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Atlanta Braves Offense Hindered By Balls In Play And Line Drives

The Braves have struggled to a 4-6 record in the first 10 games of the season behind a timid offense.

I hate making these posts because the Braves have played only 10 games, and the last thing I want is to become like every other MLB fan who overreacts to 10-game stretches. Baseball is a 162-game season. It is highly unlikely a team can keep up the same rate of hitting and pitching over that long of a stretch. Yet, people continue to pull their hair out over such things, and I continue to shake my head.

But at the same time, every game counts in a season, and these 10-game stretches do matter. So let's look into what has ailed the Braves offense to this point.

As a team, the Braves rank last in the National League in wOBA at .279. They hold a slash of .229/.287/.343, with a BB% of 6.9% and K% of 17.7%. Their ISO sits at .113 and their wRC+ sits at 69. These are not pretty numbers, and it is why the Braves are 4-6 to begin the season.

At first glance, a glaring problem for the offense is a .261 BABIP. You don't have to be a stat head to see that the Braves have been unlucky on balls in play. Their strikeout percentage is third-best in the league, yet they are 11th in hits and fifth in plate appearances. This is a telling sign of bad luck.

But at the same time, the team's line drive percentage is third-worst in the league at 16.3%. They are in the top half in ground balls and in the middle of the road in fly balls. They are not making solid contact, and this also leads to poor balls in play numbers. If you don't hit the ball hard, there's a greater chance you don't reach base. It's pretty simple.

Jason Heyward, Alex Gonzalez, Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, Nate McLouth, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman all have BABIP's below the norm. Who's missing? Brian McCann and his .433 mark. Why? He has a 26.7 LD%. The best mark for the rest of those names is 25% by McLouth and Heyward at 20%, but the rest are way down.

The reason for Uggla's struggles stems from line drives. He has a mark of 9.4% compared to a fly ball rate of 50%. Uggla is pressing early in the season, and with it being the only time he hasn't played for the Marlins, it's understandable. The guy has hit 30 home runs each of the past four seasons. I think he deserves some time.

The offense seems to be hacking at times. There have been a lot of first-pitch swings, and while the contact is there, the selection could be a lot better. This leads to fewer balls squared up on, which leads to fewer line drives.

And then there's the walks. The Braves were third in MLB and first in the National League in walk percentage last year. The addition of Heyward's 14.6%, McCann's increase to 13.1% and Chipper's 16% helped lead the offense to this number.

Through 10 games in 2011, the Braves are 26th in baseball and 14th in the NL in walk percentage. Aside from Heyward's eight walks, the next highest number is two, which is held by seven different hitters. Once again, swinging early in the count helps lead to this, and this has helped lead to a poor OBP by the team.

Given all of the bad news, what is the solution? As a team, seeing more pitches and looking for better pitches can help. Better contact will come as a result, as will the walks. The offense is pressing as a whole, and it will continue to until they grow more comfortable at the plate. This is as often a team-oriented thing as an individual thing.

The Braves will live and die by Prado's batting average as far as setting the table goes. He isn't getting on base over this 10-game stretch, but he wouldn't be leading off if he wasn't capable of going on several hot 10-game stretches. It requires patience on his part. Him getting on base opens up more opportunities for the rest of the order, which in turn leads to more hits and runs.

And it wouldn't be right if I didn't mention Fredi Gonzalez's decision to put Heyward sixth in the order. While I hate to return to this for the 1,000th time, it has to be noted as one of the reasons for the Braves' lack of offense, and as long as McLouth continues to hit second, it will hinder this team. Not allowing the best hitter on the team the most plate appearances possible per game is nothing short of dumb. It is a proven fact the second spot is one of the most important spots in the lineup, so much more than sixth. Heyward's .421 OBP is being wasted.

Again, the offense will be fine. Teams go on 10-game stretches where they can't score runs. The Braves have too much talent on offense for it to be a burden. Things usually even out over a stretch of 162 games.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.