By Scott Barzilla

The Atlanta Braves rebounded from their disastrous 2011 finish to claim one of the wild card spots in 2012. Under the new rules they played a one game playoff and went on their way. All things told, it was a successful season for the Braves. The Cardinals did them in again just like they did last year, but the whole exercise of patience (unlike their friends from Boston) worked out well for them.

Now, they find themselves in a state of transition. Chipper Jones is retiring and nothing could keep that from happening, but they are also losing Michael Bourn to free agency. Shortly before the Winter Meetings, they dealt former top prospect Tommy Hanson to the Los Angeles Angels for Jordan Walden. The rotation will look different than people expected a few years back with both Hanson and Jair Jurrjens being gone. Baseball is about change.

   

TRIF

Rank

Outlook
C Brian McCann

 

+2.5

9th

McCann is normally a fixture at the top of the offensive rankings and bottom of the defensive. Go figure.
1B Freddie Freeman

 

-2.9

22nd

Freeman has two consecutive 90+ RBI campaigns, but he is more pedestrian than you think.
2B Dan Uggla

 

+7.5

5th

See Brian McCann.
3B Chipper Jones

 

-0.3

18th

The veteran of many battles is finally calling it quits. Defensively, the Braves are better off.
SS Paul Janish

 

+4.1

12th

Janish took over in a pinch when Andrelton Simmons went down. Simmons is a top five defender.
LF Martin Prado

 

+5.5

4th

Prado can play any position well, but he likely won’t be this good again.
CF Michael Bourn

 

+14.2

1st

Bourn is unofficially still here, but with B.J. Upton coming in he is a not so distant memory.
RF Jason Heyward

 

+18.7

1st

You win with star power and Heyward looks like he will be one for the next decade.
Total  

 

+49.3

1st

The Braves hope improvements at short and third will offset the loss of Michael Bourn.

Catcher

Brian McCann is one of the best offensive catchers in the game. He had a down season with the bat, but an uncharacteristic good season with the glove. All told, winning games is about scoring more runs than the other team. Whether you drive them in or prevent them with your defense makes no difference. The Braves will be a study in that fact this season as there is little way they will lead the league in defensive runs again.

Freddie Freeman

Freeman is one of those players that kinds of lulls you into a false sense of security. There are numerous players out there that we might call accumulators. They exist in every sport and the danger is in mistaking an accumulator for a star. He might even surpass 100 RBIs this season, but really he is nothing more than an above average performer.

Second Base

Dan Uggla’s season paralleled McCann’s season almost directly. He was a top five defensive performer last season when he had never finished in the top 20. Yet, he was a significant disappointment with the bat. All told, he will likely end up on the same all-around TRI level as he had in the past. They really don’t need as much pure power from him as they did in the past, but he does need to get back to his OBP days in Miami.

Third Base

Chipper Jones has been a butcher for most of his career at third base. Juan Francisco has pure power to burn and profiles as a mediocre defensive third baseman. If those trends continue they could end being better off in the long run. Martin Prado can also play third if they can find a corner outfielder to take his slot. Essentially, they have options so they aren’t in horrible shape.

Shortstop

The Braves were a tale of three shortstops this season. They started off with Tyler Pastornicky and he was a disaster defensively. They shifted to Andrelton Simmons and he was a revelation. Even with Paul Janish’s numbers, Simmons was better in fewer innings. Yet, the rules are the rules, so they will have to look forward to the improvement next season.

Left Field

Martin Prado played very well for a converted infielder last season. It was his second full season in the outfield and the familiarity showed. Prado likely will move back to the infield out of necessity at some point. His offensive output is not the normal output for a corner outfielder, so the Braves may eventually either move him to third base or trade him.

Center Field

There is a saying about high ticket free agents. The general idea is that you can pay them whatever you want but it doesn’t change the player. The Braves will pay B.J. Upton 15 million a season for the next five years, but that doesn’t make him a 15 million dollar player. Upton is average at best across the board, but the Braves didn’t want to pay Bourn his asking price. I can’t say I blame them on that front, but they will suffer here just the same.

Right Field

Jason Heyward is the closest thing the Braves have to a legitimate star and he will need to take the next step for them to stay in the playoff race. His defense is already elite defensively, so he just needs to take the next step offensively. He can hit for power, steal bases, and steal first base. He just needs to do all of those things with more frequency. When someone can do all of those things there is always a good chance that they will.

 

 

Scott Barzilla

Scott Barzilla is the editor in chief at hardballchat.com. He is also the author of four books, including The Hall of Fame Index. The Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical innovation in 2011.

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