Here are five buy-low candidates the Atlanta Braves should add

Sep 15, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (22) reacts after he flies out in the ninth inning of their game against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field. The Nationals won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 15, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (22) reacts after he flies out in the ninth inning of their game against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field. The Nationals won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Teams are always looking for diamonds in the rough. Guys off the waiver wire and free agents who are coming off poor seasons who could become the next Tyler Matzek or Eric O’Flaherty. Alex Anthopoulos has already quickly moved on potential buy-low candidates in Sam Hilliard and Nick Anderson. But they certainly won’t be the last. Let’s look at the buy-low candidates the Atlanta Braves should add.

The buy-low candidates the Atlanta Braves should add

While there are buy-low candidates for each position, I’m solely looking at what the Braves need and what a buy-low candidate can fulfill for the team. This means I won’t be looking at infielders (we’re not replacing Dansby with a guy on the waiver wire), catchers, and starting pitching (we have been covering SP options in free agency already and the Braves already have a lot of internal depth there).

This leaves outfielders and relievers. While the Braves have a combined $26 million tied up to Marcell Ozuna and Eddie Rosario, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Braves tried to find ways to move either or both players as left field was a major weakness for the team in 2022. Additionally, while the bullpen was actually a strength for the team this past season, relievers are always needed. As we saw when the Night Shift was reduced to A.J. Minter this past season, they are always a volatile commodity.

The players below are guys who had poor 2022 seasons, but had certain areas of their game that showed that they were either getting unlucky, could improve with certain adjustments, or both.

Franmil Reyes

Franmil Reyes is one season removed from a 126 wRC+ campaign, but 2022 was a miserable season for the 26-year-old as he slashed .221/.273/.365 (80 wRC+) between the Guardians and Cubs. With his lack of defense, he managed a -1.1 fWAR in 118 games. This was worse than Marcell Ozuna (-0.6 fWAR) and equal to Eddie Rosario.

But Reyes had a strange season by several. By average exit velocity, max exit velocity, HardHit%, and barrels, he was elite while sitting in at least the 79th percentile in all of these categories. He was also above-average in chase rate in the 57th percentile. These percentiles were more or less in line with his career averages.

But by almost all other metrics, including BB%, xwOBA, xSLG, and xBA, he was well below average.  In fact, he overperformed his xBA and his xSLG was about even with his SLG. This was not a player who was getting unlucky, so what was going on?

First, he struck out a lot. This was not abnormal. Reyes has always whiffed a lot, never finishing better than the bottom 6th percentile. He struck out 33.2% in 2022, but it was only 1.2 points higher than in 2021. However, in previous seasons, Reyes was able to mask his K% by walking a lot.

In 2021, the outfielder was in the 55th percentile in BB%. In 2022, it fell into the 24th percentile. Aside from the expected metrics, this is the biggest drop for Reyes from 2021 to 2022.

But this drop is actually the reason I think the Braves should sign the 6’5 slugger. Despite a huge drop in walks, he didn’t really change his approach. He still finished the season with a slightly above-average chase rate. In fact, it was actually a better rate than in 2019 when he walked 8.6% of the time, and in 2020, when he walked 10% of the time.

The biggest difference between this year and previous years is that he simply saw slightly fewer pitches out of the zone (a two-point decrease this year), and he made less contact when he did chase (a 13-point drop). This means fewer fouls in two-strike counts.

If Reyes is able to return these back to 2021 levels, there is a good chance he could return to being a 120ish wRC+ player. With the DH as well, there’s a good chance the Braves would hardly have to play him in the outfield if they can move Ozuna.

Austin Davis

The definition of a scrap heap player, Austin Davis is your run-of-the-mill left-handed reliever who bounces from team to team simply because he’s left-handed. However, there are a few things I like about this one.

Davis split 2022 between Boston and Minnesota. In 56 innings, he had a 5.79 ERA and a more digestible, but not impressive 4.02 FIP. He’s currently a free agent after being released by Minnesota in September.

While his 12.5 BB% is concerning, there were several things Davis did well, mainly when it came to contact. The southpaw was in the 89th percentile in Average Exit Velocity and the 95th Percentile in HardHit%. Davis also had decent percentiles for K%, Whiff%, and xSLG.

Davis might benefit from a change in pitch selection. His four-seamer, which he threw 43.2% of the time, was hammered last season with hitters managing a .453 SLG and a nearly identical .456 xSLG.

However, he had much more success with his slider, which he used 38.3% of the time, as it limited hitters to a .299 SLG and a .315 xSLG. His changeup, despite poor outputs (a .300 BA and .350 SLG), had better expected stats (.218 xBA and .266 xSLG). It also generated far more whiffs on a rate basis at 38.5%, 12 points higher than his slider and 14 points higher than his fastball.

