The All-Star break is here, which is good news for bloggers in need of article ideas. It is that time of year where we write look back at the first half articles, first half MVP’s, who was the biggest surprise, what can we expect in the future, favorite moments etc etc. In that vein I am here to bring you the rankings of all the Braves players for before the All-Star break. I have ranked the players using win probability added or WPA, and organized them into tiers based on the series finales for great tv dramas. Here is an explanation of WPA for the uninitiated.
*This is a trigger warning for people who devoted large segments of their life to watching Lost or Dan Uggla at bats.*
The Sopranos Tier – The Sopranos was the greatest tv show of all time and fittingly it had the best series finale ever. The show satisfyingly wrapped up every character arc, provided a ton of excitement, and gave the viewers a final scene that was as tense and heart stopping as any on the classic series. Yes, some people hated it. There is nothing wrong with having different taste in shows but people who hated the finale for its cut to black ending were always watching the show for the wrong reasons. These people also hated the dreams sequences, wondered every season when the Russian was coming back, and thought the Kevin Finnerty episodes were the worst thing ever put on television. These people were here for the bodies, the gangster slang, and wanted to watch Tony Soprano live out their fantasies for them. The Sopranos was always a bigger show than some people wanted it to be and the finale was the pitch perfect ending for a show that was always about far more than a gangster in New Jersey. Also the ending isn’t ambiguous at all. Tony is dead and the ending does everything to let you know that, short of showing his bleeding body on the ground.
Freddie Freeman (2.63 WPA) – Freeman had a monster first half offensively and was the one consistent source of production in a lineup that featured far too many below league average hitters. Freeman has a 147 wRC+ in 2014, after a 149 wRC+ in 2013. Braves fans can feel confident that this is who he is as a hitter and he is awesome. He got a huge contract extension in the offseason and he has shown himself to be worth every bit of it. Yes he is a limited player who doesn’t provide extra value on the bases or on defense but nobody helped the Braves do more to win games in the first half than Freeman did.
Evan Gattis (2.07 WPA) – Gattis broke through in a huge way in the first half of this year becoming the guy his most ardent backers said he would be. Remember that crazed guy badgering Keith Law in his chats in 2012 about how Gattis was a real prospect who would be able to translate to the bigs? Remember that guy who argued with you on twitter about how Gattis could have a 950 OPS and did you know he just was away from the game for a few years? Guess what, those people were totally and completely right. Gattis raked a 290/342/558 slash line while being a middle of the road defensive catcher. He provided a ton of value to the Braves before his injury and will hopefully come back soon after the break to keep destroying pitches. Lord knows, the Braves offense needs him.
Julio Teheran (1.99 WPA) – Teheran like Gattis was another second year player who broke out in a major way in the first half of 2014. Unlike Gattis, Teheran was a player who big things were always expected of. A top prospect from almost the moment he signed with the Braves, Teheran became the Braves ace this year with a 2.71 ERA in the first half as he made his first All-Star game. Teheran is the pure bread show dog from whom big things were always expected, while Gattis is the uncouth mutt who stole our hearts. Both were major contributors to the Braves being in first place at the break and should continue to lead this team in their fight for the NL East.
The Wire Tier – The Wire is one of the best shows of all time that I have always held to be a step below The Sopranos and that continues through to their series finales. The Wire’s series finale is terrific as it has the unenviable task of having to wash away the taste of mediocrity that permeates through the series drab final season. The finale makes up for much the show’s stumbles down the home stretch. Without question the most heartwarming moment in a series not known for them was Bubbles finally making his way up the stairs to have dinner with his family. The tears were real when that moment and it was a beautiful image that was totally earned. The finale also did a tremendous job with its final montage that culminated in McNulty (himself a major problem in season five) looking out over Baltimore and viewing the city that the series had so perfectly captured in all its glory and its ugliness. A tremendous series, a tremendous finale, but not quite the best of the best. That newspaper/serial killer storyline just set fire to everything it touched.
