Eric Hinske stepped to the plate 62 times off the bench in 2012. - Marc Serota
It's been a while since Braves pinch-hitters have been this bad. Let's take a look at how bad Atlanta's bench bats were in 2012.
The 2012 Braves were a pretty good team. They had a very good lineup, solid starting pitching and an excellent bullpen. The defense with the fewest errors in the NL belonged to the Braves, but one glaring negative trait of the 2012 Braves was their pinch-hitting.
When Brooks Conrad wasn't re-signed following the 2011 season, the Braves lost his magical bench bat. The team, though, seemed confident in Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz to provide late-inning offense from the left and right side of the plate, respectively. At 2012's end, Braves pinch-hitters were bad. Very bad. They were so bad, the team's .158 average off the bench wasn't just the worst in the NL - it was the worst of anyone, as in 30th out of 30 teams. Atlanta's 35 pinch-hits and 17 PH RBI were the fewest in the NL. OBP was bad (.237) and OPS (.475) was bad. Only Pittsburgh outsucked Atlanta's .239 slugging percentage.
If you dig through statistical records, you'd be hard pressed to find pinch-hitting numbers that bad in any year. At no point in Braves history dating back to 1948 did the team hit as poorly off the bench as they did in 2012. The previous low was a .161 PH average in 1967.
In addition, pinch-hitters struck out 83 times, second-most in the NL while drawing 21 walks, good enough for 11th of 16 NL teams.
Watching Braves pinch-hitters was about as painful as pulling teeth. The three most frequently used bats - Hinske, Diaz, and Juan Francisco - each hit under .200. Hinske struggled mightily, gathering eight pinch-hits in 62 total plate appearances covering 57 at-bats for a .140 PH average. Those numbers are similar to last year when he hit just .161 as a pinch-hitter, leaving some question as to whether he'll be re-signed. Francisco, the other lefty bat with pop off the bench, seemed like he tried to hit the ball into another galaxy with every swing and accumulated just five hits in 41 PH at-bats for his trouble; his 20 strikeouts were the most among Atlanta's pinch-hitters. Francisco was absent for much of September due to Fredi Gonzalez utilizing new Brave Lyle Overbay. A waiver wire pickup from Arizona, Overbay made Francisco look like Chipper Jones, earning just a single hit in 14 PH at-bats.
From the right side of the plate, Diaz continued to pester lefties. He hit .269 in 78 at-bats, but hit just .192 with a single RBI off the bench, striking out 12 times pinch-hitting out of 21 overall. Diaz appeared in just 27 games and was sidelined shortly after the All-Star Break with thumb surgery. Atlanta didn't have a viable right-handed bat not named David Ross who could fill in for Diaz, but help was on the way in the form of Reed Johnson, acquired in a trade with the Cubs. Ross, by the way, was just 1-7 as a pinch-hitter.
Johnson continued to rake off the bench in a Braves uniform. In 15 games, Johnson was 5-14 as a pinch-hitter and finished the season with a NL-leading 18 pinch-hits. All four of his RBI with the Braves were earned as a starter.
Atlanta hit four PH home runs as a team: one each for Hinske, Francisco, Chipper, and Tyler Pastornicky. The rookie shortstop earned four total hits off the bench in 20 official at-bats while also drawing four walks. Chipper Jones was 3-8 as a pinch-hitter, a role in which he's hit just .240 in his career; the PH home run was his third. Chipper's three hits were the most among Braves with fewer than 10 PH at-bats; among the 10 other hitters, four had hits.
Looking to 2013, Diaz, Hinske, Overbay and Johnson will all be free agents this winter. I'd imagine it's safe to assume Overbay won't be kept, nor waiver pickup Jeff Baker.