The soon-to-be 30 year old has yet to have any success in the major leagues, but its easy to envision him being a non-roster invitee who could break camp with the team and acts as a solid middle reliever.

James Norwood

Another scrap heap reliever, this time a righty. Norwood pitched 20 games in 2022 with the Phillies and was hammered, allowing 16 earned runs in just 17.1 innings. However, his 3.63 FIP was far lower than his 8.31 ERA.

Norwood also racked up the strikeouts, striking out 22 of the 85 batters he faced (25.8% K rate). Batters also outperformed expected outputs against Norwood, as well. Both in AVG and SLG.  Despite having hitters having a .316 AVG and .434 SLG, expected numbers were far kinder, at .256 xSLG and .401 SLG.

The thing I like about Norwood the most, however, is his fastball velocity. His average fastball velocity of 96.6 placed him in the 90th percentile in the majors last season. Additionally, while his fastball spin left a lot to be desired, he was in the 64th percentile in extension.

High-velocity fastball guys come a dime a dozen, but Norwood, like Davis, could be worth a gamble on and would be great to have as depth in Gwinnett if he doesn’t break camp with the team after Spring Training.

Joey Gallo

Gallo’s 2022 was disastrous for him, even after being traded to Los Angeles. Between New York and L.A, he finished the season with just 0.6 fWAR, had an 85 wRC+, and had a negative DEF for the first time since he was a third baseman. But there were still a few things that were salvageable from the season for the player who best exemplifies the three-true-outcome approach.

His 13.7 walk rate was only slightly lower than his career average of 14.8%. He still hit the ball hard (when he did make contact), finishing in the 94% in HardHit and 98% in barrel percentage. Despite all the hard contact, however, he only slightly underperformed his xBA and xSLG.

The biggest change is the five-point increase in strikeouts. However, neither his zone contact nor his whiff matched this five-point increase. He swung more on pitches in the zone (70.1% this year compared to 68.4% in 2021), but his contact rate barely changed (68.4% this year vs. 68.6% in 2021). He also made contact more on pitches outside the zone. Simply put, Gallo’s change in approach doesn’t coincide with such a great increase in strikeouts.

Gallo did chase much more this past season than in previous seasons, jumping nearly nine percentage points in 2022 from 2021. This coincided with a seven-point jump in his overall swing rate. Gallo walks at an elite level, but he’s a few non-swings away from being at the most elite level.

On the defensive side, Gallo’s sudden OAA drop is intriguing to me. He was in the 82nd percentile in outfield jump, but in the 20th percentile in OAA. In 2021, he was in the 84th percentile in outfield jump and in the 90th percentile in OAA. While Gallo’s sprint speed dropped from the 59th percentile to the 46th, he only lost 0.3 ft/sec, which was actually equal to his 2020.

If you looked closer, however, much of his defensive troubles came in a drop in success rate when he was with New York (75% compared to 87% with L.A.) As a Dodger, he was worth two OAA. His negative defensive value this past season could be more of an outlier than an indication of his future.

If Gallo can return to 2021 levels of play, the Braves could have the best outfield in all of baseball.

Jason Heyward

This one is heavily influenced by nostalgia, but not fully. While Jason Heyward has been a very poor hitter the past two seasons and he hasn’t had a wRC+ above 100 (outside 2020’s 131) since he was a St. Louis Cardinal, he still has a few things on his side.

For starters, he’s still an above-average defender in the outfield. In just 348.1 innings, he was worth one OAA in 2022 and three OAA across 784 innings in 2021. If the Braves add something like Franmil Reyes, or if they stick with Eddie Rosario and Marcell Ozuna, they’re going to need a defensive replacement.

Heyward also can still hit the ball hard, though his average EV still has a lot to be desired. He maxed out at 111.1 MPH, which was in the 73rd percentile last season. In 2021, he maxed out at 115.3 MPH. He hasn’t been hitting the ball hard consistently enough, but there is still some thump in there.

The former Braves standout is a groundball-heavy player, which unfortunately has hurt him for years now, but with the shift going away, he is yet another lefty who will probably benefit. While still unimpressive, it’s important to note he did underperform his xSLG by 45 points (.322 xSLG vs .277 SLG).

Additionally, while the lefty’s walk rate dropped to a career-low 7.3% and his O-Swing was a career-high 30.7%, he only had 151 PAs. If he’s able to return his chase rate to around 2019 levels, he’d have a BB% well-above league average.

This is not someone will come back and bounce back to his 2013 self nor should be be an everyday player. However, I still think it’s plausible that he can be a slightly below-average hitter who provides dependable defense off the bench and will likely come cheap. He’s still on the Cubs roster, but the team announced he won’t return for 2023, meaning that if the team does release him, the Braves could theoretically sign him on the cheap.

dark. Next. Here are some more free agent options for the Braves