2018 Season Preview: Atlanta Braves

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record Runs Scored Runs Against
72-90 72-90 72-90 732

821

Despite losing 90 games, continuing a trend of four years without a playoff berth, 2017 was, by and large, a successful season for Atlanta as they are beginning to see more than a few fruits from a post-2014 rebuild. Top prospects Ozzie Albies, Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, Lucas Sims, and Max Fried all made their MLB debuts, while Ronald Acuna, Kolby Allard, and Mike Soroka (among many others) reached the upper minors.

Not everything was sunshine and roses, however. Atlanta still needs to fill a multitude of holes at the big league level, and the league’s hammer came down perhaps harder than we’ve ever seen after allegations of bonus tampering were confirmed. Still, the Braves’ stockpile of young talent is so deep and varied it seems impossible to keep them out of contention by 2019 at the latest and (in a weak NL East) as soon as this season.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Alex Anthopoulos, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir

Anthopoulos took the GM position after former head John Coppollela was banned from baseball for his role in the Braves’ flagrant and repeated violation of international bonus rules. For sabr dorks like us, this is actually a significant upgrade, as Anthopolous immediately set about his business and traded Matt Kemp back to the Dodgers. Kazmir and McCarthy represent two useful starters to guide the youngsters while on the disabled list, and Kemp’s onerous contract is removed from the books.

Key Losses – Matt Kemp, Matt Adams, R.A. Dickey

Losing the lumbering left fielder is a net positive for Atlanta, seeing as how he’s been hanging around replacement level for three seasons and is only blocking further development of their youth. Moving up the spectrum, Adams was mostly useless as a lefty first baseman in an organization that employs Freddie Freeman. But Dickey’s 4.26 ERA and 1.6 WAR over 190 innings is something to mourn, as he provided rotation stability that Kazmir and McCarthy will not.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

72-90

72-90

76-86

“Mild continued improvement” has been the mantra for the Braves over the last three seasons, as their nosedive after 2014 has been followed up by steadily increasing wins. The Braves probably aren’t a very good team, but it’s difficult to call them abjectly bad, and a few surprises from their endless supply of youth could find them in contention in what might be baseball’s weakest division.

Key Players:

Current and future franchise icon Freddie Freeman is coming off a strange year in which he fractured his wrist and came back to play third base. Though his work at the hot corner was acceptable, he’s got more than enough bat to play first and set career bests in ISO, K%, and nearly BB%. At only 28, he might just be coming into his own alongside CF Ender Inciarte, quietly one of baseball’s best and most consistent performers, always hovering around three wins. Inciarte’s excellent glove and solid offense provide a strong foundation upon which Dansby Swanson needs to bloom after being the #1 pick in 2015 and fellow subject of the Miller Massacre; if his bat can catch up to his glove the Braves will have an enviable top of the order.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Consensus No. 1 overall prospect Ronald Acuna will be up in 2018 after his big league debut was held off despite a ridiculous .413 wOBA and brilliant center field defense at AAA. Atlanta will have a conundrum on their hands as Inciarte and Acuna are both more than capable center fielders, defense that will be appreciated by Luiz Gohara and Kyle Wright. the former shot up prospect lists and the latter somehow fell five picks. Wright could easily be pitching in the bigs by July and Gohara’s dominant stuff could be the harbinger of the Armpocalypse considering the ludicrous amount of pitching the Braves possess.

Future Outlook:

Few teams possess depth like the Braves, as they place between eight and ten prospects in most industry top 100 lists, mostly in the top 50 and many close to the majors. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see them using guys who would be #2 starters in other organizations as middle relievers. Of course, the Braves’ last run of contention was built on arms, and after the ligaments settled, they hadn’t even made the NLCS. Questions at catcher, third, short, and left will not all be answered, and as they can’t use eight starters for five spots, the future may hinge on a couple big trades. Or they could just use their $100M in payroll space to sign Bryce Harper and Manny Machado next year.

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