2022 Season Preview: Atlanta Braves

Image: Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images

In Pursuit of a Repeat

by Devon Stein

2021 Record: 88-73 (.547 win%, 1st in Division)

2021 Payroll: $153,060,458 (11th)

Projected 2022 Lineup:

1. RF Eddie Rosario, .270 AVG/.311 OBP/.472 SLG, 1.2 fWAR

2. 2B Ozzie Albies, .274 AVG/.328 OBP/.488 SLG, 4.2  fWAR

3. 1B Matt Olson, .267 AVG/.367 OBP/.542 SLG, 4.5 fWAR

4. 3B Austin Riley, .273 AVG/.339 OBP/.504 SLG, 3.5 fWAR 

5. LF Marcell Ozuna, .263 AVG/.337 OBP/.468 SLG, 2.0 fWAR

6. DH Alex Dickerson, .252 AVG/.320 OBP/.442 SLG, 0.4  fWAR

7. CF Adam Duvall, .227 AVG/.289 OBP/.475 SLG, 0.9 fWAR  

8. SS Dansby Swanson, .247 AVG/.314 OBP/.433 SLG, 2.2 fWAR

9. C Travis d’Arnaud, .247 AVG/.311 OBP/.414 SLG, 1.9 fWAR

Projected 2022 Rotation:

1. Max Fried, 185.0 IP/3.92 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 2.8 fWAR

2. Charlie Morton, 169.0 IP/3.75 ERA/1.22 WHIP, 3.1 fWAR

3. Ian Anderson, 166.0 IP/4.45 ERA/1.40 WHIP, 1.8 fWAR

4. Huascar Ynoa, 115.0 IP/4.35 ERA/1.34 WHIP, 1.4 fWAR

5. Mike Soroka, 93.0 IP/4.51 ERA/1.37 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR

Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:

1. Will Smith, 70.0 IP/4.11 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR

2. Tyler Matzek, 68.0 IP/3.75 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

3. Kenley Jansen, 68.0 IP/4.28 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR

Offseason Recap:

Take it from a Pirates fan, losing a crowd favorite is never easy, especially when that player wants to stay. I’ll still give you some hope! When Andrew McCutchen was traded, the return included a little known Single-A outfielder named Bryan Reynolds. The circumstances are almost entirely different, but you get what I’m saying. Matt Olson coming home to Atlanta in exchange for losing Freddie Freeman, has the distinct possibility of ending up being more than a consolation prize.

Maybe Matt Olson becomes something of a hero in his hometown, just like Freeman did coming from California. Olson certainly has the ability to do it, and is already a proven All Star. Entering his 30s, resigning Freeman came with the possibility of massive regression happening to a player signed to a massive contract. Olson is a good replacement.

Put that heartbreak aside, and this was actually a decent offseason. Payroll increased, and you signed a handful of elder statesman relievers in Colin McHugh, Kirby Yates, and the big prize, former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. You lost those prized rentals in Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler, but there was no room for them with the return of Acuna and Ozuna. 

In short, an offseason where you can’t keep good players because they are blocked off by better players is by no means a bad thing. You should be proud. Oh, I also heard something about a celebration for Atlanta based sports teams (multiple?) not choking in the postseason. I still can’t fully believe it.

2022 Season Preview:

Repeating success after a championship might be toughest in the sport of baseball. You just have gone through a grueling offseason, during a lockout, everybody is gunning for you, and the only way you can meet expectations is to win again. T

hat being said, the Braves might be posed better than any team could be to do just that. This team is defined by consistency throughout the lineup, getting back two high caliber outfielders, and the one source of regular season weakness, the bullpen, completely overhauled. 

Do not count out the importance of manager Brian Snitker. In almost any other season, he won Manager of the Year last year. His clubhouse presence and maneuvering of a season with its fair share of controversies was as impressive as anything the bullpen did last postseason. You want to win again? You need a leader who can push you to get there.

Editor’s note: without the time to complete an entire 26-man roster preview, we will just cover a few key/interesting players.

Austin Riley was one of those surprise pieces that elevates a contender into something more. Some expected his breakout, but I don’t know if people really expected what they got. He knocked the cover off the ball to the tune of an .898 OPS. Areas for improvement still exist, though. 

Riley is a very poor defender at third base, and with logjams at other positions he could possibly play, he needs to get better. Another thing that could lead to offensive regression is the fact that he does not walk much and he strikes out a ton. If he hits below .300 this year, the other poor aspects of his game could cause his OPS to fall drastically.

Dansby Swanson is a better defensive player than you’d expect. Going into this, I thought he would grade out as a better hitting shortstop that would be more suited to play third base. He was actually in the 81st percentile in shortstop Outs Above Average in 2021. On top of that, he hits the ball hard and barrels it up, but he has the same plate discipline issues as Riley. 

