The State of the Braves

The State of the Braves

The Braves’ season is 38% complete. They’re currently tied with Washington for the division lead in the East, and they enter in a stretch of the season against Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Reds, so the schedule will be manageable for them through June. They’re 16-12 at home and 20-14 on the road. With the favorable home schedule coming up, you’d expect the home record to improve a little bit.

The offense has carried the team. They’re 4th in MLB behind position player WAR behind only the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees. Great company. It’s a well-rounded offense: 7th in wRC+, 5th in wOBA, 5th in BABIP, 4th-lowest K%, 13th-highest BB%, 6th in SBs, and 11th in HRs. All that to say that there isn’t an area where they are in an extreme. Overall, they’ve just been a very solid offense.

Top-third in defense as well. 9th in defense WAR, 8th in UZR, and 8th in DRS. There’s the possibility we could see better defense, but this has worked perfectly fine for us as well.

The pitching is a bit of a mixed bag. Overall, we are 17th in pitching WAR — 15th in starting pitcher WAR and 17th in relief WAR. FIP and ERA show us similar rankings to the relievers, but the Braves are 4th in starter ERA and 10th in FIP. The gap in WAR could be attributed to being 14th in starter innings pitched and 25th in BB/9. But they’re 5th-best in keeping the ball in the ballpark, and they’re 13th in BABIP. Overall, I think WAR is a little misleading, and the staff is better than WAR is suggesting.

Going forward, one must assume the pitching will get a little better. Julio Teheran has a 5.62 FIP in 13 starts. He’s on the DL, and he probably won’t be in a position to continue to pitch the way he’s been, whether that’s abrupted by a long DL stint, trade, or demotion to the pen. If the Braves find themselves in a pennant race, they may have to make that hard decision. Anibal Sanchez has a shiny ERA (2.45), but his FIP is similarly problematic (4.84) due to a low walk rate and high home run rate in his 4 starts. Put it this way: Mike Soroka, Matt Wisler, Luiz Gohara, and Max Fried have accumulate more WAR in less than half of the starts of Anibal and JT. One would think the team will listen to that.

The pen could receive some reinforcements as soon as now. Evan Phillips and Josh Ravin are both lighting it up in AAA, and we could see a trade to bolster the bullpen. It’s hard to see, though, who they would jettison as the pen currently on the active roster is 8th in WAR compared to other teams’ current active rosters.

The offense may not need much of a tweak. The bench could improve, but a .235/.301/.400 line as pinch-hitter may be difficult to beat. Ender Inciarte continues to struggle, and the team lacks a true lead-off hitter. The top two lineup spots have produced the worst OBPs in baseball. The Braves continue to try several combinations, but while Freddie Freeman leads the league in average with runners in scoring position, he hasn’t been given as many opportunities to drive in runs. If that flame can be fanned, you could see a real blaze.

But what’s not to love? The team is on pace for 94 wins. We weren’t supposed to be here. This was the last rebuilding year, and then great things were ahead. But this team doesn’t buy it, and they have far exceeded expectations. I said it in April, I said it in May, and I’ll continue to say it until the season ends in whatever fashion unfolds: enjoy it. We’re not guaranteed a World Series win at some later time. We’re not guaranteed the years of success the rebuild was meant to produce. But we are guaranteed that we currently have a really fun, exciting, young, and solid team. Let’s enjoy it.

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