Posted: 2:23 pm Friday, May 30th, 2014

A Braves bright spot: Heyward going strong 

By David O'Brien

 

 MIAMI – Since we’ve bombarded you with a lot of negative Braves stats and stories this past week, which often happens when a team loses four in a row to a team that had lost its previous 10 games, we’ll start today with a positive note.

The Braves have been waiting for someone besides Freddie Freeman and the streaky Justin Upton to make a consistent impact in their lineup – it’s hard for Evan Gattis to do that when the slugger sits once every few games and isn’t a high average or OBP guy anyway – and now it looks as if Jason Heyward is ready to assume that role again.

You know, something closer to the player he was in the first half of his rookie year, when he honestly looked like baseball’s next young superstar.

His expected career arc has been affected significantly these past few years by injuries and whatnot (whatnot – that’s a Chipper word, and also one that I’ve also noticed Jason himself use) but now Heyward is starting to play like he did late last summer when the Braves moved him to the leadoff spot and he tore it up for several weeks before getting his face broken by a Jon Niese fastball.

Jason Heyward hit his second homer in three days Thursday to put the Braves ahead 1-0 early. They blew a 3-1 lead late in a 4-3 loss at Boston. (AP Photo)

Jason Heyward hit his second homer in three days Thursday to put the Braves ahead 1-0 early. They blew a 3-1 lead late in a 4-3 loss at Boston. (AP Photo)

So anyway, you don’t want to jump to conclusions too early, but Heyward has been far more consistent lately and has also finally started to show signs of hitting for more power. His third-inning homer Thursday night at Boston put the Braves ahead 1-0 on the way to building a 3-1 lead through seven innings.

That was before Atlanta’s second late-innings meltdown of the week results in three Boston runs in the last two innings (actually in their last three outs) and a 4-3 Red Sox win that gave them a four-game sweep of the Braves. But this was a positive note. So hold on a minute for that other stuff.

Heyward is finishing a month of May in which he’s produced a .280/.365/.390 slash line with three homers and four steals. And in his past 17 games he’s hit .318 (21-for-66) with a .400 OBP and three homers, five RBIs, eight walks, 12 strikeouts and nine runs.

OK, that’s the good news. J-Hey looks like J-Hey again, or something a lot closer to it than we had seen in April.

Now, the bad news.

No one else in the Braves lineup has done much of anything on a consistent basis with the exception of Justin Upton, and even he has toggled between spectacular stretches and a few periods where he was silent (not to mention the ragged defense – yikes).

Upton is going to end up with strong numbers for the month, as he’s currently at .290/.374/.548 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 26 games entering the weekend series against the tied-for-first-place Marlins.

And Freeman, despite being uncharacteristically unproductive in some glaring situations, is still hitting .289/.395/.485 with three homers and 12 RBIs for the month. Not bad, though not up to his run-production standards.

But after them, there is a major dropoff for the Braves. Chris Johnson (.282) and Heyward (.280) are the only other Braves hitting above .253 for the month, and Johnson’s is a fairly hollow .282 with one homer, two walks, 26 strikeouts and a .292 OBP and .352 slugging percentage.

Here’s what particularly alarming and also points to the obvious weakness of this Braves roster: J. Upton, Freeman and Heyward are the only Braves with an on-base percentage as high as .300 for the month of May. That’s terrible.

For the season, the Braves’ .299 OBP is fourth-lowest in the majors, ahead of only the Cubs, Mariners and Padres, three bad offensive teams.

Couple the fact that the Braves get on base at a clip that ranks near the bottom of the league with the fact that they are not good at situational hitting – getting a runner over, getting him in from third with less than two outs, etc. – and you can see where it’s a recipe that just won’t work unless the Braves are hitting a lot of home runs. And they’re not hitting a lot of home runs.

• Let’s do a comparison in May with the Braves and Marlins, since the teams are tied for first place in the NL East heading into their three-game series at Marlins Park beginning tonight.

For the month of May, the Brave have two players with more than three home runs (J. Upton 5, Gattis 4). The Marlins have four (Stanton 7, Ozuna 5, Yelich 4, Jones 4).

The Braves have two players with double-digit RBis in May (J. Upton 15, Freeeman 12). The Marlins have five (Stanton 18, McGehee 16, Ozuna 16, Jones 13, Yelich 10).

The the Braves have the aforementioned three players with OBPs above .300 in May. The Marlins have 10. Ten!

The Braves don’t have anyone hitting above .290 in May. The Marlins have six hitting at least .300.

It was a rough day in the field for Tommy La Stella in his second major league game Thursday. Each of the Upton brothers also had a costly error in the eighth inning when the Braves blew a 3-1 lead at Boston.

