A lot of things have to happen for a baseball team to win a World Series. A team must have it’s front office/management, pitching, and position players all on top of their game to win the piece of metal (thank you Rob Manfred) that is the ultimate aspiration for every franchise to begin each season. In this three part series, I will examine what the Braves will have to do to win the World Series.
You can find part 1 on the front office and management here
The Top 4
Much was made of the Braves’ top 4 last season with Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson. Atlanta lost Donaldson, but added Marcell Ozuna who should be able to be a good power bat in the cleanup spot, even if he can’t replace Donaldson. The Braves will need this top four to be fearsome if they want to be lifting a trophy in October. There is a strong baseline expectation for this group, but if all four produce exactly like they did last season, the top four will be taking a step down from what it was last season. That being said, here are places where improvements can be made. The obvious one is Ozuna who notoriously under-performed his xwOBA (or expected offensive production based on quality of contact) by a large amount last season, so if he can bring his actual production up to his statistical expectations, his bat will be a huge asset to the Braves. Additionally, there are strong reasons to believe that Ronald Acuna has room for improvement on his production at the plate last season. Acuna was very good last season, but never seemed to really settle into his groove at the plate, and his WRC+ took a substantial dip from his rookie season.
After the top 4, the rest of the lineup is full of question-marks and lack-luster bats. Atlanta will need at least one more above average bat to step up and really make this lineup scary. There are a number of in-house candidates that will be discussed later in this article, such as Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, and the two outfield prospects. It is also conceivable that Travis d’Arnaud can continue on his second-half success from last season (109 WRC+) and be a real asset at the plate. That being said, the front office may seek an outside addition to fill this need, such as Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, or Francisco Lindor.
The Third Outfielder
Ronald Acuna and Marcell Ozuna are going to be in the lineup almost every day if they are healthy, but the third outfield spot is much more interesting. The analytics say that a platoon of Ender Inciarte versus RHP and Adam Duvall against LHP is the best approach to start the season, but knowing Brian Snitker, Nick Markakis is sure to get a heavy sprinkling of playing time. The Braves will need substantial production from this spot, and this could manifest itself in multiple ways. One is if Ender Inciarte can get back to being more or less an average bat and continue to be an elite defender, and the same from Duvall. The other way is if one of the Braves big outfield prospects, Cristian Pache or Drew Waters, can step up and be an impact contributor for the Braves.
Third base has been a major point of discussion this off-season after the departure of Josh Donaldson and disappointing seasons from Johan Camargo and Austin Riley last year. Camargo and Riley have shown some promise so far in spring training, but it’s just that: spring training. Atlanta will need some quality production from at third base to win a championship this season. Johan Camargo has produced at a high level in 2018, but that may have been smoke and mirrors based on his batted ball profile from that season. Austin Riley has the prospect pedigree to be an impact player, but had a brutal end to the season with an astronomical strikeout rate. There is a good chance that one of these two players can give the Braves what they need, but luckily Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant are impact options on the trade market should the Braves choose to look for outside help.
Braves fans have been waiting on a breakout from Dansby Swanson for a while now, and it seemed like he had finally made a breakthrough last season before another wrist injury sidelined him. Dansby was really bad at the plate for a while coming back from the injury, but finished strong as one of the offensive bright spots for the Braves in the NLDS. Swanson, similar to Ozuna, substantially under-performed his expected production based on his batted ball profile, so there is reason for optimism. The Braves will need Swanson to, at the very least, prove he can stay healthy this season, and would benefit greatly from him tapping into his offensive potential, even if he just produces slightly above average offensively.