The Atlanta Braves weren’t very good at scoring runs in 2014. They averaged only 3.54 runs per game, which was the second-fewest in MLB and the organization’s worst offensive showing since 1988.

So, yeah. After a season like that, it says a lot about the Braves’ offseason that we can ask with a straight face just how much worse their offense will be in 2015.

In speaking to Bob Nightengale of USA Today in late February, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman refused to use the word “rebuilding” in discussing what the club did over the winter. He preferred to say “remodeling.” 

“It’s not like we got rid of everybody and didn’t sign anybody else,” he said.

Which is true…sort of.

Though the Braves didn’t get rid of everybody, they traded Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis and their respective bats. To replace them, Atlanta’s big scoops were Nick Markakis, Jonny Gomes, Alberto Callaspo and Eric Young Jr.

Based on what these players did in 2014, it’s hard to imagine a more noticeable downgrade than that.

Turning to the weighted runs created plus (wRC+) metric—a FanGraphs specialty that measures offensive value on a scale where 100 is average—the three players the Braves traded averaged a 123 wRC+ in 2014. The four notable players they brought in? They averaged an 84 wRC+. So, we might as well be looking at a popular movie franchise swapping out Arnold Schwarzenegger for Colin Farrell. 

Now we have an idea of how bad things look. But that isn’t quite the same as a look at how bad things could actually be.

That’s where Braves fans reading this can take heart. It might be that bad, but chances are it won’t be.

Let’s talk doomsday scenarios first. In this case, that involves a scenario that would doom the Braves not just to the worst offense in MLB, but potentially to a historically bad offense.

This scenario: 2014 repeating itself.

When you look at what the Braves have lined up for 2015, only Freeman and Markakis are coming off good years. And barely so in Markakis’ case. He may have hit a solid .276 with a .342 OBP, but with very little power. That translated into a 106 wRC+, putting him just a tick above league average.

Had the Braves’ projected lineup been together in 2014, it would have looked like this:

You can see that only Freeman and Markakis were above-average hitters in 2014. The other six were way below average. 

Hence that average wRC+ of 85. That’s nearly 20 points worse than the 102 wRC+ last year’s Braves regulars averaged, and even that production couldn’t save the offense from finishing the season with an 86 wRC+.

Reserves do have to get at-bats after all, which can really drag things down. Which is a scary thought where the 2015 Braves are concerned.

Names like Young, A.J. Pierzynski, Phil Gosselin, Zoilo Almonte and Pedro Ciriaco don’t inspire much confidence. None of the five did better than an 80 wRC+ in 2014. Hypothetically, regular at-bats for them could push Atlanta’s collective wRC+ south of 80.

Which, as they say, is the zone of danger. Since the mound was lowered in 1969, only 34 teams have posted a wRC+ smaller than 80. A wRC+ of 75 is the inner circle, as only five clubs have been that bad. If 2014 repeats itself, there’s a chance the Braves could be the sixth.

Admittedly, this is all based on rough and very much unscientific math. But as far as lending credence to the notion that a repeat of 2014 would be a very bad thing, it’ll do. If nothing changes from what happened last year, Atlanta’s bad offense could indeed get even worse.

Or, you know, not.

Take a look at the PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus, and you’ll see the 2015 Braves are projected to score 3.60 runs per game. The Steamer projections at FanGraphs project them to score 3.59 runs per game. So, basically the same.

This would definitely qualify as bad offense, to be sure. But 3.60-ish runs per game would put the Braves offense right where it was last year. This is to say that as bad as Atlanta’s offense looks, it’s possible it won’t actually change.

One reason for that? That would be how numbers from one individual season aren’t nearly as predictive as we tend to make them out to be. By the grace of the baseball gods, bad years can turn into good years.

And if we turn back to wRC+, we find that the Steamer projections expect just that to happen for the bulk of Atlanta’s 2015 regulars:

Only Markakis is projected to take a step back, which is believable. He may be coming off a solid year, but he’s also 31 and recovering from offseason neck surgery.

As for the others…

  • Christian Bethancourt preceded his .248/.274/.274 major league slash line with a much more respectable slash line of .283/.308/.408 at Triple-A last year.
  • Freddie Freeman is Freddie Freeman, and therefore awesome.
  • Alberto Callaspo was about an average hitter in 2012 and 2013.
  • Chris Johnson hit .321 in 2013, which was his second straight year of solid production.
  • Andrelton Simmons had a 103 wRC+ in 2012, and a 91 wRC+ in 2013.
  • Jonny Gomes was an above-average hitter in 2012 and 2013.
  • B.J. Upton improved his wRC+ by about 20 points from 2013 to 2014, and his left foot injury shouldn’t get in his way of building on that once he gets healthy.

So, the positive projections for these guys aren’t totally off base. And if they come true, Atlanta’s regulars will average a 94 wRC+. Still not good, but reasonably close to the 102 wRC+ averaged by last year’s Braves. 

As such, the 2015 Braves are a good bet to prove what Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus found in a recent study: When it comes down to it, a stars-and-scrubs lineup (i.e., the 2014 Braves) really doesn’t offer much of an advantage over a lineup with balanced mediocrity (i.e., the 2015 Braves).

Beyond that, there’s also something to be said about how the 2015 Braves should be less one-dimensional than they were in 2014. 

The Braves were doomed when they couldn’t hit for power last year. Their collective strikeout habit (22.6 K%) made it a struggle to make things happen with runners on base, and they stole only 95 bases.

The 2015 Braves should cut down on the whiffs. Markakis and Callaspo give them two more excellent contact hitters to go with Simmons, and Bethancourt routinely posted reasonable strikeout rates in the minors.

Meanwhile, Young should prove capable of replacing the 20 stolen bases Heyward left town with, and more speed could be on the way if speedy prospect Jose Peraza arrives as either a utility infielder or as Callaspo’s relief at second base.

Now, getting by on contact and baserunning isn’t necessarily as effective as relying on power. However, it could be the perfect idea for gaining an advantage in this year’s NL East.

With Matt Harvey returning to the New York Mets rotation, Mat Latos joining the Miami Marlins and Max Scherzer moving to the Washington Nationals, there’s suddenly more power pitching in the division than there was before. Had the Braves held on to their whiff-happy 2014 lineup, odds are it would have been completely overwhelmed.

Mind you, none of this should be taken as an argument that the Braves offense is going to be good, much less that they’ll be a good team.

All we’re saying is that the Braves haven’t necessarily downgraded their offense, which is only so much of a compliment given that it was terrible to begin with. They’ll also be missing Ervin Santana from their starting rotation, and it’s also hard to imagine them being any better on defense.

So though the Braves are trying to sell themselves as a contender, it’s hard to see it. They weren’t a contender last year, and they don’t figure to be any better in 2015.

But at the least, their offense shouldn’t cause as much rubbernecking as seemingly everyone outside the Braves organization is expecting. So long as 2014 doesn’t repeat itself, it won’t be a smoldering train wreck. 

Maybe that’ll only be a moral victory in an otherwise lousy season, but one could think of worse ways to kick off a rebuild.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted/linked.

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