The Braves offense has been livelier this season than in recent years (and so have the crowds). The Braves are averaging an .834 OPS and 5 ½ runs per game. Last season, the Braves averaged 4.4 runs per game with a .741 OPS.
How have the Braves been able to do it? It's simple, really. As the OBP goes, so goes the Braves, especially at the top of the lineup.
This season the Braves top two hitters in the lineup, Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles, have been the undisputed catalysts of the Braves offense, getting on base more than their spots did a year ago and helping the Braves to score more as a result.
Last season, the Braves 1 and 2 hitters averaged .330 OBP/.745 OPS/1.27 runs per game. This season, the same two spots in the lineup are sporting a .377OBP/.894OPS/1.62 runs per game.
"Our two guys at the top of the order really have carried the team all year," says Robert Fick, who didn't see much of that phenomenon in Detroit last season. "It seems like there are always runners on base and I am getting the chance to drive guys in, that's something that's never happened to me in my career."
Furcal in particular has improved greatly over his 2002 campaign. Last season, Furcal got on base at only a .327 clip and has his pace up to .367 this season. Furcal has done it by going back to something he did often in his outstanding rookie campaign in 2000; by taking lots of pitches. Furcal averaged 4.10 pitches per at-bat in 2000, but only averaged 3.75 and 3.81 the next two seasons. This year, Furcal is back to 4.0.
"When I played with him in A-ball (Myrtle Beach) this is the kind of player he was," says tablesetter teammate Giles. "When you take pitches, you're working into a better hitters count. When you're swinging at borderline pitches early in the count is when you find yourself in a hole. Fookee's (Furcal) getting into a lot of hitter's counts and he's got 10 homers to show for it."
In June, Furcal has struggled, and he has taken the Braves production with him. He is only getting on base 25% of the time, and the Braves offense has dropped off to 4.8 runs per game. To contrast, the Braves scored 5 runs per game in April and 6.5 in May.
"They've (Furcal and Giles) been great, and they've been doing their jobs, setting the tables for the big boppers," says beneficiary Chipper Jones, also over .400 OBP this season. "You know, our eyes kind of light up when we start seeing guys in scoring position, and they've been out there a lot. But it's only 70 games in, so let's hope they keep it up, if they do…Sheff, myself, Andrew, and Ficky are going to have some pretty good years."
The OBP philosophy is one that rings throughout the Braves locker room, from the top of the lineup, through the middle, and all the way to the bench and hitting coach Terry Pendleton.
"Terry is a guy that doesn't fiddle with a lot of hitters," explains Chipper. "But he talks the mental game. That's big because anybody can go up there and wail at three pitches, trying to hit the ball out of the park on every swing. It's the guys who go up there with a plan, that's what Terry emphasizes, stick to it the whole at-bat, sometimes you're going to get beat, I mean, a good hitter fails in this league 70% of the time, and most of the time good things will happen to you."
It's this philosophy that has the Braves scoring in bunches, by driving pitchers deep into the count, and wearing them down early physically and mentally.
Chipper explains: "We're doing a lot better this year getting the opponents starters pitch counts up, drawing walks, going deep in the counts, and then making them pay late in the count. It's a big letdown for a pitcher to go deep into a count, say 9 or 10 pitches, and then give up a hit. It's a big letdown because he just wasted probably 10% of his pitch count on one hitter during the course of the game."
Such an approach has limited the hacks that Chipper himself has taken, and while his OBP and SLG are still stellar, he has not been able to launch many long balls this season (11, 4th on team).
"Obviously, you have to let situations come to you, you can't go up there and try to do too much," says Jones. "Every time I walk up to the plate, in certain situations, teams are not going to let me beat them, but if I can provide protection for Sheff and get him pitched to in some crucial situations and take my times when the opportunity comes, then at end of the season the numbers will be there."
Jones' patience has led to many RBI chances for Fick, who has launched two grand slams this season, thanks to the plate discipline of the guys in front of him.
"Nothing against those guys in Detroit, but I am playing behind, potentially, three Hall of Fame caliber players," exclaims Fick. "There are going to be a lot of opportunities hitting behind these guys. I am learning a lot from these guys; not only hitting, but how to win, because I've never won on this level before, and how to be fearless in the batter's box, building confidence. It's like a dream, it really is."
It's a dream that the Braves hope can take them back to the World Series, where they last appeared in 1999. With the OBP up, as well as the runs scored, it may be the most post-season ready offense the Braves have had in recent years.
"I don't see any sign of us slowing up," says Chipper. "All of our guys, the top seven in the order when Javy's playing, have good on base percentages. We've hit a lot of home runs this year, but I like to think we have manufactured a lot of runs, too. We're not living and dying with the 3 run homer, we've won games 3-2 by executing the fundamentals, moving runners, hitting behind the runners, and hitting and running, getting bunts down, stuff like that. You're not going to hit a lot of 3 run homers in the post season, and being able to manufacture runs is how you get it (winning in the postseason) done."
Jason Walker clearly is enamored with OBP and acronyms in general. He can be reached at email@example.com or leave a message on the BravesCenter.com Message Board.
The (not so) Secret of the Braves Offense
Atlanta Dugout Top Stories
Dustin Peterson's improvement continuesWho has likely been the player of the year in the Braves' farm system? Most likely Dustin Peterson in Mississippi.
Adonis Garcia giving Atlanta options at 3BBill Shanks has some impressive numbers on Adonis Garcia, who is giving the Braves options for third base for the future.
New Review: Gwinnett BravesDoes having your Triple A affiliate in close proximity reinforce the team brand and help attendance, or will the parent club cannibalize ticket sales and hurt attendance figures?…
Stadium JourneyWednesday at 5:56 AM
Braves get two prospects for CervenkaThe Braves have added two more young players with the trade of reliever Hunter Cervenka to Miami.