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The WAR Path for the 2020 Braves

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A Look at Current Braves’ Places in Atlanta History

Detroit Tigers v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Like it or not, baseball’s most controversial statistic - WAR, which stands for Wins Above Replacement - is now part of the vernacular. No, it’s not perfect. There’s not even an agreed upon definition by which it can be calculated. You probably know the flaws. You also probably know that it’s a pretty good estimation of how MLB teams value players. WAR projections can reasonably predict what kind of contracts players get in the offseason. No one should look at just one statistic for any ballplayer, but if you absolutely had to, WAR, a summation of everything that happens on the field, is a fine starting point. So, in terms of WAR, where do the current members of the Braves’ player pool stack up among the Atlanta Braves that came before them?

Without getting too lost in the weeds, let me first point out there are three widely used WAR calculations: bWAR (or rWAR), fWAR, and WARP. I won’t get into the differences or bother you with why I prefer one (WARP) over the others. An article for another day, perhaps. Everyone seems to have their personal preference, and I’m not here to play favorites. So, for the purposes of this look at Braves history, I’ve averaged all three into something I’ll call Unified WAR, or uWAR. If Fangraphs likes one player better, and Baseball Reference prefers another, this should balance out.

Before the 2020 season begins, let’s have a look at where each current Atlanta Brave sits in the all-time rankings. I made one key choice in this matter - I’m only considering time served for the Atlanta Braves. I’m from Atlanta. I’m not sure I’d be a Braves fan had they stayed in Milwaukee. It’s nice to have the flag to fly at Truist Park, but the 1914 Miracle Braves didn’t exactly enrich my life in any meaningful way. My apologies to all the Rabbit Maranville and Wally Berger stans in the crowd, but I’m only interested in seeing how the current crop of players measure up against those who have played for my city. Perhaps, down the road, I’ll do a full historical list, but for now, it’s Atlanta only. Once the season gets going and there are some 2020 totals to factor in as well, I’ll periodically update, with some highlights on players who moved up and down, and those they moved past.

The Warpath

There are 928 players in Atlanta history. Here’s how your Braves rank among them. Obviously, yet-to-debut players, such as Marcell Ozuna and Cristian Pache, remain unlisted.

830. Kyle Wright: -0.41
811. Bryse Wilson: -0.35

Optimism remains high for both Wright and Wilson. The two have only 52 23 big league innings between them, so this can mostly be chalked up to small sample bad luck. I’m looking forward to watching them climb the ranks this season. They surely can’t sit behind Todd Pratt and Gus Schlosser much longer, can they?

705. Alex Jackson: -0.17
634. Huascar Ynoa: -0.08
459. Grant Dayton: 0.09
455. Jeremy Walker: 0.10
440. Darren O’Day: 0.11
436. Touki Toussaint: 0.12
408. Chad Sobotka: 0.20

Jackson is looking for an opportunity to improve on his stint last year, and he should be able to. It’s hard to not improve on a .000/.133/.000 line. Beyond that, it’s a flurry of relief types who haven’t had many opportunities to dent the WARpath in either a positive or negative fashion yet. O’Day and Toussaint should get those opportunities soon.

387. Austin Riley: 0.23

Riley’s rookie season seemed positioned for a much higher placement, but, well, we all know how August treated him. Just 23, he should start moving up the chain immediately.

381. Shane Greene: 0.25
358. Adam Duvall: 0.33
350. Chris Martin: 0.36
344. Jhoulys Chacin: 0.38
337. Jacob Webb: 0.42
324. Josh Tomlin: 0.46
298. Mark Melancon: 0.57
273. Matt Adams: 0.73
258. Adeiny Hechavarria: 0.87

This group is chock full of midseason acquisitions, guys who have relatively small samples with Atlanta, but successful samples at that. Greene, Martin, Melancon, and Hechavarria all bolstered last year’s roster. Adams memorably helped bail the team out in 2017 when Freddie Freeman suffered an injury. Duvall endured a miserable stretch as an acquisition, but he turned things around with a fine stint in 2019 as a returnee.

242. Charlie Culberson: 0.99
228. Luke Jackson: 1.12
217. A.J. Minter: 1.22

Ah, the polarizing players! Culberson is beloved by much of the fanbase thanks to some clutch swings and big throws. Fans aren’t as kind to their friendly neighborhood Sliderman, Luke Jackson, due to an abnormally high rate of blown saves. A closer look would show that Jackson’s blown saves were largely a product of terrible batted ball luck, with seeing eye bloops damning him on more than one occasion. Minter had an excellent 2018, but after 2019, many are speculating as to whether and how Minter can recover his once-impressive career path.

