Atlanta Braves: How a change in approach could make the Braves’ offense even better
The Atlanta Braves have one of the best lineups one through nine baseball has to offer. They excel in hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball out of the ballpark. However you slice it, the Braves offense was a major catalyst for their 101 win season in 2022. They ranked near the top of the league in several prominent hitting catergories. Below are some examples.
2022 Atlanta Braves offensive rankings (MLB)
The Braves are an elite offensive team in 2022. The roster as a whole, is impressive. Atlanta really strings together wins when their lineup is producing from top to bottom. The Braves know who they are as an offense. They have created an identity; Hit the ball hard, and look to drive it out of the ballpark. In 2022 Braves hitters ranked first in baseball in Barrels per Plate Appearance (7.3%) and second in hard hit percentage (43.5%). Although the Braves offense was prolific last season there is a way they can take another step forward to becoming an even better offensive club.
As I’ve mentioned there are plenty of important hitting categories the Braves ranked near the top of. However, some of the categories they found themselves near the bottom of were those that involved their plate discipline. The Braves ranked 28th in MLB in K% (24.6%) and had the second most strikeouts in all of baseball (1498). They ranked 19th in both walks (470) and BB% (7.7%) and the only playoff team worse was Cleveland. Atlanta was 25th, and the worst among playoff teams in strikeout to walk ratio (BB/K 0.31).
Despite the strikeout and walk numbers the Braves are still a powerhouse offensively. For years I’ve rolled my eyes every time the broadcast preached to cut down on the strikeouts and simply put the ball in play. I hated hearing that because that line was always accompanied with a middle-inning reliever on a last place opposing team that comes in and paints 98 mph fastballs low and away. In todays baseball it is VERY HARD not to strikeout. More guys than ever can blow you away on the mound. Just listen to how opposing hitters talk about our own Spencer Strider to give you an idea.
I say those numbers ahead of knowing how difficult the task I’m asking them to do is. What I’m not suggesting is the Braves look to take more walks at the sacrifice of power; to cut down on strikeouts, while simultaneously hitting fewer home runs. It does not benefit Atlanta to get away from the offensive identity they have created. However, how it can benefit them is if they are able to ADD these improvements to the already uber intimadating lineup that they are. If we look into a few more of the in depth plate discipline numbers, we can find ways in which the Braves can incorporate this into next seasons offense.
Knowing the strike zone
As I mentioned earlier, I am aware of how hard it is to accomplish this task. Not only are teams littered with flamethrowers, they also have guys like our own Collin McHugh who can spin a baseball like nobody’s business. Pitchers who can make strikes look like balls, and balls look like strikes. We all watch the sport, we see how many of these guys are out there. The Braves ranked near the bottom in walks and had a very high number of strikeouts as a team last season, But it is important to understand why that was the case.
O-Swing percentage is the percentage of swings at pitches outside of the strike zone. As a team the Braves ranked 28th (34.8%) in the league in this category. Partnered with that their O-Contact% was only 61.3% ranking 27th in baseball. Again easier said than done, but too often the Braves were swinging and missing on pitches not even in the strike zone. However there was a reason for this. Last season, out of all the pitches Braves hitters saw, just 40.1% were actually in the strike zone. Only the reigning champion Houston Astros saw fewer.
That statistic can be interpreted a few ways. The most logical way to look at it is both the Braves and Astros have built lineups in which the opposing pitcher does not want to challenge them in the strike zone. There is an intimidation level behind that number. Pitchers know the hitters they are facing can do damage, and they know it is a more likely outcome when they throw the ball over the plate to these guys. Thus the result from constructing a potent lineup.
The difference being were the Braves ranked 28th in O-Swing%, the Astros ranked 14th (32.5%). Just because the Braves CAN do damage to those borderline pitches just off the plate, doesn’t mean they should be trying to every single time. If Atlanta can cut down that O-Swing percentage by just a couple points and find themselves ranked in the top half of baseball in that caterogy, I believe it will do wonders for the offense.
If you’re doubting the effectiveness that becoming a better plate disciplined team can do for Atlanta, let’s just take a look at how things played out last season. It’s known the Braves are winning games when they hit the ball out of the ballpark. What about times when they need something more? Let’s check out the correlation between Braves wins and number of walks drawn in a game. When the Braves offense earned four or more walks in a game, their Win/Loss record was 38-17, good enough for a winning percentage of .6909. In games in which Atlanta earned at least three walks, they were 58-26 (.6905 winning percentage). Finally, in games in which Atlanta drew fewer than three bases on balls, they were only 43-35 (.5513 winning percentage).
The Braves reeled in more wins when they accompanied the home runs with getting guys on base. Atlanta has a young and very talented lineup, but it’s also a lineup that can be overly-aggressive at times. This comes with young players, as plate discipline is often a tool that is harnessed later throughout a career. But if we see guys like Ozzie, Michael Harris, and even Austin Riley earn a few more walks, then I believe we will see an uptick in the Braves offense as a whole. Not every hitter can be a Juan Soto, and DEMAND pitchers to beat them in the strike zone. But if a few Braves hitters can improve even just slightly on that, I think they will be pleased with the results.
I cannot emphasize enough how much I want our hitters to continue doing what they do best. Hitting for power is one of the skills that makes the Braves a World Series contender for years to come. That skill isn’t something that should be sacrificied. However, if the 2023 Atlanta Braves offense adds a touch more plate discipline to their game, the rest of baseball better look out.