Braves: Biggest disappointments of the 2020 season

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On Saturday, we detailed several surprises from the 2020 season. However, the Braves have also had their fair share of disappointments (perhaps even a bit more of the latter). But what’s important is that the team is a lock for the playoffs this year, currently wielding the National League’s no. 3 seed after last night’s win over the Marlins.

So with just six games left on the regular season schedule, here’s our regular-seasons’ disappointments from this season, ordered from most disappointing to least disappointing. 

 

Injuries to Cole Hamels and Mike Soroka

Two of the most significant storylines of the Braves’ 2020 season and what has undoubtedly negatively impacted the team’s starting rotation performance are the injuries to two pitchers expected to do big things this season. 

Hamels’ ailments — first a shoulder injury and then a triceps issue — didn’t hurt as bad, simply because he was hurt before the season had even started, and ultimately the expectations weren’t necessarily as high. However, having $18 million essentially flushed down the drain — especially considering his deal is for just one year — really made it a tough pill to swallow. Now, he’s been announced out for the remainder of the season after shoulder pain popped up again during his bullpen session yesterday.

Soroka’s freak Achilles injury, on the other hand, should serve as a reminder that a star player can be taken away in an instant, and that no team should ever depend solely on one pitcher to carry a team’s starting rotation. The former 2019 Rookie of the Year runner-up was strong while he was active (3 starts / 3.95 ERA), but nothing this season has been more damning to the Braves’ 2020 campaign than when Soroka went to the ground on Monday, August 4th versus the Mets.

 

More Regression From Former Prospect Pitchers

It’s difficult to slap the term “regression” on Bryse Wilson and his 2020 season, given he only pitched in four games (all out of the bullpen). But at this point, now in his fifth season in the organization and third with the big league team, anything other than signs of improved performance should be labeled as a disappointment for Wilson. A 7.04 ERA in 2020 isn’t a sign of improvement. 

Then there’s Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Huascar Ynoa, and Patrick Weigel, who haven’t all received quite the same opportunities with the Braves this season but haven’t necessarily impressed either. 

I’d put Wright, Touki, and Ynoa all in the same tier, as this isn’t the first opportunity they’ve spoiled in the majors. Each of them has struggled to prevent runs as major leaguers…

Career ERA / IP

  • Kyle Wright: 7.46 ERA, 50.2 IP
  • Touki Toussaint: 5.97 ERA, 95 IP
  • Huascar Ynoa: 7.06 ERA, 21.2 IP

 

Weigel has only made one appearance this season, and it didn’t come in a very ideal situation, as he replaced Will Smith with just a one-run lead in the 7th inning against the Nationals back on September 4th. Still, though, Weigel immediately surrendered a walk and a double, and by the time he was given the hook (by Charlie Culberson), the Braves trailed by three runs.

If not for Ian Anderson — our most-surprising storyline from Saturday’s write-up — and his fantastic transition to the majors so far, the Braves would’ve managed a dud when it came to their current and former pitching prospects in 2020. 

 

Another Wasted Season for Johan Camargo

It was just two seasons ago that a 24-year-old Camargo played in 134 games for the Braves, posting a .272/.349/.457 slash-line with 19 home runs and 76 RBI at third base — good for a 3.6-WAR season (per Baseball-Reference). Following that 2018 campaign, the general consensus among all of Braves Country was that the team had finally found a viable replacement at the hot corner, having received minimal production from the position ever since Hall of Famer Chipper Jones retired after the 2012 season. 

However, GM Alex Anthopolous had an opportunity to bring in former AL MVP Josh Donaldson (who he was familiar with from his days with Toronto), and with Camargo coming off a big year, it only seemed logical that he could produce as a super-utilityman. Although, as we witnessed, that wasn’t the case. Camargo’s part-time role didn’t jive, and in 98 games last season, he posted -0.6 WAR for the Braves, thanks to just a .233 AVG and seven homers. 

The declining trend has continued in 2020. Camargo was demoted to the team’s alternate site on September 9th as his season line sits at just .200/.244/.367 to go along with a career-high 27.6% strikeout rate. And with Austin Riley having a relatively strong year as the Braves’ starter, there currently isn’t much room for Camargo on the roster. 

 

No Debuts for Several Aspiring Prospects

After weeks of assumptions, the 2020 Minor League Baseball season was officially canceled back on June 30th, leaving hundreds of up-and-coming prospects with nowhere to play across MLB. And as unfortunate as that was, league-wide, there has seemed to be a bit more aggressiveness in regards to debuting these talented players. At least anecdotally, there appeared to have been more MLB debuts in 2020 than in previous seasons. 