127. Sean Newcomb: 3.61
126. Johan Camargo: 3.67

Both Newcomb and Camargo flirted with bigger and better things in 2018, only to take steps backward in 2019. After a nearly 3 win season in ‘18, Camargo finished with a negative uWAR and enters 2020 as one of Atlanta’s more interesting players, one in need of a rebound. Newk’s backstep wasn’t nearly as pronounced. After looking the part of a rotation workhorse in 2018, the southpaw stumbled out of the gate in ‘19, earning a demotion to the bullpen. There he found a real killer instinct, and though he was relegated to relief duty, Newcomb still managed to provide value.

109. Max Fried: 4.54
103. Dansby Swanson: 4.80

Knocking on the door of the top 100 are a pair of 26 year olds who were first round draft picks by NL West teams. Fried’s 3.7 uWAR season last year was a huge breakthrough, establishing him as a reliable rotation piece. Swanson may not yet be the star many expected or hoped for, but while we wait for that player to materialize, there are worse consolation prizes than an affordable 2-win shortstop.

97. Mike Soroka: 5.03

Maple Maddux is not yet 23 years old, and is already one of the 100 most valuable Braves since the team moved to Atlanta. His 4.8 uWAR 2019 season was a revelation, resulting in an All-Star nod, a 6th place Cy Young finish, and runner-up status to Pete Alonso for Rookie of the Year. It’s easy to let expectations run wild for a pitcher worth 5 wins at such a young age, and we’ll probably still need to exercise some patience when it comes to the young ace. Either way, it’s going to be fun to hopefully watch him atop this rotation for years to come.

91. Mike Foltynewicz: 5.53

Here are Folty’s uWAR totals: -1.02, 1.51, 0.73, 3.48, 0.83. If anyone’s in need of a cautionary tale as they buy into Soroka and Fried as the new Maddux and Glavine, let it be Folty. His career looks like a roller coaster, and even mid-season splits can show the same trends: Over his first 11 starts last year, Folty surrendered 16 homers en route to a 6.37 ERA. Over his final 10, he allowed 7 homers and posted a 2.65 ERA. We can never be fully sure which Folty we’re going to get in a given stretch, but if his uWAR is any indication, he’ll provide more positive value than negative over the long haul, exciting and frustrating us along the way.

54. Tyler Flowers: 8.67

I don’t want to turn this into a beat-the-drum piece for Tyler Flowers and the value his glove has provided over the years, so I’ll just let the uWAR do the talking for me. He’s among the most underrated Braves of the last decade.

47. Ronald Acuna, Jr.: 9.40
42. Ozzie Albies: 10.17

Inexorably linked, Acuna and Albies have begun a full-on assault on the Braves WAR leaderboard. Acuna has a Rookie of the Year Award, a top 5 MVP finish, a Silver Slugger, and led the league in runs (127) and steals (37). Playoff stats don’t count here, but Acuna destroyed Cardinal pitching in the NLDS when many teammates foundered. Albies, meanwhile, led the league in hits (189) and collected a Silver Slugger of his own. The young 2B has back to back 4-win seasons and turned 23 this year. Some say the sky is the limit for these two, but I’m siding with Cady Heron on the issue.

40. Ender Inciarte: 10.87

In his four seasons in Atlanta, Inciarte has collected three Gold Gloves and earned an All-Star appearance. For now, he remains barely ahead of the wonder twins, thanks to his very solid trio of seasons from 2016-2018. With the 2020 season taking place entirely in Inciarte’s seasonal wheelhouse, there’s hope from this writer, at least, that he can add a bit more to the total before he is usurped by Cristian Pache.

10. Freddie Freeman: 32.30

You certainly knew Freeman would be in the top position, but did you expect him to be among the 10 most productive players in Atlanta history? He won’t move up this season, as he’s almost 7 uWAR behind 9th place. He could reasonably catch his former teammate, Brian McCann, by the time his current contract expires. If the organization extends him as expected, he’ll likely pass Dale Murphy as well, with the chance to wind up somewhere near Hank Aaron in the top 10. It’s easy to get excited over the kids, but let’s not take for granted that we have a bona fide Braves legend in our lineup. The number 5 isn’t going to be worn on the field 15 years from now, so enjoy the Bringer of Hugs while you can.