a year isn’t eye-popping? Less players hit 30 homers or more last year than any year since 1991. Power is an incredibly valuable commodity these days…

Dave in Buford

February 9th, 2011
2:13 pm

By the way, my bet is that Uggla winds up at third and Prado moves back to second in the near future.

KEV

February 9th, 2011
2:13 pm

Here’s how it will happen…

NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Giants
NL Wild Card: Braves

AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
AL Wild Card: A’s

Giants over Phillies
Braves over Cardinals
Red Sox over A’s
Rangers over Tigers

Braves over Giants
Red Sox over Rangers

Braves over Red Sox

KEV

February 9th, 2011
2:14 pm

@Dave…Uggla will stay at second. Prado will be at third if Chipper gets hurt again.

what of it?

February 9th, 2011
2:16 pm

Bradley, McCann led the majors in errors for catchers last year and the team had the third most errors of any club. In short, we were a train wreck defensively and we’ve done nothing to shore that up. My hope is that Freddi Gonzalez can instill some discipline and make them take infield although I worry about his unwillingness to “rock the boat.” It’s his team now

Curious George

February 9th, 2011
2:16 pm

Did Chipper get divorced again this offseason, as he typically has a career year following a divorce?

Who won NL MVP the year following the Hooters scandal?

Who won the NL Batting Title the year after Chipper’s last divorce in 2007?

chewyandrw

February 9th, 2011
2:16 pm

Well then @whatev lets only have articles about games the day after they are played. So in essence, we wont have a sports section of the AJC for quite a few days a year. Moron. I am completely faithful but looking at the roster, this is not a complete baseball team. Its not even close. And if you knew anything about how Fredi manages, this is not his kind of team. He likes speed. He likes defense. He likes to hit and run. Seriously, how can you dispute facts? Look at all of the facts Mark posted and tell me which ones arent true that go along with the points he was making. And no, I am not ready to hand the Phillies the trophy but its 5 days until pitchers and catchers. 5. You are probably the same guy who wanted to keep Jeff Francoeur because he was hometown and he was going to turn it around as well.

Hey Mark, can you write an article on how wonderful Chipper Jones is and how he is going to turnaround a career that has been going down for a few years now. Also, give Nate McClouth the MVP right now. He is def turning things around. Those baffled looks he has after hitting are going away. Braves will win the next 13 World Series with Chipper getting MVP in at least 9 of them.

Alex

February 9th, 2011
2:16 pm

Nice english @ whatev

Alex

February 9th, 2011
2:18 pm

So am I suppose to believe that Uggla’s defense will be worse than Conrads? Didn’t think so…

Nut Job

February 9th, 2011
2:19 pm

Already started with the ole’ doom and gloom! Quality work.

Kimbrel fixed his control problems when he went back to Gwinnett. Once he returned to the big league club for good he walked just a few and averaged over 2K’s an inning. He was almost unhittable. He will be fine.

KEV

February 9th, 2011
2:23 pm

McLouth needs to stay away from the team. He’s infected the clubhouse.

Ramblinwreck83

February 9th, 2011
2:23 pm

Thanks Mark. Mr. Negativity. You just can’t say that the fielding is going to get worse. Chipper’s not bad at all and Gonzolaz is going to be better. Last season was an abberation. Nate will be better than last season, which isn’t saying much but he will improve. There is no way to determine what the ceiling is on this season. The Braves did lose alot of games at the end of last season so, they could of won more. This 2011 team will hit better and pitch probably just as good. No one knows about the defense. I do expect it to get better.

E-6

February 9th, 2011
2:24 pm

Mark – we agree on most. I thought of four before reading your post. CF, new closer, Chipper’s health and shortstop on both sides of the ball. Team speed could be enhanced with a comeback by McClouth – big if. My fifth after reading your post would be defense – share your concern about Prado playing out of position plus all the other weak spots (C, 2B, SS and perhaps LF).

Ray Pugh

February 9th, 2011
2:25 pm

The sad thing is that Bradley only writes poor articles riddled with shallow analysis become he knows that’s all most of you morons can comprehend…

chewyandrw

February 9th, 2011
2:28 pm

@ Ray Pugh You are ridiculous as well. I will dispute each one of your points and correct you and hopefully you will learn a thing or two about baseball.

1. Wow you are comparing the importance of defense that a 2nd baseman brings to that of a left fielder. Great job. Lots of left fielders turn double plays and hard hit ground balls. Dumb.

2. Schafer will not be the same player unless they quit testing players for PEDs. He will probably not return to his once bright glimmer of hope. And the only way you get Sizemore is if you give up young talent. Plus Sizemore had his worst year in awhile last year. Dumb.

3. Yeah walks are overrated. That is the dumbest comment that has ever been blogged. Well until I get to 4. His other skills…and you compare that to????? A strong fastball and slider. Id rather have no one on and him throw a slider in the dirt than a guy on him throw a slider in the dirt. Lets remember, Silver Sluggers from your catcher arent the same as Gold Gloves. Dumb.

4. Yeah speed sucks. Managers love when players cant score from first on a double. Lack of speed probably will cost the Braves 50-75 runs this year. Thats quite a lot of wins. And besides Uggla, what power did we bring in? Freeman…not in his game. Chipper? His power has been declining for years. Dumb.

5. No you cant quantify the ability of “magic” in a team. But your ability to not have a comeback is even less quantifiable. But I wonder, without a little “magic” do the Giants win the WS? No. Does Rick Vaughn all of a sudden get control because of red and black rimmed glasses and lead the Indians to the ALCS? No. That stuff counts for something. And its not magic, its experience in those situations. So Uggla, Freeman, McClouth, Schafer, etc bring any experience to extremely stressful situations. No. Dumb.

So sir, as a frequent reader of this blog, you are banned from posting until the season starts. Thanks and have a good one.

whatev

February 9th, 2011
2:29 pm

@chewyandrw No actually I wanted Francoeur out of Atlanta long before he left. I’m not saying there are no concerns with the team. But theres always something that happens during the season that you don’t account for. Good or Bad. If the Braves are stinking up the place in April, Mark can write all the negative blogs his heart desires. Until then I wish he was a little more positive.

Charles381

February 9th, 2011
2:31 pm

Good ‘ol Mark Bradley; Debbie Downer. Why don’t we wait and let the season play out before bringing on the negativity.

chewyandrw

February 9th, 2011
2:33 pm

@whatev According to your logic, we should wait until the Braves are mathematically out of contention and then write positive things about the next years team and how great they will be. They stunk it up in April last year and then turned it around. Oh yeah, and they sucked it up again. And last years team looked way better on paper than this years team. Uggla’s offense will be great. No doubt. But the left side of the infield is average at best and your best defensive infielder is a rookie at first. Go Braves 2015.

bro

February 9th, 2011
2:34 pm

You have got to back up to the pay window to get your salary.

chewyandrw

February 9th, 2011
2:35 pm

@ Ray Pugh. You are banned from the Blog after these worst 5 counterpoints ever made. Please log off and continue to bother the people of the local newspaper that comes out once a week.

Morons.

Andy

February 9th, 2011
2:36 pm

You didn’t even mention Chipper’s production at the plate. Shocked. I would have had McLouth first but that’s just me.