The Braves aren’t hitting, and they’re not reaching base, either

Jason Heyward hasn't been alone in his struggles. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Jason Heyward hasn't been alone in his struggles. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Last season was odd in many ways — the 25 final at-bat victories, the many trades, the ongoing saga of Troy Glaus — but maybe the oddest part was this: The Atlanta Braves led the National League in walks and on-base percentage.

It didn’t happen by design. Indeed, when I mentioned to Terry Pendleton, then the batting coach, that his club was No. 1 in the NL in walks, he said: “We are?” And it was surprising. As Pendleton noted, the Braves had historically been a team that swings hard and hopes for the best.

But the change, however inadvertent, was a welcome one — at least to me. I’m not a total stathead, but I’ve come to value OBP. (Thank Billy Beane and “Moneyball” for that.) And it is with some concern that I note the change in the Braves hasn’t held.

The 2011 club is 13th among 16 NL teams in OBP. Some of this can be traced to the fundamental truth that the Braves aren’t hitting, but last year’s team went through periods when it didn’t hit and it still managed to get on base. Last year’s Braves didn’t strike out much — they had the sixth-fewest K’s in the league — but these Braves do. They have the fifth-most strikeouts in the NL (against the sixth-highest walk total).

Which is kind of puzzling. I know the Braves have changed batting coaches, Larry Parrish having replaced Pendleton, but no batting coach preaches the virtues of impatience. We must also note that six of the Braves’ everyday eight were part of the team that worked the count expertly only a year ago.

The two exceptions: Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman. Uggla has struck out 40 times, Freeman 37. Uggla has always been a free swinger, averaging 152 strikeouts over his first five big-league seasons, and Freeman is a rookie.

It hasn’t helped that Jason Heyward, whose OBP was .391 in 2010, has seen that number fall to .317 in Year 2. (He has been hurting and is now on the DL.) That’s significant because Heyward was viewed as one of the keys to last season’s measured approach: He was the rare rookie who wasn’t afraid to take a pitch.

Where last year’s batting order had holes almost everywhere in April and again (via attrition) in September, these Braves were built to hit. What troubles me is that the 2010 Braves, limited though they were, proved resourceful in a way the 2011 club hasn’t yet. What troubles me is that the on-base percentage has sunk from .339 to .310.

By Mark Bradley

93 comments Add your comment

tyler

May 24th, 2011
12:03 pm

J.J.M.

May 24th, 2011
12:07 pm

Paul

May 24th, 2011
12:07 pm

Got to be missing Bobby Cox a little bit more now, eh?

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2011
12:09 pm

Kudos to tyler. A “tough luck” to J.J.M.

Curious George

May 24th, 2011
12:11 pm

Has Fredi Gonzalez been fired yet?

How about Larry Parrish?

Roger McDowell taking a leave of absence for his sensitivity training yet?

Are the Thrashers still here?

tyler

May 24th, 2011
12:12 pm

Good article. I have been watching the Braves since the late 80s and I can’t remember having such a hard time getting guys on base. It’s funny how Parrish is making Pendleton look like the better batting coach….I would venture to say that the 08 version (lost 90 games I believe) had a better OBP than these guys.

MitchC

May 24th, 2011
12:19 pm

The Braves have had seasons in the 1990s when they didnt have a high team batting average. The difference back then was that we had three future Hall of Famers named Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz in our rotation, who could pitch shutouts, or give up one or two runs, on most nights. This current pitching staff, has two old pitchers in Hudson and Lowe, and isn’t built to limit opponents to one run each night.

Hopefully the offensive problems are just an early season funk that will end up correcting itself. Although, seven weeks into the season, it probably is more than that.

I hope the hitters can get themselves corrected. After spending so much to sign Uggla, I dont see us adding a Fred Mcgriff type hitter at the trade deadline.

Curious George

May 24th, 2011
12:21 pm

Is Bruce Levenson in prison yet?

Jay

May 24th, 2011
12:21 pm

Uggla has been horrific. Who cares if he starts hitting in July when we’ll be 10 games out of first because of his lack of clutch hitting…or any hitting for that matter. What a bust. The guy hasn’t even been average. He’s setting a new low for free agent signees.

