Entering the 2010 season, the general consensus from the national media was that the Braves had certain question marks that would hold them back from becoming a serious contender. Some publications had them doing well to very well, but more often than not the Braves were labeled as at best a wild card contender. And as outsiders, their reasoning was actually valid.
The Braves had lost one of their best starters from the previous season in Javier Vazquez and did not make a big splash on the trade market. To fill the void left by Vazquez, the Braves turned to a starter who had thrown just 42.1 innings in 2009. They signed two relievers who had a combined age of 78 (one threw just 14.1 innings the previous season), a first basemen who played just 14 games the season before, and a bench player who got to the plate just 224 times in ’09.
The Braves offseason was interesting to say the least. With Adam LaRoche, Mike Gonzalez, and Rafael Soriano being replaced with Troy Glaus, Billy Wagner, and Takashi Saito, it was easy to doubt that the 87 win Braves from 2009 would take that step forward and push for playoff spot. Outside of Jason Heyward replacing the '09 right fielders, it did not seem like the roster was much improved.
Most who follow the Braves understood what they were trying to do and many of the moves were looked at with praise. Once the dust settled from the Vazquez deal, we realized that they were saving money in order to go after a multitude of pieces in the offseason and during the season rather than one big player, and that Arodys Vizcaino was now a top prospect in our system. Troy Glaus was picked up for under $2 million and when healthy, he has always produced. Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito were two veteran arms who understand how to pitch in pressure situations. With Soriano and Gonzalez pricing themselves out of the equation, grabbing these two relievers for this year seemed like a reasonable move considering the Braves other back-end options. Eric Hinske was picked up primarily to be a pinch hitter and with his ability to play all four corner positions, he could provide depth when the inevitable injuries occur.
More after the jump.
With 2 months into the season, these acquisitions have turned from role players to key members and huge reasons for the team's success. Troy Glaus has supplied a majority of the team’s power since May began (9 HR, .556 SLG since May 1), Eric Hinske has the 14th highest OPS vs. right handed pitching in the majors with a minimum of 100 at bats, Billy Wagner has a 1.42 ERA with 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, Tim Hudson has a 2.43 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP, and Takashi Saito has pitched to a 2.77 xFIP with 34 strikeouts to 8 walks in 24.2 innings. Although Saito is currently injured, he is expected to return when he is eligible to come off the disabled list.
Glaus’ and Hinske’s performances have masked the problems that the middle of the lineup has faced. Chipper Jones, Yunel Escobar, and Brian McCann are all on pace to post career low slugging percentages and have just 9 home runs between them. When you consider that these three along with Nate McLouth were probably the most reliable members of the offense coming into the season in terms of expected production, past production, and health, it puts things into perspective. The Braves haven’t just benefited from the newcomers’ production, they have relied on it.
The Braves are now calling another player up that many thought was just a minor league filler. Chris Resop had an abysmal 2008 with the Braves and saw just 18.1 Major League innings. Chris spent the 2009 season in Japan and was picked back up by the Braves prior to the start of 2010. Since being given another shot with the franchise, he has done nothing but dominate opposing hitters at triple-A. It is hard to put what we have seen from Resop at the Major League level behind us, but his stellar numbers at Gwinnett have to be respected. If Resop comes up and produces, it will only further enhance the notion that the Braves have been helped by players that nobody outside of Braves nation thought could produce.
If you would have told me before the season that Jair Jurrjens, Chipper Jones, Nate McLouth, and Yunel Escobar would be more or less non-factors mid-way through June, and the Braves would be in first place and 10 games above .500, I would have stopped valuing your opinions on baseball. It is simply absurd that some of these players have played so well and some of our more reliable players haven’t, yet the Braves have scored the second most runs and have the sixth best ERA in the NL. Maybe these players snap out of it and come back strong, and maybe the others come back down to Earth, but for the time being, the Braves are being carried by players who many deemed "unreliable" before the season.