Swanson is projected to have nearly the same season as he did in 2021, but as a former number one pick and with what he has done the past few years, I believe that he has what it takes to become a better all-around shortstop.

Ian Anderson has been a top prospect in the Braves organization for some time. The 23 year old had a great season starting last year, and has pitched well in the postseason up to this point, but he outperformed a lot of his peripheral stats. Anderson outpitched his xERA by nearly a full run, and he was in the 20th percentile in Barrel%. 

2021 was a steep regression for Anderson compared to 2020. In four times more playing time, Anderson became an average pitcher compared to the elite one he was as a rookie. Atlanta needs to figure out what went wrong so they can preserve the guy who could be their ace of the future.

Atlanta has gobs of talent all over the diamond and in the rotation, but it remains to be seen if they have the requisite depth and development to make another run deep into the postseason. There is reason for hope, given how deadline acquisitions like Jorge Soler completely reversed the course of his career.

However, there is danger in operating in such small sample sizes. A lot of the opinions people have on the Braves are informed by two months and the end of the year, and the small chunk of games in the postseason. I need to see it for a full 162 to be convinced.

Record Prediction: 80-82

Wait, wait. HOLD ON! You add a premier closer, get back your star player and you say the defending champions don’t even make the playoffs. Let me try to explain myself! The Mets and Phillies are basically money pools, and conventional wisdom says that one of them will eventually stay healthy long enough to make the playoffs. To me, it all comes down to one word, bullpen. I lived in the south for 3 years, and that is not a normal Braves bullpen you saw in the playoffs. That was voodoo magic. 

Will Smith had a 1.132 WHIP in the regular season, compared to a 0.73(!) in the postseason. Almost every other Braves reliever had a WHIP around or above 1.25. Compare that to the Dodgers who had their top 4 relievers pitch at or around 1.000 WHIP. The Braves have brought in a lot of help in older pitchers, but as we saw with the Felix Hernandez experiment, this isn’t often the answer. This still strikes me as a team that got hot at the right time last year, and not one built to win close games this year.

Most of the Championship talent returns, plus they add Acuna, and they arguably got better at first base with the addition of Matt Olson. However, what’s to say that 2021’s regular season isn’t the real version of these Atlanta Braves? They finished with 88 wins, and most people, most fans, were not expecting them to win the World Series. Recency bias is the only thing making us believe the Braves are world beaters. The playoffs are a crapshoot, so is baseball. There’s a good chance the Braves falter. 

Player to Watch #1: LF Marcell Ozuna

It’s tough to write about this situation, but let’s give some credit to how this all was handled. In an age where too many athletes don’t take responsibility for their mistakes, Ozuna has expressed sincere remorse for his actions. In an age where teams turn a blind eye in order to keep a player’s “production”, the Braves put Ozuna on administrative leave in the middle of an important stretch run. Everything up to this point has been done as it should be (though I’ll still advocate for longer suspensions for such actions in the future). Now it is up to Ozuna and the organization to make the next steps.

From a pure baseball perspective, Ozuna will be a great addition to a Braves lineup that scrambled to replace his production at last year’s trade deadline. Eddie Rosario stuck around after his renaissance in Atlanta, so the three outfielders in Atlanta have the possibility of offering more production than last year’s rentals. Hopefully, Ozuna is completely rehabilitated, and he has learned from his actions.

Player to Watch #2: OF Ronald Acuna Jr.

They want me to write about a young exciting player here, so I’m just gonna have to painfully point out that Acuna is likely only a couple years older than you reading this. The 24 year old phenom is the face of the franchise, and the best player on a team, and arguably the best player in the game right now. 

That all being said, an ACL tear is nothing to scoff at, and seeing Acuna keeping his threat on the basepaths and on the field won’t be just important for the Braves, it’ll be important for a team moving on from an ugly offseason. Ronald Acuna needs to return to form for Atlanta and for MLB. However, if anything was proven last year, it’s that this team is good enough to win without it. Just imagine how good they’ll be with him.

Player to Watch #3: RP Kenley Jansen 

I already stated that if my prediction is gonna be proven wrong, it’s going to come down to the bullpen. Kenley Jansen is proven, his Statcast numbers are all incredible, except for his control being severely lacking. He is also getting older, however, and some criticism of his recent play might be why the deal is a one year trial run more than something larger. 

I also have to wonder what would happen if Kenley Jansen is pushed out of the closer role (Yates in particular was the best closer in the game, when he was last able to play a full season). This felt like an idea Dave Roberts wouldn’t poke with a mile long stick, but it would not surprise me for Brian Snitker to mingle with the idea if the results aren’t there.

Categories: 2022 Season Preview

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