Hapless Braves on pace to have baseball's worst ever offense
The Braves lost to the Phillies on Tuesday night by a score of 3–2. In doing so, Atlanta fell to 1–16 at home on the season, becoming the first team to lose 16 of its first 17 home games in a season since the 1913 Yankees went 0–17 with one tie in their first 18 games as a tenant at the Polo Grounds. Everyone knew the Braves were going to be bad this season, but their play through the first month of the season suggests that they could reach historic levels of futility. Here are some the more extreme examples of just how bad Atlanta has been and where the team would rank all-time if it continues at its current pace.
The Braves are 7–24 on the season, which translates to a .226 winning percentage. That’s only a half-game worse than the Twins, who are 8–24, but we can be reasonably confident that Minnesota, which won 83 games last year and has some talented young players, is better than that. It’s not clear that Atlanta is.
A .226 winning percentage over a full season translates to a 37–125 record. That would set a new low for most losses in a major league season, beating out the 120 of the 1962 Mets in their inaugural season. The worst winning percentage since the turn of the twentieth century, meanwhile, was the .235 mark put up by the 1916 Philadelphia A’s, who went 36–117. The Braves are no threat to the infamy of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who went 20–134 for a .130 “winning” percentage, but they are currently on pace to be the worst team in modern major league history.
As it stands, the Braves are just the 11th team in the live ball era to start a season with seven or fewer wins in their first 31 games (not counting ties):
Home Field Disadvantage
We know the Braves aren’t going to finish their final season at Turner Field with a .059 winning percentage at home, but their dismal start would seem to give them a chance at breaking the modern record for worst home winning percentage, currently held by the 1939 St. Louis Browns, who went 18–59 (.234) at Sportsman’s Park. If the Braves go 17–47 over their remaining 64 home games (a .266 winning percentage, well above their overall mark on the season to this point), they would finish the year 18–63 at home with a record-low .222 home winning percentage. If they win 18 more games at home, however, they would finish with a .235 mark.
The Braves’ lack of power this season has already made headlines. With his ninth-inning solo homer Tuesday night, Freddie Freeman increased the Braves’ team home run total to eight on the season, five of which belong to him. Mallex Smith, a slap-hitting speedster who hit just one home run in 542 plate appearances in the minors last year, hit one that was initially ruled a triple and needed a replay review to bring him home. The Braves’ other two home runs this season were hit by one player who has since been released (outfielder Drew Stubbs) and another who has since been optioned to Triple A (third baseman Adonis Garcia).
In surveying the Braves’ lack of home runs two weeks ago, I projected them to hit 88 round-trippers as a team on the season, the lowest total in the majors since 1992. Thus far, however, they are only on pace to hit 42 home runs on the season, which would be the lowest total in a non-strike year since the Senators hit just 31 in 154 games in 1948.
Home runs aren’t the only evidence of the Braves’ lack of power. Ironically, when Smith’s home run was corrected by replay, it erased what would have been the team’s first triple of the season. The Braves still haven’t hit one, and they are the only team in the majors not to collect a triple on the season. Since 1913, which is as far back as the game logs go, only three teams had to wait longer for their first triple of the season: the 2000 Cubs (33 games), the 1973 Expos (38 games) and the '82 Giants (41 games). The Braves have fared better with regard to doubles, but just barely. Only the Angels have hit fewer doubles on the season, with 37 to Atlanta’s 43, though the Mariners and Yankees also have just 43, with Seattle needing two extra games to reach that total.
Put it all together, and the Braves have just 301 total bases on the season—73 fewer than the next-worst team in baseball, the Angels—and are slugging a remarkably pathetic .289 as a team. The last team to have a slugging percentage below .290 over a full season was the 1914 Yankees, who posted a .287 mark in the heart of the dead ball era. Only twice in the live ball era has a team slugged below .300 (the 1943 Athletics at .297 and the '72 Rangers at .290).
Can’t Find Their Way Home
If you hadn’t figured it out already, what has transformed the Braves from a lousy team into one that could be historically bad is the futility of the offense. Atlanta is dead last in the majors with just 92 runs scored, with just 2.97 runs scored per game, that .289 slugging percentage, and a 58 OPS+. No team has scored fewer than three runs per game over a full season since 1972, when the aforementioned Rangers scored 2.99 runs per game and the Angels scored 2.93.
That OPS+ is even more remarkable. No team since and including the 1899 Spiders has had a collective OPS+ below 70. The 2013 Marlins finished with a 73 OPS+, but only six other teams since 1899 have had a lower mark, and only two of those teams played during the live ball era. Off all of the dubious distinctions the Braves could claim this season this season, a spot on this list is the one they are most likely to accomplish:
The Braves will likely experience some positive correction as the season progresses. For starters, they have had Ender Inciarte in the lineup for only six games thus far. With Stubbs gone and Opening Day starting infielders Garcia and Jace Peterson back in the minors, Atlanta has at the very least shown a restlessness that suggests that the team won’t let walk-year veterans Erick Aybar—who is last among qualified batters in the majors with a 16 OPS+—and A.J. Pierzynski (34 OPS+ in his age-39 season) linger much longer in the lineup without an improvement in production. The Braves' best minor league alternatives at shortstop, however, are top prospects Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, whose service-time clocks the organization would rather not start ticking in service of a team this bad, and their depth chart at catcher offers no potential upgrades.
With Inciarte back in the lineup and Aaron Blair already in the rotation, there aren’t any notable reinforcements lurking on the disabled list or in the upper minors. Swanson and lefty Sean Newcomb, the top prospect acquired in the Andrelton Simmons trade, are in Double A and unlikely to see the majors before next season. Albies was promoted to Triple A at the end of April, but is just 19 and can afford to be held back as well. The Braves may shuffle through some veteran waiver-wire fodder and could try to shake things up with a managerial or coaching change, but there is no mid- or late-season reinvention coming. The 2016 Braves are and will remain a terrible team. All that remains is to see just how terrible.