Braves 2011 Season Preview with Peter Hjort

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those will be posted throughout the week once a day.

Today, we’ll start with Peter Hjort and glean some knowledge about the Braves.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Braves?

They did well. Frank Wren was able to upgrade the offense and balance the line-up by acquiring Dan Uggla and only had to part with a 25-year old potential set-up man and a 29-year old utility player to do it. They won’t have as strong of a bench or bullpen in 2011, but Braves fans have to like the team they’ll be going with next year as well as the fact that their farm system is still more or less completely intact.

2. Does Jason Heyward have a shot at winning the NL MVP award in 2011?

Sure, if he stays healthy. He was hitting like an MVP-candidate before he injured his thumb last year. If he can put that injury behind him and manage to play 140+ games at full strength, there’s no telling what Heyward will do. Heyward staying healthy for an entire professional season would be unprecedented, so we must temper our expectations in that regard, but, regarding ability, the hype is real.

3. The offense figures to be much improved with the addition of Dan Uggla, prospect Freddie Freeman, and a healthy Chipper Jones. Will they be among the NL’s best offenses?

Yes, I think so. They’ve got a good amount of power in the line-up and their first five or six hitters figure to all post on-base averages between .350 and .420. There are some question marks surrounding Alex Gonzalez and Nate McLouth, but even if they get very little from the pair they should be among the NL’s best offenses. If the aforementioned question marks fall on their faces, Atlanta has the flexibility to make an in-season acquisition.

4. Billy Wagner‘s retirement leaves a void in the 9th inning. Fredi Gonzalez hinted that he will platoon Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters. Do you prefer the platoon, or would you rather Kimbrel have the role all to himself?

I don’t really care that much. Obviously you’d prefer to have them leveraged in situations that are most beneficial to the team (read: platoon), but I don’t think endorsing one strategy over the other is worth more than a quarter of a win a season or so. Of the two, I’d probably rather see Kimbrel close full-time because Jonny Venters‘ ground-ball tendencies and left-handedness give him more opportunities to be matched up favorably.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

Nate McLouth, for one. He’s the starting center fielder and nobody seems to know what he’s capable of–though I expect a better season than he managed in 2010. Jason Heyward‘s thumb is something to monitor, as well as Chipper’s ACL. Rookies Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Freddie Freeman, and Stephen Marek all figure to have some type of impact on Atlanta’s 2011 season. Finally, all eyes will be on Julio Teheran–the organization’s top prospect–as he gets his first extended look in Spring Training.

6. If you had to guess on the Braves’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

94-68, 2nd in the NL East, Wild Card winner.

. . .

Thanks to Peter for sharing his thoughts on the Braves. Keep up with the Braves during spring training and throughout the 2011 season — bookmark Capitol Avenue Club.

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14 comments

  1. Sloth

    February 14, 2011 08:55 AM

    94-68 is a stretch, I’d say 92-70 or 91-71 or something like that.

  2. Bill Baer

    February 14, 2011 08:58 AM

    IIRC (and I can’t recall where), the standard deviation for a team’s win total is something like 7 or 8 games. So a true talent 94 win team could be expected to win anywhere between 86 and 102 games in about 68 percent of iterations.

    The question is meant to provide a general feel for the blogger’s confidence in his team. There are far too many variables — especially on the first day of spring training — to be able to nail down a team’s win total to the exact center.

  3. Shawn

    February 14, 2011 10:59 AM

    I thought it was strange that he didn’t mention their pitching, one of their key drivers for many of their wins in the first half of the season. Can they expect anything close to the performance Tim Hudson gave last year with a 2.83 ERA / 1.150 WHIP and 228 IP (last two years prior, injury plagued)

    Will Vasquez gain his confidence back and become a number 1 or 2 pitcher again?

    Can their Bullpen achieve a sub 2.7 ERA cumulative avg again?

    I really feel like by the way those questions are answered, will be the main driver for the Braves season.

