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The Braves vs. the NL East: Infielders

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This is the third (and probably longest) post in the series from us here at TomahawkTake.com where we analyze the Braves’ players and how they stack up against their competition in the National League East. In this piece, we will cover the men of the dirt, the infielders.

As of today, here is how the infield starting depth charts stack up for each of the NL East squads:

NLEastInfielders1

Expected playing time, due to age, positional depth, injury risk, and manager tendencies must be taken into account when assessing and predicting these players’ likely performance for the 2014 season. Players such as Anthony Rendon and David Wright are likely to play a full season this year, while Ruben Tejada and one of Ike Davis/Lucas Duda are likely to rebound from less than stellar 2013 performances.

 

Recap

In 2013, the Braves led the division in team infielder fWAR values with a healthy 13.3 wins  (2.77 fWAR/600 PAs) above replacement.
A bit of a shocker to me, but the Mets were 2nd at 9.9 fWAR (1.82 fWAR/600 PAs)
Nationals were 3rd:  7.0 fWAR (1.36 fWAR/600 PAs)
Phillies were 4th:  5.3 fWAR (1 fWAR/600 PAs)
Marlins brought up the rear with their squad costing the team wins; -3.6 fWAR (-0.77 fWAR/600 PAs)

 

The Players

Based on the players listed above, these are my projections on how they will perform in 2014 vs. their 2013 results.

 

Here’s a few of the details:

Starting with the Braves, Chris Johnson is likely to regress from his .394 BABIP that he posted last season, despite the fact that he posts a healthy LD% due to his approach at the plate. His BABIP was the 11th highest posted by any major league since 1990; thus, to expect him to repeat this performance is pretty unrealistic. Of the 10 hitters who are above him on this list, every one of them saw their babip drop the season after. While batted ball data would need to be analyzed for closure, the average drop in babip was 61 points. Should Chris’ babip drop near this amount, without any increase in power, his bat becomes pretty average, and with his poor baserunning and defense, he could end up becoming a bit of a liability.

  • Dan Uggla should be able to perform better than he did last season, especially in the 2nd half; if he cannot, the Braves will have several options from which to choose so that they can improve at the position.

The Marlins need LOTS of help. It’s going to take massive improvement for their infield to not be costing the team wins this season. There isn’t really anyone here I think is good. Garrett Jones has some power, but outside of him, the squad is pretty poor.

The Mets infield was the 2nd best in the NL East last season, and will probably have a decent chance to do so yet again in 2014. David Wright staying healthy all season should help, as he is a bonafide star at the hot corner. Daniel Murphy is a somewhat underrated 2B, and should continue to improve as he is in his prime. While their 1B aren’t great, using a combination of Lucas Duda and Ike Davis, 2 young players with power, should help propel the Mets offense behind Wright.

Outside of Cody Asche, the Phillies infield is old. Chase Utley still has some value in his bat, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start to fall off this season. Ryan Howard is decent, but as an aging slugger, he too should be expected to decline. Jimmy Rollins has lost his power and is losing his speed as well, so he, like most of the Phillies team is on the way down. Asche has some potential, after posting a 90 OPS+ in his age 23 season, but he is still largely an unknown.

The Nationals are on the trend up. Ryan Zimmerman is very good 3B in the National League East. While he has his defensive problems, his bat is pretty good as he helps to anchor the middle of the order for the Washington lineup. Ian Desmond took a slight step back last season, but was still very productive; at his age, he should be expected to maintain this performance, if not get better. Anthony Rendon will be the starting 2B for the Nationals this season; he started just under 100 games last season, and posted 1.5 fWAR. If he plays a full season, he could post around 2.5 fWAR for the Nationals, which combined with losing Steve Lombardozzi and gaining a healthier Danny Espinosa should allow the Nats to improve slightly from last season.