Jason Heyward (1.56 WPA) – Heyward may have been the Braves most valuable player so far this year when defense is factored in but just using WPA (which doesn’t include defense) he has been very good if a step below some other guys. Using the clutch metric of WPA, Heyward has been the Braves most timely player of all the regulars (he trails a few guys who don’t play every day in clutch). Some Braves fans have complained about Heyward in big moments in his career but so far in 2014 he has outperformed Freeman, Gattis, and Justin Upton in the biggest moments. Clutch is random and not predictive but Heyward’s success in big moments has allowed him to assemble a high WPA despite only being a slightly above league average hitter in 2014.
Shae Simmons (1.21 WPA) – Shae Simmons has not had many chances to contribute to the Braves yet pitching only 19 innings before the break. Despite this, Simmons has been devastatingly effective when deployed in high leverage situations adding more value than another pitcher besides Teheran. Like Craig Kimbrel he has somehow figured out how to stop walking batters after reaching the bigs and like Kimbrel he has a devastating fastball/big hook combination that baffles hitters. He seems perfectly suited to handling high leverage spots in situations where the rules of baseball forbid Fredi Gonzalez from deploying Kimbrel.
Craig Kimbrel (1.19 WPA) – Speaking of the man himself! Kimbrel has had his worst professional season so far in 2014. He has a ghastly 1.91 ERA and has already blown an unthinkable four saves. Yes you are pretty good when your worst season results in a deserved All-Star selection. Kimbrel is really good.
Jordan Walden (1.10 WPA) – Did you guys know he hops when he pitches? This is unusual and no television broadcast has ever talked about this I hope one of them gets on this soon. That might even be illegal, is he even touching the rubber when he throws? Someone, sound the breaking news klaxon and get national broadcasters and the Mets tv guys to talk about this. This is a huge story just waiting for the modern-day Woodward and Bernstein to break it wide open. This thing goes all the way to the top.
Justin Upton (0.99 WPA) – Justin has in many ways had the opposite season of Heyward. He has been much better offensively (136 wRC+) but has been terrible in the clutch this year, while being not great defensively. The good news for Justin is offensively he is having a season comparable to his best year in Arizona when he was an MVP candidate. His second half hot streak when it comes will be devastating, and clutch isn’t predictive so his biggest negative on WPA will regress to the mean in a positive way in the second half. He mostly been the guy the Braves hoped they were trading for.
Anthony Varvaro (0.77 WPA) – Varvaro is a good pitcher who deserves more high leverage chances. He is another good answer the question "well if you didn’t want Fredi to use Avilan, who should he have used." He strikes out batters, doesn’t walk a ton of guys, and has a good ERA and FIP. Varvaro is the new Cristhian Martinez, a good reliever who doesn’t get used as if he is good.
Breaking Bad Tier – Breaking Bad was one of the best tv shows of all time and may have had the best final season of all time. It was thrilling, exciting, thought provoking and always willing to yank the rug out from under viewers. It was a show that found creative ways to change the status quo besides randomly killing a major character. Which is why the finale was so disappointing. The finale was pure fan service that gave into all the worst impulses of the show. It allowed Walt to redeem himself by saving Jesse, it gave the audience one more chance to watch Walt be a genius badass who defeated literal Nazis, it allowed Walt to frighten and embarrass the morally blameless Gretchen & Elliot, it brought back Badger & Skinny Pete for no coherent reason other than hey weren’t these guys funny. The show spent so much time making Walt irredeemable as a person and showing his moral decay and then acted like somehow that didn’t matter at the end. It also seemed to give in to the misogynistic mouth breathers who always hated Skyler for being horrified that her husband had turned into a drug dealing murderer, by allowing Walt some pretense of having been in the right. It was a good episode of tv but it was unworthy of the greatness that had been Breaking Bad.
Alex Wood (0.46 WPA) – Alex Wood had a very good first half of the season as a starter. As a reliever not so much. Wood has a 3.07 ERA in 70 innings as a starter and a 4.70 ERA in 15 innings as a reliever. The Braves wanted to limit his innings and by that measure their use of Wood was a success. But Wood did not perform well out of the bullpen and performed too well in the rotation for him to be used in any other way going forward. Alex Wood is a good starting pitcher and the second most handsome guy in his early 20s from Charlotte NC. (I am from Charlotte NC. That is the joke.)
