Can the Braves Be 2018 Contenders (Part 2 of 3)

Can the Braves Be 2018 Contenders (Part 2 of 3)

Yesterday, I attempted to build a realistic model of what the 2018 season might look like based on Steamer projections with minimal tweaks. Today, though, we are going to have fun with best-case possibilities. Today, my friends, we’ll take a swing at what an optimistic projection of the 2018 Braves may look like.

Full disclosure – I’m not putting together a model that projects Dansby Swanson to hit .412 or Nick Markakis to hit 45 home runs. We will remain as close as possible to a realistic projection. My goal isn’t to build the best team in the history of baseball, but a realistic best-case scenario of the 2018 Braves.

The “Realistic Model” from yesterday suggested that the roster as it currently looks would be worth 31.6 fWAR. As a 0.0 fWAR team is comparable to a 46-win team, that put the Braves at roughly 77 or 78 victories if things went as I projected. I was conservative with most of my projections, but also not pessimistic. My approach was to build a baseline of the most likely possibilities. I won’t build a pessimistic roster because, honestly, how in the world would that be fun? However, today’s roster, the Optimistic Model, certainly sounds very fun to tackle. I’ll leave my realistic model baseline to compare with.

As always, let me know what you think about the roster. Was I too optimistic? Not optimistic enough? Or just crazy? Probably the latter, but I do ask that you don’t refer to me as cray cray. I have feelings.

The Optimistic Model

Catcher

I did disagree with Steamer yesterday as it suggested the Tyler Flowers/Kurt Suzuki duo would be worth only 2 fWAR. That seems low considering the two seasons Flowers has put up as a Brave (3.6 fWAR, 695 PA) and Suzuki’s resurgence last year (2.7 fWAR, 309 PA). Suzuki, by the way, didn’t do anything exceptionally crazy except focus more on elevating the ball with pull. Kids, don’t let Joe Simpson tell you that the key to success is hitting the ball to all fields. Sometimes, the best option is to whack the crap out of the ball to your pull side and put it in the air. Assuming Suzuki continues that trajectory and Flowers does as well, another 5 fWAR season between the two is completely possible. Realistic – 3 fWAR, Optimistic – 5 fWAR

First Base

Again, I felt Steamer got this one wrong, projecting a conservative 4 wins out of a player who has been worth more than that in four of the last five seasons. That run includes last year when Freddie Freeman swung a wet newspaper to the tune of 4.5 fWAR in 117 games. Could he post another 6-win season? Why not? This will be his Age-28 season after all. Realistic – 4.5 fWAR, Optimistic – 6 fWAR

Second Base

Steamer didn’t know what to do with Ozzie Albies. While projecting just a .315 wOBA, Steamer believed that his BABIP wouldn’t look so hot and that the increased pop wasn’t legit. Again, I had to disagree but kept my expectations low. With this model, I can unleash an Albies that mimics last year’s successful one. Albies posted a .347 wOBA in 57 games last season, passing 1.9 fWAR. Over a full season, that’s a five-win player. We’ll exercise some caution here and drop Albies a tad, but either way, I would be shocked if Steamer’s 1.7 fWAR projection is the more accurate than the range I am presenting. Realistic – 2.6 fWAR, Optimistic – 4.5 fWAR

Shortstop

I liked Steamer’s projection of Dansby Swanson enough to only tweak it based on playing time. What would happen if Swanson actually lived up to his 2017 projections, though? Well, Steamer actually was pretty bullish on Swanson to begin with (.715 OPS, 1.8 fWAR) coming off his 2016 summer of success. But let’s imagine, for a second, the more reasonably hopeful projections for Swanson. Something along the lines of a .285/.350/.440 projection with decent defensive metrics. Had he been that guy, Swanson would have been close to Xander Bogaerts and his 3.2 fWAR last season. While not a likely outcome based on last year for Swanson, it’s certainly a reasonable best-case scenario, no? Realistic – 1.5 fWAR, Optimistic – 3.2 fWAR

Third Base

This is the toughest position for me. You could simply take Johan Camargo‘s production (.299/.331/.452, .330 wOBA) and project it over a full season. If you project good-to-great defense, you’re left with a pretty familiar name – Todd Frazier. Both players would get to that level of production in a different way, but the end of the story is the same. If we suggest that Camargo does do that – and ignore Rio Ruiz, Charlie Culberson, and even Austin Riley for this exercise – it gives us a pretty convenient projection. Furthermore, it’s not even much of a stretch. Realistic – 2 fWAR, Optimistic – 3 fWAR

