Examining the 2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections
Every year for more than a decade, FanGraphs writer, Dan Szymborski, releases ZiPS Projections for every team. Today, the 2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections have been released.
We’ll be breaking down the projections, from whether or not Spencer Strider is projected to strike out 300 batters to whether ZiPS believes Vaughn Grissom can replace Dansby Swanson at SS or not.
What are ZiPS Projections?
ZiPS is a loose acronym that stands for “sZymborski Projection System.” Dan Szymborski developed the computer projection system and released the first player projections in 2004.
ZiPS has evolved in nearly two decades of existence, but the goals are the same, with Szymborski stating them in his 2023 ZiPS Projection Introduction.
"At its core, however, it’s still doing two primary tasks: estimating what the baseline expectation for a player is at the moment I hit the button, and then estimating where that player may be going using large cohorts of relatively similar players."
ZiPS uses multiple seasons of production of a player, with more weight given to more recent seasons, and compares them to similar players in the data base to create projections for that player. The database, according to Szymborski, contains every major leaguer since the Deadball era and every minor leaguer since the 1960s. Simply put, ZiPS makes educated projections based on a plethora of data.
Examining the 2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections
With this in mind, let’s dive into the 2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections. Prior to releasing the full projections, Szymborski released this chart of the projected WAR totals for each position on the Braves.
If you’re like me and took the time to total up the team WAR, you’d see that ZiPS projects the Braves to accumulate 54.8 WAR as a team. This is pretty substantial. For instance, the 101-win 2022 Braves accumulated 51.6 fWAR as a team. This is a very good team, and no one makes this clearer than Szymborski himself.
"If you’re wondering why Steve Cohen was willing to spend the GDP of a Pacific island nation on the 2023 Mets, you’re looking at the most compelling reason."
What’s exceptional about the Braves is how the lineup is both deep and far away from free agency. This is, of course, thanks to the many extensions given out by the Braves, but it’s also an indication of the Braves’ youth.
Despite having zero prospects in Baseball America’s top 100, the Braves only starters over 30 are Travis d’Arnaud, who will likely spend time between DH and C, and possibly Marcell Ozuna and Eddie Rosario. ZiPS projects five of the nine positions to have WARs over four, all from players who are now locked into long-term contracts.
In addition to a deep starting lineup, ZiPS projects the Braves to have an incredibly deep bullpen. Even the eighth man on the bullpen depth chart has an ERA+ of 110. “The Gwinnett Stripers might have the 20th-best bullpen in the majors in 2023,” Szymborski says. Unsurprisingly, a bullpen with this level of depth is projected to be the best bullpen in all of baseball.
Round out a deep lineup and bullpen with a solid starting rotation, which includes four 3+ WAR projections, and you get a team projected to be one of the best teams in baseball, as well as the team with the highest floor.
With this team overview in mind, let’s get into some of the individual player projections.
2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections: batter observations
ZiPS projects the Braves to get a lot of production out of their position players. This isn’t surprising, given the production of players like Riley, Murphy, and Harris last season, who are projected to maintain their 2022s. Acuña Jr, Albies, and Olson are also expected to bounce back from down seasons (by their standards).
Of course, the biggest difference between the 2022 Braves and the 2023 Braves is who is playing SS. While ZiPS, unsurprisingly, doesn’t expect the team to replicate Dansby Swanson’s 6.4 fWAR season (2023 Dansby Swanson isn’t expected to replicate his 2022), the Braves are still projected to receive league-average production from the position.
Vaughn Grissom, the leading candidate to take over SS is projected by ZiPS to receive 582 PAs, hit .254/.324/.374, and play mediocre to bad defense at the position. This is still good for 1.9 WAR. Orlando Arcia, the other internal candidate, is projected to receive 390 PAs, and produce a slashline of .240/.303/.387, good for a 1.2 WAR.
Ronald Acuña Jr. has, in my opinion, the second-most noteworthy projection on the team. After a down year, the projection system still believes that he’ll be a 4.5 WAR player, just missing out on a 30-30 season by a homer and two steals. Even the 20th percentile projection (which I’ll get into more a little bit later) believes Acuña will have a 3.0 WAR season with a 111 OPS+.
The reigning Rookie of the Year is projected to take a step back on offense, but still remain a highly productive player. With a 4.4 WAR projection, Michael Harris II is projected to have a 110 OPS+, which is a fairly big step down from the 135 OPS+ he had in 2022, but thanks to his Gold Glove level defense, ZiPS still projects an All-Star level player.
Of course, we can’t ignore the player with the highest WAR projections. Even though the writers here think Acuña will lead the team in WAR, ZiPS projects Austin Riley to lead the team with a 4.8 WAR season, where he’ll once again hit 30+ bombs and have an OPS+ above 130.
It’s been a perennial strength of the Braves since the 90s, and ZiPS believes that the Braves catcher strength will continue into 2023 as well. The Newly acquired Sean Murphy is expected to lead the tandem with 479 PAs, and produce a 3.8 WAR season with above-average hitting and defense. Travis d’Arnadu is still projected to receive 366 PAs and contribute 2.4 WAR, also producing above-average defense and offense.
The last position I wanted to make note of is LF. It’s no secret that this is likely the team’s weakest position and ZiPS wholeheartedly agrees. Among the 2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections, LF is expected to contribute 0.6 WAR, which is 1.6 WAR less than any other position on the team.