Fab Five Fredi

May 24th, 2011
12:31 pm

Why not try this injury riddled lineup:

1. Schafer Beer-CF
2. Misto DePrado-3B
3. Freebird Freeman-1B
4. Macho McCann-C
5. Pretty Uggla-2B
6. Hurricane Hinske-LF
7. “HitMan” Gonzalez-SS
8. Nothing tha Mather-RF

Looks like an imposing AAA lineup.

Peggy

May 24th, 2011
12:31 pm

Send Uggla to Mississippi to join Kawakami, they are a prized Frank Wren deal.

mountain_jim

May 24th, 2011
12:31 pm

When the Brave’s announcers are saying on the broadcast what’s wrong with Uggla’s approach (can’t reach the low outside pitch from too far off the plate) and demonstrating that with video, then what the *$#* job is the hitting coach doing while Uggla continues to struggle and look horrible doing it, and continues to stand too far from the plate it?

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2011
12:32 pm

Actually, the Braves hit .250 as a team in 1995, which ended well.

fromVA

May 24th, 2011
12:33 pm

Wasn’t there a huge push during spring training last year to be more patient at the plate and so forth? I thought that I remember a couple of TP interviews from around that time about that being the new strategy… getting higher pitch counts, walking more, etc. Maybe we were just seeing the fruits of those labors, which has since been forgotten..

AlphaMan06

May 24th, 2011
12:36 pm

Mark, what do you suggest? I think our pitching has been stellar this season. Barring a few injuries our pitching staff can compete with anybody. On the flipside…the hitting has been horrific. I think we might want to look at a midseason package deal to get rid of Uggla and McLouth. I think last year too, one thing to note is that our bench was better. We had guys that could come off the bench and get on base consistently and were versatile playing the field. Sadly, we made a trade with Florida for Uggla using some of those guys…I don’t think Fredi Gonzalez is the problem…I think its just one of those things that happen in a game like baseball…all it takes is one or two guys to be cold in the order and it will throw everything out of whack…Maybe FG should juggle the lineup a little and see what happens.

Fab Five Fredi

May 24th, 2011
12:43 pm

Another Batting Issue: Pitchers not helping themselves either. It seems that not only have the pitchers forgotten how to move runners over so has everyone else. Small ball is the style for the NL. Watching Tommy Hanson attempt to sacrifice bunt, makes me yearn for a mustard-stained, beer-swilling Gorman Thomas type swinging for the Fences as a DH. You may “lose” some strategy, but, I hate these “Automatic” outs that the pitchers have become.

Bill

May 24th, 2011
12:44 pm

Mark there was a report on ESPN saying the Braves should try and get Coco Crisp from Oakland..

Thoughts?

Fab Five Fredi

May 24th, 2011
12:46 pm

Coco Crisp, Count Chocula, Fruity Pebbles-Bam-Bam, anyone will do as long as they can hit. If that dadgum rabbit from Trix can run the bases , get his cotton tail too!!

Herschel Talker

May 24th, 2011
12:50 pm

MB:

Well written! Great read! I’m glad you took my advice and wrote on our appalling hitting and not that lowlife managing the Mets. This will not end well this year unfortunately. The other thing is that are you starting to get worried about Heyward’s consistent injuries? I’m thinking that he may be one of these guys that’s destined to be injured off-and-on throughout his career. What say you?

HT

Hillbilly Deluxe

May 24th, 2011
1:15 pm

That’s significant because Heyward was viewed as one of the keys to last season’s measured approach: He was the rare rookie who wasn’t afraid to take a pitch.

And last year, there were a lot of people here, and in other places, complaining that he took too many pitches.

Uggla has always been a strike out machine. What he’s doing this year isn’t a surprise, in that regard.

And for what it’s worth, I think OBP is more important than OPS, which in my opinion, is a stat for a stat’s sake. The stat I prefer to watch is Runs Produced, runs scored + runs batted in – home runs. Scoring them and driving them in is what really counts. And in my view, runs scored and runs batted in are equally important. You can’t drive them in, if they aren’t on base and you can’t score if nobody drives them in.

