Atlanta Braves: Three Fascinating Braves Player Projections for 2023
By Sam Peebles
Fangraphs has posted their player projections via Steamer, and some of the projections for the players on Atlanta Braves are interesting.
We are going to look at the three most interesting projections. Some of these may be because these projects are arguably way off, or others that seem off but actually make sense. We need to point out some caveats that will be in play before we get started.
First, we need to point out that this upcoming season has the potential to see a surge in offense. Last year the league average OPS was the lowest since 2014, and the second lowest since 1992. We also will have the first year where there is a limit on the shift. So, combine these two scenarios and there is a decent probability that there will be an increase in offense.
With this in mind, it is important to look at stats like wRC+ which factors in how a player will perform against the rest of the league. For example, an OPS of .706 in 2022 would have been average, yet in 2021 it would have been 0.022 points below the average. In 2019 an OPS of .706 would have been 0.052 below average. Of course, there is the ballpark factor as well. Some ballparks produce more or less offense than others.
To put this in perspective, the difference of 0.022 OPS (the difference between the 2022 and 2021 average), would equate to the difference between Ronald Acuña’s output and Ryan McMahon’s. Again, this points to using how a player performs against the rest of the league.
Second, the Steamer projections points out Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is overall output, not just offense. We will be looking as these projections as well, because unless you are a DH, only offense does not a baseball player make.
Which 3 Atlanta Braves have the most interesting projections?
Austin Riley actually has the second highest projected WAR on the Atlanta Braves for 2023. However, what really draws the eye is that his 4.4 WAR projection would be lower than his past 2 seasons. If we look at his projected offense of .274/.343/.512 which equates to a 136 wRC+ (36 percent above league average) it is right on par with his 136 wRC+ of 2020. So, why is his projected WAR 0.3 lower?
The key is that Steamer projects a drop-off in defense. In 2022, Riley had an overall Fangraphs defensive rating of -3.1, and in 2021 he had a -1.2. Steamer has Riley with a projection of -5.8.
At first, this is a head scratcher. Typically it would be easy to disagree with a projection like this. However, this does actually make sense. First, trend analysis shows that Riley has regressed the past 2 years overall defensively. Second, Riley’s kryptonite defensively is his range. In the past 2 seasons he has accumulated -14.8 runs saved via ultimate zone rating (UZR).
Since the start of 2021, Dansby Swanson has been the 4th highest rated defensive player, and second highest rated SS defensively from on overall defensive standpoint. When you take away a defensive player like Swanson who can help cover up a lack of range, and replace him with either an unproven SS that scouts projected to be a 3rd baseman (Grissom), or an aging stop gap like Orlando Arcia, odds weigh heavily that Riley’s defensive output is going to drop-off.
Matt Olson has a projection of .249/.339/.486 which equates to a 127 wRC+ and a 3.4 WAR. This offensive output does not seem too farfetched. In 2022 he had a wRC+ of 120 in which he played for a new team, for the first time on a big stage coming from a small market team, after taking over for a franchise icon who had just left for LA. No pressure. Olson also had a well above average 147 wRC+ in 2021, so a 127 wRC+ is well within possibility.
The issue with his projections that seem off is his defense. We do need to point out that when the defense side of WAR is calculated, first baseman will almost always be penalized because positional value is factored in. For example, when you see a negative number it is compared to the league average of every position. Matt Olson has been a top 3 defensive 1st baseman almost every year of his career in terms of SABR Defensive Index (SDI), but has had a negative overall defensive rating by Fangraphs’ WAR calculations all but one year of his career due to his position.
With that being said, Steamer has Olson having an overall defensive rating of -9.4 in 2023, which is right on par with his 2022. This just does not seem like it will happen. This year, Olson will hopefully have Ozzie Albies next to him to help cover some range that was lacked by Orlando Arcia for a large chunk of the season.
On top of this, Olson had an uncharacteristic year defensively. In 2022, he had a UZR of 0.4, which was the lowest of his career by a large margin. His second worst season in terms of UZR (outside of his 20 inning cameo in 2016) was way back in 2017 where he had a 0.8 when he only played in 349.2 innings.
2022 was also the only year in his career in which he was below average in terms of errors. Every year of his career before 2022, he brought above average value when it comes to limiting errors. Olson has an extensive history of being an elite defensive 1st baseman. The odds of him repeating his overall defensive output from 2022 are extremely slim.
Of all three players listed, Fried’s projection was probably the most shocking. Coming off a second place Cy Young finish with an fWAR of 5.0 with an ERA of 2.48, FIP of 2.70, career best GB%, HR rate, and a batting average of balls in play (BABIP) of .280 (.017 points below his career average) showing that he was not lucky in 185.1 innings, Steamer projects Fried to have a massive drop-off.
Steamer projects Fried to have an fWAR of 3.2 in 190.0 innings with an ERA of 3.59, FIP of 3.51, and a HR rate of 0.98 per 9 innings which is almost double what it was in 2022 (0.58). This is a massive drop off in production.
It is understandable that his projections would not be quite as good as 2022 due to the fact that his expected ERA (xERA) via Statcast was higher than his actual ERA. However, an xERA of 2.85 was still in the best 13 percent of MLB.
To be fair, a lot of pitchers project to have a drop-off due to the shift being limited. However, this is projection is quite a bit extreme. Fried is a ground ball pitcher. The league average GB% since he entered the league has been 44.9 percent, and Fried had a GB% of 51.2 in 2022 and a career 53.7.
So, again, it makes sense his projections would drop. However a drop from 2.48 ERA to 3.59, and a 2.70 to 3.51 with a full 1.8 WAR drop when the only true indicators that a drop-off will be due to the league environment, and not his performance, just seems off.
Here is to hoping that these three players outperform their projections and continue to be key pieces for the Atlanta Braves.