Braves Have Middle Defense Issues

Turner Field

The Braves need better defense up the middle

I will start this article on a positive note, even though I probably won’t end on one.  Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla has hit over .300 for the last seven days and people should be excited.  You’re excitement may not last too long though, because Uggla has hurt this Braves team in another way.  It is with his glove.

It is not a surprise to me that we are discussing issues with Uggla’s glove.  What is a shock to me though, is that I will also be mentioning B.J. Upton in the same context.

When you take a look at the numbers, Uggla has a fielding percentage of .965, good for 20th among 2nd basemen in the league.  This creates an even bigger problem for manager Fredi Gonzalez, if Uggla doesn’t stay on this hitting streak that he is on.

B.J. Upton is in the same boat as Dan Uggla.  He ranks 21 in Major League Baseball, with a fielding percentage of .975.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that bad trips to the plate, and errors in the field, are not a good thing.  A combination of those two is a death sentence for most big leaguers.  Money and optimism has kept Upton and Uggla in the lineup to this point, because it is certainly not the numbers they are putting up.  How long does that last?

One of the first things that I was taught as a youngster about the game of baseball is that the middle of the diamond has to be strong defensively.  Meaning your best defensive players should be in center field, shortstop, second base, and at catcher.  That’s not the case for the Atlanta Braves.  I don’t know if this could cost the Braves a World Series ring, only time will tell us that.  But I will certainly be paying close attention to this issue.

The Braves are a really good team and we all know that.  They have a ton of power and the pitching is good enough to win close to 100 games.  Winning 100 games is not important to most Atlanta fans, winning the World Series and returning to dominance is what Braves fans crave the most.

The little things are the difference between being good and being great.  That is the way the Braves will be examined from here on out.  It may seem like writers are just never happy, but that’s not it at all.  It is about wanting to see this team be at the top of Major League Baseball again.  It’s me wanting to see “the chop” throughout Turner Field in the Fall Classic, and most importantly, to hear Jim Powell say “The Atlanta Braves are your 2013 World Series Champions.”  That is why we chop!

About James Thurn

James is the host of The James Thurn Show weekdays from 9am to noon. He has been in sports media for 5 years and has followed the Braves that entire time. James was born and raised in "Braves Country" and is excited to now be writing for

  • Dan

    In both of the last two series openers against LA and SD BJ made judgements in the outfield that cost the Braves a run. LAst night the triple in the first and in the opener against the Dodgers him and Jason ended up looking at each other on a double. Notice the official score has them as a double and a triple, but both were errors on some level. I also wonder who positions Uggla. He does not seem to play a traditional 2B at times. There have been two routine groundballs right across the normal second baseman’s spot for singles in the just the past few games because Uggla was cheating up the middle. If the Braves coaches put him there that is one thing, but if that is his call then that is another thing. Fielders cheat to one side or the other a lot with the difference being good ones and great ones being right about which way they cheat most of the time.

    • The Braves have always been focused on defense when making personnel decisions. Be interesting to see if they go back to that philosophy with some of their personnel decisions as we get into the second half of the season. If Philly and Washington don’t find a pulse it won’t matter.

  • Mike Crowe

    Any major leager hitting under .200 in June should be riding the pine, period. Heyward, one of the most overrated players in the game, has put in one decent season so far and is now playing like he’s played the majority of his career. He has serious flaws as a batter – stands too far from the plate, which causes him to lunge, which causes his head to move, which means he can’t see the ball all the way in. He will never hit over .280 and you can quote me on that. As soon as a power pitcher of any rep becomes available on the trade blocks ( historically a neccescity for winning playoffs over the last decade or so ) I would offer Heyward plus tax. Uggla equals bench, no brainer there. B.J., well, due to his silly contract one has to be more patient with him but for now he would sit the rest of June out if I were managing. The night Freddy sat all the sub Mendoza line players the braves won 9 – 3, because Shaffuer, Pena and Gattis ( the replacements ) were more likely to put the ball in play. As is, partly due to a weaker NL East, the Braves could win the division. The pitching is good enough to compete with anybody’s rotation and the power is there. But with poor defense, lack of contact hitters, a crippled bullpen, getting out managed on a nightly bases, and lack of a power stopper in the rotation, I don’t think Jim Powell will be making his big announcement at season’s end unless the excess baggage is cut away and a couple smart trades are made in July. Forturnately the Braves have some trade fodder.

    • Mike, I agree with you about needing a power pitcher. Smoltz was the guy who carried the team in the playoffs. The nibblers (Maddux and Glavine) were only slightly better than average in the playoffs when the umps didn’t give them 4 inches outside the strike zone.

      Like I said in the article I wrote about the Braves needing to focus on the big picture, they can’t just settle for a division title. The best record in the National League needs to be the goal. The Cardinals now have a 3.5 game lead. Will the Braves play their best players to chase the Cardinals, or will they keep putting the guys out there who are making the money?

      • Mike Crowe

        I believe Smoltz had the most post season wins of any pitcher at one time. Over recent years the teams with the power pitchers had the advantage – Schilling/johnson in 01, Becket in 04, Clemens, Pedro and so on, and the umpires who played to the “nibblers” in the 90s, like Frank Pulli, are long gone. Control/junk pitchers are great for the 162 game haul but in the playoffs the elite teams are there and they usually make the adjustments. A Smoltz fastball or a Wetteland power curve can beat the adjustments. There’s just no substitute for power stuff when it counts.

        I think as long as the Braves’ owners continue to hold tight budget reins the midseason ringers like they seemed to get in the 90s are a thing of the past. I agree that the focus has to be the overall picture – a payoff at the end, or else this will just go down as another good Braves team that couldn’t finish the deal. I understand patients but ultimately one has to play the guy who is hot, contract be darned. At present I suppose some players are getting playing time to build stock for the July trade season. If so then fine, as long as the Braves can maintain a comfortable lead. The second half should be an easier schedule and hopefully the best players left after the dust clears will get the at bats. I’d like to see Pastornicky and Constanza brought back up from AAA. Two fast baserunners who make contact at the plate are just what the Braves need right now – in place of a career slumping second baseman and an under achieving right fielder.

  • The budget is tight but the Braves do have quite a few assets to trade if they want to acquire something prime. I bet Frank Wren will have cauliflower ear by August 1 from talking on the phone.

    What is ironic is that possibly the worst all time case of an umpire giving pitches way off the corners to a nibbler was when Eric Gregg gave Marlins starter Livan Hernandez pitches that were a half foot or more off the plate in a playoff game against the Braves.

    Gonna be an interesting season to see play out. I hope the Braves go balls out to win it all this season.

    • Mike Crowe

      Oh yes, the Eric Gregg game. Saw that game replayed last year – unbelievable!That and a ground ball down the line that Chipper waved at sealed their fate. Then the Orioles get beat out by the Indians, I believe it was. I was so looking foward to a Braves/Orioles series in 97 – the two best teams in each league that year.

      • Mike, you are a better man than me if you were able to sit and watch much of that Eric Gregg fiasco game. The guy should’ve been expelled from that league after that game. And how did Bobby Cox not get thrown out of that game?