It’s been a long off-season for Braves fans.
It started off with a bang, but I don’t think any of us expected the peak of the winter to be the Monday following Thanksgiving.
But now it is time to start putting that boredom of the past three-plus months behind us and embrace the fact the season is officially upon us. We have two weeks until Opening Day 2019, and it’s time to get down to business.
One of the most highly anticipated parts of any off-season is the release of each baseball projection system. For those new to the game, there are four primary systems most pay attention to — Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS, Steamer (which is hosted by a number of sites), and Tom Tango’s Marcel. Each projection system has its varying level of intricacy, but overall each system has been shockingly accurate over the years.
We now have all four of those systems at our disposal for the 2019 season, which brings us to our inaugural 755 Projections. I have spent the past couple weeks pouring over each of the above systems and compiling the highs and lows of each, paired with projected playing time, to come up with our projections.
What you will find below is my personal calculation of the number of plate appearances each player will accumulate in 2019 for the players who are most likely to see time with the big league club this year. The slash line stats and HR projections are straight-forward. The “+” number you will see is an accumulation of the type of catch-all offensive state similar to OPS+, wRC+, and DRC+. The stat that follows is the player’s projected Wins Above Replacement, based on each projection system’s accompanying WAR. The last column for each player is a slash line comparison to a player from the 2018 season — it’s a simple alignment of the player’s projected slash line and the player with the closest slash line in 2018.
So, with that, let’s get to it…
In what will be a reoccurring theme here, there isn’t a ton of change behind the plate from last season.
The Braves will enter the 2019 campaign with a tandem behind the plate again, this time with Brian McCann back in the fold, replacing Kurt Suzuki, who saw the majority of playing time in 2018.
In terms of production, things don’t look to change much either. Flowers looks slightly more likely to get playing time because of age and recent health, but if McCann can stay healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if the split ends up almost 50/50.
|CATCHERS||PA||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS||HR||+||WAR||2018 Slash Comp|
|Tyler Flowers||360||.246||.339||.389||.727||10||99||2.1||Willson Contreras|
|Brian McCann||300||.235||.318||.394||.712||10||92||0.8||Jason Kipnis|
|Alex Jackson||25||.192||.254||.338||.592||1||57||0.0||Luis Valbuena|
|Raffy Lopez||15||.213||.285||.353||.637||0||64||0.0||Kole Calhoun|
Unfortunately, the numbers don’t look that great offensively. But with the ups and downs of both Suzuki and Flowers last year, we’ve come to view that offensive boom of 2017 as an outlier behind the plate.
The real boost is going to come from the defensive end. Flowers remains one of the best framing catchers in all of baseball, and every pitcher who has crossed paths with McCann over his career has lauded his ability to work with a pitching staff.
The true concern with the 2019 backstops is both have been injury-prone and are quite advanced in age, so the only depth behind them being A-Jax (who came crashing down in 2018) and Raffy Lopez, is concerning.
While the 2.9 combined WAR between Flowers and McCann may not look that impressive on paper, only JT Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal, and Francisco Cervelli bested that number as a primary catcher. If the catching core can approach three wins as a whole, it will make missing out on the Realmuto marathon hurt just a little less, even if their offensive numbers leave a lot to be desired.
The left side of the infield was a disaster at times in 2018.
Dansby Swanson’s struggles continued over another season, this time thanks in large part to a wrist injury that happened very early, and despite a stint on the injured list, continued to linger over the remainder of the season.
Third base started out as an absolute trainwreck while the team waited for Johan Camargo to recover from an oblique injury, but stabilized greatly once he returned.
Hopefully, the big off-season acquisition of Josh Donaldson changes all of that.
The big question marks will be (1) which Ozzie Albies shows up after stark difference in his 1st and 2nd half in 2018, (2) can Swanson stay healthy and/or consistent, and (3) will Donaldson remain injury-free?
|INFIELDERS||PA||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS||HR||+||WAR||2018 Slash Comp|
|Freddie Freeman||670||.292||.383||.509||.892||26||139||4.8||Paul Goldschmidt|
|Ozzie Albies||600||.264||.315||.438||.753||18||98||3.0||Yadier Molina|
|Josh Donaldson||550||.261||.370||.488||.857||26||131||4.3||Mitch Haniger|
|Dansby Swanson||520||.246||.321||.385||.705||11||90||1.7||Alex Gordon|
|Johan Camargo||420||.264||.329||.430||.759||12||101||1.3||Nick Williams|
|Charlie Culberson||250||.243||.294||.383||.677||5||75||0.1||Manuel Margot|
|Austin Riley||50||.239||.293||.418||.711||2||89||0.1||Austin Romine|
|Pedro Florimon||25||.222||.286||.352||.638||0||64||0.0||Michael A. Taylor|
|Andres Blanco||15||.230||.299||.362||.660||0||82||0.0||Corey Spangenberg|
Freddie Freeman is Freddie Freeman. There’s not really a ton that needs to be said there. It’s something I feel a lot of us still take for granted and we continue to have a perennial MVP candidate anchoring the lineup year over year.