 

Bench Players

 

In my opinion, the Braves have the best bench in the NL East. I may be biased (or less knowledgeable about the other teams), but the Braves have some great young depth at these infield positions, and are returning players that performed well for the team last season. Ramiro Pena brings great defense on the left side of the infield, and Ryan Doumit brings power off of the bench. Joey Terdoslavich will bring even more power off the bench for the Braves, as well as a backup for Freddie Freeman. If Pastornicky can make the team, he’ll add a contact bat as well as good speed.

The Nationals are depending on Danny Espinosa’s recovery from his injury last season to be fully healed, to now allow him to be useful as a middle IF backup. He would provide solid defense, and good power off the bench for their team. Chad Tracy‘s 2013 was pretty bad, but it may have been due to his .220 babip on the season. He should be expected to rebound, until he shows otherwise. Their bench won’t be great, but it should be decent enough for the Nationals to feel comfortable with its performance.

The Mets will have a good situation for backup 1B, depending on who of Duda/Davis gains the majority of the starts at the position. Outside of this, their bench is pretty weak, but they at least have players that can be used at the MLB level, unlike the Marlins.

The Phillies infield backups will be called upon to allow Utley and Rollins to rest fairly often in order to keep them healthy. However, their squad isn’t really all that good either.

The Marlins will need some players to step up above what they had happen last season; however, their bigger issue is finding starters that are actually worth anything.

 

 Overall Infield Rankings

 

Let’s see how things add up…

The Braves will get the top nod, due to having two elite players on their lineup; Andrelton’s defense alone is good enough to carry the Braves infield to success, as he may very well post a 3win season in the field. Freeman’s bat and improving defense will only continue to improve, and with the options the Braves have at 2B, it shouldn’t be a black hole this season. I’m projecting the Braves infield to accumulate at least 12 fWAR this season.

The Nationals are the next best infield in my opinion, due to the presence of Zimmermann and Desmond, and expected improvement from Rendon. Adam LaRoche may have a bounce back year, though given his age it’s a bit worrisome that this will happen. At any rate, I doubt he will be much worse than last season, when he posted just 0.6 fWAR over a full season. Also, with the Nationals losing Lombardozzi, and getting back Espinosa healthy, their bench should be a little better, allowing the team to accumulate WAR on top of what its starters provide. I expect at least 11 fWAR.

The Mets infield will  be decent, led by David Wright, and followed by the underrated Daniel Murphy. These two were among the best at their positions in the NL East last season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened again. Combine this with a rebound from one their first basemen, and possible improvement at SS, and they may end up even being better than last season. A combined total of 9.5 fWAR is pretty reasonable to expect.

The Phillies infield will be the fourth. Despite 3/4 of the members of the infield being “old guys”, with the bat of Utley, as well as the remaining power that Howard has, this team won’t be as worthless as the Marlins will. Cody Asche should improve from his middling 2013, and if all goes well, the Phils may end up being  a bit more of an offensive team than expected. A combined total of near 5.5 fWAR is a good range for the Phillies in 2014.

Bringing up the rear, as they will do all season, are the Marlins. They have no one on their infield depth chart that is really worth a hoot as not one player will be in the conversation for best in the division. Outside of Garrett Jones, no one has any noticeable power. Their defense is pretty mediocre as well. Bad starters means that the bench is even worse, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Marlins infield ends up being worth negative wins in 2014 yet again. This team is nowhere near MLB quality.

 

Awards

  • Best Overall Infielders: David Wright, Andrelton Simmons, Ian Desmond
  • Worst Overall Players:  Pick any of the Marlins. Rafael Furcal, Casey McGehee, and Adeiny Hechavarria are my three.
  • Two to Watch:  Anthony Rendon and Cody Asche. Both were called up last season to fill positions of need for their clubs, and posted decent results. Will they take the next step to becoming solid 2-3 win players for their clubs, if not more? 2014 season will help answer a lot of questions about these two.

 

That’s my projection of the NL East’s infields… feel free to chime in with yours below!

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