It was a rough day in the field for second baseman Tommy La Stella in his second major league game Thursday. Each of the Upton brothers had a costly error in the eighth inning when the Braves blew a 3-1 lead at Boston. (AP photo)

Now, weren’t the Braves supposed to be the team that was young but not green, the team that had a power up and down the lineup and experience beyond its years. And  the Marlins, weren’t they supposed to be Stanton surrounded by either unproven young talent or well-traveled guys with big question marks next to their names?

And before anyone starts to dismiss what the Marlins have done as somehow a product of a home-field advantage that has drawn suspicions of sign-stealing from some corners, particularly from the Braves when they were swept in Miami a month ago, consider this:

While the Marlins have hit a robust .288 with a .352 OBP and .452 slugging percentage at home, second-best in the NL behind he altitude-enhanced Rockies in each of those categories, it’s not as if the Marlins are utter slouches when it comes to hitting on the road.

Or, put it this way: The Marlins’ .237 average, .301 OBP and .377 slugging percentage on the road are better across the board than the Braves’ .228/.285/.367 road numbers.

• J-Up’s splits and defense: Rarely will you see numbers this rounded in a hitter’s splits (not to mention this lopsided) as with Justin Upton entering Friday’s series opener in Miami. He is hitting exactly .400 (40-for-100) at home and .200 (17-for-85) on the road.

He has a .400/.483/.790 slash line with 10 homers and 26 RBIs in 29 home games, and .200/.266/.365 with three homers and seven RBIs in 22 road games.

Of course, today it’s not his road numbers that are a concern as much as his defense. His error in the two-run eighth inning got the ugliness started for the Braves, and his brother B.J. would add another costly error and second baseman Tommy La Stella a coulda-been-ruled error on a grounder behind second base that he failed to field cleanly.

Now, I don’t believe that errors and fielding percentage are a great way to measure defensive performance, I also think defensive metric stats are still evolving and haven’t reached anything close to the level of reliability, accuracy and usefulness that so many metric stats that are now commonly used to measure offense and overall performance.

So I’ll just throw this out there because I do think it’s an indication of what you and I and everyone else who’s watched a lot of Braves games over the past two years have seen from the left fielder, who, keep in mind, won a Fielding Bible Award as the best defensive right fielder in baseball in 2011. Yes, ahead of Jason Heyward, as hard as that is to believe now.

Anyway, the perhaps rudimentary but still worth noting stat: J. Upton’s five errors this season are the most among major league left fielders, and his .948 fielding percentage is the lowest among major league outfielders regardless of position.

And as we know, there have been mental mistakes and some other plays that could have been ruled errors and weren’t.

Point is, I still haven’t heard a good theory on why J. Upton’s defensive declined to such a degree since 2011, and please don’t say because he’s not playing his “natural” position. That might have been relevant for his first spring training and first couple of regular-season months in left field, but he’s in his second season at the position.

And most good outfielders will tell you that if you can play one corner outfield you can play the other, once you get the nuances of each position worked out. Which doesn’t take two years.

I just don’t get how his outfield play could be diminished to such a degree, unless his body type has changed significantly since 2011. And I didn’t see him play enough back then to recall whether that’s the case. Maybe he’s become more of a power athlete now, thicker and more muscle-bound. I don’t know.

But the guy won a Fielding Bible Award in 2011. And now….

• One more quick stat: Braves pitching hasn’t been as dominant as it was in April, and who could have expected it to be? But Atlanta pitchers still are tied for second-best ERA in the NL in May at 3.34, yet the team is only 11-16 for the month.

The team they’re tied with for ERA this  month? The Cubs, who are 10-15. Basically, the Braves have mirrored the Cubs this month. And that’s never good.

Meanwhile, the team with the NL’s best ERA in May, the Giants (2.88), is 18-8 for the month. Which is kind of where you expect the team with the best ERA to be, right?

The Giants have hit enough — .251 average, .307 OBP, .408 slugging – for the month, pretty much middle of the pack, and taken advantage of scoring opportunities to a far greater degree than the Braves. San Franciso has scored 114 runs to Atlanta’s 86 for the month.

The Giants are hitting a league-best .288 (63-for-219) with runners in scoring position and two outs, while the Braves are hitting a league-worst .161 (29-for-180) in that category.

 * Here’s an unreleased early version of a great tune by Ryan Bingham.

