Bradley’s Buzz: The Braves need to find an outfielder ASAP

Arizona Diamondbacks' Joc Pederson gestures toward his dugout after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Arizona Diamondbacks' Joc Pederson gestures toward his dugout after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

The Braves have an outfield problem. It existed before Ronald Acuña Jr. was lost, which means it really exists now. Going by WARP – the Baseball Prospectus version of Wins Above Replacement – the Braves rank 26th in left field over the season’s first third. They’re also 26th in center field. They’re 17th in RF, and their usual right fielder awaits surgery.

The Braves just lost a four-game series to Washington, which was 23-28 when it arrived at Truist Park. They were outscored 18-9, outhit 43-26. No knock on these Nationals, but this isn’t the Harper/Strasburg/Rendon assemblage of yesteryear. Over the past six seasons, the Braves were 63-36 against #Natitude.

Are we making too much of one series? Possibly. Cold numbers suggest otherwise. Over 26 May games, they’ve averaged 3.4 runs. They averaged 5.8 runs last season, 5.4 in March/April of this year. The 2023 Braves hit 307 homers; the 2024 club is on pace to hit 171. Last year’s Braves had an OPS of .845; this year’s team is at .723.

And this, we note, is despite the estimable presence of Marcell Ozuna, who leads the National League in home runs and is second in OPS. Imagine this batting order without him.

Wednesday’s newsletter included a poll as to the Braves’ biggest need. As of Friday morning, “another starting pitcher” was the choice of 77% of the electorate, “an everyday outfielder” running a distant second. I’d suggest the Fried/Lopez/Sale triumvirate is enough to get this team into the playoffs and match up against any threesome once there. I can no longer say the same about this lineup.

Of the Braves’ everyday eight-plus-DH last season, seven of the nine finished with a Baseball-Reference WAR of 3.3 or better. Through one-third of this season, only two non-pitchers – Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud – have a WAR of 1.1 or better. We say yet again: There seems little chance this team won’t hit better than it has, but we must modify that. Without Acuna, how much can “better” be?

Over the four games since Acuna was hurt, the Braves have started Jarred Kelenic in left field and Adam Duvall in right. Kelenic’s OPS is .690; Duvall’s is .663. League average is .697. A good team can accommodate one substandard corner outfielder. Two is pushing it, especially with CF Michael Harris carries an OPS of .664.

A possible fix – letting Ozuna start in left and having d’Arnaud do DH duty – mightn’t fix much. There was a time when the Braves considered Ozuna a passable left fielder, but that day has, ahem, passed. He worked two games there last season. He has worked none in 2024. They like him where he is, which is sitting in the dugout when not in the batter’s box.

Of the Braves’ top 15 prospects as rated by MLB.com, only one – Luis Guanipa, No. 9 – is an outfielder. He’s 18 and playing rookie ball. He’s not an immediate answer. Any immediate answer will come by trade.

Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena is 29. He’s having a terrible season (.571 OPS). He’s also under team control through 2027. He wouldn’t be a rental. He’d cost a lot – and the Braves no longer have the Vaughn Grissom card to play – but a club with MLB’s sixth-highest payroll has sunk too much in this season to say, “Wait ‘til next year.”

One thing we know about Alex Anthopolous: He won’t sit still. On July 11, 2021, the Braves announced that Acuña had torn his ACL. It was the Sunday before the All-Star break. By the time the team reconvened, it had a new outfielder – Joc Pederson.

He’s now Arizona’s DH, though at 32 the former center fielder could surely take a turn in left. He’s having a fine season (.928 OPS) for the fourth-in-the-NL-West Diamondbacks, who can’t be thrilled at how their stint as reigning NL champ is going. Not saying Pederson will forever be the remedy to what ails the Braves, but he’d look mighty nice in this outfield, pearls or no pearls.

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