The Atlanta Braves have opened 2018 with an offensive explosion. They are averaging 6.2 runs a game in their opening 10 games. Entering the season no one expected their offense to be bad but they did not expect it to be this good. They have been led by their talisman, Freddie Freeman, who has a 0.333 average and two home runs already. The Braves have scored double digits twice and seven or more runs five times already this season. So why are we seeing this offensive explosion? Can we expect it to continue or is it just a hot start?
In one season we have seen that SunTrust Park is favorable to left-handed hitters. Last season, the park factor for home runs for lefties was 1.14 compared to 0.87 for righties. Eight of the Braves 11 home runs so far have come from left-handed hitters. The Braves seem to have taken note of this. They can currently field five lefties and one switch hitter, Ozzie Albies, against right-handed pitchers. That SunTrust Park favors power is not new in 2018. Last season it was also playing favorably as was noted by Braves beat writer Mark Bowman.
Highest AB/HR ratio by park
Yankee Stadium 19.42
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) May 3, 2017
So far in 10 games, the Braves have averaged eight runs per game at home and just 3.5 runs per game on the road, including being shutout once. It will be interesting to see if this is a trend that continues throughout the year.
After three games and 27 runs, I was ready to put their outburst down to some mediocre pitching. At that point, they had beaten up on Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, and the Phillies bullpen. They struggled to do any damage against Aaron Nola, by far the best pitcher they faced in that series. Then they were shut down by Tanner Roark before breaking out again against A.J. Cole. However, they then took five runs, two earned, off Max Scherzer to dispel that theory a little. They then failed to really beat up on some bad pitching in Colorado scoring 14 runs when I expected them to have a big series. However, Monday night they were then shutout by the same Max Scherzer in Washington adding some weight to the bad pitching theory.
It would appear that some weak opponents have contributed to this hot start by the Braves. However, the two Scherzer starts demonstrate that SunTrust Park is definitely a factor in this offensive explosion. I don’t see any reason SunTrust should become less beneficial to hitters as the season progresses. That should see Atlanta have good offensive output at home throughout 2018. As the season progresses we will see if the Braves can hit as strongly on the road as at home.
The Braves will have their peaks and troughs during the season. In terms of talent to come into the team they only really have Ronald Acuna waiting to be called up. Acuna looked to have done enough in spring to make the roster but he was optioned to Triple-A. In the minors, he has yet to register a hit and has struck out on four of his 12 plate appearances. His struggles should not delay his arrival too much because the talent is so great. The Braves will not call him up unless he is going to go straight into the line-up. This will likely be at the expense of Preston Tucker who has done well so far. That will take a left-handed hitter out of the line-up. That switch from lefty to righty has the potential to affect their offenses home runs. However, what Acuna brings to the team in terms of batting average and speed should outweigh losing a lefty bat in SunTrust.
The Braves are perhaps still a season or two out from being a legitimate challenger. They will need to add to their pitching to have a legitimate shot going forward. However, with the offense, they have flashed so far this season they should be fun to watch in 2018.