Braves Season in Review: Infield
Brian McCann had another all-star season, but slipped off from his 2008 numbers, with a 62 point OPS drop and a 20 point drop in batting average. He was still the best catcher in the National League, which isn't saying a lot, as only him, Diamondbacks rising star Miguel Montero, and Rockies platoon player Chris Iannetta had OPSes above .800. McCann should win his 3rd NL Silver Slugger award, but if he's going to be the big bat in the cleanup spot that the Braves are looking for, he's going to need to hop back to that 2008 level. His walks in 2009 were slightly down from his career averages, while his strikeouts were way up. Here's hoping that the eye issues he was having all year, from the Lasik surgery that didn't exactly go flawlessly to the rec specs incident, were the root cause of all of his problems in 2009, and he has a monster 2010.
Casey Kotchman didn't really hit like a 1B this season, with a .764 OPS and a measly .128 ISO through July...so on the 31st, he was sent to Boston for Adam LaRoche, and LaRoche turned into the second half stud that we all know him as, posting a .957 OPS in his return to Atlanta and hitting twice as many homers as Kotchman did as a Brave in 30 fewer games. LaRoche was a downgrade over Kotchman defensively, but he more than made up for that deficiency with his bat. The difference between the two players over their time with the Braves this year was only 2.9 runs according to UZR, which is a drop in the bucket. The Braves have a hole at first next season, with top prospect Freddie Freeman not ready yet, and LaRoche is being looked at as a candidate to fill that hole. Personally, I'd welcome him back on a 2 or 3 year deal for around 8-9 million a year. Anything more...eh, you're pushing it.
Martin Prado took over the second base job from Kelly Johnson around the beginning of July, and had a real hot first month. He trailed off a bit in August, but heated up again in September to finish at .307/.358/.464, which is perfectly acceptable for a 2B. One thing to keep your eye on before you all jump to the conclusion that Kelly Johnson needs to be nontendered...Prado had a BABIP of .334, which is rather high. He's really not this good of a player. Also worth noting is his defense, which is good to great at the corner infield positions, and below average at second, which is his primary position. A little ironic, isn't it? Its a little hard to look at career averages for someone like Prado, who got 2/3 of his career plate appearances this year, which skews the overall averages towards recent performance. He's probably best suited as a bench player...but with the slow start Kelly Johnson had, he'll likely get the starting nod in '10. I'll talk more about Johnson when I do my bench review sometime at the end of this week or beginning of next week.
Yunel Escobar rebounded from a 2008 year that below the standard he set in 2007 with a fantastic year from a shortstop. His walk and strikeout rates were nearly dead on to his career marks, while his ISO hit a career high of .136. With the injury to Jose Reyes, and the down year for Jimmy Rollins, its not a stretch at all to call Escobar the second best shortstop in the NL East in 2009. His defense, which gets vaunted by broadcasters a lot, took a slight step back to his 2007 UZR level and just a couple of runs below average. On the bright side, he cut his errors and drove his fielding percentage (yeah, I just quoted fielding percentage. Sigh) up 5 points. As Escobar enters his prime in 2010 at the age of 27, Braves fans should eagerly anticipate a huge breakout year. That is, if his fiery temperament and sometimes lackadaisical doesn't cause Bobby Cox to drive him through a clubhouse wall like a battering ram.
And finally, we head over to the hot corner to check out the 2008 NL batting champion and Braves legend, Chipper Jones. I'm not going to sugarcoat this...Chipper's 2009 year was absolutely terrible. A dropoff was expected, but not something this intense. His batting average dropped 100 points, due in part to a 97 point drop in BABIP. His strikeout rate was the third highest of his career, behind his rookie year of 1995 and the lost 2004 season. This was actually the healthiest Chipper has been in years, with his second highest total of plate appearances in a year since 2003. Chipper's power also totally vanished, with a career low .166 ISO. When a player's OPS drops off from 3 straight seasons over 1.000 to hovering just above .800, and that player is going to be 38 going into the next season...warning flags go up all over the place. Is he done? Can he get it back on track? Braves fans are really hoping Chipper can get back on track in 2010...if not to his absurd 2006-2008 years (minus the injuries of course), to a level like 2003 (.920 OPS). As Chipper goes, so do the Braves. If he's able to get that OPS up to .900 with a strong September, the Braves might still be playing baseball right now.
So that does it for the infield starters...outfield is next, then the bench, then the starting and relief pitching. In a perfect world, I can bang all of these out in a week...here's hoping the server doesn't blow up again!
Sorry about the lack of updates recently...Fanball has been having some server issues, and combine that with a very hectic schedule and the fact that its the offseason and the hot stove hasn't been turned on yet, and topics for conversation have been nil. So...lets start up a recap of the Braves 2009 season, starting with the infield.
Behind the plate, catcher