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Braves 2018 ZiPS projections released

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ZiPS favorably projects a number of potential young stars, but the roster has some holes as well.

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

A personal highlight of the offseason, and perhaps for you as well, is perusing the annual ZiPS forecasts for the Braves, as estimated by the inestimable Dan Szymborski. You can check out the Fangraphs post from Carson Cistulli with all the gory details here, or look at the graphic below if you just want a quick overview.

Source: Fangraphs.com

While you can peruse the ZiPS output tables on Fangraphs to get a sense of all the different outcomes being projected, below is a quick overview of how ZiPS compares to existing projections (i.e., Steamer) as well as each player’s past performance.

Freddie Freeman leads the position player charge, as usual, with some regression baked in. Following him are above-average performances in the form of Ender Inciarte, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuña, all of which should be (and is) very exciting for Braves fans. Following that, Dansby Swanson is projected by ZiPS to rebound to average performance despite a below-average batting line, which is also essentially the case for Tyler Flowers.

ZiPS does project the Braves to have a weakness at third base, where Rio Ruiz and Johan Camargo are expected to hit poorly and be essentially miscast role players, while the non-Acuña corner outfield spot presents another issue in the form of Nick Markakis, whose performance may be nearing replacement level. The remainder is an assortment of relatively unflattering bench options: the Braves are not exactly overflowing with competent major league position player depth at the moment.

It may or may not surprise you that ZiPS’ top-projected Braves pitcher is Luiz Gohara. He is joined by Mike Soroka, Brandon McCarthy, and Sean Newcomb as pitchers projected by ZiPS to prevent runs at an above-average rate. This is mighty impressive for Soroka, who is probably not vying to start the year in the rotation and is currently just 20 years old. The next tier of ZiPS projections includes Julio Teheran, as well as the healthy-or-not-who-knows Scott Kazmir, and Kolby Allard. ZiPS is not particularly favorable to Mike Foltynewicz, who is coming off an average season in 2017, but is more positive about Lucas Sims. Meanwhile, it’s worth mentioning that ZiPS indicates Max Fried still has work to do as well.

Given the volatility of bullpens, including a reliever table seems somewhat fraught. Mostly, what you need to know is that ZiPS is very high on AJ Minter, Arodys Vizcaino, and Grant Dayton, the latter of whom is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery late last summer. Dan Winkler, Luke Jackson (!!), Sam Freeman, and Mauricio Cabrera (!!) are in the next tier in terms of somewhat above-average run prevention; Rex Brothers and Jason Hursh constitute the next tier with a league-average ERA mark.

At the risk of being karate-chopped by Dan Szymborski himself, my quick count is that the top eight position players for the Braves have a WAR/600 adding up to about 19 wins, though this presumes Lane Adams plays in place of Nick Markakis, and that Tyler Flowers gets all of the catching work. Similarly, there are about 14 wins among the top five starters, though replacing Soroka with Foltynewicz leads to a one-win decrease in that regard. Either way, this suggests that with a mediocre bullpen (three wins) and at least some help from the bench (one win), there could be 36 or 37 wins of talent on the roster. While depth is an issue that probably substantially lowers the expectation for the Braves from 84-85 wins (37 plus 47-48 for replacement level) to something around 80 wins instead (as forecasted by ZiPS back in November), the Braves definitely appear to be in a potentially good spot to build upon... especially if Acuña, Albies, and Gohara can make good on their wildly impressive projections while the other contributors avoid injury or decline.

(Also, before I get karate-chopped, I realize that having a rotation of five starters pitching 200 innings just isn’t going to happen anymore. Above is really more of a talent assessment than a win projection assessment, and the Braves have a ton of downside risk because the bench is especially gnarly at this point in time.)