Best Cure for the Staff? An Even Better Offense

USA TODAY Sports

The Braves need help, and four position players can do just that.

The focus right now is on the pitching staff and the concerns regarding two of the team's top four starters. One way to help balance out a potential drop off from the rotation is by the offense performing at or above expectations. The Braves had a 101 wRC+ last season, good for third highest in the National League behind only the Cardinals and Dodgers.

Would anyone say that the offense lived up to its potential last season? I wouldn't. Even with career years from Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson, it was pretty evident that the unit as a whole did not meet expectations. It was a productive group, but there is certainly room for them to play better. You would be hard pressed to find a more three true outcome team than the Braves last season. It is one of my favorite types of baseball, so I personally enjoy the fact that they have transitioned into this type of team over the past number of years. Leading the league in home runs, walk rate, and strikeout rate is a pretty amazing feat, and I would expect them to be near the league lead in all of those departments.

Style-wise, the Braves will probably be very similar. But the guys with the most eyes on them should be Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton, Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson. Uggla and Upton were notoriously as bad as it comes last season. There should be at least some expectation for them to improve. Uggla's may only be slight, but Upton's almost guaranteed to be significantly better than he was last year.

Of the two, it is more imperative that Upton turns it around in a big way. It is reasonable to expect better results from those two, just as it is reasonable to expect a downswing from both Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman, though Freeman probably to a lesser extent. I actually think Freeman will be a top offensive performer again; it's just that a 150 wRC+ season is difficult for anyone to repeat. After all, Chipper Jones had a career mark of 141 for his career.

Saying Freeman's production will likely come down a bit is no slight against him. Johnson and Gattis, on the other hand, we can have some considerable questions about. The Braves got better-than-expected production out of both of these players, the task now is whether or not they can repeat or even improve on their quality Braves debuts. We heard all of the BABIP jokes last year, but even a hitter with an amazing batted ball profile like Johnson should not be expected to match a .394 season. Add on the fact that Johnson didn't hit for much power and hardly ever walks, and his batting average was kind of empty for a corner infielder with a .321 mark. I expect his power to bounce back a bit, but along with that may come a decrease in average and on base percentage. If he ends up being a singles hitter who can poke line drives as frequent than any player in the league, he will still be very productive and it may be the approach that keeps him in a starting gig with a playoff-caliber team.

Gattis has to fill some big shoes. The other players are either trying to improve or replicate on their season, while Gattis has to come in and replace one of the better players the Braves have ever had. I don't expect that pressure to matter much to Gattis, but from an analysis standpoint he has to produce at a high level to try and mimic what the Braves were getting out of that position for the past eight years. Even before McCann, the Braves have always been good at catcher -- with Estrada having his golden year and Javy Lopez being Javy Lopez.

There's a very real chance that Gattis is the team's cleanup hitter while he's in the lineup. He has some monumental power but he needs to hone his on base skills while also attempting to handle the day-to-day duties of a regular catcher for the first time as a major leaguer. ZiPS and Steamer both project him to hit right around the same level he did last year, with a 112 and 108 wRC+ respectively. A 110 wRC+ is nice, but the Braves are used to that number being in the 120's -- as Mac had the last three seasons.

The Braves don't need Upton, Uggla and Johnson to all perform in order to have a top tier offense. They had that type of an offense with two of the four being absolutely pitiful at the plate. We could see a decline from both Gattis and Johnson along with an improvement from Uggla and Upton and still have an offense that's pretty much just as good as it was last year. But if they all were to perform at the levels they are all capable of, this offense looks a whole lot better.

We basically all know that Freeman, Justin, and Heyward are going to perform on offense, and getting what we got out of Simmons was perfectly fine. Getting solid production from the four-seven hitters could be the biggest help the team can provide to the pitching staff. There are external options to help the team get past these potential serious injuries, but there are internal improvements that can bring their offense to the next level.

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