So this is something I’m going to attempt to do every week. I’ll reflect back on the previous week’s worth of games and talk about some of the things to watch for and reflect on things that have happened. So to start with, the Braves first 6 games have been very fun to watch. They are 5-1, with the loss coming at the hands of a dominating 2-hitter by Cliff Lee. Lee looked like he was in mid-season form and absolutely carved up the Braves powerful lineup. The other interesting things to note is that the Braves are striking out a ton, as expected. They are striking out in just over 26% of their at bats. They are averaging just under 10 K’s per game, good for 3rd worst in baseball so far. But they are also hitting plenty of long balls. They’ve hit 11 homers so far this season, good for 3rd best behind the A’s and the Rockies. I’m going on record to go ahead and say this team will probably set a club record for most strikeouts in a season as well as possibly most homers in a season. But now let’s look at individual players.
The most obvious player to talk about is the insane start of the season by Justin Upton. Justin is an MVP caliber talent who has never fully lived up to that ability in his career with Arizona. Now that he’s in Atlanta, he’s admitted that he is wanting to prove that Arizona made a mistake by giving up on him, and he’s certainly delivered so far. In his first 6 games in a Braves uniform, J-Up has 5 home runs, 7 RBIs, and is hitting .318. He has had 7 hits in 22 at bats, and 5 of those have been homers. Another number to be weary of is his strikeout totals. In his 22 at bats, he’s struck out 11 times. Everyone knew coming into the season that the Braves were probably going to strike out a lot, but striking out in half of your plate appearances is a little eye-opening, despite his red-hot start. Obviously, I’m not saying it’s time to panic or anything else, but just keep an eye on those numbers. He’s going to have to learn to defend the plate, take pitches to the opposite field, and work on getting on base more if he wants to round out his game to become the MVP contender that he can be.
Another Brave that has had an impressive start is Freddie Freeman. Unfortunately for him, he has been placed on the DL with a strained oblique that he’s says he played with throughout spring training. Why he didn’t rest then and allow it to heal I’m not sure. Now he’s going to miss a few weeks when it counts.
The other Brave I want to make note of that’s off to a “hot start” is the new superman that everyone is raving about: Evan Gattis. Gattis made a splash by hitting a home run for his first major league hit in his first ever major league game. He’s also had several good at bats so far this season. However, before getting too excited, you need to look at the numbers. Gattis can arguably hit anyone’s fastball in the baseball. His biggest problem has been off speed pitches and breaking balls. If you visit fangraphs, you’ll find that he’s 51.5% of the pitches he has seen so far have been fastballs. Once teams learn that he loves fastballs, they’ll move to throwing him more breaking pitches and force him to adjust. A statistic to keep an eye on with him is that he’s swinging at 38% of pitches that aren’t in the strike zone. As he gets more breaking pitches, he’s going to see less and less pitches in the zone. If he keeps this swing rate up, he’s going to have a hard time keeping his average up and driving the ball. What will end up happening is you’ll see more soft ground ball outs recorded off his bat. However, as long as he’s able to make the right adjustments then he should be fine. If he can make those adjustments, there’s no way the Braves can send him back down when McCann returns, and Jordan Scafer should go ahead and start packing.
To end with, I want to look at a few guys who have had a not-so-great start to their season. We’ll start with BJ Upton. BJ is the highest paid Braves free agent signing in history, and didn’t show any signs of life through the start of the season. He went 0-14 to start with, before moving to the lead off spot and catching fire. There’s really no reason to be worried about BJ right now. He’s probably still trying to find his niche on the team and realize that just he doesn’t have to carry the team, despite his huge contract. Once he settles down, which I think he’s started to do now, he will be just fine. Remember last year when everyone wondered what was wrong with Albert Pujols after signing his mega deal with the Angels? I think he turned out alright.
A guy that I’m not so sure about is the other outfielder, Jason Heyward. Heyward hasn’t started off the year very well at all. He’s not taking good swings and his hips are flying open causing him to swing and miss a lot. He’s proven in the past that he can make needed adjustments and let’s hope that he doesn’t take too long to do so this year. Fortunately for him, he’s been able to try and work through these problems without causing any huge loss of offense thanks to J-Upton’s red hot start.
And finally, there’s Dan Uggla. Uggla has something to prove this year to himself. The Braves would love to see him come back and have a 30 home run season, but aren’t in desperate need of it. He’s started off fairly slow, hitting just .200, but does have 2 homers and 6 RBIs. One of the most impressive at bats so far has been his at bat where the Cubs put a shift on him and he took the ball to the right side of the infield where the 2nd baseman would normally be. If he wants to be more productive in the lineup, and he can continue placing the ball where it needs to go, he could be a valuable asset to have. However, Uggla is a power hitter and wants to have those power numbers because, quite frankly, that’s what the Braves paid him for. So I’m guessing that’s the Uggla we’re going to see try and come back.
So to close, the first week is one that has been a fun one for Braves fans. Attendance has been booming, fans are genuinely excited about this team, and there’s plenty of reason to be. We’ve had several key hits from unlikely guys, such as Ramiro Pena. Pena is a guy that I said was going to be used primarily as a defensive replacement, but has proven he can handle a bat well enough to give Simmons a few days off to rest his jammed thumb. Juan Francisco seems to be turning the corner with his plate discipline and Chris Johnson continues to be a solid bat and a viable backup to Freeman at 1st base. I can’t wait to see what happens with this team as the season progresses and hopefully the fans continue to turn out in support of this team.