Tom in ATL

May 24th, 2011
1:23 pm

Came on here during offseason numerous times and said the Braves would be smart to add either Crisp or Rajai Davis – both were not too expensive, would give the Braves the leadoff hitter they have lacked since Furcal left – and would change the dynamics of our offense. Neither is an allstar – Crisp OBP percentage is not much better than we have now – and Davis is crazy fast but batting at the end of Toronto’s order – but would be a big improvement over what we throw out there night in and night out. Scott Posednik is another low cost – high upsde guy who just signed as FA with Phillies. We could have had him for nothing. Instead we get Schafer 2.0.

Jack in Macon

May 24th, 2011
1:23 pm

Uggla is pathetic at the plate trying to hit a breaking pitch, but from a long-term prospective I see Heyward as the biggest disappointment for the Braves.

In advertising, the definition of “hype” is claims without proof. Where is the proof he will be a consistent #3 hitter for the Braves. Many of you hate on Chipper, (he can’t help getting old), but where is there any proof Heyward will provide 50% of the production Chipper has produced over his hall-of-fame career? If that’s true, that’s big problems for the Atlanta Braves.

Heyward has numerous holes in his swing. He can’t hit a ball inside, up or down, and he’s limited to what he can do with the outside pitch. Sure, when he’s able to barrel a ball he hits it as hard as anyone, but that not very often. Defensively, he doesn’t go back on a ball well against the fence. He’s also injury prone.

I hope I’m wrong, but 5 years from now I’m seeing signs that Heyward’s potential was hype; just like Francour.

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2011
1:26 pm

I’m not sure the Braves are looking to shop yet. They’re three games over .500 and haven’t hit yet and are hurting, too. I think Frank Wren wants to see how his team is in a month.

Ted M

May 24th, 2011
1:28 pm

Mark – Do you think Fredi will bat Schefer leadoff tonight?

Mark's for the Braves

May 24th, 2011
1:38 pm

Would Uggla be willing to go to Gwinnett to try to get his act together? He is swinging for the fences on every pitch and swinging at everything. What is he trying to do–justify his contract with every swing he takes? Just settle down and have normal at bats. Hit a ball where it’s pitched and don’t pull everything!

TechRon

May 24th, 2011
1:39 pm

It is quite discouraging to watch them go up and hack at the first pitch and pop it up. They dont work the pitcher at all.

Honestly, I can’t remember a Braves team that really hit since back in the 60s and 70s. I have seen, year after year, lineups with what should be good hitters who simply do not produce. It is pitiful My wife, who is the all time Braves fan, is even becoming apathetic. That is really saying something, too. Look at them, so many under .225. It is a bad joke.

tyler

May 24th, 2011
1:47 pm

Mark’s for the Braves- I may be wrong but i think that if a veteran player is asked to go down to AAA he has to clear waivers first- and there’s no way Uggla would clear waivers at this point.

Abnerish

May 24th, 2011
1:56 pm

Perhaps Uggla’s issue is that he doesn’t have Braves pitching to feast on anymore!! Maybe the numbers don’t back this up, but I seem to remember Uggla killing Braves pitching when he was with the Marlins. And I never understood why. He always seemed susceptible to a good change-up or breaking ball.

I am interested to see who’s in the lineup tonight. I wonder if Fredi’s gonna draw names out of a hat tonight!?!

Dontavius Supremo

May 24th, 2011
1:56 pm

If Uggla can’t clear waivers then he just needs to ride the pines for a while and meditate.

snes

May 24th, 2011
2:06 pm

I can see how some people can complain about the hitters taking too many good pitches last year. I mean I’d rather see a swing strike 3 than a called strike 3 because at least you can say he went down swinging. However, this over aggressive swinging is killing the team’s OBP, Patience gets you to the opposing teams bullpen much quicker especially in an age of pitch counts. Patience might allow a top flight Halladay type pitcher to carve you up but it also lets you see all the pitches a rookie has so a hitter will can handle that pitcher better the next at bat. Also, the more a pitcher throws the higher the chance the pitcher will make a mistake. All too often I can get up to go to the bathroom when the Braves retire the opposing hitters and come back to commercials and the opposing team is batting again since the Braves made 3 outs on 5 pitches.

Hillbilly Deluxe

May 24th, 2011
2:11 pm

Most times, when a hitter takes a called strike 3, it’s because he was fooled by the pitch or guessed wrong. Most big league hitters are guess hitters.

phil

May 24th, 2011
2:17 pm

Mark Bradley

May 24th, 2011
12:32 pm
Actually, the Braves hit .250 as a team in 1995, which ended well.

