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The Braves need more production from the bottom of the lineup

The Braves offense is currently too top heavy and other guys are going to need to step up.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves offense is eighth in the majors in runs scored this season and third in home-runs hit. Overall, that side of the ball has been solid this season. The problem is, most of that damage, basically all of that damage, is coming from four spots in the order.

Here’s the breakdown:

Spots 1-4 in the order this season have collectively hit .293/.383/.591 for a .964 OPS and a 166 wRC+.

Spots 5-9 in the order collectively this season have hit .171/.255/.235 for a .490 OPS and a 42 wRC+.

Yes, that says a .490 OPS and a 42 wRC+. More than half of Atlanta’s lineup has hit like a really good pitcher so far this season. Essentially, Ozzie Albies, Matt Olson, Austin Riley and Marcell Ozuna are doing all the lifting, while the rest of the offense is being dragged along for the ride. That .255 OBP from the last five spots in the order is a large reason why the Braves haven’t hit a home-run with a runner on base since Riley’s opening day two-run homer. The guys who are doing damage are constantly coming up to the plate with no one on base. Consider the fact that Matt Olson has a 240 wRC+ this season, has been one of the best offensive players in baseball, and only has two RBI this season. And both of those came from when he knocked himself in with a homer.

When you consider how few guys have contributed to the offense it’s not really surprising the Braves scored 5+ runs in back-to-back games for the first time Friday and Saturday in San Diego. Of the 13 home runs the team has hit over the first 10 games, 12 of them have been hit by those first four guys. And 12 of them have been solo shots. The other ten position players that have appeared in a game this season have combined to hit one home-run. So not getting on-base, and not hitting for power. Other than that, they’re doing great.

Just contact at all has been an issue for most of the lineup. Those top four guys have just an 18 % strikeout rate this season, which is tremendous when you consider a.) they’re hitting for a ton of power and b.) that number is accompanied by a 12% walk rate. For the bottom five, it’s been the exact opposite. Collectively, they’ve produced a 28% strikeout rate to just a 9% walk rate. And as stated above, those strikeouts haven’t come with any power to offset them.

On and individual level, some of the guys are more concerning than others. Duvall only has a .328 wOBA this season but his batted ball profile has produced a .352 expected wOBA. And considering how well he’s played center field to start, there shouldn’t be much worry about him. It’s been the same story with d’Arnaud, who has only produced a .276 wOBA but again, he has profile that’s produced a .330 xwOBA. Bad luck and randomness have played larger roles in their slow starts than anything else.

The real concern lies with guys like Eddie Rosario and Dansby Swanson, who both have gotten off to terrible starts and no amount of digging into raw data is going to reveal a different story. Rosario has 1 hit in 33 plate appearances this year for an amazing -33 wRC+. And the batted ball data isn’t telling all that different of a story as his xwOBA sits at .237 for this season. Add in the defensive adventures in RF and it’s actually tough to imagine a worse start to the season. Out of the 167 qualified position players that have appeared in a major league game this season, Rosario ranks 167th at -0.5 fWAR.

Swanson is his own mess of troubles. His triple slash line is currently sitting at .138/.238/.253 for a 42 wRC+ and what’s amazing is his, his BABIP is sitting right at .300. When he puts the ball in play he’s getting his share of hits, he’s just not putting the ball in play. Swanson is up to 18 strikeouts in 42 plate this season for a whopping 43% strikeout rate. Unless you’re doing Giancarlo Stanton type damage every time you make contact, there’s essentially no way to be successful striking out that much.

The good news is, as stated above, even with most of the middle and bottom of the order contributing barely anything to the cause, the Braves are still producing at a decent offensive clip. That’s how absurd the top four guys have been. And not only that, but there’s big time help coming as it was announced yesterday Ronald Acuña Jr is beginning his rehab assignment in Gwinnett this week. He immediately slots in at the top of the order whenever he gets back and obviously adds more depth to a lineup in desperate need of more depth.

And that’s important because Albies, Olson, Riley, and Ozuna aren’t going to keep up this pace forever. Matt Olson isn’t going to finish the season with a 240 wRC+. Even as guys like Duvall or d’Arnaud step up their production, it will be offset by the top four coming back down to earth. Adding Acuña back back is the key. That and getting absolutely anything from the bottom of the order.

The full season outlook for the offense hasn’t changed since Opening Day, simply because there’s too much offensive talent on this team to worry. But there is currently a chasm between what the top four guys in the lineup are producing vs everyone else on the team. And to sustain long-term success, that gap needs to get smaller.

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