This will largely be a compiling of the Braves’ team and unit ranks across MLB, but it does help paint a picture to see who the Braves have been so far, and who we might expect them to be going forward. It’s easy to look at a won-loss record and form your conclusion that a team has simply been good or bad, but there’s a lot of encouraging performance thus far that may lead you to believe that while we will probably not be a playoff team, this team’s strong play may not be a total fluke. They are plenty of indicators that lead to some concern, however.
It’s important to note that this season has started without some key players the Braves are expecting to contribute. Johan Camargo, Ronald Acuna, Luiz Gohara, and Tyler Flowers are expected to be difference-makers on this team, and they’ve been absent in the early outset. With that said, Ryan Flaherty and Preston Tucker have filled in admirably in the absence of Camargo and Acuna. But Flaherty and Tucker’s replacements, Charlie Culberson and Peter Bourjos, have not. The Braves haven’t needed a 5th starter much, so Gohara’s loss has been palpable as Gohara’s replacement Anibal Sanchez has appeared in two games, one start, and has given up two earned runs in eight innings. Flower’s replacement, Chris Stewart, struggled offensively and was DFA’ed and sent to AAA.
If home runs are what you’re looking for, then you’ve probably been pleasantly surprised as the Braves are 10th in MLB in home runs. Overall, they’ve been a well-rounded offensive team: 13th in walk rate, 7th in strikeout rate, 8th in OBP, and 4th in slugging. They’re 7th in wRC+ and 4th in offensive WAR, and that will do just fine. Team speed has overall been strong as they’re 5th in stolen bases, their success rate is 75%, and they’re 11th in triples. They don’t have a glaring weakness, and their BABIP (.303 and 5th in baseball) and HR rates don’t necessarily tell me that this is a team performing significantly over their heads. They’re not even bottom third in almost any category, and they’re not sporting some ungodly totals that are clearly the result of small sample size. It’s probably fair to say that their home run rate will digress, but you also have Acuna and Camargo reporting for duty soon, so one might expect an increase in power with them and a decrease from Ozzie Albies. But this is a team that was around a bottom-third team offensively in most categories last year, and this team seems to be benefitting from Kevin Seitzer‘s 4th year at the helm and first with a legitimate helping of talent.
The team defense is also seeing some significant improvements from last year. A bottom-third defense last year, the Braves are currently a top-third defense in the young season. UZR, defensive WAR, and defensive runs saved all like the Braves so far: 6th, 9th, and 7th in baseball respectively. Flaherty has a positive reputation defensively, but Camargo is a natural shortstop who will be manning third, so perhaps we’ll see some defensive improvement there. Acuna, a natural centerfielder, will undoubtedly best Tucker’s defensive performance, though Tucker may spell Nick Markakis more often in right field, resulting in some regression. Dansby Swanson has been much more sure-handed this year, and Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Ender Inciarte have been as strong as their reputations suggest they should be. Outfield defensive replacements Lane Adams and Peter Bourjos have avoided errors, and they’ve been a marked improvement over back-up outfielders from last year. I see no reason to believe the Braves can’t continue to field the way they have.
The pitching is the area of concern for this team so far. Overall, they’re not as bad as you might think. With some strong pitching performances over the last few days, they’re now 18th in pitching WAR in these 12 games. Drilling deeper, though, there’s certainly some cause for concern. The starters are 28th in WAR, and they’re middle-of-the-road in innings pitched. Their K rate is strong (7th), but their walk rate is near bottom-third, and they’ve given up the fifth-worst home run rate. That shouldn’t surprise you. They also have a 7th-worst BABIP, and that could be partly due to a poor groundball rate (19th). On the surface, it may seem like the relievers have been fantastic. They’re 8th in WAR. But we are 15th in K rate, 28th (!!) in walks, and the only thing heavily contributing towards the high WAR total is an extremely unsustainable 0.18 HR/9, by far the tops in baseball. The next closest team is the legitimately strong Cubs with over double the rate. Between you, me, and the fencepost, I am almost certain that will not continue no matter how many groundballs the side-armer Peter Moylan can get. When that number starts going up, you’re going to see a bullpen blowing leads, giving up losses, and that WAR total is going to shoot down. They are also logging the 8th-most innings, so if the starters aren’t able to pitch deeper into games, this bullpen will get taxed very soon.
Going forward, you’re going to see some offensive regression across the board. And accordingly, they’re not going to be able to out-hit teams the way they’ve been. But there’s nothing that necessarily says that this team has to come down to earth, so let’s enjoy it while we can. Off-day. Feel free to keep the party going.