“SOUTHSIDE OF HEAVEN” by Ryan Bingham

When I die Lord won’t you put my soul up on a train
Won’t you send it southbound
Give it a cool blues-man name
I’ve been lost on them back roads so many times, I’ve gone blind
Losing faith in my family had driven me out of my damn mindBut on the south side of heaven won’t you take me home
Cause I’ve been broke down for so long and Lord, it’s getting cold

I’ve been a desperado in West Texas for so long Lord, I need a change
For ten long years this old place ain’t seen a drop of rain
And that wind blows everyday Lord, all like a desert snow
Like a lost bound train running on cocaine and outta control

Ryan Bingham

Ryan Bingham

But on the south side of heaven won’t you take me home
Cause I’ve been broke down for so long and Lord, it’s getting cold

Long down the Louisiana byways
Lonesome highways roll on
Won’t you take me where the poor man lives
Its where I call my home
And can’t you see that a breeze, nothin’ but a change in pace
Money can’t buy my soul, cause it comes from a hard earned place

But on the south side of heaven won’t you take me home
Cause I’ve been broke down for so long and Lord, it’s getting cold

 

 

 

5442 comments
jim024
jim024

How are the competitive balance picks awarded?  Why should the St Louis Cardinals have a competitive balance pick at the end of round 2?

MFin04
MFin04

Clutch is an illusion? Guys do change approaches, get nervous, get adrenaline, etc.

So it does exist. They aren't robots.

noleee
noleee

you can't really prove any of this stuff in real life there are too many variables and most magagars refuse to order their lineups in such a way as to fit the plan anyway......

kenhotlanta
kenhotlanta

Hello Denizens, I have returned from my sojourn in the beautiful North Georgia mountains, but with a nasty cold (or something worse) from camping with the bears, foxes, deer and beavers. I am here to help fight the good fight against ZAZ and her trolling minions. and I have missed this oasis very much. No TV or internet up there, just my new Samsung OS 5 which has a steep learning curve, even for someone familiar with Droids, but has the makings of a fine phone. 

It's good to be home.  

EMWTK
EMWTK

People have done studies on RISP. Smart people. And it turns out that RISP is fluctuating and random. Variations, both high and low, can run on for a long time, but can never be maintained. And because clutch and choke are illusions generated by this randomness, it is said that there is nothing to be done for a bad RISP. It is what it is.

There is however, one thing that might, just might work. And no, it's not petitioning the BBG with prayer. How about JUST FRICKING RAISING THE OVERALL BA?

There. I feel much relieved.

chipontheroadagain
chipontheroadagain

I don't mind if J Hey strikes out a few times,We (The Bravos) need a W ...... 

_Murph_
_Murph_

Just got an email from MLB.TV... "Special offer for free game of the day users:  50% off the current price of MLB.TV Premium."

$49.99 doesn't sound too shabby for over half a season of Braves games... I hope Mrs Murph doesn't mind watching a little baseball.

_Hillbilly_
_Hillbilly_

Twitter exchange on my timeline between the Braves first two picks:

@B_Davidson

@GarrettWayne007 hey bro! Congrats on everything! Can't wait to meet ya and start this jourey together bro!

___________________

@GarrettWayne007

@B_Davidson congrats to you too man can't wait to meet you.

____________________

@B_Davidson

@GarrettWayne007 it's going to be exciting bro!

____________________

And with that, allow me to be the blogger to assign Braxton Davidson his first pro nickname...Bro. 

Bravesfan54
Bravesfan54

Is 5400 comments a record?  (Hint to DOB - new bloggage would be a fun-time had by all.)

Bravesfan54
Bravesfan54

@MFin04 In the Braves 1957 pennant chase (ultimately leading to a WS win) Bob Hazle (who became known as "Hurricane Hazle" for his little run of success), put up a .403 BA over 134 AB's, including 7 HR to help spark the Braves to the pennant after regular CF Billy Bruton broke his leg.  Prior to that Hazle had a 3 for 13 cup of coffee with the team in 1955, and hit only .211 over 114 at bats his next and final season in the bigs.  One person's "clutch is another's statistical outlier - depending on how one credits these numbers. 

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 I agree with all that.  The problem is we have no way to know in which situations they get nervous, change approaches, get adrenaline, etc.  The fact that players aren't robots makes situational stuff so unpredicatable.  And is probably why over the long haul players do about as expected, regardless of situation.

EMWTK
EMWTK

@VeniceJim The midget pitchers must indeed be all gone. Go tall, or go home.

noleee
noleee

@kenhotlanta

welcome back ken, your absence put a crimp in my selection of new shows to watch.

you need to check in first next time and give me some guidelines for when you are gone.....

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@EMWTK You build an offense that can produce and you hope the timing of how it produces, the situational hitting, works out.  It's sort of like you can't build an offense that produces on Thursday day games.  You just have to try to build an offense that can produce...period.  

