Featured Image of Mike Foleynewicz courtesy of Associated Press /Times Free Press.
What should we make of the Braves’ Spring Training record?
I’m going to weigh in on the fact that your Atlanta Braves have the least best record among MLB teams participating in Spring Training.
NOTE: I said least best so that I could associate the word best with the Braves in some capacity.
My mantra in Spring Training is stats don’t matter. Unless they’re good… then we’ll take a look at ‘em.
I suppose my other mantra in March is, “Shit! I’ve spent too much time on Fangraphs and MLB Trade Rumors and Baseball Twitter all Winter and now I have no idea how to fill out this bracket thing!”
Don’t get me wrong, I think March Madness is just aces as far as sports go. It’s just that at this point in my life, my sports obsession has gotten mighty monotheistic. A little bit of me feels prideful when 64 teams go to Maddening battle and I’m fully clueless. Too busy writing speculative articles about 25-man rosters.
I used to scoff in fragrant parking lots when I heard crunchy debate about who was better, Widespread Panic or Phish, and which group of fans were more deplorable.
It’s equally senseless and lame to choose sides as to which genre of sports fandom is superior, of course, and I’m not doing that. But I’ve got Opening Day fever, dammit! And being that I’m about to pontificate about the Braves’ Spring W/L record, now seems as good a time as any to own that shit.
It’s owned! I’m way over my curse words quota already. I’ll tone it down.
Back to the matter at hand. We’re about two weeks away from Opening Day. Here’s the top and bottom of the Spring barrel at the time of writing:
A few things should leap off that graphic to the observant and informed reader. Then again, as you read this a number of savvy hardball fans are scoffing that I’m addressing ST records at all! I can’t fault them. But be for real. It’s still March, and I’ve been writing about arbitration, the qualifying offer, and other such yawners for cripes sake.
It’s time for some for some speculation!
I’m going to make 2 contrasting arguments.
C’mon man, disregard the Bravos’ record and maintain whatever degree of optimism you were carrying in your satchel.
Let’s start with the obvious. We’ve been giving innings and at bats to fellas who aren’t going to make the Opening Day roster. Some of these guys have already been cut, some of them are still lingering. Spring is a time for getting a look at the young and the old, experimenting, and giving the true talent time to round into form.
Jeff Francoeur has been getting innings in center field. That should make a lot of this argument on its own.
It’s more than that, though. The fact that we have been running a try out for any veteran with a pulse in hopes of stealing some trade value isn’t the only reason to feel ok about last place. There have also been some positive developments.
Matt Wisler seems to have improved his change-up.
Julio Teheran has looked pretty vintage Julio as he’s worked his way into Opening Day form.
It hasn’t led to Spring wins, but Hector Olivera is starting to look like the pure hitter the Braves hoped for. He’s tied for 2nd in MLB with 20 hits as I write. .960 OPS. Good stuff.
All in all, the offense looks like it’s gonna get out there and compete every day.
And Fredi G is messing around with defensive shifts! The future is here!
Add all that to the emotional get-out-of-jail-free card that has been the performances of our heralded prospects, and why not break out the Wild Card conversation???
Now that we’ve established that the Braves are for real, take a look at those Spring standings again. The holier than thou, anointed by all, flavor of the week Chicago Cubs are lingering near the bottom with our Braves! The upstart Pirates are tied with them! But the clincher hovers near the top.
That’s right. The Phillies boast the third best record thus far in Spring Training. Credibility Buster!
So it’s clear then. The Braves record is meaningless. They have been strategic, mad scientists, creeping about in the shadows of Florida, formulating their plan of action. We’ll exceed expectations, all the while with the assurance of a return to dominance dancing on the horizon! BWAHAHAHAHA!
Ok, that choice of word is pure hyperbole. But it has such a nice ‘Dante’s Inferno’ feel to it. Fact is though, there are a number of reasons to be pessimistic about the Braves’ Spring.
I mentioned above that a lot of the guys we’ve been running out there won’t make our roster. That’s not altogether a good thing. Ozzie Albies, Mallex Smith, and Dansby Swanson were bright spots in camp this Spring. Their reassignment makes our Spring look worse, not better. We’re likely to see all 3 in September if not sooner, Mallex especially, but we’re starting the year without 3 position players that were getting the job done.
We’ve seen encouraging signs on the starting rotation front recently. It looks like Mike Foltynewicz is legitimately a contender to join the rotation. That leaves Folty, Manny Banuelos, Jhoulys Chacin, Williams Perez, and maybe John Gant battling it out for 2 spots. You’ll notice I characterized that development as encouraging. That’s the problem. There’s not one proven starter in the bunch, save for Chacin’s small sample of dominance in Colorado and the patches of success the ManBan, Folty, and Perez had last year. That aint good.
The South Paw’ed Pen
Andrew McKirahan went down with an injury. Evan Rutckyj was handed back to the Yankees Rule 5 style. That losing either of these two can be seen as a let down shows you how thin our bullpen is with regard to the lefties. We are primed to start the year with two pitchers who we hope to be average. Other than being left-handed, Ian Krol and Alex Torres don’t have much on their resumes at all, save for Torres’ 2013 with the Rays (which was excellent when you control for league and park factors, in all fairness).
The Braves have not made any surprise moves for corner outfielders or third basemen. Prudent, I’m sure. But that leaves us with some pretty weak defensive sauce in RF, LF and 3B. Olivera hopes to graduate to passable with the leather, Garcia is, well… a nightmare at third, and Markakis is as sure-handed as he is ploddingly range-less in right. Flowers should be an upgrade defensively at catcher, but all signs point towards him getting only half of a platoon with A.J. Pierzynski.
Ok! I’ll stop, I’ll stop!
I’ll wrap it up. All humor aside, I do think the Braves will have a rough 2016. I don’t think our rotation is good enough yet to keep us in enough games to flirt with .500. I think our defense will probably further expose our starting pitching. We may be pretty formidable in the ‘pen with our righties, but remember, Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson’s success last year was a little unexpected.
But so what?! What of this pessimism?! If our rotation surprises, and our offense plays up to even the upper end of what we can reasonably expect of it, we may be sitting at .500 near the Allstar Break again.
That’s one of the existentially satisfying things about our beautiful game: nobody knows what the hell is going to happen.
I’ll take Driving > Disco > Driving over anything that Phish fans are calling music, by the way.