The Atlanta Braves boast the best bench in baseball.
That's Atlanta's secret weapon?
The short answer, quite simply, is yes. But for the purposes of this article, let's go with the longer answer.
Here are three player comparisons to make my opening argument:
Player A: .258 BA, .429 SLG, .762 OPS, .172 ISO, homering in every 28.733 at bats
Player B: .258 BA, .483 SLG, .790 OPS, .225 ISO, homering in every 18.875 at bats
Care to venture guessing the identities of these players?
Player A: Hanley Ramirez. Player B: Juan Francisco.
Now, I'm not insinuating Juan Francisco is the better player. I would be a fool to do so. Atlanta uses Francisco in situations he should thrive in, so therefore his rate stats are better. Also, I'm obviously picking which stats to include to sway my argument—but still, the numbers do tell a story.
Over a full season, Francisco would probably hit upward of 30 home runs if given the chance to play every day. Unfortunately, his 30.1 percent K rate forbids him from doing so.
Nevertheless, the man simply has prodigious power, evidenced by his 502-foot home run in Sept., 2011 that went out of the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. This kind of light-tower power will be very useful in the bright lights of October and will open some eyes across the nation.
This player comparison is more accurate than the last:
Player A: .300 BA, .354 OBP, .432 SLG, .786 OPS
Player B: .293 BA, .369 OBP, .445 SLG, .814 OPS
Player B obviously compares favorably to Player A here. He should be; he's Alex Gordon. The other guy: Reed Johnson. Surprised yet?
Again, taking away name value, Atlanta once again has a surprisingly valuable player off the bench in Reed Johnson.
Player A: .273 BA, .360 OBP, .473 SLG, .833 OPS, .200 ISO, 12.0 percent BB rate, .364 wOBA
Player B: .230 BA, .304 OBP, .425 SLG, .729 OPS, .195 ISO, 9.5 percent BB rate, .311 wOBA
Player B: Brian McCann, the man supposedly taking the reins from Chipper Jones next year. Player A: his backup, David Ross.
I'm not making a case for Ross to start (see his 29.6 percent K rate as evidence for this). I am simply trying to prove just how valuable he is. In case you've forgotten already, that's an .833 OPS from the backup catcher.
Atlanta's top bench guys, Francisco, Johnson and Ross, have immense value to the Braves, and that doesn't even mention the other two guys riding the pine for Atlanta.
Eric Hinske is no longer the 20-homer player he once was, but if he can snap out of his season-long funk and deliver a .330 OBP the rest of the way out, he'll soon provide tremendous value.
Tyler Pastornicky can play shortstop and second base. While Braves fans may groan at the mention of his name, he's going to be a lot more valuable to Atlanta down the stretch than anyone will give him credit for.
He was a solid on-base guy in the minors. While he probably will never steal 57 bases in Atlanta like he did in A-ball, he still has the speed to steal 20. With Atlanta hurting for speed off the bench, Pastornicky could definitely provide that.
While we're at it, let's keep an eye out for Todd Cunningham, a switch-hitting outfielder (and heir-apparent to Michael Bourn) in Double-A Mississippi who's getting on base at a .367 clip. He's taken 30 walks and only struck out 48 times in 404 at bats. On top of that, he has outstanding speed and could provide another lift off the bench for the Braves when rosters expand late this season.
With Alex Rodriguez out and Eric Chavez starting at third, the Yankees don't boast this bench. The Angels' top reserve is Maicer Izturis. The Dodgers' best bench player is Adam Kennedy. The Giants have Marco Scutaro. Chris Heisey and Scott Rolen are nice in Cincinnati, but they still don't come close. Craig Gentry has been fantastic for Texas this year, but the Rangers don't have the bench they did last year.
In fact, the only team that comes close to the Braves in terms of bench talent is the dreaded Washington Nationals, which boasts Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore and Jesus Flores.
Flores has a .253 OBP this year, so let's take him out of this discussion.
Moore has had a very nice season as a reserve, compiling a .4 WAR in 134 plate appearances. However, in just 29 more plate appearances, Francisco has racked up a 1.0 WAR. Francisco's ISO is also .027 higher than Moore's and shockingly, Francisco provides more defensive value than Moore.
Lombardozzi is also doing very well this year, hitting .280 in 362 plate appearances, and accruing 1.2 WAR. Johnson though, has done the same thing with 156 less plate appearances (1.0 WAR) and has an OBP .025 greater than Moore's.
I'm not going to try to make a comparison between Roger Bernadina and David Ross, but I believe it to be close to a push in terms of value. Through 214 plate appearances, Bernadina has piled up 13 steals and a 1.5 WAR while maintaining a .296 BA and .377 OBP and providing excellent defense when needed.
Ross, on the other hand, provides his value at the game's most offensively starved position and has piled up an astounding 1.1 WAR through just 125 plate appearances.
If you give the edge to Ross for positional value, Atlanta's bench comes out on top of Washington's bench, finally giving the Braves a second advantage over the Nationals (unless you feel really strongly that the Tyler Clippard-led Nats bullpen can top Craig Kimbrel and Co.).
Can we mention again that David Ross has a 1.1 WAR in 125 plate appearances?
Okay, it's out of my system now; I promise.
The bench is one of the most underrated components of a baseball team. Sometimes the better bench decides the outcome of a series, in some cases a season.
If this is truly the case, Atlanta should feel very confident employing a man capable of hitting 502-foot home runs, the best pinch-hitter in the majors and the most underrated catcher in the game, all of whom come off the bench for the Braves.
They might even push Atlanta over the top.