Let’s hope something positive derives from the Braves’ September Swoon.
Let’s hope it costs hitting coach Larry Parrish his job.
A graphic posted during Friday night’s telecast arrived like a punch in the gut. A shocking, riveting stat. I stared, mesmerized, like a Braves hitter gaping at a fast ball with a runner on third, paralyzed, unable to act.
It seems that this year’s Braves have scored fewer runs than any edition since 1989. Those ’89 Braves scored 3.65 runs per game. The 2011 Braves have scored 3.9937.
So, ever since the Braves “got good” in ’91, their hitters have never been this bad.
Just how bad was that ’89 Braves lineup that rang up a forgettable 63-97 record? First baseman Gerald Perry hit .252 and belted four homers. Shortstop Andres Thomas hit .213.
1989 was the year the Braves tried Jody Davis at catcher. Try this: .169 average, four homers, 19 runs batted in. They also tried Tommy Gregg in right field. He hit a career high six homers.
Even Ron Gant got 260 at bats. Hard to imagine; he hit just .177. Darrell Evans returned to the Braves for his final season. Not quite a triumphant return, though. He hit .207, though he blasted 11 homers and knocked in 39.
The offense, such as it was, had Lonnie Smith and Dale Murphy providing the spark. Smith hit .315 with a team-high 21 homers, and 79 RBI. Murph hit a meek .228 but hit 20 homers, and led the team with 84 RBI.
The Braves outscored only the Dodgers, by 30 runs. But don’t be fooled. The Dodgers allowed 144 fewer runs than the Braves; they played a different game. The Braves were last in the league in batting average (.234), ninth in slugging average (.350), last in doubles, and ninth in triples.
They did finish tied for third in the league in homers, a stat more attributable to playing home games in a stadium dubbed The Launching Pad than any definite hitting prowess.
That, then, is the stellar crew of batsmen whose memory was evoked by that single, stirring graphic.
That also points out dramatically what a hideous job Larry Parrish has done in his first year as the Braves’ hitting coach.
Don’t think of this indictment as finger pointing in the wake of the Braves 9-15 September (through Sunday), a month that saw the Braves whittle away a fat lead in the wild card race. Nor was it spurred by the Braves erupting for a single run over the weekend in the two biggest games of the season — two games which could have delivered the Braves to the brink of the playoffs.
No, we’ve watched Parrish at work with growing concern all season in this very space: May 25, Braves bats stir memories of ’67 White Sox. June 1, Braves can pitch and catch, but will they ever hit? June 29, Dan Uggla in season-long slump. July 6, Braves pitchers living on meager support.
A passage from that July 6 piece proved accurate: “Since the Braves bats aren’t going to pound anyone into submission — they averaged under four runs per game over the season’s first half — it’s easy to envision Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrell sucking wind with dead-tired arms come September.”
Even if the Braves manage to slink into the playoffs, their punchless lineup has sapped the pitching staff of any zest it could hope to summon for the postseason. Only the wildest optimist could envision a long playoff run ensuing.
This year, the Braves added Uggla and Freddie Freeman to their lineup, discarding Omar Infante and Melky Cabrera. A net gain, you’d think.
They’ve scored 100 fewer runs. The name of the game is scoring more runs than the other team. In 2010, the Braves were fifth in the league in runs scored. This year, they’re ninth.
The team batting average dropped from .258 to .244. Likewise, on base percentage (.339 to .310), slugging percentage (.401 to .388) and on base plus slugging (.740 to .698). They’re down in hits, RBI, doubles, triples, walks. They’re up in home runs. And strikeouts.
We’ve witnessed slumps in epidemic proportions. Since Brian McCann arrived as a fixture in the Braves lineup in June, 2005, we’ve never cringed when he arrived at the plate. Over the past six weeks, the poor guy looks like he hasn’t a clue.
He looks like Uggla did for the first three months, like Jason Heyward has since April, like Martin Prado did from Michael Bourn’s arrival until a stint in the nether regions of the lineup.
Bourn? He was hitting .303 when he arrived from Houston. He’s hit .274 since. Even the irregulars, Eric Hinske, Brooks Conrad, and David Ross, sport statistics worse than a year ago.
The numbers don’t lie. The Braves need a new hitting coach.