Ozzie, unfortunately, looks to be closer to his 2018 numbers from May through July than he does his numbers in April. Which is still a huge improvement over his August and September, thankfully. While we would all love to see that red-hot start carryover to an entire season, it looks like we may have to settle for an all-star level 2B who is good, instead of elite.
Donaldson is the key ingredient, obviously. He showed in his short time in Cleveland he still has the MVP numbers still in him. And if he can get 500 PA in 2019, he will likely maintain that level of play and end up pushing Freeman as the team’s top producer. If the Braves can get around 10 wins from the corner IF, it may not even matter what the guys up the middle do.
Swanson, well, looks to continue to be Swanson. He looks to make a jump up offensively, but his highest value is likely to always remain in the field, which he still has to stay healthy to maintain.
The duo of Camargo and Culberson off the bench are supposed to be the key to pushing this team over the edge after a horrendous lack of depth in the 2018 playoffs. Unfortunately, both look to maybe fall back down to earth rather harshly.
Camargo’s value is going to come from his versatility. We know he can play all three skill positions in the IF, and if he can even put up league average numbers offensively, anything above that will be a huge net positive.
Culberson… Ugh. Listen, if you expect Charlie Culberson to maintain his 2018 numbers, I honestly don’t know what to offer you here. There is over a decade of proof to show he had the best run of luck of just about anyone in baseball last year, and the likelihood of that carrying over seems to fall somewhere in the slim to none range. He can still add some value with the ability to play up to seven positions, but he’s likely going to be a replacement level fringe guy when it all shakes out. We’ll likely see those bottom three names (Riley, Florimon, and Blanco) cut into his playing time if the wall hits him too hard early.
Here’s where things get really weird.
Nothing has changed.
Death, taxes, Acuña/Inciarte/Markakis.
Nick Markakis played the best baseball of his life in the first half. Ender Inciarte played the best baseball of his life in the second half. Neither existed offensively while the other flourished.
The baseball gods blessed us with Acuña having the knee flexibility of a toddler.
We got lucky, folks.
|OUTFIELDERS||PA||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS||HR||+||WAR||2018 Slash Comp|
|Ronald Acuña||660||.279||.348||.500||.848||29||123||3.6||Giancarlo Stanton|
|Ender Inciarte||650||.279||.335||.391||.726||10||96||2.9||Jason Heyward|
|Nick Markakis||600||.273||.347||.396||.743||10||102||1.1||Willy Adames|
|Adam Duvall||220||.230||.292||.421||.713||9||89||0.2||Nick Ahmed|
|Ryan LaMarre||45||.236||.293||.342||.635||1||67||0.0||Wilmer Difo|
|Rafael Ortega||25||.248||.312||.356||.668||0||85||0.0||Greg Allen|
Some point soon, Acuña is going to win an MVP award. It may be 2019. Like with Freddie, not a lot else really needs to be said.
Ender and Markakis are whatever they are. They can be good. They can be atrocious. We’re going to need a ton more of the first and very little of the second. If they can balance each other out like they did last season, that may, unfortunately, be our best case scenario with the two. Not upgrading in RF is likely going to be the single most damning roster spot for the Braves in 2019.
Because if Markakis can’t cut it at 35 years old, there isn’t anything behind him right now.
We all have concerns with Duvall after the disaster that was late 2018, so he certainly isn’t a lock for anything. His projected line isn’t necessarily bad for a 4th outfielder who can play all three positions very well, but if he has to be slotted into the lineup for an extended period of time, the Braves are likely in trouble.
It could be a long season.
Or, everything could fall exactly how it did last year and the Braves could break good.
The problem is going to be which versions of every player not named Freeman and Acuña shows up. The numbers don’t look horrible on paper, and there are teams who have certainly done a lot worse with three potential MVP candidates in the same lineup, but it all depends on what happens on the fringes.