Atlanta Braves season reflects the things PECOTA predicted

Freddie Freeman is now a Gold Glove winner, too. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Freddie Freeman is now a Gold Glove winner, too. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is tied for the league lead in home runs, but his team continues to struggle. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is tied for the league lead in home runs, but his team continues to struggle. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Braves season isn’t what fans expected after nearly reaching the World Series; the PECOTA projection everyone laughed at is closer to the truth.

Three months ago, Jake wrote lamenting the lack of respect PECOTA showed the Atlanta Braves after their successful postseason run in 2020. PECOTA can’t respect or disrespect anyone; it’s an unbiased analysis of statistics, not a person.

The PECOTA analysis found the Braves a team heading for serious regression, looked at the probable outcomes if it did, and determined that the club would win 83 games and finish fourth.

Fans retaliated by calling PECOTA stupid, which is also impossible because it isn’t a person, and saying a season of 91 to 96 wins was coming.  The good news is that PECOTA now predicts a third-place finish. The bad news is the projected win number dropped to 81.

I expected Ozzie to rebound and be the team’s heartbeat, believed Pache’s strike zone recognition would allow him to hit well enough to remain in center field and thought the combination of Matzek, Martin, Minter, and Smith would be enough to close out games.

I thought Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Charlie Morton, and prospects filling in the gaps, would stabilize the rotation well enough that Drew Smyly (pitching like a five) wouldn’t cause trouble until Soroka returned.

As fans, we remain optimistic until we can’t. Most who projected win totals in the 90s relied on talent winning out and ignored the perfect storm of events that made the 2020 postseason run possible.

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is returning to form after a slow start to the season. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is returning to form after a slow start to the season. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

What did we miss?

Atlanta Braves fans spent the 2020 tournament-like season focused on which starting pitcher would get injured or forget how to pitch next and were suitably thrilled as the lineup pulled wins out of their . . . hat, night after night, with a bullpen that did little wrong in the late innings.

All of those things happened because a group of players had a 60-game sprint that exceeded anything their career-best, and they did it at the same time with a DH in the lineup.

Freddie Freeman won the NL MVP because he pushed his contact rate to a career-high 81.9% while raising his line-drive and fly-ball rates, his groundball rate, and popup rates down. For Ozuna, d’Arnaud, and Swanson, the contact rate didn’t change, but their BAbip made a big move.

All statistics from Fangraphs player pages using their table summing function.

All of these players were going to come back to the pack – that’s what we called regression before sabermetric speak – some more than others.

Travis d’Arnaud was a revelation last season, but, well, *gestures to the rest of d’Arnaud’s career.*  – Ben Carsley Baseball Prospectus (subscription required).

No one saw as much regression as we’ve seen from Ozuna so far, and projections said that we’d see a player closer to the 2019 version of Albies than the 2020 model, and that hasn’t happened.

While questions remain about Swanson’s future – is he Addison Russell or Brandon Crawford? – and no one was sure about Austin Riley or Cristian Pache, the lineup’s current swings from ineptitude to dynamic run-scoring weren’t a high percentage outcome.

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Chris Martin is back from the injury list to reinforce the bullpen. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Chris Martin is back from the injury list to reinforce the bullpen. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Atlanta Braves pitching is . . .

I noted earlier that I expected the projected backend of the Atlanta Braves bullpen to do their job. The inclusion of Nate Jones, Carl Edwards Jr., and others is still baffling for a team that publicly said walking batters is not company policy.

Charlie Morton started the year looking for his groove, and it’s still missing. Smyly had four starts where he allowed 4, 5, 6, and 6 runs before righting the ship against weakened Nationals and Brewers lineups.

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Fried was injured, and we saw good and bad starts from Wilson. The starters-stumbles put a bigger load on the bullpen and buckled under the weight. Ynoa was a bolt out of the blue until he decided to break his pitching hand.

The Braves continued to provide manager Brian Snitker pitchers without a history of pitching well in recent years or with young arms who lacked experience. He began by riding the horses he expected to do well but was forced to use less dependable pieces who didn’t do well.

Martin’s Return and the signing of Shane Greene when he clears protocols and arrives should improve the pen. However, the bullpen can’t save games when the lineup doesn’t hit, which brings us back to PECOTA.

The Braves aren’t scoring enough runs to allow the pitchers to exhale. If you take out the double-digit blowout games, the runs/game number drops from to 4.0, and the run differential increases from -17 to -26.

Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley is riding a hot streak over the last 30 days. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley is riding a hot streak over the last 30 days. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Scoring more runs

When you hear fans say, “I’m glad Heredia’s back to add some pop to the Atlanta Braves lineup,” it’s an indicator all is not well with the lineup

Without a healthy Ronald Acuna Jr., the lineup is pretty punchless. Freeman is creeping back to form, and Albies shows signs of life, and Austin Riley’s riding a hot streak batting .341/.459/.523/.978 since April 17, but he’s doing that based on a .456 BAbip, that will surely fall unless he has a Chris Johnson year.

However, Ozuna’s been a paper tiger, and for the most part, the rest of the lineup hasn’t delivered when it had the opportunity.

PECOTA’s updated projection shows the Braves with a .501 winning percentage when the season ends. Going into tonight’s game, the Braves have a .463 winning percentage. Right now, PECOTA looks like what we see.

That’s a wrap

The loss of Ynoa means Fried and Anderson have to continue to pitch well, Morton has to get his act together, and Smyly has to stay healthy and continue to keep the Atlanta Braves in games.

It’s my view that expecting Soroka to return this year is a mistake. At some point, the club will have to add a starter. It’s too soon to know who might be available; the Rockies were shopping Gray, but they’ll hold on until closer to the deadline or ask for a bigger haul to trade now.

Next. Sam explains the bullpen's issues. dark

It’s getting close to put-up or shut-up time. The NL East is still there for the taking; how badly do the Braves want it?

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