Left Field

I’m not going to get crazy here. Nick Markakis is who he is at this point. Projecting much more out of him is pie-in-the-sky projections and not a likely best-case scenario. Certainly, any projection is possible, but I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground. Even if I’m on my tippy-toes, let’s keep grounded. Steamer gave Markakis a 0.1 projection and I bumped that up by half-a-win, suggesting that Markakis would be better in left field. To be fair, Markakis has been a 3.5 fWAR player with the Braves. Assuming a full-win would be perfectly fair. That could eat into Lane Adams‘ time because, but we’ll give him a full win as well under the premise that he’ll fill in and also play left some against left-handers and when Markakis DH’s in interleague play. Realistic – 1 fWAR, Optimistic – 2 fWAR

Center Field

This is another position I don’t believe needs much of a change from its previous projection. I felt Steamer underrated Ender Inciarte‘s output with a 2.3 fWAR projection. Since becoming an everyday player in 2015, Inciarte has been a 3.2 fWAR player on average. It also can be argued that his Fangraphs’ defensive metrics, which took a hit last year, will normalize because other data (such as Statcast) continue to show that Inciarte is a world-class defender in center field. However, it’s difficult to project much more offensively from Inciarte right now than what we saw last season (.304/.350/.409, .350 wOBA). Realistic – 3 fWAR, Optimistic – 4 fWAR

Right Field

Oh, this is going to be fun. I tried to not go crazy with Ronald Acuna yesterday, but what happens if he lives up to the hype in 2018? In each of the last four seasons, a rookie hitter has put up a 5-win season. Six years ago, a rookie hitter finished with a 10-win season. I bet you can guess who that is. Could Acuna put up a Mike Trout rookie season with 30 homers, 49 steals, and a .409 wOBA with amazing defense? Anything’s possible, but even that might be too much to hope for. However, could Acuna do better than Jason Heyward‘s 2010 season? That, too, is possible and a bit more likely.

Just to be clear – for the purposes of this projection, Acuna must play at least 150 games. But if this optimistic projection is closer to reality than the actual “realistic” one is, you can start referring to him as the 2018 Rookie of the Year. Realistic – 2 fWAR, Optimistic – 5 fWAR

Starting Rotation

I stuck with Steamer as far as their starting staff projections went because I found them rather realistic. However, what if they aren’t? What if they fall short – especially for the young duo of Luiz Gohara and Sean Newcomb? Combined, Steamer gave them 4.2 fWAR. What if they doubled that? Isn’t that within the realm of possibilities? Furthermore, Julio Teheran has been a 3-win player twice in the last four seasons. I’ll stick with the conservative projections for Brandon McCarthy and Mike Foltynewicz, but let’s double Max Fried‘s initial 0.6 fWAR projection. This could be a bit too much of a leap of faith for some people, but remember that the young 2013 starting pitching staff that included a rookie Teheran was worth nearly 14 wins despite having Paul Maholm start 26 games. Realistic – 10 fWAR, Optimistic – 16.3 fWAR

Bullpen

Once again, I kept my expectations low here, but my excitement for the bullpen is actually much higher. I love A.J. Minter, Jacob Lindgren, and a number of the relievers who are developing. I like the idea of Lucas Sims and others moving to the pen where their pitches could only improve. I think Arodys Vizcaino, Daniel Winkler, and Sam Freeman form a solid nucleus. However, I leaned on Steamer’s projection to a large degree to help craft my own with the Realistic squad. I won’t get too focused on projecting individual relievers for this exercise but will look back at a very successful, non-Craig Kimbrel-fronted pen from 2016 and project a return to that for 2018. Realistic – 2 fWAR, Optimistic – 4.2 fWAR

To Sum Up

Again, we came into this knowing that 46 wins is comparable to 0.0 fWAR, or replacement level. We know that the Braves reached 26.4 fWAR in 2017, good for 72 wins. And we also know that the Realistic Team model from yesterday produced a projection of 31.6 fWAR, or between a 77 and 78-win prediction. What will the Optimistic Team model produce? Will the Braves reach 90 wins?

Drumroll, please…

I mean it, guys. Drumroll!

