Atlanta Braves First-Quarter Season Review

May 25, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) reacts as he leaves the field after a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) reacts as he leaves the field after a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
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May 25, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Sam Freeman (39) delivers a pitch to a Pittsburgh Pirates batter in the eighth inning at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Sam Freeman (39) delivers a pitch to a Pittsburgh Pirates batter in the eighth inning at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

The season has already had its ups and downs… so let’s step back and see where the Braves really are.

The Atlanta Braves are a little over a quarter of the way through their season so I felt it a good time to take a look at where they stand currently and where they’re going potentially.

There’s no real reason I chose to do this at this point other than 25% is a nice round-ish number and people really love their round numbers.

That’s why we randomly celebrate a guy’s 100th home run but usually let number 102 or 111 go by without much recognition. But, hey, people are weird.

This will be a 4-part series. I’ll write similar posts around the half way point (game 81), 3 quarter mark (game 121), and then we’ll do a post-mortem on the entire season at its conclusion.

To analyze the season so far, we’re going to look at both team wide metrics and their rankings as well as individual breakdowns by positional groups.

Obviously any breakdown is going to involve looking at their current W-L record but we’re also going to look their BaseRuns record and projections as well as their Pythagorean record and projections. If you have no idea what those are, no worries, I’ll explain as we get there.

And as always, mixed in with the numbers are some opinions and commentary which you’re free to disagree with. Just be respectful.

Off we go.

May 25, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) reacts as he leaves the field after a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) reacts as he leaves the field after a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Stats

First let just look at some basics. Here’s the Braves Team Stats and MLB Ranks:

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Hitting

Pitching

This doesn’t really take a beautiful mind to figure out. The charts speak for themselves.

The Braves are hitting like one of the 10 best teams and pitching like one of the 10 worst teams making them, to this point, one of the 10 most average teams. If you’ve watched them play this year, all of this is pretty much in line with what you’ve seen.

Now let’s look at the positional breakdown. This is position and Braves MLB rank by fWAR:

Now a couple of things I need to point out, specifically about 2B and LF.

All the backups that have been used at those positions count against the overall numbers. So the terrible numbers of Jace Peterson, Emilio Bonifacio and Danny Santana really hurt those 2 positions.

If you just took the production of the main two guys, Matt Kemp and Brandon Phillips, Braves would rank 13th at 2B and 9th in LF.

With that being said, there shouldn’t be anything surprising about any of this. Dansby Swanson got off to that horrible start so it’s going to be a while before he can pull his number up and Adonis Garcia has been one of the worst players in baseball for two years now so that 3B rank shouldn’t shock anyone.

Other points of note, Freddie Freeman is a monster; Ender Inciarte is also a monster, just in a different kind of way; the catching group has been the pleasant surprise of the first 45 games; and the pitching has sucked.

May 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7, left) and first baseman Matt Adams (18) celebrate their win against the Pittsburgh Pirates at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
May 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7, left) and first baseman Matt Adams (18) celebrate their win against the Pittsburgh Pirates at SunTrust Park. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

W-L Record

What all of this has added up to is a record of 20-24. That’s the Braves Win-Loss record as we sit on May 25th. 20 and 24.

But should it be? The next question we want to answer is have the Braves experienced in any abnormal luck or randomness that may be affecting that record.

For that we’re going to look at BaseRuns. I’ve talked about this before but if you don’t know, BaseRuns takes all the positive and negative events a team produces and assumes those events are sequenced normally.

Sometimes teams can cluster a bunch of their positive or negative events together and can skew their record relative to what their actual talent is. BaseRuns looks at what a team’s record “should” be if luck and randomness didn’t play a part.

For the Braves, BaseRuns has them at 21-25 on the season, or 1 game better than their actual record. (ed. note: maybe that was Wednesday night’s game!)

Basically, they’ve been a bit unlucky given their overall numbers but for most part, their record matches their production. A one game difference is well within the margin for error.

More Pythy Numbers

Pythagorean Win-Loss is from Bill James who first noticed the relationship between runs scored, runs allowed, and win totals. There’s plenty more that can be said about this theory and its origins but for our purposes here, all you need to know is it calculates an “expected” record simply based on the total number of runs a team has scored and allowed.

The Braves Pythagorean record is 19-26 for the season, or 1 game worse than their current record. This again is well within the margin of error and basically means what we’ve seen is very much in line with what we “should” have seen.

Jan 6, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Sony Electronics president and chief operating officer Mike Fasulo with the Sony smart bulb and projector during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY NETWORK
Jan 6, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Sony Electronics president and chief operating officer Mike Fasulo with the Sony smart bulb and projector during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY NETWORK /

Projection

So now that we know what the individual performances are, what the record is, and that the talent and the record have matched up pretty well to this point, the big question is what’s coming next?

For that we’re going to use projections.

Now I know some of you have no interest or patience for projection systems, but you should know they are far and away the most accurate prediction methods we have in baseball. Not even close.

Jeff Sullivan just did an excellent piece over at fangraphs about whether projection systems are more accurate at predicting end of season records or using what a team has done in the first 50 games. You should go read it yourself but I’ll give you a hint: it’s projection systems.

Right now Fangraphs has Atlanta projected to finish 72-90. There’s a lot that goes into that number but history has shown us any prediction we make about the rest of 2017 probably needs to have that as a baseline.

When you look at the BABIPs of a good chunk of the Braves lineup, the prudent thing to do is expect a decent amount of regression as we go through the season. And with the pitching, there just isn’t a clear path to seeing a tremendous amount of improvement.

This number also takes into account the Freddie Freeman injury and the harsh reality that Atlanta’s season was probably tied to his health.

I say “probably” because it isn’t written in stone. Teams do exceed their projections. The Royals won a World Series while projecting to be about a .500 team. Teams get sequencing luck like we talked about earlier. Teams get unexpected performances by guys to degree large enough to change win totals.

Silver Lining?

More from Tomahawk Take

One factor Atlanta does have going in their favor is they may be playing in the weakest division in baseball. And with the unbalanced schedules, that means a lot of games against some very average opponents.

But while it can happen, it certainly isn’t the prudent thing to predict happening. The Braves played around .450 baseball with Freddie Freeman. It’s only logical it will be worse without him.

This isn’t meant to be a wet blanket over what has been a pretty good stretch of Braves baseball lately. But it is meant to be an honest an objective assessment of where I see this team going over the next 4 months.

Next: What's Unique About Matt Adams?

Like I said, I’ll do two more of these in-season and one after the season so this outlook can change, but as we sit here today I see a 73 or 74-win team. Would love to be wrong.

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