THIS MIGHT SOUND like a bad case of cognitive dissonance caused by too many days in the heat, but here goes: I believe the 2013 Atlanta Braves will win at least 95 games.
I also believe they’ll strike out more than any Braves team ever.
The latter needn’t disqualify the former. How do we know this? From recent history. The 2012 Oakland A’s led the majors with 1,387 strikeouts; they also won 94 games. The 2012 Washington Nationals were fourth-worst in baseball with 1,325 strikeouts; they also had the best record in the sport.
Oh, yes. There’s also this: The 2012 Braves struck out 1,289 times, most in team annals; they also won 94 games.
By importing B.J. Upton (169 strikeouts last season), Justin Upton (121) and Chris Johnson (132 strikeouts in 136 games), the 2013 club appears bound for whiff infamy. Chipper Jones and Martin Prado never struck out 100 times in a season. (Although Michael Bourn, also gone, struck out 155 times in 155 games last year.)
Let’s stipulate that the strikeout is an eyesore: It looks bad and accomplishes nothing. Fans hate strikeouts. Within the industry, however, the rising K rate has gained grudging acceptance as the price of doing business.
Said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez: “I grew up and you grew up thinking, ‘Put the ball in play; something good might happen.’ ” That was before even middle infielders were expected to hit for power; before ESPN was around to air nightly highlights that include nothing but home runs, and before the advent of sabermetrics, which suggest that a strikeout isn’t the worst possible outcome.
Of the nine men who figure to comprise the Braves’ everyday eight, seven have had 100-plus strikeout seasons. This season figures to yield a slew of big innings rendered small by whiffing, which isn’t to say the Braves won’t score.
The counterpoint to the K is the home run. When you swing so hard, you’ll miss often. But when you connect, you’ll hit the ball a long way. The 2012 Nats were third in the National League in strikeouts, second in homers.
Gonzalez reached into an accordion file to extract a document compiled by John Coppolella, the Braves’ director of professional scouting. These showed the 2012 team’s rankings in various metrics, some basic, some more advanced.
Said Gonzalez, running down the list: “Last year we were fourth in the National League in pitching, first in defense, second in total baserunning and bottom third in offense — and we won 94 games.”
As noted, the 2012 Braves didn’t hit much: They finished 11th in batting average. But their on-base percentage of .320 was fairly decent for a team that hit .247. Why? Because they led the league in walks. Yes, they swung and missed, but they didn’t swing at absolutely everything.
This team figures to swing more, miss more, walk less — and hit many more homers. There will be times when it’s maddening to watch; there will be other times when its power takes your breath.