There were three players who were unquestionably good hitters on the 2008 Atlanta Braves. You can live with that, with enough ordinary hitters, but the Braves didn’t have enough of that, plus their three good hitters were:
1. Their 36-year-old All-Star third baseman, who managed 128 games played only because of ten pinch-hit appearances;
2. Their 24-year-old All-Star catcher, who played in 145 games, starting 132 and catching off the bench in six more, because the other catcher was a hamster;
3. Their 28-year-old first baseman, who was going to leave as a free agent so they traded him after he played 103 games.
So when you say that they had three good players, you have to keep in mind that the three combined for barely more than two full seasons’ worth of ABs, and that only because they overused McCann.
To be fair, there are some other players who can be seen as good when their roles are taken into account. The most controversial, of course, is Kelly Johnson. Hardball Times win shares rank him the third most-valuable player on the team after Chipper and McCann, slightly ahead of Teixeira, but that is partly just because he played a lot, more than anyone on the team but the Right Fielder Who Will Not Be Named. His massive September hot streak (probably the most extended positive run of his streaky career) allowed him to wind up as a somewhat above-average player — 14 points up (over park-adjusted league average) in OBP, 25 points in slugging. He played pretty good defense, too — nothing spectacular, but it was a minor plus, and a whole lot better than Prado.
So, of course, there is a movement to get him traded. I don’t fundamentally reject a trade out of principle, but some of this is just frustration from the streakiness, which the media and the team seem finally to have noticed three years after I brought it up here. I certainly don’t have any explanation for it (he doesn’t seem to be playing through injuries, which is my normal excuse for down streaks, and he doesn’t lose the strike zone when he’s not hitting, which is my other normal excuse) but it is my belief that trading a good player out of frustration is a bad idea, and a demonstration that you are running a bad franchise. Trading KJ to get a good player who can help at another position is a different matter.
Yunel Escobar was certainly a good defensive player this year, finishing second (because of missed time) in Fielding Bible plus/minus and putting up a good range factor in his first year as the Braves’ starting shortstop. Offensively, he was a good player at times. He hurt his shoulder on a fielding play, and until late in the season suffered a complete power outage. He slugged .401 for the season; if he can slug .448 (like he did in March and April) or .423 (like he did in August), and maintains his .366 OBP, he’s in good shape. If he hits like he did in September (.357/.460/.548) he’d be the biggest star in the game, but that’s not too likely… I maybe should save this for the full player analysis, but Yunel was terrible in the “little things” offensive categories, highlighted by his 24 double plays and some really peculiar bunt decisions. Bobby (or his replacement) probably should give Yunel a no-bunt order.
Past Chipper, McCann, Johnson, and Escobar, nobody else should be secure in a starting job. Several bench players were pushed beyond their capabilities. A bench of Gregor Blanco, Omar Infante, Martin Prado, and Greg Norton would not be bad at all, if maybe a little underpowered. But Blanco, Infante, and Prado played entirely too much in 2008. Of the three, Prado was the only one who played well, so he gets to be one of the “good”. Prado hit .320; I don’t believe for a minute that this is sustainable. But .320 is .320, and you don’t have to walk a whole lot or hit a lot of home runs to be valuable hitting .320. However, as Matt Diaz showed us, if you stop hitting .320 there’s not much less. Prado was at least as comical of a defensive player as Diaz, and statistically he was far worse; the Braves really suffered when he played second in front of Johnson. If the Braves trade the latter to “make room” for the former, it will be a colossal mistake.
The Braves’ “best” pitcher was Tim Hudson, so of course he got hurt, sending the season careening off the rails, or putting it out of its mercy, depending on your point of view. Jair Jurrjens was the only Braves pitcher to stay in the rotation all season, and thus almost inevitably their most valuable. He faded after the break, like most of the Braves’ pitchers, and I continue to maintain that he should have been shut down when the season was lost, but it’s hard to expect that, especially since none of the replacements could even give them five bad innings. Jorge Campillo pitched well until August, when the league caught up to him and he was batted around like everyone else. It winds up at league average, which wouldn’t be bad at all if he were the fourth or fifth starter. As the second starter, he was wanting.
No Braves reliever qualifies as “good”. Some were good at times, but the only one with a really positive ERA was Jorge Julio, who threw 12 1/3 meaningless innings. Everybody else got used up and spit out.