The Braves made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. Who were the biggest reasons for getting as far as they did?
The Braves, while falling short against the Giants in the playoffs, had a great season with a combination of veterans and young talent. Some players, like Martin Prado and Omar Infante, broke out while consistent stars like Brian McCann and Tim Hudson continued to succeed.
The easiest way to decide who the most valuable player was is based on actual metrics. Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, combines offense, defense, and base-running to determine how valuable a player is. There are discrepancies between Fangraphs WAR and Rally WAR -- used on Baseball-Reference -- but the end results are rather similar. Below are the five leaders in both versions of the statistic, followed by my personal rankings based off of the results.
1. Brian McCann: 5.3
2. Jason Heyward: 5.0
3. Tommy Hanson: 4.3
4. Martin Prado: 3.9
1. Tim Hudson: 5.4
2. Brian McCann: 4.7
3. Jason Heyward: 4.4
4. Chipper Jones: 3.2
5. Omar Infante: 2.9
The biggest difference between the two is Tim Hudson being tied for fifth in fWAR (Fangraphs WAR) and in first by a large margin in regards to rWAR (Rally WAR). The reason for this is that fWAR uses FIP, which is a statistic that attempts to push luck to the side, and rWAR uses ERA, which we all know simply states how many earned runs per nine innings a pitcher allowed. Hudson's low strikeout rate is the main reason for his low fWAR, which does not accurately portray how effective his sinker really was.
In my opinion, Hudson was definitely a valuable player for the Braves, but not as valuable as others. Jason Heyward, when considering how impressive he was at the plate, in the field, and on the basepaths, was the most valuable player on this team. Both versions of WAR give a boost to players who play difficult positions, such as catcher. This is why McCann's total is higher than Heyward's. You could reasonably say that McCann was the MVP, but to me it was Heyward.
Top Five Most Valuable Players:
1. Jason Heyward
2. Brian McCann
3. Tim Hudson
4. Tommy Hanson
5. Omar Infante
Hanson and Infante round out the top five for their contributions to the team despite the injuries around them. Infante provided flexibility defensive and offensively, moving around the lineup and around the field throughout the season. Hanson, in just his second Major League season, started 32 games and pitched to a 3.33 ERA -- John Smoltz has the same career ERA. Hanson, along with Lowe and Hudson, pitched the entire season while others were consistently injured. Hanson increased is strikeout-to-walk ratio, and had the lowest FIP on the starting staff at 3.31. He pitched as well as his ERA showed, which is pretty darn impressive in just his second year. Hanson will be a staff ace for a long time, and next season we should see an even better Tommy on the mound.
Every member on all three lists will be back next season, unless an unforeseen trade occurs. The Braves need only a few minor improvements to have a team capable of advancing as far, if not further, than they did this season. All of these player deserve praise for their performance, durability, and perseverance, especially the young Jason Heyward.