Heading into the 2011 season the Braves knew that they would need better outfield production to compete with the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. While they didn’t make any major signing, Martin Prado shifted from second base to left field to try to help get more production out of the outfield.
However, injuries and inconsistent play have left the Braves wanting more out of their outfield once again. All three of the Braves opening day outfielders have spent time on the DL this season and it has hurt the team’s performance.
LF: Martin Prado
2011 Stats: .277/.324/.438, 8 HR, 33 RBI, .762 OPS, .326 wOBA, 1.6 fWAR
While Prado is currently on the Disabled List with a staph infection he was one of the Braves most consistent hitters early in the season. Although his numbers have dipped from last year, Prado has still produced more than most of the Braves other position players and has been their best hitter in the outfield.
Currently rehabbing in AAA Gwinnett, Prado will return to play third base after the All-Star break with Chipper Jones on the DL. When Chipper returns, Prado should return to the outfield to give the Braves their best offensive ballclub. Prado has played solid defense in left, although he still has allowed -1 fielding runs. However, he allowed -8 last year at second base so the position change hasn’t hurt Prado at all defensively.
Going forward, the Braves simply want Prado to stay healthy for the stretch run and playoffs as they were without him in the NLDS last season.
CF: Nate McLouth
2011 Stats: .225/.345/.330, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .675 OPS, .308 wOBA, 0.5 fWAR
After an abysmal 2010 (worse than Dan Uggla has been so far this season) McLouth has rebounded some but still isn’t providing the Braves with the offense they expected when acquiring him. However, McLouth has provided a positive fWAR for a change and has a solid .345 OBP so far this year.
Currently, McLouth is playing left field (with Jordan Schafer, who will be covered in the Call-Ups section of Braves at the Break, playing center) and his role has yet to be determined when both Chipper Jones and Martin Prado return from the disabled list.
The Braves will simply look for McLouth to get on base at a similar rate (which is actually above his career OBP) and not hurt the team. If things go as planned, the Braves will get plenty of offense from other positions. It’s possible the Braves could look for a new centerfielder at the trade deadline, but the market will be thin and the Braves might be forced to stick with McLouth.
RF: Jason Heyward
2011 Stats: .226/.315/.404, 9 HR, 22 RBI, .719 OPS, .321 wOBA, 0.7 fWAR
After a terrific rookie season in which he led all Rookies with 5.1 fWAR and got on base at an incredible .393 clip, the Braves expected big seasons from Heyward in 2011. However, Heyward has disappointed and looks like a shade of the hitter he was last season. A shoulder injury put Heyward on the disabled list earlier in the year and he still might not be back to 100 percent.
Although he is only in his second season, Heyward has dealt with a lot of injuries which seem to be affecting his performance (he struggled through a thumb injury last year before landing on the DL). Heyward’s BABIP has dropped 79 points from last season and that, combined with a decrease in his walk rate, has taken his OBP from amazing to sub-standard.
Heyward is hitting just .216 in July, so he hasn’t showed any signs of turning things around let. The Braves need Heyward to start hitting for their offense to live up to its potential. He has the talent to be the best hitter on the team, and the Braves could use a boost from the big right fielder.
After a disappointing season from Braves outfielders in 2010, it’s been more of the same so far in 2011. If Prado can return fully healthy and J-Hey can start hitting a little, the Braves offense will receive a big boost heading into the second half.