2022 Record: 101-61 (.621 win%, 1st in Division)
2023 Payroll: $191,417,500 (7th)
2023 Projected Lineup:
1. RF Ronald Acuña Jr, .274 AVG /.371 OBP/.504 SLG, 5.7 fWAR
2. 1B Matt Olson .259 AVG/.353 OBP/.512 SLG, 4.7 fWAR
3. 3B Austin Riley, .276 AVG/.347 OBP/.525 SLG, 5.7 fWAR
4. C Sean Murphy, .250 AVG/.336 OBP/.460 SLG, 4.3 fWAR
5. 2B Ozzie Albies, .270 AVG/.321 OBP/.471 SLG, 3.6 fWAR
6. CF Michael Harris, .274 AVG/.324 OBP/.467 SLG, 4.7 fWAR
7. DH Marcell Ozuna, .274 AVG/.314 OBP/.449 SLG, 1.1 fWAR
8. LF Eddie Rosario, .243 AVG/.285 OBP/.398 SLG, -0.1 fWAR
9. SS Orlando Arcia, .240 AVG/.303 OBP/.387 SLG, 1.3 fWAR
10. C Travis D’Arnaud .266 AVG/.322 OBP/.472 SLG, 2.1 fWAR
2023 Projected Starting Rotation (use this):
1. Max Fried, 183.0 IP/3.02 ERA/1.15 WHIP, 4.0 fWAR
2. Spencer Strider, 149.0 IP/3.16 ERA/1.11 WHIP, 3.4 fWAR
3. Kyle Wright, 178.0 IP/3.81 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 2.1 fWAR
4. Charlie Morton, 163.0 IP/3.68 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 2.5 fWAR
5. Ian Anderson, 95.0 IP/4.14 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers:
1. Raisel Iglesias, 66.0 IP/2.76 ERA/1.03 WHIP, 1.6 fWAR
2. AJ Minter, 68.0 IP/3.06 ERA/1.12 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR
3. Colin McHugh, 66.0 IP/3.17 ERA/1.14 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR
4. Joe Jiménez, 63.0 IP/3.68 ERA/1.13 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
What Does Baseball Mean to Atlanta?
Atlanta, coming off an exciting run of recent success headed by a World Series win in 2021, is one of the premier baseball cities in MLB. Atlanta sports fans have been tormented with continuous choking when the lights grow the brightest.
The history of falling short is epitomized by the Falcons blowing a 28-to-3 lead in the Super Bowl to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Braves have also fallen short in tragic fashions, most notably with losing the NLCS despite having a 3-1 lead against the eventual World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Before the World Series victory, Atlanta sports in the 21st century represented failure and shortcomings, but that championship against the juggernaut Astros without star outfielder Ronald Acuña flipped the script.
The 2022 season reflected the boost typically seen by the defending champions as 42 out of their 81 home games sold out. The Braves sold over 3 million tickets, the most by the franchise since 2000, and good for fourth highest in the majors. The championship’s significance cannot be understated as it brought a new hope and unfamiliar sensation of success to the city.
Despite a playoff flameout to the division foe Phillies, fans are still excited to see the charismatic young team led by Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies. You can expect to see high attendance for the Braves as thousands of fans want a chance to eat some crackerjacks and foolishly attempt to race the invincible Freeze.
2022 Offseason Recap:
The offseason always marks a shift for MLB teams and the Braves were no exception to this. The Braves started off with a blockbuster trade for catcher Sean Murphy from the Oakland Athletics. Murphy is a great defensive backstop as he won a Gold Glove in 2021 and also is a plus hitter with a 120 OPS+ this past season and he slugged for 35 homers over the past two seasons.
His 5.1 fWAR this past season was the third best amongst catchers, trailing only stars JT Realmuto and Adley Rustchman. The Braves subsequently extended Murphy for six years and 73 million dollars, cementing him as their catcher of the future.
Not coming out of the offseason unscathed by a big move at the expense of their own club, Atlanta also lost All Star shortstop Dansby Swanson to the Cubs for a six-year, $177 million deal. Swanson is a five-tool player, as he hit for 25 home runs and stole 18 bags in 2022, finishing with a WAR of 6.4, good for 12th best in the majors. As good as his bat is, Swanson is just as skilled defensively, winning the Gold Glove in 2022.
