Top stats to know: Atlanta Braves

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What will Braves closer Craig Kimbrel do for an encore to his historic 2012 season?B.J. Upton may have cost the Atlanta Braves more money to acquire than his younger brother Justin, but it was the deal for Justin that was arguably the transaction of the offseason in the National League East.

Justin Upton struggled with injury and inconsistency for much of last season, but in September he started to show his 2011 version. Through August, Upton was hitting .273, then hit .304 the rest of the way with six home runs and lowered his strikeout rate from 20.8 to 13.4 percent.

While the additions of the Upton brothers made headlines, let’s not forget that the (likely) best player in Atlanta’s outfield was already in place, Jason Heyward. After a brutal sophomore season in 2011, Heyward’s combination of above-average bat and outstanding right field defense has made him one of the most dynamic outfielders in the game.

Most WAR Since 1961
Outfielders Through Age-22 Season

Heyward’s 2011 season was ruined by a shoulder injury and swing mechanics that reportedly did not allow him to turn on inside pitches. Last season, Heyward dramatically improved in that specific area slugging .436 on pitches on the inner half (up from .327 in 2011) with 11 home runs, eight more than he hit in 2011.

The Upton brothers and Heyward do strike out a lot -- a combined 23 percent of the time in 2012. That’s 5 percent higher than the league average. And last season, B.J. Upton swung and missed 379 times (third most behind Josh Hamilton and Danny Espinosa), 107 more than the player he will replace in center field, Michael Bourn.

Mound Men

The Braves have two of the better young pitchers in the game in starter Kris Medlen and closer Craig Kimbrel.

Medlen made his first start of 2012 on July 31, allowing one earned run in five innings. A case can be made that Medlen was the best starting pitcher from that point forward. His ERA from July 31 till the end of the season was the lowest among qualified starters at 0.97. (Clayton Kershaw was a distant second at 1.72.)

No pitcher has more saves since the start of 2011 than Kimbrel’s 88, and in 2012 he put together a season for the ages. Among all pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings in a season, Kimbrel’s 2012 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) -- which primarily takes into account strikeouts, walks and HR allowed – was 0.78, the best in modern baseball history.

Kimbrel and Eric Gagne (0.86 in 2003) are the only pitchers since 1900 to post a FIP under one.