Fredi Gonzalez’s 2016 Braves were one of the worst teams that we’ve ever seen in Atlanta. Brian Snitker’s 2016 Braves were a not-very-good team with a decent number of young players who might be able to improve, and a farm system full of promising talent.
Can we ignore April and May, and chalk it down to Jeff Francoeur and Erick Aybar and Fredi Gonzalez and A.J. Pierzynski, all of whom are gone? Well… maybe, kind of, mostly. The trouble is, as AtlCrackersFan noted, the Braves were actually worse at starting pitching at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year. So the improvement in offense helped to mask a decline on the other side of the ball. In other words, despite the team’s near-.500 record under Snitker, this is not actually a good baseball team.
As Mark Bowman writes (in response to a question I tweeted at him), the Braves essentially fired Roger McDowell as a way of expressing their belief that a different pitching coach could turn Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair into bona fide major league starters.
Naturally, new pitching coach Chuck Hernandez will be tasked with many of the most important answers to the question of “Where do we go from here?” The Johns chose to focus the rebuild around young pitching, the area of the game that the Braves franchise still believes it does better than other teams. We’ll see if they’re right.
There are a lot more open questions around the lineup: can Ozzie Albies come back and be Ozzie Albies? If so, we’ve got a second baseman. If not, we’ve got a tough row to hoe. Catcher and third base are even further from being settled. And in the outfield corners there are two veteran placeholders and a speedy fourth outfielder.
So, does all this add up to a good team in 2019? Are these bums going to turn into the Braves of the 1990s, a collection of young guys who all turn into aces at the same moment? Or the Braves of the 1980s, a couple of stars surrounded by a bunch of busts? Or the Braves of the 2000s, a decent team that has a couple of bright moments but never managed a breakthrough?