The Atlanta Braves won 88 games in 2021 and went on to win a harrowing World Series Championship against the Houston Astros. 2022 saw the Braves crest the vaunted 100-win mark in the regular season, only to lose in the division series. The 2023 Atlanta Braves O/U is currently set at 95.5, according to Fanduel. With a healthy MVP candidate in Ronald Acuna Jr. and depth in most categories, there are four big reasons why the Braves will top the OVER.
There exist several ways to prognosticate winning success, especially in the world of advanced analytics. A more direct, old-school approach finds it axiomatic that “winning home games and playing .500 baseball on the road” leads to ultimate victory.
This simple method used to be especially pertinent in a division like the National League East, where a distinct delineation between a couple of rebuilding teams and a three-horse-race of playoff hopefuls might be determined by which of the favorites takes the most flesh from the bottom feeders.
However, that was then, and this is now. MLB continues to live in the now and mix it up by implementing a schedule that features six fewer games against each division rival. Of course, this also means fewer opportunities for divisional attrition between teams built to win like the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, and Atlanta Braves.
While the Braves’ 95.5 O/U line flirts with splitting the difference between 2022’s 101 wins and 2021’s 88 wins, all bets are arguably off as to how these schedule adjustments – along with defensive shift rules, pitch clock, and other policy changes – will play out for teams across baseball. Between the truncated 2020 season and controversies over everything from the tightness of baseball seams to the “sticky stuff” on the balls, 2023 may truly be an unpredictable year of wild, wild cards.
Amidst stormy sea changes, a steady, balanced team like the Atlanta Braves possesses the necessary tools – which can be broken down into four major keys – to jump those 95.5 predicted wins.
2023 Atlanta Braves Will OVER the 95.5 O/U
Healthy Ronald Acuna Jr.
A nightmare scenario played out for Ronald Acuna Jr. when he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in the middle of the 2021 season. This season-ending injury would be bad enough for any player, but 2021 happened to be the year the Atlanta Braves went on to win the World Series. Meanwhile, all Acuna Jr. could do was cheer his teammates from the dugout.
While no player will refuse a World Series ring, the one Acuna owns might be the ultimate motivation to propel him to a career season, while helping the Braves challenge for back-to-back 100-win seasons.
At a mere 25 years old, Acuna has played five seasons but only two full ones, carrying a career 134 RC+. When healthy, it’s hard to find a flaw in his offensive game. Elite Launch Angles, Barrel%, and Exit Velocities portend more exciting moments for Braves fans in 2023.
Considering new rules in place that could make stolen bases more prevalent in 2023, the Braves’ star outfielder is one of the legit candidates to post a 40/40 season. He came close in 2019 with 41/37.
With no restrictions coming into the season, Acuna’s stealing bases and already displaying his five-tool skill set in Grapefruit League play. Though he’s struggled offensively playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, Acuna Jr looks no worse for the wear, covering center-field territory with ease.
A healthy Acuna Jr., with no restrictions, means an MVP-caliber leader on a team built to win.
Emergence of Spencer Strider
Speaking of no restrictions, after throwing 131 innings with an eye-popping 13.8 K/9 in his rookie season, pitching phenom Spencer Strider looks ready to take the leap to staff ace in 2023.
Drawing comparisons to another National League ace Corbin Burnes – who mainly features a 96mph cutter he throws 55% – Strider utilizes an elite fastball/slider combo and sprinkles in a changeup. Despite his reputation as a two-pitch pitcher, Burnes also features an elite curve, a very good slider, and a middling changeup.
During the minor leagues, Strider utilized a curveball and the aforementioned changeup, which Fangraphs has a 55 future grade. The changeup happens to perform quite well off his fastball, following similar horizontal movement. Arguably, the only reason he hasn’t thrown it is because he hasn’t had to.
His fastball averages 98, gets ridiculous vertical movement, and pairs remarkably with a devastating 86mph slider that elicits a 52.2 Whiff%. With a 15.6% Called Strike Percent that bests teammate Max Fried and his 1.55 BB/9, there’s even some upside that Strider’s 3 BB/9 might deflate.
