By Zane Harding
2018 Record: 90-72 (1st in NL East)
2018 Payroll: $106,675,000 (20th)
Projected 2019 Lineup:
- LF Ronald Acuna Jr., .279/.347/.491, 3.2 WAR
- 3B Josh Donaldson, .257/.364/.479, 4.1 WAR
- 1B Freddie Freeman, .286/.379/.506, 4.2 WAR
- RF Nick Markakis, .274/.350/.402, 0.9 WAR
- 2B Ozzie Albies, .273/.324/.449, 3.4 WAR
- CF Ender Inciarte, .274/.331/.385, 2.2 WAR
- SS Dansby Swanson, .249/.322/.390, 1.5 WAR
- C Tyler Flowers, .248/.335/.398, 1.3 WAR
Projected 2019 Rotation:
- Mike Foltynewicz, 192 IP/4.02 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 2.6 WAR
- Kevin Gausman, 170 IP/4.16 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 2.1 WAR
- Sean Newcomb, 177 IP/4.22 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 1.7 WAR
- Julio Teheran, 159 IP/4.85 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 0.6 WAR
- Touki Toussaint, 83 IP/4.45 ERA/1.44 WHIP, 0.5 WAR
Well, that wasn’t Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But Josh Donaldson is not a terrible participation trophy. When I previewed the Braves this time last year, I thought they would be a team to watch for a major splash this offseason. Instead, their division rivals — namely the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets, but even the Washington Nationals to a certain extent — all had massive offseasons while the Braves signed two key players: Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann. The Donaldson signing is particularly impressive, as the team was able to secure an aging player projected to produce over 4 fWAR in 2019 per Steamer on a one-year contract.
This wasn’t a team that was particularly desperate for a free agent signing. Many of the best players on the Braves, including Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Sean Newcomb, and A.J. Minter, are all on rookie contracts. The team also has a top-three farm system in baseball stocked with 10 prospects with 50 FV or better according to FanGraphs. One impact bat and one reliable backup catcher may be all that this team needs with multiple prospects on the verge of breaking into the big leagues.
2019 Season Preview
Another year, another young squad. The Atlanta Braves are in the midst of a youth movement. Can this young team make the postseason for a second straight year?
Let’s start with the bats. With Josh Donaldson entering the fold, the Braves now boast one of the finer infields in all of baseball. Donaldson will man third base, while perennial MVP candidate Freddie Freeman will play first. In the middle of the infield are 2018 breakout star Ozzie Albies and struggling former first overall draft pick Dansby Swanson. Should Swanson break out in 2019, this would probably be the best infield in all of baseball (don’t hold your breath, though). Whether Swanson is great in 2019 or not, however, this is a very strong unit, especially with 2018 standout Johan Camargo serving as the team’s super-utility player (fun fact: Camargo posted a 3.3 fWAR in 134 games last season).
The outfield is very solid, if not exceptional. National League rookie of the year and former number one prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. will look to follow up a sensational 2018 rookie campaign, while 2018 All-Star Nick Markakis will look to avoid the heavy regression that Steamer predicts is coming his way. Ender Inciarte will join the two once again, and supply plus value with his defense, speed, and ability to hit for average.
This rotation could go in many different directions. Mike Foltynewicz enjoyed a breakout 3.7 fWAR season in 2018 but will miss Opening Day with an elbow injury. Kevin Gausman, meanwhile, enjoyed his time in a Braves jersey in 2018, posting a 2.87 ERA in ten starts, but is only projected to be a league-average starter in 2019. Sean Newcomb, who posted a solid 1.9 fWAR last season, is expected to produce similar results in 2019, while the projections have zero faith in Julio Teheran and only expect a limited amount of work from top prospect Touki Toussaint. Things are up in the air.
The bullpen, meanwhile, is similarly confusing. A.J. Minter and Dan Winkler both posted successful 2018 campaigns, sitting in Atlanta’s top five leaderboards for 2018 pitcher fWAR, but Arodys Vizcaino missed significant time due to injury. Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle, and Sam Freeman could all provide a decent amount of solid innings, as could midseason trade acquisition and longtime veteran Darren O’Day, but things could very go well with the team’s overall lack of star power late in the game (phoning Craig Kimbrel).
At the end of the day, this should be a solid squad in 2018. Nevertheless, Mike Foltynewicz was the only pitcher currently on the roster to post an fWAR above 2.0 in 2018, and it’s hard to envision this team supplying six batters with an fWAR above 2.5 next year like they did in 2018. In a loaded National League East, we’re taking the under on the Braves due to their quiet offseason and their over-reliance on breakout performances in 2018.
Record Prediction: 83-79
Players to Watch
Player to Watch: 3B Josh Donaldson
Whoa, there! After posting a down year in 2018 in which he only posted, Josh Donaldson is projected to post a 4.1 fWAR in 2019. There isn’t a ton to say about Donaldson — he is an MVP candidate when healthy until he proves otherwise — but keep an eye on his performance this season.
Player to Watch: IF/OF Johan Camargo
Remember that fun fact a couple of paragraphs ago saying that Johan Camargo posted a 3.3 fWAR in 134 games last season? That’s why he is a player to watch. Camargo was simultaneously an impact bat and an impact glove in 2018, and with Josh Donaldson holding down third base in 2019, we’re likely to see Camargo play various different positions this season.
Player to Watch: RP A.J. Minter
When Arodys Vizcaino went down with an injury for large portions of last season, A.J. Minter stepped into the closer role. While he is no Craig Kimbrel, Minter posted a 1.4 fWAR and a 26.5% strikeout rate in 2018. With a fastball sitting around 96.5 miles per hour per PITCHf/x pitch velocity and a plus slider per Pitch Info Pitch Values (worth 6.3 runs compared to the average slider in 2018), Minter is a player to watch in the Braves’ young bullpen