Braves’ Alex Anthopoulos on struggling offense, making changes, more

Ozzie Albies (1) of the Atlanta Braves reacts to a strike call during the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Ozzie Albies (1) of the Atlanta Braves reacts to a strike call during the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images/TNS)

BALTIMORE – The latest sign the Braves are struggling came hours before Wednesday’s game: President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos held a scrum to address his club’s rough stretch.

Anthopoulos is accessible, but does not regularly speak in a group setting, as he did this time, because he prefers to stay out of the spotlight. He will never draw attention to himself – unless the team is scuffling and he feels like he needs to do his part in speaking for it. For example: Last season, when the Braves waxed opponent after opponent en route to a historic season, Anthopoulos was not loud about it all.

But now, with his Braves amid a confusing and frustrating slump, he took the place of manager Brian Snitker, who speaks before most games.

To begin, Anthopoulos was asked about his evaluation of what has occurred over the last month and a half.

His first words:

“I mean, look, we haven’t played well. I mean, I’m stating the obvious there.”

And over about 24 minutes, he discussed the current state of the Braves. Below are takeaways from his media session:

Staffing changes likely aren’t coming

Those of us who cover the team have heard the cries from fans: Fire Kevin Seitzer!

This is how sports works. A team struggles, fans look for someone to blame. Fandom isn’t rational.

In this case, Anthopoulos – the top decision-maker – must be measured. And he’s not someone who overreacts to anything.

The Braves have talent. For almost his entire tenure, they’ve been among the best offensive teams in baseball. And during that time, Seitzer, their hitting coach, has helped guide this effort.

“What I would say is, look, I believe coaches are important. Obviously manager is incredibly important,” Anthopoulos said. “But I’d say this from a hitting standpoint, this was my answer then and I’m consistent now -- hitting coaches, infield coaches, pitching coaches, they’re all important. They make players better, no doubt about it. But like anything, I don’t necessarily believe, unless there’s guys who can’t connect with people or there’s issues internally or personality conflicts, things like that -- at the end of the day, when we make trades, I’ve never asked the team to put the hitting coach in the trade. When we’ve signed players, I’ve never asked to go acquire their hitting coach that they had.

“And that’s not to say hitting coaches aren’t important and so on, but I just don’t think you can overweigh those things. We’ve had exceptional success here for the six years I’ve been here. Obviously this is year seven, the year is not done. We’ve been streaky at times, but we’re coming off such a historic season offensively. I understand it. Look, when you’re not playing well, you’re gonna get asked those questions. But I would say that there’s no -- I mean in terms of confidence, work ethic, all those things -- there’s been no change there. We feel really good about the group. We’re going to take six years of a sample, more so than a two-month-plus period.”

Anthopoulos is ‘active’ at this time

What can Anthopoulos do during this time, with his team struggling?

“Yeah, I guess I’d say this: Obviously the players are going to work in the cages and so on, and the coaches are going to prepare, and front office wise, (research and development), advance team will do everything they can,” Anthopoulos said. “I’m active in terms of calls with trades and things like that. There isn’t anything imminent. I’m doing my job; I don’t want to create something that isn’t there, but I’d say I’ve been more active than I’ve been in the past. Not that you’re not doing it at all times, but look, when you’re not playing well, you have to look at yourself and say, what can I do? The same way for guys taking more swings, or the coaches putting in more hours -- everyone’s doing what they can, (like Snitker) and so on.

“But look, we haven’t gotten any traction and so on, but I can tell you, it seems like (from) talking across the league to other GMs, the offensive issues seem like they’re spread across the league. A lot of GMs are saying the same thing. People feel like they’re not hitting the way they can. That doesn’t make us feel any better, because it’s about us and getting our own team playing well. But I would say that would be the main thing is more continuing to look if there’s anything else that we can come up with.”

Atlanta Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia (11) shows his frustration after striking out during the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers at Truist Park on Sunday, April 21, 2024.
(Miguel Martinez/ AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

icon to expand image

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Results versus process

Baseball is a results-oriented business.

That said, the process can tell you a lot because this game can come with brutal luck.

Anthopoulos was asked what he sees in the process that makes him confident this club will turn it around soon.

“I’m careful when I answer this, just because I don’t want it to come across as excuses,” he said. “Because nobody wants to hear, ‘Well, our hard-hit rate is better than our results have been, and so on.’ People might roll their eyes and so on. I know this is a results business at the end of the day. But those are things we’re going to look at. And that goes without saying. You know, we are barreling some balls.”

The Braves entered Wednesday with the second-best average exit velocity of any club in baseball. To be more specific: The Braves and the Orioles both came into the day with a 90.3 mph average exit velocity, but the Orioles had more batted balls, so they’re first via that tiebreaker.

Atlanta’s 43.7% hard-hit rate also ranked second in the majors behind Baltimore.

