If you've never taken a business class in your life, you're probably wondering just exactly a SWOT analysis is. A SWOT analysis can be used in numerous fields, but the most common usage is when a new venture or project is being launched by a company. The goal of a SWOT analysis is to uncover the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the venture or project going forward. Once the SWOT analysis is complete, a company can look it and determine whether or not their project will be successful based on the analysis.
If you imagine a baseball team as the project or venture to be analyzed, it makes a lot more sense in the context of the SWOT analysis, especially when you look at the end goal of a championship. Each team across the league has strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats when it comes to winning the World Series, and it's important to break down each of those facets of the team to determine what each team across the league has to keep in mind when playing this season. It's worth keeping in mind that strengths and weaknesses are generally internal factors, while opportunities and threats are external factors. For example, an injury situation involving a player on the team would be considered a weakness, while an injury situation involving a player on another team in the league would be considered an opportunity.
We're going to start this SWOT analysis series by looking at the Atlanta Braves. The Braves retooled in a big way this winter, signing BJ Upton, trading for Justin Upton, and dealing Martin Prado in the trade to acquire the younger Upton brother. The general consensus surrounding Atlanta is that they're one of the four or five best teams in the National League, and that a return to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons seems more likely than not to happen. But despite that conventional thinking, there are definitely some flaws on the Atlanta roster going into the season, and thinking that a 90 win season will be a breeze for them to achieve may be naive.
Outfield. The Braves outfield could be the best in baseball after BJ and Justin Upton joined Jason Heyward to patrol the Turner Field grass this summer. In Upton, Upton, and Heyward, the Braves not only have an excellent defensive outfield, but also one that can bring the wood. All have the potential to put together a 20/20 season, and they were just a couple of homers and steals from Justin away from doing that last season. Only seven outfielders in 2012 had a 20/20 season, and two are now Braves. If you move the benchmarks down to 15 and 15, only 12 outfielders got there…and three of them are Braves. There is some potential for Atlanta's outfield to be something that, quite frankly, we've never seen before in baseball.
Bullpen. You know a team has a strong bullpen when they trade for a reliever that is just a year removed from a 1.6 fWAR season, and people are wondering where exactly he'll fit in. But that's what's happening in Atlanta, who acquired Jordan Walden from the Angels for inconsistent and oft-injured starter Tommy Hanson. Walden might be the fourth best reliever on the team behind dominant closer Craig Kimbrel, vicious setup man Jonny Venters, and the lefty-killing Eric O'Flaherty. Throw in the incredibly underrated Cristhian Martinez, and Atlanta's relief corps is looking excellent, even with the team potentially handing their final two bullpen slots to the largely unproven Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin.
Starting rotation. Atlanta's rotation is definitely a strength, regardless of what some may believe. They've also got a very stereotypical rotation, if that makes any sense. In Tim Hudson, the Braves have the veteran innings eater who gets groundballs like it's no one's business. In Kris Medlen, the Braves have the immensely talented young guy who burst onto the scene and took the league by storm last year after starting in the bullpen. In Mike Minor, the Braves have the former top ten draft pick that has struggled in the majors until starting to come into his own in the second half last years. In Paul Maholm, the Braves have the understated veteran that seems to slip under the radar and get forgotten about despite being a solid hand. And finally, in Julio Teheran, the Braves have the heavily hyped prospect that is finally going to get his turn. It's a damn good starting five, and while it may lack the ceiling of the rotation in Washington or have the history like the rotation in Philadelphia, it's an awesome quintet.
Infield defense. Aside from the amazing Andrelton Simmons at short, this infield could turn in some putrid performances. Third base will be manned by (likely) a platoon of Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson, neither of whom will ever be confused with Brooks Robinson. Second baseman Dan Uggla is a notoriously bad defender, regardless of what the advanced metrics said last year. And then, there's first baseman Freddie Freeman, who is excellent at digging bad throws out of the dirt and saving high and wide throws, but is relatively lead-footed when it comes to balls that he has to range for. With five (six if Gearrin makes the bullpen) returning Braves pitchers posting groundball rates of over 50% last season, Atlanta's poor infield defense could be an overlooked story going into 2013. But consider this: the Braves had Uggla and Freeman on the right side of the infield to start the 2012 season, the equally as statuesque Chipper Jones at third, and had Tyler Pastornicky and his complete lack of range at short for the first two months before Simmons got the call, and they won 93 games.
Strikeouts. While I don't think that strikeouts are going to cripple Atlanta's offense like many traditional media writers seem to believe, I'm willing to say that they're a potential problem. BJ Upton and Dan Uggla struck out 169 and 168 times respectively last season, Jason Heyward K'd 152 times, and Chris Johnson, Freddie Freeman, and Justin Upton all whiffed at least 120 times each. However, the notion that strikeouts = failure is a silly one. Do you know which team led the majors in strikeouts last season? It was the Oakland Athletics, who won the AL West and had a .311 wOBA (middle of the pack in baseball). The Nationals, Orioles, Braves, and Reds all were also in the top ten in strikeouts across the league and made the playoffs, and the only one of those of four teams not in the top half of baseball in wOBA was the Braves (who finished at .310, just behind the A's). On the other side of the coin, the Royals, Twins, and Indians struck out the fewest times in baseball, and all lost 90 games. However, the Giants, Tigers, and Rangers were all also in the bottom ten in the league, and were all playoff teams. In other words…there's no real correlation between strikeouts and success, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind.