  4. Ben

    February 14, 2011 04:50 PM

    Shawn: In response, no they cannot expect that from Hudson last year. His ground ball rate was abnormally high for the first part of the season and his numbers began to normalize in the second half. On the other hand, Tommy Hanson should have a pretty solid season and will likely be more consistent from a start-to-start basis, while Derek Lowe’s performance at the tail-end was the best he has looked for the Braves. Jair Jurrjens coming back strong would help too.

    The bullpen doesn’t look as impressive with no Wagner or Saito, but Venters and Kimbrel are not much of a drop-off. Of course, Venters was already a crucial member of the bullpen so filling in for him will be important too. It won’t be as good, but going into the season it still looks like one of the best ‘pens in the N.L.

  5. Mevs

    February 15, 2011 10:51 AM

    If Heyward’s thumb isn’t hurt and he can find adequacy enough to play in 150 games this season with it, I predict he’ll be the youngest MVP in the history of the game in 2011.

  6. KH

    February 15, 2011 11:32 AM

    The Braves are not winning 94 games.

  7. Ethan

    February 17, 2011 11:33 PM

    Shawn, I stopped reading after you said Vazquez.

    Ben, Hudson’s FIP was actually better in the second half.

  8. hk

    February 18, 2011 06:30 AM

    Ethan,

    You’re right that his FIP improved in the 2nd half (actually only in July and August as September was his worst FIP month of the season), but there’s no denying Ben’s original claim that they should not expect another 2.83 ERA from Hudson in 2011. Last year, he benefited from a .249 BABIP, posted a 4.09 FIP for the season and threw 235 innings, making it the first year since 2007 that he eclipsed 150 IP. I wonder how much of his September performance was from being tired and how those innings will impact him this year in his age 36 season.

  9. Undocorkscrew

    February 20, 2011 03:15 PM

    @hk….

    Nope, Hudson’s not likely to repeat his 2010 performance. But he’s a solid bet for a 3.50-3.90 ERA.

    I do expect Jurrjens to be better and Hanson to be more consistent. Plus, don’t forget that Kawakami went 1-10 last year with an ERA over 5.00 as the Braves #5 starter. I seriously doubt that Mike Minor does worse out of the 5th spot in the rotation. So a healthy Jurrjens and a better #5 starter, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the rotations overall numbers being even better this year.

    I think 94 wins is within reach, sure.

  10. Undocorkscrew

    February 20, 2011 03:17 PM

    And Hudson’s career Babip is .284. So while he was lucky last year, I don’t expect a huge regression. FIP isn’t the best stat to use for a guy that has ‘pitch-to-contact’ stuff and gets a ton of groundballs. You know, pretty much what Hudson has done his entire career with a lot of success….

  11. Undocorkscrew

    February 20, 2011 03:23 PM

    Also, one more thing…

    Regarding Heyward not ever staying completely healthy during a pro year. The injuries he had in the minors limited his playing time merely as a precaution. He’s not the big injury risk a lot think, they’re mostly fluke injuries(like sliding headfirst and destroying your thumb). And even with the thumb bothering him the entire second half he still hit over .300 and put up an OPS over .900

  12. Undocorkscrew

    February 20, 2011 04:26 PM

    Last year the Braves had a top 5 club in these categories:

    Offense
    Starting Pitching
    Bullpen
    Bench

    I expect the starting pitching, offense, and bench to all by top 5 in the NL once again. The pen probably won’t be, but it’s got a chance to be one of the better ones in the league.

  13. hk

    February 20, 2011 09:33 PM

    @ Undocorkscrew, I agree that an ERA between 3.50 to 3.90 for Hudson is very likely, that Minor should be better than Kawakami and that Jurrjens should be better than last year (if healthy). FWIW, Las Vegas has set the over / under on Atlanta wins at 88.5.

  14. Scott

    February 21, 2011 04:18 AM

    The Braves are better than last year and in my opinion the NL East is weaker than last year, so I would assume both the Phillies and Braves to improve on their win totals from a year ago. Both teams should pile up wins and both teams should make the playoffs relatively easy. The NL West and central divisions are both better top to bottom than the East will be this year. So the likely hood that two teams will come from either of those divisions is going to be much more difficult than two teams coming out of the east.

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