The Breakdown: Where have the walks gone?

Kevin C. Cox

The Braves offense has picked up of late, but have struggled overall for the first two weeks. The reason? A lack of walks.

Last season the Braves had the fourth most runs scored in the National league, mainly due to their three true outcome style of offense. For reference, the three true outcomes are walks, strikeouts, and home runs. Compared to the rest of the National League, the Braves finished second in walks, first in home runs, and tied for first in strikeouts last season.

The reason we accept all of the strikeouts is that there has been a strong correlation between strikeouts and walks. The hitters get into deep counts that end up ending in strikeouts, but they also end up ending in walks which is certainly a worthwhile tradeoff.

Two weeks into the season, and while the offense has seven of the same eight regulars as last season, and the walks have seemingly disappeared. I do not believe this to be a permanent condition, but if we are going to look for one reason why the offense has struggled to date, aside from the past couple of games, it is easy to see that the big drop in walks has been a reason.

So far, the Braves rank 13th in walk rate, ahead of only the Brewerrs and Padres. The Brewers have been great thus far, but are notorious for not being a group of patient hitters, while the Padres are a lackluster group of offensive performers altogether. Who have been the biggest culprits?

2013 BB% 2014 BB%
B.J. Upton 9.9% 2.3%
Dan Uggla 14.3% 2.3%
Chris Johnson 5.3% 2.1%
Evan Gattis 5.5% 0.0%

2013 wRC+ 2014 wrC+
B.J. Upton 56 32
Dan Uggla 91 29
Chris Johnson 127 76
Evan Gattis 110 105

In this group, Gattis has been the only player to produce close to the results he had last year. Of the three, Gattis is the player I’m worried about least, as he doesn’t really have much plate discipline to begin with and he is pretty much an all power type guy. His lack of patience will absolutely limit his upside. He has better bat skills and hand eye coordination that we give him credit for, but his lack of discipline at the plate will hinder his overall offensive performance. However, this is what we all knew going into the season. I would like to see him get out of the Zero Walk Club, but I don’t ever expect this to be a huge part of his game.

B.J. and Uggla’s struggles have been well documented. Upton has looked better since working with Chipper, albeit in a small sample, and Uggla I am convinced just is not that good anymore. At least when he was playing the past few years he was walking and hitting homers. This year he has yet to do either. I expect both B.J.’s and Uggla’s walk rate to jump back up to reasonable numbers soon, but while I have faith in B.J. performing better than last year I don’t quite have that same faith in Uggla.

This leaves us with the one player that I am a bit worried about. Obviously, in the past few games Johnson has seen a very odd uptick in strikeouts, as he has two four strikeout games in his past three. The Lord of BABIP has always been somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to strikeout and walk rates. He always has a high BABIP, which suggests quality bat control, but his strikeout rate has been over 20% every year of his career while his walk rate has never been higher than the 5.9% he posted in 2012.

Entering the year I talked about Johnson’s offense being almost entirely tied to his batting average. He still has a BABIP of .323, which is good, but far off of last year’s .394 and his career .360 mark. These numbers will regress back toward his career averages, but I think most people are still thinking Johnson is the 127 wRC+ guy he was last season and not the 107 wRC+ guy he has been for his career. ZiPS and Steamer project Johnson to hit for a 101 wRC+ for the rest of the season, which is basically saying he is a league average bat. The Braves need more than that out of the cleanup spot. One way for him to be better than that is to be more patient at the plate and take more walks. If he doesn’t, this could be an underwhelming season for the Braves third baseman.

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