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The Braves vs. the NL East: Infielders


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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  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    I know we beat him to death, but I think the jury is still out on “Worst Overall Players”. As an infielder, if Dan doesn’t pick things up, he could certainly once again be in that running. That said, I personally agree with you that the Braves probably constitute the best infielders overall in the NL East. Might be neck-and-neck with the Nats, depending on who you ask, but I’d give the nod to the Braves as well. Really depends on whether you just factor in defense, or both offense and defense for 2014.

  • fireboss

    Odd that all of the NL East have questions at second base at the same time. I’m not sure why Furcal is regarded as a bad defender. A SS moving to second should adjust quickly (it’s where Jeter would be if he weren’t the captain with all that entails) and Furcal always had a good glove. He is likely the best defender of the bunch if he stays healthy. His bat is the question of course but the same can be said of Uggla, and Rendon. Utley will hit, he’s one of those guys that can crawl out of bed with the flu and drive in a run with a double, how his legs hold up is the question. Murphy can hit and is a bit better defensively – okay noyt that much – than Uggla which likely make him 4th the of the five. I would not be surprised to see EY Jr there if he has a good spring, they want him to lead off and have a bucket full of outfielders. All around the Braves and the Nats are pretty close. Defensively Zimmerman is better at third, Simba at SS Rendon (and most others) better at second while LaRoche an d Freeman are pretty much a push with style points to Adam, Offensively Zimmerman (if healthy) and Desmond are better than our pair, second is a toss up – or a throw up depending on how bad it is – and F5F wins at first.
    i doubt CJ’s regression is as dramatic as some think. A 290/335/450/785 year si as likely as any, would be in line with who he’s been and wouldn’t be a disaster. the middle of the infield is where offensive improvement is needed.
    All of this is blindfolded dart throwing without knowing what’s going on between the player’s ears and in their lives or course and any evaluation is as likely as another

    • Lee Trocinski

      A bunch of odds and ends replies:

      I think Jeter would be an outfielder if a team could move him. His lack of first step really hurts him at any infield spot, so some long strides would match his skillset.

      Utley is getting old, but he is still average defensively at second, and Murphy has been nowhere near so the last 2 years. I’m not sure how Chase can still move, but his defense is still better than his rep.

      Zimmerman’s D took a nosedive last year as his throwing problems really flared up. If LaRoche struggles again and Espinosa rebounds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zim at first base to end the season and going forward. CJ isn’t good, but he’s no worse than Zim at this point.

      The first two numbers of CJ’s slash line look right, but the SLG seems a bit high. If he has really changed his approach, I don’t see a .160 ISO happening. He’ll need to get the ball in the air more, further deflating his BABIP, to get that many XBH.

      • fireboss

        I know Zimmerman’s arm isn’t as dependable as it was and I suspect that he’ll end up at first and Rendon at third eventually. Adam was hurt last year but he is getting older and was always a slow starter.

        CJ’s slugging away from Houston’s anemic lineup has always been near that 450 number.He does it mostly with doubles and the Ted helps that. As long as he keeps his LD% where it is I think he’ll be near that.
        Second base has a lot more time than SS. Third would be ideal but the Yankees will live with whatever he does because of who he is.

        • Mushy Peas

          I think CJ is happy to be with the Braves, not just because they are the first truly competitive team he has ever been apart of, but I also believe he has gained a great deal more independence when it comes to the way he swings the bat. Being brought up through the Houston org., they did what alot of other teams like to do and that is to try to mold him into a pure power hitter to fill the stereotypical offensive expectations of a guy who plays his particular defensive position. That has always been an approach that bothers the hell out of me.
          I think this way of development often can stifle a player’s true ability. Coaches and mentors need to mold players according to their strengths and not just to fill some stereotype. The Braves hitting coaches are due some credit for directing CJ towards the type of offensive player he is best capable of being. I still expect a decent amount of productivity from him as he continues to refine his approach at the plate.