The 2016 Braves weren’t expected to go anywhere but the cellar in 2016, but they put themselves into a nosedive with a purpose. They continued acting as a release valve for other teams’ bad decisions, taking on bad contracts and the prospects that came with them while aggressively dealing anyone who had value.
Their second straight season with more than 90 losses was not in vain, as their efforts have left them with a lot of upside and a few top prospects breaking through and receiving some playing time in the big leagues. The team may rank near the bottom in a lot of categories, but there’s plenty to look forward to next season.
When it was over:
The question of when it was over for the Braves isn’t a fair one given that they didn’t give it an earnest effort until really late, when the club started supplementing its big league roster with some of the talent it had managed to acquire. But still, 2016 was Dead On Arrival, as the club stumbled to an 0-9 start where they were outscored by 30 runs and their starting left fielder was arrested and suspended on domestic violence charges. To say the start of the season was not good might be an understatement.
Then, after four straight wins, the Braves reeled off another eight straight losses. By the end of April, they had hit just .229/.301/.289 with only five home runs. By the end of the first half, they had a .300 OBP as a club. They improved quite a bit in the second half, but by then it was too late. And then it was the pitching’s turn to crumble.
What went well:
For a franchise that was fully committed to putting a bad product on the field, the Braves did manage to hit some high notes in 2016. Julio Teheran established himself as an ace, with a 3.10 ERA through his first 28 starts. He was the subject of trade talk all summer, but GM John Coppolella successfully resisted the urge to deal a guy who should be part of the next great Braves team.
Freddie Freeman recovered from a poor start to hit .303/.398/.564 with 32 homers, and is one of few slugging first basemen left in the game. Matt Kemp, acquired at the trade deadline from the Padres for the aforementioned scumbag left fielder, turned it around and hit .295/.346/.521 down the stretch. And the Braves might have finally given Tyler Flowers the extended chance he needed to prove that he’s an above average catcher, hitting .267/.359/.410.
Their awful start meant that the Braves could give their young talent a chance to work out all the kinks with adjusting from the minors to the major league level. Dansby Swanson, in a sample size, is hitting .314/.363/.422 with 14 RBI.
There’s also Aaron Blair, who ranks as a top five prospect in the organization by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. Blair made his debut this season and in 14 starts, he has a 8.02 ERA. Though the numbers don’t look flashy right now (36 strikeouts to 33 walks in 64 innings is not good), being part of a rebuilding team allows for failure and learning from that failure. He’s not ranked highly for nothing, especially when, in Triple-A, he had a 4.65 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 72.1 innings pitched.
The Braves saved their best for last. While they had losing records in April, May, June, and July, they are 26-24 since the trade deadline. Perhaps this strong finish is an indication of the potential the team has in the seasons to come.
A second opinion:
From April until about mid-August, the Atlanta Braves were everything that we expected them to be -- meaning that they were a bad, bad baseball team. The offense was terrible, and the pitching staff that mixed youngsters with journeymen were all taking their lumps. The team appeared to be a lock to lose 100 games and were in a fierce battle with the Twins for the number one overall pick in the 2017 draft. Then, something strange happened in late August -- the Braves started to hit.
Freddie Freeman went on an extended tear after the All-Star break and is currently having the best season of his career as a result. Julio Teheran continued to round out his bounce-back year from a disappointing 2015 season. Ender Inciarte finally woke up at the plate and has been producing at the plate while having another great season defensively. Adonis Garcia rebounded from a demotion and came back to the major league team having figured out how to field third base. Matt Kemp has done nothing but hit since arriving to Atlanta, and Dansby Swanson has made a seamless jump from Double-A to the big leagues. I’m not saying that we should all invest in playoff tickets for the Braves’ first season in Cobb County, but the skeleton of a good team is currently in place here and they’re definitely ending this season on a high note.
What’s in the future:
More rebuilding, more prospects, more high draft picks. Don’t expect the Braves to be a team in a perpetual rebuilding stage, but this is a team that, though they may not be ready for 2017, has the parts necessary to keep moving forward and eventually become a playoff caliber team. Not next year, of course, but it’s inevitable. More young prospects, such as Sean Newcomb, should be getting the call next season, as the club puts their new foundation into place. It’s going to be little gains and steady progress that define them as they enter the next era in their new Cobb County ballpark. And it’s something to look forward to.