Defense Should Be A Focus In Atlanta Braves' Winter Plans

Freddie Freeman will be a markedly better fielder than Troy Glaus was, which should help out the whole infield. But focusing on a great defensive outfielder this winter should help them get back to the playoffs again in 2011.

The Braves were solid offensively and on the mound this season, but struggled mightily defensively. An improvement in the outfield and in the infield should certainly help.

As the world saw in the first round of the playoffs, defensive miscues can lead to a game and/or series completely changing. Brooks Conrad, while a hero for most of the regular season, was the goat in the post-season due to his consistently bad defense. Of course, the Braves had no plans of playing Conrad regularly in the playoffs at the beginning of the year, but injuries deterred those original plans.

This winter, the Braves only have an opening in one outfield spot, with the potential to also acquire a right-handed platoon partner for Nate McLouth. McLouth's defense in centerfield is notably bad, so unless the Braves acquire a big left or right-handed every day option for left field, Nate should be in left more often than center. His defense in left is much better, and his bat can live out there if he ever gets back to his performances in his pre-Atlanta days. 

Depending on options being picked up, non-tenders, and players available via trade, they can go a few ways in the search for one or two outfielders. In center, unless they are able to acquire Colby Rasmus from the Cardinals, acquiring a defense-first player would be wise. Of the potentially available players, Coco Crisp would be the best option if the Braves decide to go that route.

Crisp is a consistently solid defender in terms of the Fielding Bible's metrics and UZR/150, a statistic that denotes defensive efficiency over long periods of positive or negative marks. Offensively, Crisp had a solid season for Oakland despite playing just 75 games with only 328 plate appearances. The switch-hitting center fielder had a .342 on base percentage, hit eight home runs, and stole 32 bases -- he was caught just three times. While not the power bat that many hope to acquire, Crisp represents a solid defensive player with speed and decent on base skills.

More options will be examined as the winter meetings get closer, but the Braves will likely look for a powerful hitter for left field rather than a solid fielder. As mentioned, if McLouth is platooned then this makes sense, since Nate could provide solid defense in left in terms of range.

The Braves should improve defensively in the infield, where Freddie Freeman will likely play every day. Freeman is a very skilled first basemen, and Troy Glaus was anything but. The defensive improvement at first will make for a big difference, and should also help the rest of the infielders. Chipper Jones will be older and less mobile while recovering from ACL surgery, but was playing solid defense in 2010. 

The Braves were a top five National League team offensively and on the mound, but they lost games in the regular season and post-season because of defense. This, not the powerful clean-up hitter, should be the Braves' biggest focus this winter.

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