And c’mon, the guy just looks the part of a Cy Young contender. Sporting a boss mustache and a name that makes aptonym fans drool, Strider harnesses all of his below-average six-foot frame to stride with electric purpose toward home plate.
Magic within that stride unleashes pure filth in the form of his ungodly fastball, to which whole articles have been devoted. Newer metrics like Vertical Approach Angle (VAA) reveal some secrets as to why Strider’s smaller frame coupled with a short VAA generates enormous deception to the hitter’s eye.
It’s hard to say what’s more remarkable: the fact that the Braves won the World Series without Ronald Acuna Jr. or the fact that Charlie Morton pitched dominant baseball literally on a broken leg to help the Braves clinch the championship.
Who knows how much that gutsy performance inhibited Morton as he recovered in the off-season, and put up a lackluster 2022 as a follow-up. When one looks at the peripheral numbers, it’s honestly hard to say where it went wrong for Morton, as his metrics for 2022 were mostly in line with his ace-like 2021.
However, to watch Morton pitch in 2022, his ability to put the ball where he wanted was clearly lacking. Morton’s career resurgence a few years ago was not only due to an uptick in velocity but also sharper command. After recently compiling a BB/9 in the 2.3-2.8 range, Morton’s BB/9 jumped to 3.3 in 2022.
A healthy season and a simple return to the mean from Morton would mean an Atlanta rotation with a previous ace, who’s only required to pitch like a #4 starter.
Eddie Rosario is another veteran, whose eye issues sapped his hit prowess. This impairment is said to be behind him, so any contributions from the previously consistent Rosario would substantially stabilize the outfield.
Also, who can’t hope for a dead cat bounce from Marcell Ozuna? He can’t possibly be this bad, can he? His xwOBA and xSLG continue a trend going back to 2019 of a player underperforming his expected metrics.
Rising Talent, Stars In Their Prime
A middle infield of All-Star Ozzie Albies and newcomer Vaughn Grissom is full of question marks and promise. Albies was having a down year before an injury took him out, allowing Grissom to flex his athletic abilities over the final few months.
At only 25, Austin Riley erased any question marks and still possesses promise. The hot corner superstar just mashes baseballs, with Barrel% and Exit Velocities in the 96th percentile. While he’s gonna strike out, his Zone Contact of 85.9% is tied with Trea Turner and Carlos Santana.
In other words, Riley selects pitches in the zone and does damage. Between him and Matt Olson, Atlanta Braves corner infielders could combine for 80 home runs.
Some regression may be in store for dynamic center fielder Michael Harris II if he can’t boost his BB% from 4.8%. His minor-league track record suggests a bit better, and his power/speed combined with incredible defense are why the 2022 Rookie of the Year might continue to subvert expectations.
The Braves went out and got a prime piece when they traded for 28-year-old catcher Sean Murphy. This solidifies catcher, which has been a looming question mark for several years. Travis D’Arnaud, who helped patch together the catching position, becomes maybe the league’s best backup, as he was no slouch in 2022 with a 120 RC+.
Murphy himself comes in from the cold confines of Oakland Coliseum with a career 116 RC+. Defense is Murphy’s calling card, so his ability to anchor a pitching staff in their prime speaks volumes to his usefulness – especially in a year where rule changes necessitate catchers be on their game.
Murphy’s Max Exit Velocity is in the 94th percentile. Perhaps a move to friendlier offensive environs could propel him to even more home runs than the optimistic projection systems, many of which already give him well over his career-high 18.
In an ideal world, that fifth starter position might be a placeholder for Michael Soroka, once he returns from his latest injury delay.
Or someone like top prospect Jared Shuster could Spencer-Strider his way onto the team and never look back.
Either way, the Atlanta Braves have the look of a potential 100-win club. As with every hope-springs-eternal summer in baseball, the tale will be told in the tape of the fall classic.
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