Yes, and it might well have ended as 1996 ended but for Glavine throwing the game of his life and Justice managing to get a fly ball to clear the right field fence….we couldn’t hit then, as every other year, but got lucky at least that once….luck is not the recipe for world championships.

phil

May 24th, 2011
2:22 pm

Uggly needs to spend a game on the bench…period…same as everyone else when they go through a period like this….

How many consecutive games has the guy played in over the last few years? Is that the reason FG won’t sit him? A streak?

Mitchell

May 24th, 2011
2:29 pm

I wonder if anybody on the blog here or on DOB’s daily blog is aware of something I actually just found out, which is that from the first game after the 2009 All Star break to today the Braves-believe it or not-have the third most wins in baseball behind only the Yankees and Phillies.

And yet of the top five or six teams on the list you might say we’ve made the absolute least of our overall record.

First, you have the Yankees and Giants with the two World Series championships and an NL Pennant each for the Phillies and aforementioned Gigantes. Also, the Rays are tied with the Giants but have won their division, the AL East (the toughest division in the majors), twice in the last three years.

The Braves however with a total of 160 wins dating back to July 16, 2009, have a single playoff victory in one appearance.

And considering that they didn’t actually clinch the wild card until well after the conclusion of the last game of the 2010 season, we as fans were essentially deprived of any kind of celebratory reward for our commitment and loyalty to the team.

After all, attendance was up considerably last year. But think about it, there’s no Jim Powell radio call marking the achievement of winning the wild card and certainly nothing from the SportSouth broadcast. It’s not like they could stay on the air for three additional hours. I mean, in a way, there’s almost no record of the moment other than what appeared in the paper.

It all adds up to a giant pile of angst… no pun intended. They are arguably the third best team in baseball, or let’s just say on paper they’re pretty damn good, and yet they come across like they don’t belong on the same field with most teams.

Not to mention their sense of timing is a little lacking.

Seriously though, with their pitching and defense they shouldn’t be losing all these games. You don’t need to score ten runs to beat the Angels.

It might also be nice if they didn’t just pat guys on the butt and make sure their feelings don’t get hurt when they’re hitting .180 with 15 RBIs. Especially when they’re supposed to be hitting .260 with 35.

phil

May 24th, 2011
2:31 pm

“I am interested to see who’s in the lineup tonight. I wonder if Fredi’s gonna draw names out of a hat tonight!?!” ABNERISH

What could it hurt? We could run 4 or 5 of our pitchers out there to play some various positions and I can’t help but think it wouldn’t matter….a few more errors I suppose but nothing different at the plate…

phil

May 24th, 2011
2:37 pm

Mitchell – wow…wouldn’t have guessed that….problem is, as you point out…1 playoff win….end of discussion.

.180 is the new .260, btw…

Legend of Len Barker

May 24th, 2011
2:54 pm

I’ve seen Rick Camp hit a homer more recently than I’ve seen Uggla do anything except create a cool breeze.

I should admit, though, that I was rewatching my tape of the closing ceremonies for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

It’s a brand new game
Good to have you along
Hope you’re ready to cheer
We’re gonna do
All that we can
To let our team know we want them to win
It’s a brand new game
Let the action begin
Cause we’re ready to have some fun
Batter up, let’s go
Pitcher’s starting to throw
And we’re all so glad that we came
Cause it’s a brand new game

EW

May 24th, 2011
3:12 pm

Big Picture- Offense costs money. Always has always will. In any sport. And in Atlanta we have become accustomed to teams always underacheiving offensively bc we won’t spend the big bucks for it. Or in the case of the Hawks we overpay for it when we try (Joe Johnson, I am talking to you sir).

Fish Bisch

May 24th, 2011
3:18 pm

Charlie Morton owns us :(

Pig Farmers Local 42

May 24th, 2011
3:19 pm

We got Frank wren and Freddi G, my question is where is the other Stooge?

Herschel Talker

May 24th, 2011
3:19 pm

The other stooge is nose-picking Booby. Thank God he was put out to pasture.

Pig Farmers Local 42

May 24th, 2011
3:23 pm

LOL u go EW …..hit em where it hurts.

