Atlanta Braves 2024 season preview: Which Bryce Elder will they get?

Despite losing the starting role to Reynaldo Lopez, Elder has options remaining and will get a chance to prove himself with at least a few spot-starts.

Atlanta Braves starter Bryce Elder will start the season in Triple-A, but he remains an important part of their hopes for another World Series title.
Atlanta Braves starter Bryce Elder will start the season in Triple-A, but he remains an important part of their hopes for another World Series title. / Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Elder’s 2023 numbers overstate his performance; seven of his ten starts came against the Nationals and Marlins, and he lost to the Mets, Rangers, and Padres in his other three outings. However, he burst out of Spring Training last year, finished the first half with a 2.97 ERA in 106 innings over 16 starts, and a selection to the NL All-Star team.

What went wrong for Bryce Elder in 2023?

Elder’s first half seemed too good to be true, and it was. After giving up 10 homers and allowing 35 runs in the first half, he gave up nine homers and runs in the second half while pitching to a 5.11 ERA in 68.5IP. So, what happened?

We heard lots of speculation that Elder was simply tired when his velocity dropped. He may have been worn down at that point, all players are, but we heard nothing to indicate the Braves believed he needed a rest. We do have statistics to tell us the differences between the first and second half and indicate why when his BABIP against was almost static, opposing batters hit 20 points higher. Specifically, his:

  • Groundball rate dropped from 54.8% to 42.9%, causing his
  • Groundball to fly ball rate to drop from 2.06 to 1.26, and his
  • Line drive rate rose from 18.6% to 23%.

Those numbers tell us Elder was leaving the ball up and in the hitting zone, and while his velocity was down slightly, batters weren’t pulling the ball more often. In fact, the opposite was true, as they pulled the ball 20% less and distributed that 20% to the opposite field and center.

What the Braves will get from Bryce Elder in 2024

Elder’s ceiling is that of a fifth starter, fortunately for the Atlanta Braves, that’s all they require him to be. His fastball velocity sits between 90 and 92, well below the league of 94.5, and his 40% hard-hit rate is middle of the pack. All of that means he has to locate his pitches well. 

As long as he keeps the ball out of the kill zone, his 6% barrel rate and 8.5-degree launch angle should produce a groundball rate of around 50%. He hasn’t been great at that this spring, but Spring Training numbers are highly predictive.

Every projection system puts his ERA somewhere near 4.50, which closely approximates his career SIERRA. I’d be way outside the box if I predicted less, and the emergence of Lopez is likely to reduce his Innings, so I’ll say we can expect Elder to throw 140 innings at a 4.44 ERA.

The Atlanta Braves selected Bryce Elder out of Texas in the shortened 2020 draft and had him pitching in the majors after only one season of Minor League ball. It’s hard to remember that he pitches at 25 this year, has three option years remaining, and is still learning how to pitch.

If, as expected, the Atlanta Braves decide that Elder should begin the season in Triple-A, it doesn’t mean they’ve lost faith in him. He’s shown that he can hold his own against Major League hitters in the pressure of a pennant race, and that’s no small feat.

The Braves will need him, AJ Smith-Shawver, and others to pick up spot starts and help keep the top of the rotation fresh for October. When the team calls on him, he won’t let them down.

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