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2011 Atlanta Braves Player Review: The 25th Man

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The last couple of spots on a Major League roster are the most volatile, with injuries and poor performances leading to a rotating cast of players moving on and off the active roster over the course of the season. That was certainly the case for the Braves this season, and unfortunately none of their fringe players were able to establish themselves as indispensable members of the team. 

The Braves began the year with outfielder Matt Young and infielder Brandon Hicks at the end of the bench. It was Young's first chance in the Majors, and he struggled, going 2-19 before being sent to AAA late in April. He fared better when he returned in June, going 8-29, but was still sent back to AAA, where he had a so-so season, hitting .273 with a .719 OPS. He filled in at all three outfield spots, but was 0-7 as a pinch hitter. After the season, Young became a Minor League free agent and signed with the Detroit Tigers. Hicks struggled as well, as his first Major League hit on May 1st was his lone hit for the year. He was sent down several days later, having gone 1-10, and returned for short periods in June and July, where he combined to go 0-11. He was 0-9 as a pinch hitter and filled played handful of games at shortstop and third base. Hicks had a solid year in AAA, hitting .252 with a .779 OPS, 18 homers and 50 RBI in 407 plate appearances. He is still on the team's 40 man roster and has a chance to return to the Majors in 2012 as a backup again.

The rest of the 25th men after the jump:

Diory Hernandez replaced Hicks on the roster in May, though he didn't fare much better, hitting .212 with a .545 OPS in 35 at bats, with a homer and 4 RBI. He filled in at third base, shortstop, and even saw a game at first base. He was surprisingly effective as a pinch hitter, going 5-15 with his homer and all 4 of his RBI coming as a pinch hitter. A right handed hitter, he was surprisingly effective against righties, hitting .273 with a .727 OPS against them, while going just 1-11 against lefties. Near the end of June, Hernandez was sent back to AAA, where he struggled mightily, hitting just .201 with a .537 OPS in 289 plate appearances. Hernandez is currently a Minor League free agent.

Young was originally replaced on the roster by an extra pitcher, but on May 1st the team called up Joe Mather from AAA. He had a strong first month, hitting .310 with a .817 OPS, 4 doubles, 1 homer, and 7 RBI in 46 plate appearances in May, but struggled mightily in June, going just 3-32 before the team designated him for assignment and he elected free agency. While he played well in games he started, hitting .259 with a .704 OPS in 62 plate appearances, he was just 1-13 as a pinch hitter. He was versatile, playing all three outfield positions as well as first and third base. Mather finshed the season with the Colorado Rockies AAA affiliate.

At the end of May Wilkin Ramirez joined the team at a backup outfielder. He stayed through the end of July, with the exception of a 10 day demotion back to AAA, though he only receive 30 plate appearances in that span, hitting .231 with a .641 OPS. He fared well in July, hitting .294 with a .721 OPS in 19 plate appearances, and was good as a pinch hitter, going 4-10 with a double. Ramirez had a solid year in AAA, hitting .267 with a .766 OPS, 16 doubles, 11 homers, 36 RBI, and 19 stolen bases in 313 plate appearances, though that didn't earn him a September call up. Yesterday, the Minnesota Twins signed Ramirez as a Minor League free agent.

The Braves signed veteran Julio Lugo near the end of June to be their primary backup infielder, and he stayed with the team until he was released at the August waiver trading deadline. In 48 total plate appearances, he hit a woeful .136 with an equally anemic .345 OPS, though he did provide serviceable defense at third base, shortstop, and second base. Lugo was 1-7 as a pinch hitter, though he did go 5-12 with a walk in "late and close" situations.

Lugo's release coincided with Jack Wilson's arrival, as the team acquired him from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for a player to be named later, who turned out to be 19 year old DSL pitcher Luis Caballero. Wilson didn't provide much of anything with the bat either, hitting .220 with a .482 OPS in 45 plate appearances, though he did provide sterling defense at shortstop and fill in at third for a few games. He was 0-4 as a pinch hitter.

JC Boscan filled in as the Braves third catcher at various points in the year, though he only appeared in 4 games, collecting his first Major League hit in his first Major League start on July 31st. For the season, he was 3-9 in the Majors, 0-1 as a pinch hitter, and hit .182 with a .457 OPS in 218 AAA plate appearances. He's currently a Minor League free agent. After hitting .283 with a .757 OPS and 17 stolen bases in 353 plate appearances in AA, Antoan Richardson was a surprise addition to Atlanta's September roster. Richardson didn't appear in the field, but did go 2-4 with a stolen base in 9 games. A switch hitter, all of his at bats came as a pinch hitter against left handed pitchers.

Overall, this group of players was 13-70 as pinch hitters, a .186 batting average. Joe Mather was the only player here to provide positive WAR, coming in at 0.2, and the group combined for a -1.9 WAR, with Brandon Hicks earning a team worst -0.6. Every team has to deal with a similar lack of production at the end of the bench. Even the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals had a group of 7 bench players who would qualify as 25th men who accounted for -1.7 WAR.