Atlanta also lost dependable closer Kenley Jansen, who was good for 41 saves in 2022, to the Boston Red Sox. Platoon bat Adam Duvall, a notable contributor to the 2021 World Series run, followed Kenley Jansen to Boston.
To lighten the blow to the bullpen left by Jansen, the Braves traded for Tigers reliever Joe Jiménez who will certainly be asked to get high leverage outs, though in a set up role as Raisel Iglesias is their closer.
Though the Braves roster debatably worsened during the offseason, they still have an abundance of talent ready to make an impact in 2023.
2023 Regular Season Preview:
The main catalyst for any potential success for the Braves is their star-studded lineup. Their leadoff man is none other than star right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr., whose rare blend of power and speed strikes fear into any opposing pitcher, though I will talk more about him later.
The Braves have a plethora of support behind him, highlighted by corner infielders Matt Olson and Austin Riley, along with catcher Sean Murphy, who I talked about earlier.
Olson’s first season for the Braves was a slight regression from his sensational 2021. This can be attributed to an increase in strikeout percentage from 16.8% to 24.3%, though that 2021 season could be an outlier in terms of strikeouts as his career average is just under 24%.
Despite this regression, he still slugged the ball as hard as anybody in the league, hitting 34 home runs and ranking in the 96th percentile for hard hit ball rate. Olson’s barrel percentage of 8.8 was still good for 93rd percentile, showing that his raw power is as strong as any player in the league. If Olson can strike out less and improve his ability to get on base, his status as a premier first baseman will only grow.
Austin Riley had a phenomenal 2022 campaign by all measures, and his recipe for success is simple: crush any pitch thrown at him. Riley’s expected slugging last season was .531, which was amongst the top 2% of all players and his hard hit percentage of 50.8% is in the top 5% of the MLB.
Riley’s 38 homers ranked third in the national league, and he has the tendency to barrel up the baseball, with his barrel percentage being in the top 4% of the league. With consistent improvement since his 2019 rookie campaign, I expect him to continue to be one of the best third basemen in the league.
The Braves middle infield is significantly weaker than their corner guys, though it is not bad by any means. Second baseman Ozzie Albies played just 64 games in an injury riddled season. Throughout those games, he was subpar, with a concerningly low OBP of .294 and a career worst WRC+ of 93, meaning he was a below average bat for them.
However, 2022 seems like an outlier in an otherwise solid career for Albies, and I expect him to improve back to being a solid hitter, as his career WRC+ is 106, slightly above average.
Veteran shortstop Orlando Arcia has the most difficult task on the team, replacing their former star Dansby Swanson after winning the job over rookie Vaughn Grissom. Arcia is nothing special as he hit .244 with an OPS of .732 during 2022. He is also an average defender with just 1 OAA.
If Arcia performs poorly in 2023, the Braves could look to call up Grissom from AAA-affiliate Gwinnett Stripers. During Grissom’s 41 game cameo last season, he performed well with a wOBA of .345, though he was horrific defensively with -5 OAA.
Outfielders Michael Harris and Eddie Rosario look to provide more support for this already strong lineup. Harris had a phenomenal rookie season in center field following a call up where he bypassed AAA and went straight to the majors. Harris finished one home run short of a 20 home run 20 stolen base season in just 114 games. He also had a phenomenal OPS of .853, good for 22nd best in the majors.
Harris also made headlines defensively, with several highlight reel catches and produced an OAA of 7. His strong play got rewarded handsomely with an 8 year 72 million dollar extension. There is potential for slight regression though as he overperformed his xOPS significantly as it was .787. I am not saying he will become a liability offensively, because an even .787 OPS is fairly strong, but it is no guarantee that he will repeat the same offensive efficiency.
Eddie Rosario, after a phenomenal 2021 postseason showcasing a slash line of .383/.456/617, had a terrible 2022 season. The biggest culprit in this regression was his strikeout rate as it ballooned by over 10%, from 14.8% to 25.2%. His WRC+ was a meager 61, a staggering near 40 point drop off from 2021 and his WAR was a career worst -1.1. It is evident Rosario is not the player that smashed his way to a world series title, but the Braves should expect improvement from him before evaluating other options.