Bravesfan54
Bravesfan54

@EMWTK On a somewhat related issue, Bill James has made the point on the relevance of batting order.  I excerpted his writings on this for the blog about a week ago. Given the volume of comments on the subject by our bloggers here, I do not believe that Mr. James' statistical views on the issue are accepted.  I have yet to see anyone post any statistical - as opposed to anecdotal - support for the proposition that you can affect significantly affect outcomes (over time - key word, there) by tinkering with the line-up order.


noleee
noleee

@EMWTK

iffen they ain't Mensa members they ain't smart

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

@EMWTK Well, how hard can it be to raise the batting average?  I hope someone passes this on...maybe ZAZ should, since Frank reads his invaluable suggestions...

ncscoots
ncscoots

@EMWTK My own personal study, done by a smart person, validates your hypothesis. The "FRICKING" one. :-)

Quicherbichin
Quicherbichin

@_Murph_ what? MLB lied to me and said that special was ending on 5/31? Oh well... i got it anyway... LOL


_CraZy_
_CraZy_

@_Murph_  Well by God she's gonna have to figure out a way to like it......

ncscoots
ncscoots

@_Hillbilly_ his first pro nickname

And let me be the first to give the other guy another anonymously friendly exhortation besides "bro".

I know it's only 140 characters, but three "bros" in two tweets? :-)

Bravesfan54
Bravesfan54

Beats me!  Maybe DOB is scratching his head trying to figure out some new angle to re-motivate the faithful.

 

kenhotlanta
kenhotlanta

@noleee @kenhotlanta I working on the new TV shows list as we speak. I didn't intend to stay that long, it just worked out that way. 

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@Bravesfan54 Yep.  I'll about about taking into account which lineup would be most optimal statistically and also taking into account player egos, player comfort, etc.  And I think teams should try to build the best lineup to squeak out any additional runs possible, even if it's just a few over the course of the season.  And I'll argue in favor of the most optimal batting order.  But to think that the batting order is the cause of a team going from one of the better offenses to one of he worst is absurd.

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Bravesfan54 by tinkering with the line-up order.

I'm afraid you've stated an unprovable premise. You can simulate outcomes resulting from a variation in inputs, but you cannot do so in a real-world application, such as baseball (by definition, changing the inputs defies the definition of "the same game"). You can't isolate the potential changes in outcomes of a single baseball game, or even a very large set of games, to a specific input such as lineup order. Be nice if you could.

The other thing to consider here is the variability of a specific case to the general case. Large sets of data equalize differences, they smooth the data, in other words. But the Braves, as an example, do not have their offensive strengths and weaknesses equalized. Those strengths and weaknesses simply, are. The depth of these strengths and weaknesses will cause the offensive performance of any lineup choices to differ, in small or large respect, from the statistical norm of a generalized large data set using those lineup choices.

Bravesfan54
Bravesfan54

@VeniceJim @EMWTK Well, there is this, I suppose.  Last year the Braves won 96 games with two regular players batting below .200.  This was a statistical anomaly in that never before in the history of professional baseball had this happened. 

EMWTK
EMWTK

@VeniceJim @EMWTK Ah.....the crux of the biscuit! What steps can be taken to raise the overall BA?

Hey, I'm just a fan, how should I know? Maybe some really smart person should do a study.

ncscoots
ncscoots

@Bravesfan54 trying to figure out some new angle to re-motivate the faithful.

Actually, some new angle that will let him write about BA RISP again. :-)

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@Maggot_Man @VeniceJim Back in what day?  Could you be more specific, please?  Because, yes, offensive environments change.  This season's MLB OPS is the lowest since 1991.


Major league averages in 2000: .270/.345/.437

Major league averages in 2014: .251/.317/.392

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@ncscoots @Bravesfan54 Well, you can do some statistical modeling and determine if these players do these things in this way, what is the best possible batting order.  And I would argue teams should factor that into their batting order decisions, even though you can't really do a real-world study or test of batting orders.  


Just like in some board game I'm sure there is a way to study if a series of moves is made, what is the next optimal move.  


Obviously you have to consider player comfort, egos, etc. in addition to just thinking of them as board game pieces.  But that doesn't mean you just ignoring the statistical modeling and the statistically optimal batting order.  You take into account in conjunction with other factors.  

ncscoots
ncscoots

@EMWTK @VeniceJim I have studied this: the team is hitting .260 since dropping to a season-low .231 on May 17. Two teams in the league are hitting better than .260 overall, Colorado (shocker) and Miami.

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

@ncscoots I think a lot of people here (and I know this will be a shock) focus so much on the Braves they have no room for context...