There’s an old adage that you don’t pay attention to the baseball standings, or almost anything else, until after Memorial Day. But the person who came up with that never had to blog in April. So, here’s what I’m thinkin’ ...
Please chill: Ronald Acuna doesn’t have a freshness date:
It’s April 16. The Braves are in the clear to call up their (projected) rookie phenom from Gwinnett without paying an economic penalty for it down the line. But they haven’t made that move yet, and it’s possible they won’t during this seven-game homestand that opens tonight. That has caused significant angst and anger in segments of the blogging and Tweeting fan base.
But Acuna isn’t going to expire like a quart of milk in Gwinnett. He’s only going to get better, and his current statistics suggest he needs to. Even with a modest three-game hitting streak, he’s batting .152 (5 for 33, with 12 strikeouts) in eight games in Triple A. Preston Tucker, who’s filling the Braves’ starting left field spot that Acuna will take at some point, is hitting a surprising .300.
So what’s the rush?
You scream, “But he hit .432 in spring training!”
I rebut, “But he’s hitting .152 now.”
Tell me: Which one is more indicative of where a player is at right now – spring production against some major league pitchers who are just trying to loosen up and are experimenting with pitches (read: not really trying to win) or struggles against Triple A pitchers, some of whom have major league potential (and are trying to win in actual game conditions)? Feel free to debate.
We’re told all the time not to pay attention to spring training statistics. But now you want to embrace them as gospel?
None of this suggests Acuna won’t be great. It also doesn’t preclude the possibility he could be called up and produce decent numbers now. But if the Braves sit on this for a while longer, it won’t be the worst thing. Let Acuna get better. Let Tucker keep doing his thing. Doing that sends the right message to both players and the rest of the team.
Dansby Swanson is the bigger story
After hitting .232 in his first full major league season, Swanson ranks second on the team with a .357 average and fourth with a .961 OPS. Defensively, he has one error in 38 chances, slightly better than last season (20 errors, 572 chances, .965).
Swanson should be a bigger story than Acuna. He needed this comeback season because some already were projecting him as a bust, rather than view the possibility he just wasn’t ready last season. It could only have helped that there wasn’t nearly as much focus on him in spring training.
Logic says Swanson’s not going to maintain this hitting pace but if he settles at anywhere near the midway point of .232 and .357, the Braves would take that and they’ll have their anchor at shortstop for the next several seasons.
Don’t look at standings – OK, look
Through 14 games. The Braves are 8-6. This projects to a 93-win season. They’re going to the playoffs!
Meanwhile, back on earth: They have obvious deficiencies in the pitching rotation and the bullpen but they’re hitting .270 and averaging 5.9 runs per game, fourth best in the majors in both categories.
If and when the hitting comes back down to more realistic levels, this team will still go as the pitching goes. But GM Alex Anthopoulos is getting a good look at the team’s potential and continues to evaluate players in the system. I still believe he’s going to make a number of deals this season as he identifies who to keep and who to move.
As for the Braves’ record, wait a little while before getting too excited. Memorial Day seems about right.
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