There is no denying it: The Atlanta Braves are ice cold at the plate.
Before the Braves began their first series versus the Nationals this year, they were swept by the Phillies to start the season. During the sweep, they only scored three runs, two of which came off a pinch-hit home run by Pablo Sandoval. Averaging one run scored per game will not win you a ton of ball games and actually makes them the worst offensive team in baseball to this point. Every team with at least one game played is averaging more runs per game than the Braves.
There is still hope, though. Three games is a tiny sample size, and there are a couple of reasons to expect things to turn around in a hurry.
Run prevention has been great
Of the 29 teams that have played a game this season, only two have fewer runs scored against than the Braves. Two of the three losses were by one run each, and any uptick in offense could have turned those losses into wins.
The offense has been one of the unluckiest in the league
Mark Bowman tweeted some key points in the logic that the Braves have been unlucky
- Average exit velocity 90.8 (4th in MLB)
- .228 expected batting average (18th)
- .440 expected slugging percentage (10th)
The metrics don’t match the output right now, and those numbers should result in more than one run per game. In fact, Bowman points out that the Braves’ on-field numbers ended up being much worse, stating, “They hit .128 with a .223 slugging percentage.”
The on-field results will increase. It is only a matter of time.
Batting Average of Balls In Play (BABIP)
There is such a thing as good luck and bad luck in baseball; where and when you hit the ball is just as important as solid contact. For example, Dansby Swanson hit a no-doubt homer, then the wind changed, and it turned into an easy out. You have heard people say something like, “they are hitting the ball hard, but just keep hitting it right at someone.” This is a real thing, and batting average of balls in play (BABIP) measures this.
Now, players also have to put themselves in a position for that luck to help them. Like the stats that Mark Bowman pointed out, BABIP measures a player’s batting average when they put the ball in play. BABIP is not a true “rate” stat like batting average. You look at a player’s current BABIP and see how they are performing against their career average.
Let’s use Ozuna as an example. His career BABIP is .319. We wouldn’t compare this average versus another player and say, “See, Ozuna is a better hitter.” What we would do is look at Ozuna’s 2019 numbers and realize his BABIP was much lower than his career average (.257), and say, “Wow, he is in line for some serious progression.” The Braves knew this, and we all saw what happened in 2020. His BABIP finally came full circle, and his on-field numbers started to match how well he was swinging the bat. For what it is worth, his BABIP is .250 after the Phillies series.
It is a little more challenging to use BABIP when talking about team statistics. The best way to compare numbers is to look at the team that sits right in the middle and go from there. It is not an exact science, but you can tell if a team has been lucky or unlucky with the results of the balls put in play.
How do the Braves stack up?
The team that sits right in the middle of the league is the Pirates, with a .318 BABIP. The Dodgers are the luckiest so far, with an outstanding .467 BABIP. Who has the lowest BABIP in the entire league, you ask? Why the Atlanta Braves, of course. With a measly .175, it is virtually impossible for the Braves not to see progression to the mean over time.
It’s not all luck; the best players in the league shoot for gaps in the defense and have a higher BABIP as a result. But, over time, a lower BABIP is the result of bad breaks, which the Braves have experienced thus far.
Mark Bowman’s stats show a better offensive team than the results indicate, and a low BABIP is to blame. The Braves are due for a massive leap in runs scored, even if they keep swinging at the same rate as they are now.