The DH spot is a weakness for the Braves, as they currently have Marcell Ozuna manning it. He did not perform well in 2022, posting a wOBA of .298 along with a WRC+ of 88. However, analytics suggest Ozuna was the victim of bad luck as his expected wOBA was much higher at .337. Based on this, Ozuna should improve slightly in 2023 as when on his game he provides an additional power bat, though with the downside of a high strikeout rate as he consistently strikes out over 20% of his appearances.
Fans should expect the Braves starting rotation to produce another strong campaign. They combined for the sixth best FIP at 3.58 along with the third best K/9 rate at 9.34 and third best ground ball percentage at 47.2% Furthermore, they limited the damage with the long ball as they were good for the 5th best home runs per 9 with a rate of 0.96. The limiting factor however was Atlanta’s BB/9 as they finished in the bottom ten with 3.07. If their starters can cut down on the walks, they should compete with any starting five in the league.
The rotation is led by southpaw ace Max Fried, who finished runner up in the NL Cy Young Race behind Marlin star Sandy Alcantara. Fried posted a phenomenal 2.48 ERA along with a FIP of 2.70 which was good for 6th in the majors. He pitched with great control as his 4.1% walk rate stood in the top 5% of all pitchers.
Fried also improved his ability to prevent the home run as he only allowed 0.58 home runs per nine, good for fifth best in the league. Barring an unfortunate injury, Fried should continue to perform as one of the premier pitchers in the majors.
The second pitcher in the rotation will be a standout Rookie from last season Spencer Strider, who I will discuss in greater detail later.
Atlanta’s third starter should be righty Kyle Wright, who enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2022. Wright posted strong traditional pitching numbers with an ERA of 3.19 and led the league in wins with 21. Before last season, Wright struggled in the majors, never pitching for more than 38.0 innings in a single season and simply struggled to limit opponents from scoring, posting ERA’s consistently above five.
His main improvements were limiting the walks as his BB/9 dropped significantly from a career average of over 5 to a more respectable 2.65. Wright also limited the longball as his HR/9 was only 0.95, by far a career best. Despite these improvements, metrics suggest Wright enjoyed good luck as his expected ERA was 3.89, .8 points higher than his actual total. While Wright might take a step back, his improvements from last season should remain consistent and he will provide another reliable option in Atlanta’s rotation.
The fourth man in the rotation will be veteran righty Charlie Morton, who is coming off a down year in 2022. This decline can be attributed to a major increase in home runs hit off of him as his HR/9 nearly doubled from 0.78 in 2021 to 1.47 along with an 8% decrease in groundball rate, from 47.8% to 39.8%.
Last season marked Morton’s worst season since his 2015 campaign, but his advanced stats show bad luck played a role in this regression. Morton’s actual FIP of 4.26 was 0.66 points higher than his expected FIP of 3.60. Based on this hard luck, I am optimistic Morton can be a steady pitcher in the back end of the Braves rotation.
The fifth man in Atlanta’s rotation is up for grabs, though the favorite is 24 year old Ian Anderson. Anderson had a dreadful 2022 season though with an ERA of 5.00, though he struck hard luck as his expected ERA was 4.37. If Anderson improves and pitches like he did in 2021, he will be a fine option. However, a failure to improve could lead the Braves to explore other options, both in-house and on the trade market.
The Braves bullpen put up an elite 2022 season, finishing with a 7.6 fWAR, which was good for second in the league and an ERA of 3.03, fourth in the majors. While they lost closer Kenley Jansen, the Braves replaced him with 2022 trade acquisition Raisel Iglesias.
Iglesias was fantastic last season with an ERA of 2.47 and continued his strong strikeout numbers with 11.32 K/9. He also prevents the longball with a HR/9 of 0.73. Iglesias’ prowess ensures Atlanta does not have a hole at closer.
The pen is also shored up by set up maestro A.J. Minter who had a career year in 2022. The driving factor behind his dominance was the ability to strike batters out with his K% being amongst the top 4% of all pitchers. His xwOBA and xBA also were in the 96th percentile. Minter projects to continue performing as a stalwart.
Holding down the middle reliever position for Atlanta is Collin McHugh, who pitched very well in his first season with the team. McHugh’s strongest pitches are his offspeed stuff as opponents hit only .150 against his sweeper and .167 against his breaking ball. As a former starter, McHugh can pitch multiple innings which provides immense value in case a starter has an off night.
