Much of what has driven the rebuilding of the 2015 (and beyond) Atlanta Braves was the shock at how strikeout prone the 2014 team was. But like so much of the recent history of the Braves, this desire to lessen the team’s strikeouts turned into an over-correction in the opposite direction (like the bullpen over-correction after 2006, or the rotation over-correction after 2008).
The strikeouts of the 2014 Braves (and the 2013 Braves) were part of the package that went with an assemblage of players who pretty much all swung for the fences. That team, at its best, was top-5 in the majors in home runs in 2013, and top-5 in strikeouts. Then in 2014, virtually the same team failed to match their home run numbers, but retained their strikeout numbers. The difference turned out to be an 18-game swing in their record.
The idea of power hitters who also strikeout isn’t a bad one — the top two teams this year in strikeouts currently occupy playoff spots. Even with half the lineup swinging and often missing, that formula worked for the Braves in 2013 (just as it’s working for the Cubs and Astros this season). The problem with the 2014 Braves was one of too many individuals having career-worst seasons — not even a disciplined-swinging team can cover up for that.
The culprit though became the strikeout. The cursed-at stat was blamed for all the team’s ills, and the architect who had assembled these strikeout-prone hitters was dismissed. That initiated the complete dismantling of the team and the removal of all those (mostly good) strikeout-prone hitters, replacing them with hitters who don’t strikeout (but weren’t necessarily good). Every other factor seemed to be ignored, especially power. Predictable results followed.
The Braves did remove the strikeouts from their lineup, now ranking in the bottom-5 in the majors in strikeouts. But they also lost all their power — ranking last in home runs and last in slugging percentage.
The new front office (and every other Braves’ fan, broadcaster and writer) should realize by now that they over-corrected and removed too many good hitters and too much power from the lineup. Now comes the arduous task of adding it back, of trying to find good power hitters on the trade market or through free agency. Already they have potentially over-paid for a hitter with power when they sent highly touted prospect Jose Peraza and the reliable rotation arm of Alex Wood to the Dodgers for the untested Hector Olivera.
I expect there will be at least one more move this offseason in which the Braves drastically overpay in one form or another for a hitter with power. And to add power back to their lineup they will have to do that, and they should, and it should be noted that this is the position the new front office regime put the team into.
The 2013 Braves were a good team with a lot of strikeouts, the 2014 Braves were a bad team with a lot of strikeouts and the 2015 Braves are a bad team without a lot of strikeouts. The 2013 team contained a lot of good hitters having great seasons, while 2014’s team contained a lot of good hitters having bad seasons, and the 2015 team doesn’t have many good hitters — and most of them are having bad seasons.
In the roulette wheel of luck that is any baseball season I’d rather have a lot of good hitters — whether they strikeout or not — and hope they have good-to-great seasons, and accept that there will be seasons when they slump, rather than collecting a bunch of average hitters who don’t strikeout and relying on them to produce great seasons. In this regard, the 2016 and beyond Braves have a lot of work to do and a high price to pay.