Dan Uggla after a strikeout.
This is part one of a five part series of posts that will examine the most pressing questions for the Atlanta Braves this off-season.
Question One: What happened to the hitting, and how can it be fixed?
I'll start off this post with a trivia question. In 2011 the Braves team OPS was below .700. When was the last time the Braves had a team OPS below .700? Was it during those playoff-less years in the late 00's? Nope. Was it at any time during the early 00's? Or how about during the 90's? Nope and nope. The last time the Braves had a team OPS below .700 was 1989. I'll let that sink in for a minute.
That year, 1989, was also the last time the Braves had an on-base percentage below .310. For all those years in between the Braves were at least good at getting on base. Even more "impressive" is that this year's team set a franchise record for most strikeouts. Not getting on base plus giving up at-bats is a recipe for a poor offense. I didn't realize until just now how much Larry Parrish deserved to be fired as the hitting coach. That's historically bad hitting for the Braves.
Of course, maybe it's not all his fault. After all the Braves have become more power hungry the last few years. They were giving up on-base ability for power in every player they acquired -- Alex Gonzalez, Dan Uggla -- so the front office is partly to blame for assembling a team that is more likely to swing for the fences than to try and work a walk. This new approach for the Braves must have also been contagious, as other Braves players also caught on-base phobia.
Chipper Jones posted the lowest on-base percentage of his career in 2011. Same with Martin Prado and Dan Uggla. These weren't players who necessarily had bad seasons, but they certainly didn't get on base. In the span of one year the Braves abandoned the patient approach the franchise had been built on for the past two decades. It's like we changed managers or something...
Many things went wrong this year, but the Braves total abandonment of on-base skills and detrimental strikeout prowess was a large contributor to the overall offensive stink of the team. The Braves will not only need to correct their on-base deficiencies with a new hitting coach, but they also need to add a patient hitter or two to their lineup. In some ways that process has already begun with the acquisition of Michael Bourn. That process will also be helped by fixing the players that swooned this year -- Jason Heyward is not a guy who should put up a .319 OBP every year.
In addition to the personnel on the field, the Braves should focus on a new hitting coach who can teach patience as well as power. I'm sure there are several good candidates out there, so I won't bother listing them all. I will say that I've always liked Dave Magadan as a hitting coach, and if the Red Sox continue to gut their staff, then perhaps he could become available. But more than wanting a specific hitting coach, I want the profile of a coach who will bring with him a patient approach to teaching hitting.