Other notable names in the bullpen include newcomers Joe Jiménez from Detroit and lefty Lucas Luetge from the Yankees along with Nick Anderson, Kirby Yates, and Dylan Lee.
Player to Watch #1: RF Ronald Acuña Jr.
Before a torn ACL tragically ended Acuña’s 2021 season, he played the best baseball of his career, slugging for 24 home runs with an OPS of .990 and 17 bases in just 82 games. Acuña’s prowess both at the dish and on the base path gives him the chance to become a Hall of Famer.
His return in 2022 left no doubts about his speed as he stole 29 bags, but he clearly showed regression with the bat as his wRC+ decreased from a phenomenal 157 to a slightly above average 114 and he hit only 15 home runs in his 119 games.
Despite this step back, fans should not worry because returning from a long term injury mid-season is always difficult for a player. With a full offseason and a tune up in the World Baseball Classic, expect Acuña to threaten the exclusive 40 home runs 40 stolen base club.
Player to Watch #2: SP Spencer Strider
Spencer Strider burst onto the scene in 2022 until an oblique injury sidetracked his season. His numbers were nothing short of phenomenal, with a 2.67 ERA and a whopping 202 strikeouts in just 131.2 innings, giving him an incredibly high strikeout percentage of 38.2%, finishing top 2% in the league. Strider’s xERA of 2.39 suggested that he could have been even better.
He finished second behind fellow Braves’ teammate Michael Harris Jr. in the rookie of the year race. Despite all he accomplished, Strider finished 2022 on a sour note with a poor start in the Brave’s NLDS Game Three loss to the Phillies as he pitched just 2.1 innings and allowed 5 earned runs.
Perhaps he returned too soon from his injury as his velocity tapered off significantly from near 100 MPH to the mid nineties. This collapse was highlighted by a Rhys Hoskins three run homerun where he threw his bat to the emphatic screams of Phillies fans.
Strider and fans alike hope his injury combined with a poor postseason debut do not impact his development. I expect Strider to shake off the end of his 2022 campaign and continue to improve as a pitcher.
Player to Watch #3: SP Michael Soroka
During his rookie season in 2019, Soroka put up a stellar campaign to the tune of a 2.68 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP across 174.2 innings. These lofty numbers earned him an All Star appearance along with finishing only behind Pete Alonso’s historic rookie campaign in the Rookie of the Year race.
Fans expected Soroka to be their next ace pitcher, their best since the days of John Smoltz and Greg Maddux. However, Soroka’s career has been marred by injuries as he pitched just three times in 2020 before tearing his achilles. Soroka struggled to recover from that injury, having two surgeries on his achilles and dealt with elbow issues throughout his 2022 season.
While just a comeback from these myriad injuries would be incredible, Soroka could be a key component to the backend of the Braves rotation. While he is dealing with a hamstring setback, he is making progress towards returning this season, and competing for the number five spot.
2023 Record Prediction: 95-67
I have the Braves finishing with 95 wins, six wins less than the 101 they had last season. Part of their regression will be due to key contributors from last season leaving the team, namely the void Dansby Swanson leaves in the middle infield. Kenley Jansen’s departure to the Red Sox weakens their bullpen who finished second in fWAR at 7.6.
I expect the lineup to continue producing at an elite level with a resurgent Ronald Acuña along with newcomer Sean Murphy. The rotation will also continue producing at an elite level with a full season of Spencer Strider, though I expect Kyle Wright to experience a slight regression.
In addition to Atlanta’s own departures, their main competitors for the NL East crown, the Mets and Phillies, each improved in their own regard. Despite the loss of Jacob DeGrom, the Mets bolstered their rotation in the form of last season’s American League Cy Young Winner in Justin Verlander along with southpaw Jose Quintana who quietly had a strong 2022 campaign, finishing top 10 in FIP. and they added Japanese league star Kodai Senga. The 2022 NL Champion Phillies who knocked out the Braves in the divisional series don’t look to be pushovers as they shored up their infield by signing star shortstop Trea Turner to an 11-year deal.
It’ll be another year of tough baseball for one of the league’s tightest young cores.
Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis
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