Aaron Harang (0.34 WPA) – The story of Harang’s 2014 season has been one of the weirdest experiences as a sports fan. Harang does not appear to be good. He looks unathletic, he seems to groove hittable pitches constantly, he is always in trouble, and yet he has had pretty good success so far this year. It won’t last and at some point he is falling off that unicycle that he is riding across that tight rope, but watching him stay up there as long as he has managed to has been amazing.
Christian Bethancourt (0.24 WPA) – Bethancourt is the Braves elite catching prospect who in a small sample of emergency service in the bigs has been more impressive than anyone could have asked for. He has been awful offensively (67 wRC+) but in a tiny sample of at bats has been the Braves most clutch player. His high WPA is mostly a mirage considering how bad he has been on offense but it has been fun to see. He is still a year or two away from really being ready for first team action, but it has been nice to get a glimpse of the future.
Ervin Santana (0.20 WPA) – 2014 has been a major up and down season for Santana. A month by month looks at his ERA: 1.95, 5.75, 3.94, 3.77. He currently has a 4.01 ERA but a 3.24 xFIP. xFIP is one of the most predictive of advanced pitching stats so I would expect more of good Santana in the future than the awful Santana of May.
Tyler Pastornicky (0.14 WPA) – You probably won’t see Pastornicky playing in Atlanta ever again so it was nice he was able to add some value in clutch moments before being sent back to AAA. I think he gets moved at the deadline but even if he doesn’t I see his days as a guy with a future in Atlanta as over.
Jordan Schafer (0.11 WPA) – Schafer is again a guy who looks halfway decent using WPA because of some flukey clutch moments. He has a 33 wRC+ this year. He is awful and not a major league player. The Braves have internal options that can run just as fast as him and might actually not hit like Tommy Hanson. He needs to be gone and it needed to happen a long time ago.
Ryan Doumit (0.04 WPA) – Doumit has a 93 wRC+ this year and is probably the Braves best pinch hitting option in case you were wondering how much of a train wreck the Braves bench is. Doumit should not star more than once or twice a month but he is a solid choice for a late inning pinch hit appearance. The Braves desperately need more choices though.
Gerald Laird (-0.03 WPA) – Laird is a very good option as a backup catcher. He isn’t great defensively especially as a pitch framer but he is good enough when Evan Gattis is the first choice. Laird is another guy with a high clutch number to offset his very poor offensive numbers overall.
Gavin Floyd (-0.04 WPA) – Floyd was having a very solid season for the Braves with a 2.65 ERA though is peripherals indicated massive regression is coming. His season ending elbow injury prevented that from ever happening and he finished 2014 with a career low ERA if he is looking for a bright side to his painful surgery.
Tommy La Stella (-0.13 WPA) – La Stella is the Braves every day second baseman and he has a 371 OBP and that is all I really care about. I love this man. The way he has an awesome plate approach. His chiseled scruffy jaw. The way he is competent defensively. The way he doesn’t get out at a high rate. The way he isn’t Dan Uggla. It is just all good. Sure it would be great if he didn’t have a .065 ISO but I am in no way gonna complain about what he is giving the Braves at what had been their worst position this year.
Lost Tier – Oh man. Lost was a great show once upon a time. Honestly, one of the best shows ever. Lost is a testament to how good a show can be when it doesn’t have a plan. The weirdness, the mythology, the bold ideas it was amazing. And then at some point it became clear the show really didn’t have any answers to all the fascinating questions it raised. The finale ended in a church and the show wanted to act like that made sense and was profound but it was none of those things. Lost is a great show that is worth your time but go into it knowing that you aren’t going to be satisfied at the end. For people who understand this I think the show will be a great ride. For people who devoted years of their lives to watching Lost on a week by week basis, the finale was infuriating. Much like Lebron James, with time I have learned to forgive and treasure the good times. But man in the moment I wanted all that time back I put into this show.
David Carpenter (-0.44 WPA) – I am still a big believer in David Carpenter as a good option out of the Braves bullpen. He has a 4.26 ERA compared to his 1.78 ERA in 2013. Carpenter has gotten that 4.26 ERA by increasing his strikeout rate, lowering his walk rate, lowering his fly ball to home run ratio, and being a better pitcher in every way except babip. Carpenter isn’t broken and look for him to have a strong second half.
