Braves' power potential brings back memories
Current squad could put up stats similar to record-setting 2003 Atlanta club
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Ten years after Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones electrified Atlanta with 30-homer seasons, the Braves have the potential to at least rival some of the power numbers produced by their record-setting 2003 club.
But Braves president John Schuerholz, the architect of that '03 offense, has been around baseball long enough to know that it would not be prudent to compare the potential of this year's lineup to the one that proved its value while setting multiple franchise records 10 years ago.
"We had a good team, and the same is true of this one now," said Schuerholz, who served as the team's general manager from 1991-2007. "The measurement of good lineups is retrospectively. When you put what you think is a good lineup together, and they perform like they expect they can, then you can look back and say that really was as good of a lineup as we really thought it was."
A decade later, it seems hard to believe that any future Braves club will match the numbers produced by the 2003 squad, who set modern-day franchise records in runs (907), hits (1,608), home runs (235), RBIs ( 872), slugging percentage (.475), on-base plus slugging percentage (.824) and isolated power (.192).
Lopez (43), Sheffield (39), Andruw Jones (36), Chipper Jones (27), Vinny Castilla (22) and Marcus Giles (21) all surpassed the 20-homer mark. Castilla was the only member of this group not to produce a slugging percentage of at least .500.
While producing those incredible power numbers, Lopez, Sheffield, Giles and Chipper Jones all hit at least .300 with an on-base percentage of .378 or greater. Andruw Jones was the only player on the team to strike out more than 100 times.
The 2003 Braves hit .284 -- the third-best mark in franchise history -- and produced a .349 on-base percentage -- second-best in franchise history.
Looking simply at these averages and the strikeout totals, it appears obvious that this year's Braves club will not create as many scoring opportunities as consistently as the 2003 club. But while piling up 100-strikeouts, the Upton brothers, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla could put this year's team in position to flirt with franchise records in the power categories.
Uggla and Justin Upton have surpassed the 30-homer mark in their careers. When Brian McCann returns from shoulder surgery in April, he will join B.J. Upton, Heyward and Freeman as lineup members who will enter the season with the expectation of adding to their total of 20 homer-seasons.
Considering the combined potential of third-base candidates Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson, the shortstop position appears to be the only one that will likely not produce at least 20 home runs for this year's Braves.
"I think when they're on, they're going to be exciting to watch," Chipper Jones said last month. "They're going to hit a lot of homers and they're going to strike out a ton. That is what they're going to miss about Martin [Prado]. Martin was a guy who went out and threw up really good at-bats time after time after time."
While Prado was praised for hitting .301 with 10 homers and a .796 OPS, Justin Upton was deemed to be a disappointment as he hit .280 with 17 homers and a .785 OPS last year.
"I feel like we have a lot of home run potential also, just like over there," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "But I think you're more concerned about being a good hitter than hitting home runs. I do like what they did. I think they got a little more balanced over there with the two right-handed-hitting outfielders. They had a lot of left-handed hitters. I think that gives them a lot better balanced lineup."
Those two right-handed-hitting outfielders -- B.J. Upton and Justin Upton -- are certainly capable of contributing to much more than simply the team's home run and strikeout totals. Along with Heyward, they have the rare power-speed combination that has led some to project at least one member of this group will hit at least 30 homers and steal at least 30 stolen bases this season.
The speed component could be the primary difference between this year's team and the 2003 club, which totaled 68 stolen bases -- Rafael Furcal accounting for 25.
"Our three outfielders combined could steal 68 by themselves," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
This speed could also create enough scoring opportunities to offset the strikeout total this year's team will likely compile. Last year's Braves broke the franchise strikeout record, which had been set the year before.
The center field strikeout totals should remain close to the same as B.J. Upton replaces Michael Bourn, who struck out in 22 percent of his plate appearances last year. While producing much more power, Upton checked in at 26.7 percent.
Francisco and Johnson are sure to surpass Jones' strikeout rate, and Justin Upton will while providing a lot more power potential than Prado.
By the end of the season, the Braves will surely surpass the strikeout total of the 2003 club. But with the combination of speed and power, they will certainly be capable of producing some of the same excitement that was felt in Atlanta a decade ago.
"You have to do a little projection when you are creating things and structuring things," Schuerholz said. "But in the end, to measure how true it is that this is as strong a lineup as that, you'd have to look back.
"If you come back at the end of the year and you ask me this question again, I'll say, 'Let's look back and I'll tell you how strong it was.' But I have high hopes for it. Who wouldn't when you look on the back of the baseball cards and the statistics we analyze all the time? Who wouldn't have high hopes for this lineup?"
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.