Writer’s edit: I guess I’ve just paid more attention to debuts this year. According to David Laurila at FanGraphs, as of last Friday, there have been 202 MLB debuts this season, compared to 261 in 2019. Oh well.

However, the Braves remained conservative with their prospects, even when their starting rotation obviously could’ve used the help. 

Triple-A star pitchers from 2019, such as lefties Philip Pfeifer and Tucker Davidson (who was added to the team’s 40-man earlier this week), or even one of last season’s top arms in Double-A, Kyle Muller, seemed like viable in-house options for the Braves in 2020. And considering none of those three could get any development in live games so far this year, a spot-start here or there would’ve made sense. But the Braves never called on them, choosing to give debuts this season to only Anderson and Weigel on the pitching side and outfielder Cristian Pache from the organization’s stable of hitters. 

I’m not saying just because the minor league season was canceled that the Braves should’ve opened up the floodgates and brought up the entire farm, but you never know how many youngsters could have hit the ground running similar to the way Anderson did on the mound. Especially in regards to pitching, it just seemed like more could’ve been done from within to reinforce the team. 

 

Lack of Activity at the Trade Deadline 

Although it wasn’t just a lack of activity within. Save for acquiring lefty starter Tommy Milone from the Orioles (who took first baseman Matt Adams’ spot on the roster), GM Alex Anthopolous sat out this season’s trade deadline. And though I can understand the hesitancy given these unique circumstances we find ourselves in, adding one half-win pitcher just isn’t going to cut it, especially during a contending season such as this one. And to make matters worse, Milone wound up being a dud, posting a 14.90 ERA across three starts with the Braves, before heading to the IL on September 10th.

Sure, this season’s deadline wasn’t anything exciting, but there were several pitchers worth acquiring, even if it meant giving up a Drew Waters or some other top-tier prospect. These ultra-talented prospects are excellent, and they’ve provided the Braves with an incredible farm system for a while now, but sooner or later, it’s going to be time to actually cash in to fix whatever’s wrong up at the big league level. In 2020 it has been the starting rotation, and Anthopolous could’ve helped with a bit more activity at the deadline. 

 

Ender Inciarte’s Continued Struggles

Since the first few months of the 2019 season, there has been quite a lot of chatter about how the Braves should move Inciarte. And rightfully so, given his decline in performance over the last two seasons. However, I don’t believe any of us expected this far of a drop in 2020, in which Inciarte has went from essentially a 4-WAR player a guy unable to even provide replacement-level value — through Friday, he’s slashing just .214/.284/.282 with four XBHs in 39 games this season, which comes out to a pitiful -0.3 WAR.

So now trade talks are almost pointless. Inciarte’s value has plummeted to the point where I’m not sure anyone’s interested in paying $8 million next season for a soon-to-be 30-year-old defensive outfielder who can’t get on base (2021 is the final season of his five-year, $30.525 million contract, though he does have a $9 million option for 2022, featuring a $1.025 million buyout). 

Selling low right now probably isn’t wise, so the Braves are most likely stuck rostering Inciarte through next season, which is disappointing considering that the team could’ve gotten a rather decent return even a season ago for him. 

 

Honorable Mentions

Here are a few storylines that were disappointing but perhaps lacked enough impact towards the Braves’ overall performance in 2020 to make the list…

 

Cristian Pache’s Short MLB Stint

Four plate appearances were all the Braves’ top prospect was given in 2020. Meanwhile, a guy like Luis Robert — the White Sox top player — has 195 PA through Friday. Why not let Pache play, especially given how poor Inciarte has been this season. I would’ve really liked to of seen more of him. 

 

No Minor League Season

I mentioned this above, but the absence of the minor leagues this season has been awful, even if it technically hasn’t impacted the Braves’ 2020 season (at least not in a quantifiable way). Covering Braves’ prospects is my jam, and I’ve missed it this year, but hopefully, it will be back in 2021 (even if the league looks entirely different due to the upcoming contraction). 

 

Not Enough Games on Fox Sports South 

This is purely anecdotal as I haven’t actually dived into the data, but it’s felt like there have been a lot fewer Braves games on Fox Sports South this season. Thankfully, there’s a member of the Facebook group Tomahawk Talk that has been live-streaming games all season, allowing most of us to watch without skipping a beat. But as long as MLB.tv continues with its ridiculous black-out rules, games not broadcasted on FOX leave a lot of Braves Country with no Braves. It shouldn’t be this way. Hopefully, it’s better next season. 

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