The Braves have reached the halfway point in the season. To start, a few team numbers. The Braves have a record of 48-34, which places them 3rd in the National League and in a tie for 4th in all of baseball in record. They currently hold a 6 1/2 game lead on first place in the NL East, the largest lead of any division in all of baseball. The pitching has allowed the second least runs in baseball, and the offense is 4th in the National League in total runs scored. It’s hard to say it’s been a rough start, but at times it does feel like it has been rough with the team’s veteran starter, Tim Hudson, finally showing signs of age and hitters like B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, and Jason Heyward coming out of the gate so poorly. That said, as guys who started hot (Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Ramiro Pena) have come back to Earth somewhat, those aforementioned three hitters have seemingly come to life. The team has done all this while having the second-youngest hitters in the league and the third-youngest pitching staff in the league! Let’s look back on how the team has performed in the first half of the season:
Catcher – Brian McCann has been rather streaky since his return, Evan Gattis has been nothing short of a revelation, and Gerald Laird has hit well as well as being excellent behind the plate. Not a ton to review here!
Production: .244/.326/.446 with 15 home runs
First Base – Freddie Freeman has matured to the player we all thought he could be, despite missing some time due to a fairly controversial DL stint. His fill-ins during his absence, Chris Johnson and Evan Gattis, handled the position well offensively, but Freddie’s defense was notably missed.
Production: .316/.389/.465 with 9 home runs
Second Base – Dan Uggla has experienced a revelation since his recent visit to the eye doctor. He may have to have LASIK in the offseason, and hopefully this was not the issue for the last 2.5 years and no one thought to address it! Ramiro Pena has played the position exceptionally well, but he was recently lost for the season. Tyler Pastornicky is the only other person to play a game at the position, but that will likely change with defensive wizard Paul Janish taking in Pena’s role and hopefully sparking late-inning defensive wizardry with Simba.
Production: .219/.332/.403 with 13 home runs
Third Base – The Braves started with a platoon at third, but they decided that Juan Francisco‘s bat was not enough to keep Chris Johnson off the field. Johnson’s bat has been very solid, but his glove has been nothing short of scary. The position is the most visited of all positions for the Braves as well, with 5 players having taken a turn at the hot corner this season. This seems to be the one position that the Braves could reasonably find an upgrade for in the daily lineup, but the guys who are rumored to be out there aren’t exactly great pickings. Luis Valbuena? Don’t trust it’s real. Trevor Plouffe? Let’s just keep the better hitter in Johnson if we’re going for putrid defense at the position. Alberto Callaspo? While I don’t bet on the Angels selling, I could see the contact-driven Callaspo being one of the few possible options that would make some sense for the Braves.
Production: .275/.323/.449 with 11 home runs
Shortstop – Andrelton Simmons has been up and down this whole season, and sadly some of that has been defensively as well. He is absolutely amazing to watch at shortstop, but he has gone through a couple stretches of a few games where he bobbled a number of plays. Granted, he still leads all of the major leagues in defensive bWAR, but he may have seen his hitting suffer some from being miscast as a leadoff hitter for this team.
Production: .249/.289/.347 with 7 home runs and 5 stolen bases
Left Field – Justin Upton was nothing short of amazing the first month of the season. He’s been nothing short of frustrating ever since. Justin has offered very good fielding with some minor lapses in his transition from one corner to the other of the outfield. His power in April was evident, and he’s flashed speed as well, rating second on the team in stolen bases with 6, only being caught once. He has a reputation as a streaky player, and he just as easily could replicate April in the second half and be an easy MVP candidate.
Production: .235/.335/.433 with 16 home runs and 7 stolen bases
Center Field – B.J. Upton has spent exactly 0 days above a .180 batting average this season. I’m not saying batting average is the only measure of a hitter or even a great statistic, but that is startling. His defense has been tremendous, but even that fielding has combined with his hitting to make him below replacement level (Fangraphs and Baseball Reference differ in their value of his defense, with Fangraphs having BJ with a 0.0 fWAR and Baseball Reference giving him a -0.7 bWAR). Jordan Schafer has been a revelation and has played more and more in BJ’s place as of late, giving the Braves a solid leadoff presence with good defense in center field.
Production: .208/.297/.356 with 9 home runs and 7 stolen bases
Right Field – Jason Heyward had an emergency appendectomy while the team was suffering through below-freezing weather in Colorado, and it has taken him until June to really hit his stride. Schafer was able to fill in for Heyward while he was out and show that his former top prospect status may still have a glimmer of hope. However, if Heyward keeps hitting with a .308/.368/.500 line as he did in June, Schafer may be only getting his reps at center.
Production: .246/.352/.384 with 7 home runs and 5 stolen bases
Bench – This has been the Braves’ biggest strength this season. You have Evan Gattis with 14 home runs, Jordan Schafer with a near-.400 on-base percentage. You have Ramiro Pena producing a 110 OPS+ while playing around the infield with a great glove. Even the “worst” of the Braves bench this season, Reed Johnson, has had multiple big-game moments this season. The non-statistical thing that I have loved while watching this team is the random comments you can catch on the air from the dugout as a player is hitting. The Braves were concerned about losing the leadership of Eric Hinske and David Ross from the bench, but the new bench has not only done the job, but they’ve arguably been the best bench unit in the entire game!
Production combined between PH/DH: .281/.353/.552 with 9 home runs
Starting pitching – The Braves starters have been extremely solid this season, outside of an inconsistent performance from elder statesman Tim Hudson, who has still given the Braves multiple runs of excellence already this season. Mike Minor seems to be knocking on the door of “ace-dom”, Julio Teheran has been tremendous after a rocky first few starts, Paul Maholm has pitched to exactly what you were expecting from him, and Kris Medlen has overcome early hittability to put up the second best ERA among the staff. Even Hudson’s season, which has been frustrating at times, has led to a 4.22 ERA, and he still gives the team 6 innings per game nearly every time out. In fact, with the youth on the staff, that has been one surprising statistic, beyond the fact that only a doubleheader start by Alex Wood stands between the Braves having every game started by their opening day starting 5 this season, that the staff has given their manager an AVERAGE of 6 1/3 innings every time out. While we may be frustrated with the use of some relievers, the fact is that the quality pitching from the rotation has not one single pitcher on pace for 80 innings or 80 appearances this season.
Production: 3.42 ERA, 1.198 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 3.30 K/BB
Relief pitching – Arguably the best bullpen in all of baseball, the Braves have had great performances from nearly every regular member of the bullpen. Cory Gearrin’s 3.30 ERA is the HIGHEST of any regular member of the bullpen this season. The Braves have been very solid in their bullpen and have even seen 2012 draftee Alex wood sport a Kimbrel-esque 12.5 K/9 from the left side. Most have noted the bullpen as a place that requires a trade for another piece, but the Braves have certainly had no issues with quality production from their bullpen this season.
Production: 2.70 ERA, 1.152 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 2.38 K/BB
All in all, the Braves have had a very good first half, as frustrating as they can be at times. The offense has been inconsistent, but it still rates as one of the more productive in all the game, and the pitching has been stellar. Here’s to a second half that is as good or even better than the first half!