Early October exit doesn’t dampen achievements
Two months from now, when the Braves arrive for the start of Spring Training, they will eagerly look forward to the chance to distance themselves from the pain that has existed since their eighth-inning lead in Game 4 of the National League Division Series was erased by a Juan Uribe home run that sent the Dodgers to the next round.
At the same time, the Braves will be looking forward to build off the success of a season in which Freddie Freeman entered the land of the elite and Craig Kimbrel cemented his status as baseball’s most dominant closer.
Still, while Freeman finished fifth in the NL MVP Award balloting and Kimbrel added a few honors, including Major League Baseball’s Delivery Man of the Year, the most impressive contributions might have been made by Andrelton Simmons, who spent this past season leading some to compare his defensive greatness to Ozzie Smith‘s.
Much of the preseason hype that surrounded the Braves focused on the potential of a lineup that had added the dynamic capabilities of the Upton brothers. But while Justin Upton produce a couple torrid stretches, his older brother B.J. found his first season in Atlanta filled with utter disappointment.
Still, as their two highest-paid players hit below the Mendoza Line, the Braves received tremendous consistency from a pitching staff that led the Majors in ERA (3.18), despite being depleted by significant season-ending injuries suffered by Tim Hudson, Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters.
Kimbrel, Simmons make ATL ‘pen, defense elite
The Braves bullpen is rated the best in the majors by ESPN’s Buster Olney, part of his series of Top 10 rankings for each component of MLB teams.
The big reason for the big ranking is, of course, Craig Kimbrel, the majors’ most dominant closer over the past three seasons and a guy that Olney referred to as the Mike Trout of relief pitchers, in terms of the spectacular manner in which the two of them have begun their careers.
Buster has ranked major league lineups, rotations, bullpens and defenses. The Braves’ lineup didn’t make his top 10, but their rotation was eighth (fifth in the NL), and he ranked Atlanta’s defense as the best in the NL and third-best in the majors, behind Baltimore and Kansas City.
He said that many scouts rate the Braves average or below-average defensively at catcher, second base, third base and left field, yet Olney still ranked their overall defense as the best in the league. Most of the credit for that goes to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who won the Rawlings Platinum Glove as the best overall defender in the NL. Olney also noted that Jason Heyward has a Gold Glove and Freddie Freeman is also regarded as a “plus” defender by scouts.
Atlanta Braves in talks to bring back Eric O’Flaherty
Eric O’Flaherty made only 19 appearances for the Atlanta Braves last season. He was then forced to miss the remainder of the season due to Tommy John Surgery. Now a free agent, O’Flaherty is generating some interest as he works his way back.
David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the Braves are interested in bringing O’Flaherty back.
In those 19 appearances in 2013 O’Flaherty posted a 3-0 record and a 2.50 ERA. In the two seasons prior, O’Flaherty was just plain nasty, and teams who remember those seasons will surely be interested in at least “checking in” with O’Flaherty.
2011: 78 games, 0.98 ERA, 393 ERA+ (eight earned runs all season)
O’Flaherty is not necessarily a fire-baller, but he is very effective against left-handed hitters. In 2012 he allowed only a .113 average against to lefties; in 2011, that number was .193. But as his total number of appearances in those seasons would indicate, he is effective enough against right-handed hitters that he is more than a specialist.
It went mostly unnoticed, as Braves minor league signings often do, but they added a little more pop and experience to the Triple-A Gwinnett squad with the signing of 29-year-old free-agent first baseman Mark Hamilton.
While it’s not been said, the move that seemingly makes slugger Ernesto Mejia more expendable, perhaps if another team could be enticed by Mejia’s robust minor-league stats.
A former Cardinals second-round draft pick, Hamilton has just two big-league callups in eight minor league seasons, including seven years in the Cardinals organization and last season in the Red Sox organization. He hit .197 with three doubles and 21 strikeouts in 66 major league plate appearances in 2010-2011 with St. Louis.
A 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-handed hitter, Hamilton has a .276 career average with 101 home runs and a .364 OBP in 689 minor league games, including a 20-homer season in 2010. He totaled 27 homers in 179 games (609 at-bats) over the past two seasons, all but seven of those games in Triple-A.
This past season with Pawtucket (Red Sox), he played 44 games at DH, 24 at first base and 20 in left field.