Despite being terrible for two seasons now, ZiPS still believes Marcell Ozuna will be a slightly better than league-average hitter with a 102 OPS+, but is still projected to only contribute 1.2 WAR thanks to negative defense and only 446 projected PAs.
2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections: pitcher observations
The Braves are projected to have a solid rotation. Any time a team can have four starters with 3.0 WAR seasons or higher, your team likely had a very good season, and this is where ZiPS projects the Braves to end up.
Of course, two of the Braves starters last year actually accomplished this, with Kyle Wright falling 0.1 fWAR shy of a 3 fWAR season. Charlie Morton was not close. Despite having a 1.5 fWAR season in 2022, Morton’s worse over a 162-game season since his 17.1 inning cameo in 2016 with the Phillies, and despite being 39, Ground Chuck is still projected to have a 2.9 WAR season.
Spencer Strider is expected to regress from his 2022, but is still expected to be a highly valuable starter (and reliever?), with the flame-thrower projected to contribute 2.9 WAR in just 122 innings. Don’t be surprised if he surpasses this, however. He’s still projected to strike out 12.4 batters per nine and have a FIP of 3.12. This, of course, falls far short of 400 Ks, and over 130 Ks shy of 300.
Both Max Fried and Kyle Wright are projected to keep pace with their 2022s, with ZiPS projecting a 4.3 WAR season from the Cy Young Runner-Up and a 2.6 WAR season from the Wright.
The fifth starter is also projected to be fairly valuable. Between Mike Soroka (1 WAR in 111 innings), Bryce Elder (2.2 WAR in 142 innings), and Ian Anderson (1.7 WAR in 128 innings), the final spot in the rotation is likely in good hands, if ZiPS is correct about just one of these pitchers.
As I’ve already mentioned, this bullpen is expected to be a juggernaut. A.J. Minter, Collin McHugh, and Dylan Lee (Dylan Lee!) are both projected to have 1 WAR out of the pen (Rasiel Iglesias, for some reason, is missing from the charts). As previously mentioned, there are no relievers who are projected to have ERA+ under 100. This is insane.
2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections: fun with 80/20 projections
The projections that ZiPS uses are the midpoints, or the 50th percentile forecast. This essentially means that ZiPS has projections they expect players to meet a percentage of the time.
For example, this year ZiPS 50th percentile projections for Mets’ SS, Francisco Lindor expects a 5.5 WAR season with a 113 OPS+ and excellent defense. However, it concedes that 20 percent of the time, Lindor could once top 7 WAR, which he almost did last season. However, 20 percent of the time in the other direction, ZiPS believes Lindor could fall to just around 4 WAR, which he did in 2021.
All three of these scenarios are likely and doable for Lindor, but ZiPS believes the most likely outcome is a 5.5 WAR season out of the Mets’ star SS. Of course, this is a Braves’ blog, so let’s have some fun with the peaks and valleys of Braves’ projections.
Let’s look at the 2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections 80th percentile projections that stand out first.
Austin Riley is the Braves’ best-projected player by ZiPS at the mid-point and he also has the highest 80th-percentile projection with 6.4 WAR. ZiPS believes there’s a 20% possibility the slugging 3B hits 51% above league average.
ZiPS also has the same 80th percentile OPS+ projection for Ronald Acuña Jr, although his WAR in this scenario is 5.9. Another player with very promising 80th-percentile production is Matt Olson, as these projections place Olson as a 6.0 WAR player with a 152 OPS+.
On the least-promising of the 80th percentiles, Eddie Rosario’s optimistic scenario still only projects him to be a 0.7 WAR player with an OPS+ of 102, just slightly better than league average. You don’t want to look at his 20th-percentile projections.
On the pitching side, Strider’s optimistic projections still have him as a worse player than last season by 1.0 whole WAR. Considering how ZiPS is projected, it’s not surprising, given Strider’s limited experience in the minors and college.
Max Fried’s 80th percentile projections essentially match what Fried did this past season, while Charlie Morton’s believes there’s a 20% chance he repeats his 2021.
The most surprising is how optimistic the 80th percentile projections are for Bryce Elder, seeing him as a pitcher who could end up with a 3.0 WAR.
As for the pessimistic 2023 Atlanta Braves ZiPS Projections, the 20th percentile projections for players like Eddie Rosario (seriously you don’t want to see it), Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia (a combined 1 WAR), and Marcell Ozuna (0.0 WAR) are worrisome. Ozzie Albies also has 20th-percentile projections that place him as a worse-than-league-average player.
On the other hand, even pessimistic projections have Ronald Acuña Jr, Matt Olson, and Austin Riley as 3.0 WAR players, and Sean Murphy and Michael Harris II as 2.0+ WAR players, which would be disappointing, but still palatable (Acuña had a 2.2 WAR season last season).
As for the starters, 20th percentile projections aren’t kind to Spencer Strider (1.9 WAR), Charlie Morton (1.6 WAR), and Kyle Wright (1.6 WAR). Max Fried still comes out as a 3.2 WAR player, however.
Despite the 20th percentile projections looking grim, it’s important to remember two things. The first is that this doesn’t mean every player will fall to their pessimistic projections, meaning the Braves won’t have a rotation full of sub-2 WAR guys. The second is that, if anything, the pessimistic projections demonstrate just how strong of a team the Braves are. The majority of teams do not have 20th percentile projections where there are still four fringe All-Stars.
If ZiPS is even remotely accurate, the 2023 Braves are in for an exciting season.