Bench. This might be a bit of a copout, but the Braves bench is definitely weaker than it was a year ago. Backup catcher David Ross is now in Boston, and he's been replaced by veteran Gerald Laird. But Laird will begin the year as Atlanta's starter behind the plate due to Brian McCann's shoulder surgery, likely forcing career minor leaguer Matt Pagnozzi, the offensively-challenged Christian Bethancourt, or cult favorite Evan Gattis onto the Opening Day bench as the backup. The Braves also essentially have an open competition for their backup infield spot between Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky, who are both expected to just be keeping the seat warm for veteran Paul Janish once he heals up from an offseason shoulder surgery of his own. Atlanta may even end up carrying a fifth outfielder (likely Jordan Schafer) that is a poor player on both offense and defense. If the Braves need to rely on any of their bench players for more than a brief spell, things could get ugly in Atlanta due to the high discrepancy of talent between their starters and bench players.
Rotation health in Washington and Philadelphia. The Nationals and Phillies both have better rotations on paper than the Braves. However, both teams have much more significant injury concerns in that rotation that the Braves do. The concern about Stephen Strasburg's surgically repaired elbow is likely overblown, but the elbow did end up limiting him to just 159 1/3 innings due to the overprotective nature (and rightfully so) of Washington's front office. Toss in Dan Haren's troublesome back, and you've got at least something to think about, even if you disregard Jordan Zimmermann's 2009 Tommy John surgery. As for the Phillies, they're getting older, and with that age comes frailty. Roy Halladay missed six weeks with a strained lat last year, and his velocity is dangerously low this spring. Cliff Lee missed a couple of weeks with a strained oblique last year, and while his performance didn't suffer and the injury isn't one that will linger, he's getting old and this could be the beginning of the iceberg. If any of the top starters in DC or Philly go down for an extended period this year, the Braves need to strike while the iron is hot and not rest on their laurels in the NL East.
Rebuilding clubs in Miami and New York. Everyone knows what's going on in Flushing and South Beach, and neither team is likely going to contend this season. The Braves took care of business last season against the Marlins and Mets, combining to go 26-10 against the two teams, but they'll need to put together a similar performance against the bottom feeders of the NL East this season. You could make a case that the White Sox lost the AL Central title to the Tigers in 2012 because they went just 6-12 against the Royals, including 2-4 in September (with the four losses coming by a total of seven runs). If the Marlins and Mets play as badly as expected, the Braves can't just coast by with a .500 record against each team. They need to wipe the floor with them.
Favorable early schedule. While the Braves only have ten home games in April, five are against their top competition in the NL East (Phillies, Nationals), and five are against 90 loss teams from 2012 (Cubs, Royals). Meanwhile, Atlanta only has two tough road series during their 16 games away from Turner Field, and those are trips to Washington and Detroit. The Washington road trip is preceded by three games in Miami, while the Detroit series is the last stop on a ten game vacation that takes the Braves to Pittsburgh and Colorado. Considering the state of each of those rotations, the Braves offense could get into a groove early on in the season and start to put things together very well.
The revenge factor. While the Phillies are an older team that may run into injury issues all over the diamond, they can't be overlooked. Despite missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006 in 2012, this really isn't a dreadful team, and you better believe that they are going to try their damnedest to make one last stand and go out in a blaze of glory. A motivated, talented, veteran-laden team is a scary prospect for any team to see in their rear-view mirror.
Younger, stronger, faster. The Braves have a nice blend of veterans and young talent on their squad. But so do the defending NL East champion Nationals. While Atlanta has a ton of young talent entering their primes, the Nationals do as well. Perhaps more importantly, Washington didn't really do a lot to screw up their 2012 team. They essentially replaced Michael Morse in the lineup with Denard Span (worsening their offense while vastly improving their defense), added Rafael Soriano to the bullpen, and replaced Edwin Jackson in the rotation with Dan Haren. The Nationals have already won as a group. The only members of the 2013 Braves that were around for Atlanta's division title monopoly were Brian McCann (for 59 games) and Tim Hudson. Both teams may have a nice blend of young and old, but the Nationals core group has tasted a division title. The Braves core group hasn't.
Who will lead the ship? This is more of a weakness than a threat since it's technically internal, but after Chipper Jones' retirement, the Braves need someone to step up and make this team his. Will it be Brian McCann, despite his season likely beginning on the DL and him hitting the free agent market after the season? Will it be Tim Hudson, also a free agent after the season? Could Jason Heyward step up and become the new face of baseball in Atlanta like so many want him to do? This could just be a footnote on Atlanta's season. There aren't captains in baseball (in most cases), so there might not be any obvious ramifications if no one takes a leadership role on the Braves, but if the team begins to struggle, you'd better believe that the media is going to start crafting a narrative about the team not having a leader.