Fish Bisch

May 24th, 2011
3:24 pm

HGSchafer probably is not going to help matters for the better mb. For the worse, yes.

Jack G.

May 24th, 2011
3:34 pm

Baseball is not all physical. It also has its mental side, and these Braves are not known for their mental prowess.
Hitting is as much mental as it is physical. It is well known That swinging for the fence causes a lot of strike outs and dribblers in the infield. Especially hitters who are not power hitters but single and doubles hitters.
Power hitters should just try to hit the ball. Their natural power will get the home run frequently. Trying to hit homers everytrip to the plate just messes up timing and produces what we have with the braves now—-low OBP and RBI’s.
just go up to the plate—work the pitcher and dont overswing.
I would rather have a bases loaded single than a bases empty homer anyday.

ted williams head

May 24th, 2011
3:55 pm

cant see them all of a sudden become a run scoreing machine. i think Uggla has some real problems that the current hitting coach cant or doesnt know how to solve.
never liked Pendeleton as the coach but i think its time to bring him back. anyone would be an improvement over the status quo

Brett Favre was once a Falcon

May 24th, 2011
4:01 pm

Ah, Legend. You have brought back good memories. That Rick Camp homer is one of the best highlights in Braves history. I can still see Danny Heep of the Mets fall to his knees as the ball went over the fence for the most impossible home run of all times.

And that song. “Batter up, let’s go, pitcher’s starting to throw.” I sure do miss Skip and Pete.

Legend of Len Barker

May 24th, 2011
4:10 pm

You know, Brett, we were lovable losers. Much like those Falcons teams before your ill-fated attempt to displace Chris Miller.

Today’s Braves aren’t lovable, but they are losing. I bet Albert Hall could do as well now as what Jordan Schafer will do during his time with the big club.

jerry

May 24th, 2011
4:45 pm

The bottom line, Mr. Bradley, is runs. It is what makes the difference in winning and losing. The Braves are 3rd in the NL in run differential, that is why they are 26-23. The Cleveland Indians are 1st in run differential and 1st in winning percential in all of MLB.

Wink

May 24th, 2011
5:15 pm

The Braves are doing what they always do. Making lame batting attempts while keeping the club house temperment down. Uggla was brought in as power bat from the right side. He immediately advised that he does not hit in April or May but he will get it together. Well we could be 10 games back by then. Chipper is hurt, but he will keep making comebacks to prove he belongs. McCann will make anothe all star team without making an impact in Braves everyday line up, but he will get his hits with little impact on the game. Heyward will not live up to the potential that he displayed his rookie year, which means don’t believe the hype; getting impatient at the plate; McLouth wasting everybody time while trying to get career back on track. The Braves have nobody willing to kick a bucket, throw a bat, get upset…where is Escobar when you need him…oh yeah Bobby got rid of the malcontent:)

They will frustrate us most of the summer, while wasting good pitching performances, then they will tease us with a late run at the last playoff spot. If successful in getting that spot, they will go lay down and talk about how close they are; start the summer ticket drive on we will get them next year.

Same old Braves story, we will look to add another pitcher & talk about getting a real lead off hitter to only end up with a has been or never was player.

Braves needs contact hitters & speed, the very thing they fail to obtain year after year. There is no SHAME in MANUFACTURING RUNS!!

Alaska Braves Fan

May 24th, 2011
5:23 pm

I know I’m repeating myself, but all indicators seem to say that Uggla just can’t stand the pressure of having $62 million dollars weighing on his psyche, and Heyward can’t tolerate boo-boos. Too much money for Uggs and too little pain tolerance for Jason. I don’t see either of them playing up to his potential this year. Without them, we have to have a plan B.

Plan B may have fallen into our collective laps. Hinske and Mather, surprisingly, may be our best options in center and right, and both look to be much more productive than either Uggla – Mendoza-line-challenged Uggla – or Heyward, whose sophomore swoon has been remarkable. Just put those two into the lineup and let’s see what happens. That still leaves up with Uggla at second, but the fact that the Braves recently acquired Lugo suggests that if things become bad enough, we may see him in there.

If Chipper holds up, and so far he’s exceeding my expectations considerably; and if the starting pitching recovers from injuries and stays solid, we still have a good shot. Serendipity sometimes – not often – counts for more than careful planning.

ABF