Putting the Braves Awful Offense in Historical Context

So everyone knows the Braves are going to suck this season. The pitching is solid with Teheran, Wood, and Miller fronting the rotation but it is universally accepted that the offense will be abysmal. To wit, look (if you dare) at the Braves projected opening day lineup for the 2015 season:

1. Nick Markakis RF
2. Andrelton Simmons SS
3. Freddie Freeman 1B
4. Chris Johnson 3B
5. BJ Upton CF
6. Jonny Gomes LF
7. Alberto Callaspo 2B
8. Christian Bethancourt C
9. Pitcher Spot

Yikes. This is a bad lineup. But how (relatively) bad is it? To answer this question I pooled data on Braves’ lineup regulars from 1966 to 2014. By “regular” I mean whoever Baseball Reference had ranked as having the most plate appearances at a particular position in a given season. I then took the Steamer projections for the players above and ranked them among their positional cohorts. I only looked at OPS because this is an inaugural article and I’m trying to keep things simple.

Here are the results:

Christian Bethancourt (C)
Steamer Projected OPS: .612
OPS Ranking: 44th out of 50

A glove man by trade, Bethancourt hasn’t achieved much offensively since entering professional baseball in 2009 and has so far hit poorly in his limited time in the majors (.246/.271/.272 in 118 plate appearances). He’s currently projected to have the worst season for a Braves regular catcher since Jody Davis (.489 OPS) in 1989.

Freddie Freeman (1B)
Steamer Projected OPS: .856
OPS Ranking: 14th out of 50

From 2011-2014 Big Fred has slashed a solid .287/.368/.466 and hit a combined 85 homeruns. With the exception of the failed Scott Thorman experiment back in ’07 the Braves have been pretty productive at first base and that trend should continue in 2015.

Alberto Callaspo (2B)
Steamer Projected OPS: .674
OPS Ranking: 29th out of 50

After watching Dan Uggla flail embarrassingly at practically everything thrown at him for three plus seasons, Braves fans should come to appreciate Callaspo’s more contact based approach. At 31 his best years are likely behind him but he should provide a steady presence at the bottom of the order.

Andrelton Simmons (SS)
Steamer Projected OPS: .675
OPS Ranking: 21st out of 50

Simmons’ offensive game took a step back last season. His walk rate fell, his strikeouts rose, and he saw his homerun total drop from 17 to 7. Steamer expects a mild bounce back, but not enough to make a significant impact on an otherwise anemic offense.

Chris Johnson (3B)
Steamer Projected OPS: .694
OPS Ranking: 42nd out of 50

The 2013 Batting Title runner up fell off the table last season hitting .263/.292/.361 with an 83 OPS+. Given his low walk rate and inability to make consistent contact, it remains doubtful that he’ll be able to return to his pre-2014 form.

Jonny Gomes (LF)
Steamer Projected OPS: .675
OPS Ranking: 48th out of 50

Google “Jonny Gomes good clubhouse presence” and you get 34,400 hits, which is nothing to sniff at. That said, Gomes is projected to put up the third worst season for an Atlanta Braves left fielder behind only Melky Cabrera (.671 OPS) in 2010 and Rufino Lanares (.664 OPS) in 1981.

BJ Upton (CF)
Steamer Projected OPS: .652
OPS Ranking: 44th out of 50

What can be said about BJ Upton that hasn’t already been said about the Hindenburg? In his first two seasons with the Braves, Upton has already put up the second worst and fourth worst seasons for an Atlanta centerfielder, hitting a combined .198/.279/.314 over 1028(!) plate appearances. Perhaps the name change will inexplicably provide him the boost that he needs.

Nick Markakis (RF)
Steamer Projected OPS: .712
OPS Ranking: 44th out of 50

The Markakis signing has been derided by many in the industry but it’s amazing how much worse this team looks without him. He’ll be one of Atlanta’s worst right fielders to date but he should at least provide league average production after he returns from surgery.

There you have it. Five of the Braves eight regulars should number among some of the worst in franchise history and only two project to have an OPS over .700. It’s going to be a long season.

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