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Do the Atlanta Braves now have a rotation ready to compete with anyone? Someone out there thinks so.
The Atlanta Braves certainly took care of a major off-season need early on the calendar by quickly targeting two pitchers and securing them to one-year deals.
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But while Atlanta didn’t actually need top-of-the-rotation arms, the pitchers secured — Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly — were slotted 33rd and 44th respectively by MLB Trade Rumors in their ranking of the Top 50 free agents for this Winter.
That’s why this tweet from the official MLB account raised an eyebrow or two:
My own first reaction was “What? They couldn’t draw Smyly into this artwork?”
The second thought was “Gee, maybe they actually hired a Braves fan for a change.” (Let’s just say that their tweets heralding accomplishments by the Braves are often slow… or non-existent).
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After that? I admit having a chuckle or two on the actual point of the tweet. It truly just didn’t feel very credible.
Still, though: the best rotation in baseball? This crew could truly be good together from 1-to-5, but that does seem like a bit of a reach… and certainly will be dependent on who else signs with what clubs this Winter.
This home run by Ozuna came in one of the most memorable regular season games for the Braves. The game was part of a doubleheader against the Yankees that saw Ian Anderson make his Major League debut opposite of New York right-hander Gerrit Cole. Atlanta would get the best of Cole on this night battering him for five hits and five runs in five innings including this mammoth blast by Ozuna.
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Ranking above Morton on that MLBTR list are unsigned starting pitchers named Bauer, Tanaka, Odorizzi, Hendricks, Quintana, Paxton, Walker, Richards, and Kluber.
You may or may not agree with some of these rankings (Fangraphs would have placed Morton 12th, for example), but there’s still some solid talent in this list.
But while Fangraphs sees Morton much more favorably, the entire rotation is projected (via Steamer) to be the 11th best in baseball — and 6th in the National League.
As always, there are some things to quibble over: the Reds, for instance, no longer have Trevor Bauer, and yet are placed just ahead of the Braves, despite that gaping hole.
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They have the Dodgers, Nationals, and Mets as 1/2/3 in the majors, with the Padres, Reds, and Braves in those 9-11 slots (with Milwaukee just a tick behind Atlanta).
Fangraphs’ look at the Braves
There are a couple of ways to look at these projections — forward and back. Most projection schemes use the past to project the future. That’s not unreasonable; it serves well in many instances.
My own complaint of such a forecast methodology is that this tends to suppress the contributions of emerging players, and the Braves certainly have a few of these in Soroka, Fried, and Anderson.
Technical note: the WAR numbers quoted below are from fangraphs.com calculations, which tend to suppress pitcher performance when they don’t strike out batters by the dozen. Example: Max Fried in 2020: 1.5 fWAR, but 2.9 WAR by baseball-reference.com
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Max Fried seems to have shaken off some of those youngster shackles in this projection, as they forecast a 3.0 WAR season… albeit with a 3.81 ERA, which would still be a serious regression from his sparkling 2.25 in 2020. In fact, his 1.5 WAR year extrapolated to 4 WAR.
Mike Soroka‘s projection is 1.9… behind both Smyly (2.0) and Morton (3.0). That’s reasonably understandable given his health, though these projections are about numbers much more than innings-on-the-field capabilities.
Ian Anderson? 1.7. The league will get a longer look at him in 2021, and that could hurt later on, but it’s hard to imagine that he’d do worse than a 2 WAR.
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So… the reality might not be so pessimistic, but it’s also something that Atlanta will have to prove on the field in any case… and the case for “best rotation” is hard to justify overall.
In point of fact, the Braves probably did not set out to have the best rotation, but they certainly wanted to have a reliable one… and there’s a fair chance that (bolstered with extra innings from Wright, Wilson, et al), they can accomplish that goal.
NEXT: Duvall: Deal or No Deal?
Besides, it’s all just talk until it’s proven on the field, right?