Welcome to "Chatter from the Pressbox", the website dedicated to the Pressbox of the Frisco RoughRiders, the Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

Today's Matchups Around the Ranger's System

Today's (5/20) Match-Ups Around the Ranger's System

Round Rock: Martin Perez (3-3 5.27) vs. Fresno Grizzlies: Andrew Kown (3-1 2.61) @ 1:00 PM CT

Myrtle Beach: Kyle Hendricks (1-4 2.91) @ Wilmington Blue Rocks: Sugar Ray Marimon (3-0 2.65) @ 12:30 PM CT

Hickory : Santo Perez (2-2 6.19) @ Asheville Tourists: Daniel Winkler (4-2 6.06) @ 1:05 PM CT



Saturday, January 26, 2013

Justin Upton To Arizona: Will the Upton Brothers Thrive or Will They Strikeout?

By now, everybody in the baseball world knows about the blockbuster trade that took place on Thursday. The Atlanta Braves pulled off a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for one of the most talented players, Justin Upton, that changed teams this offseason. And with the deal and a mega signing earlier this offseason, the Atlanta Braves have set themselves up for one of the most intriguing stories over the next few years.

In the outfield for the Atlanta Braves will be Jason Heyward in right field, B.J. Upton in center field, and Justin Upton in left field. Yes, B.J. and Justin are brothers and former #2 and #1 overall picks, respectively. I believed that seeing the Upton brothers play alongside each other at some point would be very cool, but I never thought that it would happen this soon.

From the moment that I saw the Justin Upton trade, I loved it for Atlanta.

I still love it as a stand alone deal. The Braves got a potential MVP caliber player who is 25 years old for what amounted to nothing that they absolutely had to keep. They didn't deal Julio Teheran and they didn't trade Andrelton Simmons. They kept the chips that are their most pivotal.

Ultimately, though, I can't help, but look at this offseason from a stand point where the Braves didn't truly solve any of their problems on offense. If you looked at their 2012 offense, the team had three major areas of concern, two of which were related.


Problems 

Situational Hitting

There was no doubt that this was one of the main areas of the Braves problems in 2012. Their team batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP) was a National League worst .231. The team hit just .244, fourth worst in the NL, with men on base. They ranked 11th with a .245 in High Leverage situations. Down the stretch, it became increasingly apparent as the team hit just .234 with a .683 OPS in the second half, including .228 with a .635 OPS in September. The team was only kept in contention due to extremely good pitching.



Strikeouts

The Braves had the fourth most strikeouts in the National League in 2012. Sure, strikeouts count as any other out, but when you don't put the ball in play, you can't help the team in any way. 


Too Left Handed Heavy

The most talked about problem over the last few years with the Braves has been that their lineup is too left handed heavy. With Bourn, Heyward, McCann, Freeman, etc. plus a switch handed Chipper Jones, the Braves saw a lineup that was too heavy towards one side.



Solutions (or lack thereof)

Situational Hitting

Chipper Jones retired with a .257 average with RISP in 2012. But, he was very good with a .337 average in 2011 and .293 in 2010.

Michael Bourn has left via free agency and with him, his .308 batting average with RISP in 2012. The high average compared to his overall average is no fluke either, as Bourn is a career .294 hitter with RISP, despite a career batting average of .272.

Then the Braves traded Martin Prado, who had an average of .275 with RISP in 2012. Not great, but clearly above the team average of .231. Prado is also a career .289 hitter in high leverage situations.


Strikeouts

This is where the Braves really managed to hurt themselves this offseason. If strikeouts were bad last year, then nobody has seen anything, yet. As Lary Bump told me, the most popular sound in Atlanta might be "strike three" this year. Chipper Jones was a star hitter who never struck out 100 times in a season in his career. There were only a handful of seasons where he struck out more than he walked. Replacing a player who's retiring is always tough, though, so it was going to be tough no matter what.

Michael Bourn was leaving free agency and taking with him his 155 strikeouts in 2012 and average of 135 over the last three years. There was the possibility of cutting down on strikeouts there... until the Braves decided that wasn't necessary.

Martin Prado struck out just 69 times in 2012 in 690 plate appearances and walked 58 times as well.

Take a look at the new team that the Braves will be fielding in 2013 and their average number of strikeouts over the last three years (unless otherwise noted):

C- Brian McCann (88)
1B- Freddie Freeman (136 in his two full seasons)
2B- Dan Uggla (158)
3B- Chris Johnson (132 last year; 326 in 348 career games)
SS- Andrelton Simmons (21 in 189 plate appearances last year; their one saving hope in this stat)
LF- Justin Upton (133)
CF- BJ Upton (165)
RF- Jason Heyward (124)
Pitchers (124 including 144 last year)

Add that up and that is already 1,081 strikeouts without including the bench and the extra play that Andrelton Simmons would have. Last year alone the players combined for 1,121 strikeouts without including extra play for Simmons and the bench. Last season the team had 1,289 strikeouts overall.


Too Left Handed Heavy

This is the one area that they had problems with before that they shouldn't have problems with now. By adding three right handed hitters in the Upton brothers and Chris Johnson, the team has built a more balanced lineup. Looking at it right now, the lineup that I would want to use is:

1. Simmons RH
2. B Upton RH
3. Heyward LH
4. J Upton RH
5. Freeman LH
6. Uggla RH
7. McCann/catcher LH
8. Johnson RH
9. Pitcher


New Issues

The Braves lineup last year, even amid struggles, had a certain balance to it and seemed like a lineup that had a nice balance of talent and guys who filled their roles very well. This year's lineup seems to be almost an opposite of that. It has a lot of power and a lot of guys who are ultra talented, but will be put out of place in their role.

My questions are at the top of the lineup where I don't believe that Andrelton Simmons will be ready to be a top of the order guy and where B.J. Upton does not fit as the prototypical #1 or #2 hitter. The Braves will lose anywhere from 20-40 on base points at least depending on where they put Upton at the top... if they do. If they don't, there doesn't seem to be two players who could easily climb into the #1 or #2 spots in the order.

The Braves have gone from having an elite base stealer in Michael Bourn and a great average/non-strikeout/solid role player in Martin Prado in the #2 hole to having more or less a rookie, albeit a very talented player, in Andrelton Simmons and a very low OBP type player in B.J. Upton, albeit he's an elite basestealer as well.


There's the thought by me and others that the Braves will hope that the Upton brothers, two of the most talented high schoolers to come out over the last decade, will thrive off each other in their new environments. They are leaving possibly toxic situations and getting a fresh start together. It will make for a great story and both players are still young enough that the best part of their careers could very well be right in front of them.

The question is will they thrive together or strikeout?

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