The Atlanta Braves infield always seems to see major overhauls year after year. The only player to stay in the Braves infield for more than just a few years is Chipper Jones, who has been around for more than half my life. Otherwise, new faces pop up across the diamond on an annual basis, and this season is no different.
Brian McCann saw a spike in walks and on-base ability in 2010, posting a 13.1 BB% and .375 OBP. However, his power also saw a dip to .453 SLG and .184 ISO. The result was an increase of one win from 4.3 fWAR to 5.3 fWAR. McCann was worth more to the Braves in 2010, and he continues to establish himself as true competition for Joe Mauer as the best catcher in the game. In fact, he has a higher fWAR than Mauer in two of the past three years.
Bill James: 579 PA, .280/.366/.493, 38 2B, 24 HR, 94 RBI, 11.1 BB%, 17.5 K%, .372 wOBA, .213 ISO
Marcel: 538 PA, .279/.361/.468, 30 2B, 19 HR, 77 RBI, 10.6 BB%, 17.9 K%, .361 wOBA, .189 ISO
ZiPS: .275/.357/.469, 34 2B, 22 HR, 89 RBI, 63 BB, 91 K, 120 OPS+
The Braves are getting a definite upgrade at first base, both offensively and defensively, in Freddie Freeman. Troy Glaus hit .240/.344/.400 with 16 home runs, a .331 wOBA and .160 ISO. These are not numbers you want to see from your first baseman, especially when he runs in quicksand and plays hurt more than half the time. Freeman brings youth, energy, health, a better bat and much better defense.
Freeman hit .319/.378/.518 with 18 home runs, a .387 wOBA and .200 ISO as a 20-year-old in AAA. Freeman's two concerns: walks and power. A strikeout rate of more than 20% is reasonable to expect in the beginning, but as his minor league stats show, and according to his approach and swing, he should settle around 15-18%. His walk rate has never touched higher than 8.8%, so anything higher than that as a major leaguer is questionable. Settling at 8% is reasonable.
Freeman's power is in question due to a short, compact swing. He chokes up on the bat and puts good backspin on the ball with a downward swing, keeping his hands in well and using all parts of the field. This is not your normal report on a first baseman, but Freeman really isn't your normal hitting first baseman. But he is still developing strength at 21 years old, and he seems to be behind most at his age because he is just now working out at full max. This could be big over the next few years as he continues to gain muscle.
Freeman will struggle at times, but there really shouldn't be much question as to whether he will stick. I fully expect him to make an impact as high as sixth in the order this season, while playing solid defense at first.
Bill James: 552 PA, .282/.335/.446, 34 2B, 16 HR, 83 RBI, 7.4 BB%, 18.2 K%, .343 wOBA, .164 ISO
Marcel: 212 PA, .262/.327/.419, 10 2B, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 8 BB%, 20.4 K%, .329 wOBA, .157 ISO
ZiPS: .272/.333/.442, 35 2B, 18 HR, 85 RBI, 45 BB, 105 K, 106 OPS+
Dan Uggla is a 30-homer second baseman with a OBP of .349 for his career. He is the right-handed pop the Braves have needed for several years, and the Braves will have that pop for five years. While I don't necessarily agree with the extension, this post is meant for this season alone, and Uggla should provide what the Braves have sorely lacked for a while.
At 31 years old, Uggla should remain at his prime numbers for a couple more seasons, which would give the Braves 30 home runs and a ISO well above .200. While I originally wrote that Uggla's power may decrease some at Turner Field, I will wait for evidence before I say it causes a drop below 30 home runs. Either way, it's power at a prime position from the right side, and the Braves will take it.
Uggla's defense is another story. He is below average at second with bad hands and limited range, and I refuse to accept any sort of bad infield argument while all you have to do is look at his fielding. Adding this to an already poor team defense will lead to runs allowed, but it's the price the Braves are paying for his bat.
Bill James: 666 PA, .256/.346/.471, 32 2B, 31 HR, 90 RBI, 11.4 BB%, 25.4 K%, .355 wOBA, 215 ISO
Marcel: 604 PA, .260/.352/.472, 28 2B, 27 HR, 83 RBI, 11.8 BB%, 27 K%, .359 wOBA, .212 ISO
ZiPS: .259/.346/.469, 28 2B, 29 HR, 87 RBI, 71 BB, 144 K, 116 OPS+
Jones is still productive. The power has almost disappeared, recording ISO numbers in the .160s the past two years. He doesn't have the bat speed to drive balls on the outer half or up in the zone like he used to, but his eye and discipline has not failed him.
Jones recorded more walks than strikeouts for the fourth straight season in 2010. His OBP has decreased over that span, but .381 isn't exactly shabby. He hit 16% on the walk rate for a third straight season, and his strikeout rate of 14.8% was below his career average. This is a productive hitter.
We know what to expect from Jones. He will sit once every week or two weeks, and he may hit the disabled list, but while he is able to play, he will continue to provide some of the best on-base numbers on the team. Don't expect some kind of rebound season from him. His numbers will remain the same while he is able to play.
Bill James: 473 PA, .288/.401/.481, 24 2B, 17 HR, 66 RBI, 15.6 BB%, 16.8 K%, .389 wOBA, .193 ISO
Marcel: 450 PA, .271/.376/.432, 20 2B, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 14.4 BB%, 17.4 K%, .353 wOBA, .161 ISO
ZiPS: .258/.370/.416, 19 2B, 11 HR, 48 RBI, 63 BB, 58 K, 111 OPS+
Alex Gonzalez's 17 home runs prior to joining the Braves in 2010 was the product of Toronto. He had a .497 SLG and 112 OPS+ with the Jays, and a .386 SLG and 83 OPS+ with the Braves. I would hope Gonzalez can do better than that over a full season in Atlanta, because if he can't, he will become a huge hole in the lineup with his lack of plate discipline. Gonzalez has recorded a walk rate of 4.7% and 4.8% over the last two seasons.
He will provide above average defense where the Braves need it badly, so like with Uggla's defense, it's the price the Braves are paying. Don't expect a lot from Gonzalez offensively, but he needs to give the team good defense.
Bill James: 430 PA, .241/.291/.405, 26 2B, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 5.3 BB%, 19.9 K%, .300 wOBA, .164 ISO
Marcel: 563 PA, .244/.291/.406, 32 2B, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 5.3 BB%, 19.3 K%, .303 wOBA, .162 ISO
ZiPS: .253/.295/.414, 30 2B, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 24 BB, 86 K, 88 OPS+
My Projected Bench:
C – David Ross
1B/3B/OF – Joe Mather
1B/OF – Eric Hinske
INF – Diory Hernandez
OF – Matt Young