53.2 fWAR! If you had been following along, this will come as no surprise. Every spot on the team received a boost of at least one win with huge gains at second base (Albies), right field (Acuna), and starting pitching (the young guns). It makes sense, doesn’t it? If the Braves of 2018 are to get to the playoffs without an infusion of outside talent, it’s going to come down to the best prospects they have produced over the last few years actually producing at a high rate, correct?

Now, do I think 99 wins from this roster is likely? No. Not everything will go right by any means. You simply cannot predict that a 20-year-old Ronald Acuna will have a 5-win debut season or that young lefties Luiz Gohara and Sean Newcomb will reach 4-wins each. Maybe one of these things happens and even that’s a stretch to believe. The chances of all three happening are simply not good.

There will be injuries. There will be disappointment. While there is an outside shot at a surprising Miracle-like 99-win Braves team in 2018, it’s highly unlikely that everything will go just right. Many of you follow more than one Georgia-based team. I probably don’t have to tell you that something bad could happen. And remember that I’m not doing a pessimistic roster, which would…be scary to even try. The roster from yesterday is not the opposite of this roster. In my mind, the most likely result for the 2018 season is the Realistic Team model.

However, could a few things that I suggested in today’s model happen? Certainly. Some are better bets than others because they recently transpired. Freddie Freeman has had a 6-win season. The catching combo of Flowzuki has produced a 5-win season. Julio Teheran has been a 3-win pitcher. Just having these things happen again would account for a five-win increase to the Realistic Team model. In the comment section from yesterday’s article, commentator Roger made that point. Take the 77-win team and have a few things from today’s article happen and they turn into an 83 or 85-win team. If that were to happen, the Braves would be contenders and in a year when the second Wild Card team only needs 83 or 85 wins, the Braves could have an outside shot of being a playoff squad without making many roster changes.

What I have given you with these two rosters is a range between what is a pretty conservative, though not pessimistic, view of what the 2018 season could look like versus what the year could look like if you changed the difficulty level to rookie with no injuries. I do believe the answer is somewhere between the two, but much closer to the Realistic model. How close to the Realistic model is the difference between being an improved ballclub and being a playoff contender.

After seeing these two teams, do you believe the Braves have a chance to compete for a playoff spot in 2018? Or will they need to add some help to get there as I’ll focus on in tomorrow’s post? Let me know in the comments.

6 Comments

Tommy….the variance that injuries causes each year are simply hard to predict (Freeman getting hit by a pitch in late May…basically ended any chance of The Braves realistically competing…along with Matt Kemp’s hammy going KAPOOT around that time after he started the season off hot/helping Freeman carry our offense).

Also, no one really predicted that Swanson would basically STINK UP THE PLACE once the season began.

While I’m hopeful regarding a number of our top prospects, I recognize that injuries/variance/attrition/inability to adjust to ML talent/etc all play a part in prospects going bust. However, I’m confident that with the sheer number of top prospects with high ceilings that we have….The Braves will be able to find more than enough legit ML players to build around for years to come.

We simply have too many questions in 2018 that need answering…to seriously ponder a playoff run (without making moves that sacrifice our future). Sure, if injuries didnt happen….maybe your ‘optimistic’ projections for each player could happen. However, one thing that you’re forgetting..is that our GM, AA, will be making some trades come The Trade Deadline (involving the likes of McCarthy, Kazmir..and possibly Teheran and/or Folty) that will clear up rotation spots for the likes of Soroka, Allard and possibly Kyle Wright (which is essential if we’re going to give our young pitching prospects a chance to get their feet wet at The MLB Level BEFORE The 2019 Season).

By pushing for a possible playoff spot in 2018…I feel that it would only delay building towards 2019 and beyond.

Unfortunately, this looks like irrational exuberance to me. Over the rough and tumble of a full baseball season, there’s going to be slumps and injuries among most all of the players. You just cannot expect, even in an optimistic scenario, even the best of rookies, to perform like this. I looked at Trout’s first exposure to MLB – .220 BA, 0.7 WAR in 40 games. Ozzie was considerably better than that, but there’s always the Dansby scenario. Maybe Ozzie doesn’t have the holes in his swing, but you can’t expect a Dansby resurgence and top of the line performance from both Ozzie and Acuna. I actually think your baseline in post #1 was somewhat optimistic. And no one here believes the 2018 Braves as currently constructed could possibly win 99 games, not even in a 1991 scenario. The pitching is not mature enough. (Note: 1991 had a MVP and a Cy Young and Terry Pendleton on 3B and Ron Gant in LF, even if Acuna = Justice, we still need a 3B and LF). No team in baseball is projected to have 53.2 fWAR right now.

