We've officially made it a week into the 2016 season, and the Braves still have yet to win a game. They've come close for a few of the games, and only looked severely outclassed in one game -- a 10-run defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. With that being said, none of the performances have engendered much hope for the Braves and their chances this season. We all knew it was going to be rough sailing for Atlanta this year, and we also knew that the Braves were going to have an extremely tough start to the season with an extremely challenging opening slate to their schedule. Although the Braves are off to one of their worst starts since the dark days of the 1980s, the results here aren't particularly surprising.
The most glaring wound in the currently zombified body that is the 2016 Atlanta Braves is their defense. Coming into this season, I figured that the Braves were going to have their fair share of unfortunate situations where they'd have a shot at escaping an inning with minimal damage, only to commit an unfortunate error that extends the inning and results in the Braves taking a shot that they ultimately are unable to recover from. Indeed, poor fielding has cost the Braves on multiple occasions this season, with the most direct result coming on Opening Day, when a dropped ball from A.J. Pierzynski ended up turning what should've been a 1-0 start (and a highlight reel effort from Ender Inciarte) into an eventual defeat in extra innings. That's the closest Atlanta has come to victory so far in this extremely early part of the season, and they booted it away.
Again, the Braves being bad at defense isn't too much of a surprise. Before the season started, Fangraphs gave us a visual representation of their projections for the fielding performances of each team in baseball. Here was their representation for the Braves:
It's pretty simple: Red represents bad, and blue represents good. Granted, the Braves didn't have the worst projection (that dubious distinction went to the Brewers, who were red everywhere except for at the catcher's spot), but that's still a pretty nasty looking projection. So far, the Braves have lived up to that expectation and then some: Ender Iniciarte has passed the eye test with flying colors so far, and Freddie Freeman has been doing his level best to save some wayward throws that have come his way. Other than that, it's been an adventure for the Braves on defense so far.
For those of you who enjoy traditional fielding metrics, the Braves are currently near the top of the error leaderboards with 7 (the Cardinals lead baseball with 10), and currently have a fielding percentage of .972, which has them near the bottom of those standings as well. If you're more inclined to pay attention to advanced fielding metrics, then you won't receive a respite there. The most important thing you need to know here is that Atlanta is currently dead-last in DRS with -17 (the Rockies are 29th with -8), Additionally, they're also dead-last in RZR with .638. Now granted, defensive ratings such as these are extremely volatile, and this is also the part where I warn you about the dangers of looking at small sample sizes at this point of the season. With that being said, this might be one of the rare cases where a team is performing exactly as expected in the early part of a particular season. Simply put, when you look at the projections and compare them to the results on the diamond, the Braves defense is performing just as advertised.
Now, is there a possibility that things could get better as the season rolls along? Of course. If the Braves are serious about potentially bringing up Daniel Castro to replace Erick Aybar for defensive purposes, then that could give the defense a small boost.
If Hector Olivera turns out to be decent at fielding, then that could help (and if he could stay out of legal trouble, that would also help). If Tyler Flowers ends up getting more playing time at backstop, then that could also be another small defensive boost. Finally, if Inciarte and Freeman both have Gold Glove-caliber seasons, then they could potentially lift the ship from the bottom of the ocean and at least into shallow water. Then there's always the possibility that the team could improve via trade, but that's also assuming that the Braves will be getting major league talent back when it comes to any potential deals that they make in the near future. There are a whole lot of "if's" that I just had to outline here, and when you're dealing with that many "if's," then it's an indication that you've got a problem on your hand.
Again, the Braves' defensive woes shouldn't come as a major shock. They were projected to be bad at this particular facet of the game, and so far they've delivered. The only question now is whether or not this will be a recurring theme for the remainder of the season. I'd imagine that it probably will be, so you might want to get ready for a lot of long innings as we head forward. Sure, it's a bummer, but the obvious hope here is that things will get better as the prospects come up. It's bad -- really bad -- right now, but the future is bright. So as to make sure that this doesn't end on a completely down note, here's Ender Inciarte making a spectacular diving catch.