Luis Avilan (-0.51 WPA) – Which brings us to the funhouse mirror of David Carpenter in Luis Avilan. Avilan was a guy who in 2013 lucked his way into a 1.52 ERA despite a 4.02 xFIP. Avilan was due for a late night encounter with the regression monster and his innards are sprayed all over Turner Field. He is walking 4.55 batters per nine while only striking out 5.46. His FIP and xFIP say his terrible ERA has been earned. His WPA is a disaster because despite being a terrible pitcher in 2014, Fredi keeps using him in important situations. He needs to be sent down to AAA and the Braves desperately need a new lefty option. And yes Kimbrel, Carpenter, Simmons, Walden, and Varvaro are all more likely to get a tough lefty out than Avilan. Avilan doesn’t get lefties out because he doesn’t get anyone out. There is no defense to ever using him in a high leverage situation.
Mike Minor (-0.55 WPA) – For me Minor is in the Carpenter category of bad results but not a bad pitcher. I wrote my thoughts on Minor’s first half in the game thread of his last start but basically his home run rate is going to fall as is his babip. His peripherals say he is still the same guy he was last year and is a good candidate for a bounce back second half.
Chris Johnson (-0.61 WPA) – He had a really awesome series against the Cubs! That was cool. He smashed Cubs pitching by pulling the ball because he is a really good pull hitter, who tries really hard not to pull the ball. This guy can still hit but his approach has been disastrous in 2014. If he can find a way to stop trying to hit everything to right field he stands a chance to not be the drain on the lineup he was in the first half of 2014.
Dan Uggla (-0.74 WPA) – The man himself. He is basically chained to the bench at this point and it is rather inexplicable why he is still on the team. The Braves are playing with 24 men because they insist on continuing to carry a guy who has no value left to add. He was suspended for the last game of the first half in a bizarre situation that Fredi Gonzalez refused to shed light on. He isn’t good and the Braves lineup is too shallow to continue to have a guy on the roster because people like him. Hank Aaron is likeable and would probably hit and field better than Uggla at this point. He needs to go.
David Hale (-0.74 WPA) – He still has a future in Atlanta but he has had a series of disastrous bullpen appearances in 2014. He is a good pitcher but his future isn’t in the bullpen.
BJ Upton (-0.78 WPA) – The elder Upton isn’t good. The positives we can assign to him are he runs well, he has hit better than last season (the backhanded compliment of the century), and he play good defense in centerfield. Yes Upton is a good defensive player despite his memorable misplays. He covers a ton of ground and in that position range is by far the most important aspect of defense. But Upton will never be worth his contract and he is certainly not fun to watch.
Ramiro Pena (-0.83 WPA) – Someone once said about Pena "how did the Yankees let this guy go?" The answer to that question is he has a 66 wRC+ which is actually an improvement on his career rate. He is a good late inning defensive sub though.
Andrelton Simmons (-1.24 WPA) – I was honestly shocked by this one. Yes, Andrelton Simmons was the Braves least valuable player by WPA in the first half of 2014. Now WPA doesn’t account for defense and Simmons is still the best defensive shortstop in baseball. But at the plate he is a double play machine who keeps getting batted in the most important spot in the order. His power from last season now looks like a mirage and he still isn’t walking. The Braves lineup construction continues to hurt the Braves and batting Simmons second is one of the least intelligent things a manager could do. He is more valuable than WPA suggests because of his defense but he needs to be put lower in the order so he can stop being at the plate in key spots.
Dexter Tier – A complete and utter train wreck almost worth your time just because of how unintentionally funny it is. Listen, Dexter is a good show. Watch it if you want. But go into the show understanding that it goes on for multiple seasons of utter trash. The moment you find yourself thinking "Dexter doesn’t seem as good as it used to be" bail immediately. Hit the eject button and run for your life cause the show gets bad, stays bad, and somehow manages to deliver a finale that makes the trash that came before look good by comparison. Spoiler alert, Dexter never answers for his crimes, fakes his death and becomes a lumberjack. The worst finale ever to a show that was legitimately great for a few years. I’m am physically ill just thinking about it.
None of our players were as terrible as the Dexter series finale.