Here’s how I see it in the optimistic scenario.

Pitching = 20.5 fWAR would be a top 5 team performance. I do think the Braves would have to have a 4 fWAR bullpen to win and, without any truly negative performances or meltdowns (i.e. no Colmenter, Motte, Krol, O’Flaherty, J Johnson), this bullpen could get there. The starters I don’t see getting to 16.3 fWAR (if we had a Tom Glavine that could put up a 9 WAR season, we might get there). I think 12 fWAR is as optimistic as you can be. Any one of our 5-6 SPs putting up a 4-5 fWAR season while the others do 2 fWAR would get us there. I would hope that in an optimistic scenario, we could get to 16 fWAR for the pitching staff.

WRT the offense, I could see the following in an optimistic scenario:

Flowzuki = 4 fWAR
Freeman = 6 fWAR
Ozzie = 3 fWAR
Dansby = 1.5 fWAR
Camargo = 2 fWAR
Markakis = 1 fWAR
Acuna = 3 fWAR
Enciarte = 3.5 fWAR
Bench = 0 fWAR (as currently constructed – Adams, Ruiz/Tucker, Culberson)
Total = 24 fWAR

Team total = 40 fWAR, potential wins = 86. I think this team tops out at 86 wins in the optimistic scenario assuming there are no big negatives and Viz/Minter/Winkler become elite. If the team picks up a 3 fWAR 3B with power (Frazier) and pushes Camargo to a super U role (and the bench improves to 1-2 fWAR) and we find a 3 fWAR LF on a short term contract (Carlos Gomez on a one year – he might look good in a platoon with Markakis – maybe Gokakis could be the next Flowzuki?), then you could easily have a 90 win team.

Roger…..while what you posted makes reasonable sense…we’d basically be sacrificing 2019 being a ‘full strength year’, because if we kept McCarthy, Teheran, Kazmir (basically keeping the veterans while preventing Soroka, Allard and possibly Wright from getting their feet wet later in The 2018 Season, presumably after our GM, AA, starts selling off McCarthy, Kazmir…and possibly Teheran and/or Folty, if a team blows us away for either of those 2)….our young prospects in Triple A and below would not be able to earn valuable ‘getting their feet wet’ playing time later in The 2018 Season.

Sure, as a fan, I’d ‘love’ to see meaningful Braves baseball come September. However what I want MORE..is a possible another 15 year run of playoff success that we enjoyed from 1991-2005. All during my high school years (I graduated in 1990), The Braves SUCKED. My friends were all Cardinals fan (I grew up in Arkansas, about an hour south of Memphis). However, the losing years of the mid-late 1980’s..were MORE THAN WORTH IT…because once we began winning, we were LOCKS to make The Playoffs every year! That feeling as a fan felt SO GREAT!

One more year dude! Just let 2018 play itself out….and enjoy our PLETHORA of young, high ceiling prospects show us what they can do/prepare themselves to be SIGNIFICANT contributors starting in 2019! I STRONGLY feel that 2019 will be A REPEAT of 1991!

Paul, you’re lucky. You missed the 70’s. I waded through the 70’s and late 80’s waiting for a real winner. I have no desire to wait any more.

Roger…..it isn’t like 2018 is going to be ‘terrible’ if we generally stay pat going into The 2018 Season. Just wait one more season…and barring the worst imaginable luck possible with our prospects…The Braves should be positioned to compete in a similar fashion that we did from 1991-2005 (hopefully with more than 1 World Series).

The braves can win. It won’t be that hard for Swanson to do better—albies will be great—acuna when he gets here will be fun—ender will do ender like things—neck in left will be fun—catching will be solid—Freddie will have his best year—I think a platoon of Rio and Carmargo will be okay—-I think starters will be way better than last year and the pen will be better as well. Kaz and McCarthy will help soften the innings load for all the kids. Win 99? How could they not? Okay even if we lose 99 I think it will be a lot of fun to watch this team develop. I am really looking forward to it. We may upgrade at 3rd and left still. I would love a Frazier deal and a Cain deal. But if we stay pat—that would still be great. Go braves.

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