“But, what I would say, I think if you look, before Adam (Duvall) was playing every day for us, in terms of our everyday position-player group, our best performing hitter was our oldest one in Marcell Ozuna at 33 years old,” Anthopoulos said. “And the reason I’m highlighting that and pointing it out is, this is a young group of really accomplished players. So it’d be one thing if you’re thinking that this is an aging core, a team with diminishing talent. It’s not that at all. Look, it’s a team that’s not performing to expectations. Certainly. But there’s still obviously tremendous upside and so on.”

All of that can be true, along with the fact that the Braves are hitting the ball hard and probably aren’t yet being rewarded for it often enough.

But lately, the situational hitting has been poor.

“You’re trying to create runs any way you can,” Anthopoulos said. “And that’s across the board. That could be the way you run the bases, the way you move guys over, putting the ball in play, quality of at-bat, grinding at-bats – all that stuff is there. When guys press – I haven’t sat them all down – but look, like anything, these guys are highly committed, highly motivated, badly want to do well and be successful, that’s the type of guys we have here. It’s human nature if you’re not performing the way you want to try to do more.

“Have I had anybody tell me that directly? No. But I think subconsciously, it’s certainly there. This group’s been together for a while now – I know we’ve had some changes, but for the most part. They are young in their careers, and they have shown the ability to be the best offense in the game. And not that we’re expecting that. (We expected there) to be a regression. Just like after we won 100-plus games in ‘22, I went out on one of my interviews and said, ‘I don’t expect us to do that again.’ We hadn’t done that in 20 years. There’s a reason: Because it’s hard to do. We were fortunate to do it again the following year.

“I didn’t expect us to have a historic season again, but I certainly expect us to have a top-end offense – top 10, top five and so on. I think that confidence was well-founded at the time, but I think it’s all part of it. We’ve seen them do these things. We’ve seen them have good at-bats, we’ve seen them move guys over. We’ve seen them do all those things. I think again, when you’re not playing well and you’re not performing, I think it’s human nature to try to do a little bit more than you should.”

Atlanta Braves general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, left, speaks to Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk in 2022. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Credit: AP

icon to expand image

Credit: AP

Too reliant on the long ball?

The common critique of the Braves when they don’t hit: They cannot manufacture runs. They rely on hitting homers.

Fair or not, the numbers sort of support this.

Entering Wednesday, the Braves had scored 279 runs this season. Of those, 107 came on home runs.

They didn’t homer in 24 of their first 64 games. They came into Wednesday with a 9-15 record in homerless games. And to give more context to this: Last season, Atlanta only had 18 games in which it didn’t hit a home run.

“But I guess I’d say this: That’s by design. We obviously like power,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s a lot harder to string together three or four hits. If the power’s not coming, of course you want the other option – being able to get guys over, get base hits and so on. I still, to this moment, I see this team capable of being able to slug. When I look at the lineup and the names and the youth and the athleticism and the talent, I absolutely see this lineup being capable of slugging.

“Two and a half months into it, definitely not like we’ve done in the past. I hate leaning on the, ‘Hey, there’s still more season left’ and so on, but you really do take numbers as an aggregate, right? We’ve seen guys have good first halves, poor second halves, and the other way around. The biggest thing is that you’re in playoff contention the entire time, which is the number one thing. You need to get to the postseason, one. And then two, are you playing your best baseball going into the postseason? There’s plenty of examples, whether it’s us or other teams across the game, that that’s ultimately what mattered.”

And multiple times, Anthopoulos discussed the state of the National League and how the Braves are still in playoff position. There are only five NL teams with a record above .500, and the Braves are still in the top wild-card spot.

Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker watches from the dugout before the team's baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: AP

icon to expand image

Credit: AP

Snitker is ‘a rock in so many ways’

Two years ago, Snitker held a team meeting on June 1, ahead of a day game in Phoenix, and the Braves rolled after. It probably was more of a reminder than anything.

Snitker isn’t the type to flip tables after games.

“I think the biggest thing is, Snit’s been himself,” Anthopoulos said. “I’ve known him for – this is my seventh year. I told him this today: ‘I bet you you’ve been yourself your entire career.’ And he’s been himself the entire time I’ve been here, and we’ve been through so many different things, all kinds of challenges, this, that, all kinds of highs, and he has been the exact same person the entire time. So I think however he is, is who he is as a person and being authentic, being genuine is what matters.

“And if that means you’re going to react that way because that’s who you are, go ahead. But that’s not who he is. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get frustrated or irritated. It’s just like I mentioned: His instincts are off the charts, he has very good feel. There’s times that he’ll call a player in, he’ll have player meetings and so on privately behind closed doors. There’ll be times he’ll react and say things. There’s no script for it. It’s court awareness, is kind of the term we use. And feel. He’s got tremendous feel. That’s why we’re fans, right? We get emotional, we react. And that’s why he’s the manager of the team: He keeps it steady.”