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Back in the Saddle Again: Atlanta Braves 2024 Team Preview

            

  In 2023 the Atlanta Braves somehow improved upon their 2022 campaign where they won 101 games and hawked down their hated rival, the New York Mets, by winning 104 games and completely running away with their sixth straight division title. Atlanta spent 185 days in first place, led by as many as seventeen games in the standings, and was over .500 for the entirety of the season which was a stark contrast to their rollercoaster 2022. Now as opening day approaches what is in store for this Atlanta ball club as they look to return to the Fall Classic in '24

<-- Local idiot at a Braves game in 2023 

Catcher

         Behind the dish for Atlanta in 2023 Sean Murphy had an otherworldly first half being selected as an All-Star and hitting .306 with a .999 OPS with 33 extra-base hits in 67 games, but inconsistency struck in the 2nd half with Murphy putting up a .770 OPS in July before bouncing back to a .846 in August and then cratering to a dreadful .451 OPS in September/October. 



His total numbers for 2023 included 21 home runs, 68 RBI, .844 OPS, and a 125 OPS+ which means he was 25% better than the league average in 2023. Murphy’s underlying stats looked very good and his defense was amongst the best for Catchers in MLB ranking 100th percentile in blocks above average, 92nd percentile in framing, and 84th percentile in caught stealing above average. 

Despite the offensive struggles down the stretch of 2023 Murphy’s projections for 2024 have him as one of the best catchers in baseball with Home Run totals in the low 20s with a solid walk rate although a higher-than-average strikeout rate. His Wins Above Replacement projections are in the high 3s and low 4s which would make him solidly a top-ten catcher in the league. Murphy will also be backed up once again by Braves legend Travis d’Arnaud. 

d’Arnaud had a similar issue as Murphy with a strong first half (.846 OPS with 8 HR in 36 games) being followed up by a dreadful second half as he posted a .505 and .542 OPS in 32 games from August to September. As a bench player d’Arnaud figures to make spot starts to give Murphy some rest and could see some DH action as well depending on injuries. His 2024 projections see him in the low 10s for HRs with a high strikeout rate and around 2 WAR.

Infield

         In the infield, the Braves said goodbye to Vaughn Grissom in an offseason trade with the Boston Red Sox in exchange for starter Chris Sale but other than that it remains largely the same cast. 

Bench roles belong to an interesting case in the form of David Fletcher an underwhelming bat but a strong defender who has played shortstop, second, and third base across six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels before the Braves signed him and then former longtime Met Luis Guillorme a rangy utility infielder with good bat to ball skills. 

Your starters need no introduction but starting with first base you have the MLB home run king in the form of Matt Olson who put up a .993 OPS, 54 HR, and 139 RBI in his second season in the A. 

Olson is projected to have a top 3 season in terms of WAR amongst first basemen in 2024 with his competitors being hall of famers, Freddie Freeman and Bryce Harper.

Olson projects to around a 4 and-a-half WAR, 40+ HRs, and well over 100 RBI in 2024 and could compete for the home run crown again. At second base Ozzie Albies is coming off a somehow underrated 2023 where he led all second basemen in home runs (33) and RBI (109) while being top 5 in almost every other stat. 

Albies comes into 2024 with projections that have him around 30 HR again along with around 100 RBI with WAR totals that place him squarely in the conversation as one of the best 2B in the sport. 

At third base, Atlanta has one of the rising stars of the game in Austin Riley who in 2023 became one of three Braves third basemen and six Braves ever to have three straight 30 HR seasons. At third base, he joined the likes of Chipper Jones and Eddie Matthews who have long etched their names into the lore of baseball history both in Atlanta and beyond. 

Austin notched 37 HR and 97 RBI to go with a .861 OPS. Now in 2024 Riley looks poised to take the mantle of one of the best at the hot corner with projections that have him in the high 4s in WAR along with nearly 40 HRs and 110 RBI. 

Rounding out the infield at short is Orlando Arcia who is by far the weakest link in the Atlanta infield but that doesn’t mean he is bad by any stretch of the imagination. Arcia was 88th percentile in range and had some highlight fielding moments to go along with his .741 OPS, 17 HR, and 65 RBI in 2023 and his 2.3 fWAR ranked 12th amongst all shortstops. In 2024 projections are rather bearish on ‘Lando with him being about a league-average hitter and fielder but with that being said if the worst hitter on your team is just league-average it speaks to the strength of Atlanta’s lineup.

Outfield

 

         The outfield is both Atlanta’s greatest strength and home to potentially its only big weakness in 2024. Left field was a spot of bother in the ATL in 2023 with a rotation cast of characters including Eddie Rosario, Kevin Pillar, and Forest Wall with some players providing better bat results like Rosario’s 21 home runs and Pillar providing a more sure defensive option which combined to about 1.4 fWAR. 

The Bravos moved to address this deficiency by trading for former top prospect Jarred Kelenic. Kelenic began in the Mets organization but was traded to Seattle for Edwin Díaz. He had two utterly dreadful seasons in 2021 and 22 for the M’s batting under .200, but last year he really had a reason worth trading for as he had 11 home runs to pair with a .746 OPS and he really showcased his fielding powers in left, and at just 24 years old it is a worthy bet to make. 

However, Kelenic got off to a rough start in spring training which caused the Braves to make one last addition to their roster bringing back fan favorite Adam Duvall to platoon in left with the left-handed Kelenic. Duvall is now in his third separate stint with Atlanta being acquired in 2018 from the Reds and staying on through the 2020 season before being traded again in 2021 as a part of the masterful 2021 trade deadline where each member played a huge part in the Braves World Series title run. 

Duvall had perhaps the best season of any of those additions with his 38 Home Runs, 113 RBI, and gold glove being essential. His postseason moments include a clutch 2018 HR vs the Cardinals, robbing a home run vs the Dodgers in the 2021 NLCS in a crucial Game 5, and a 2 HR performance in that World Series including a game 5 grand slam that turned Truist Park into a madhouse. 

Duvall spent last season with the Boston Red Sox where he had a 119 OPS+ and 21 HR in just 92 games as he was limited with injuries. Other than LF the Braves carry one of the best outfields in the sport with the Centerfielder spot being occupied by the 23-year-old phenom Michael Harris II. 

The 2022 NL Rookie of the Year spent the first 2 or so months of 2023 being one of the worst hitters in the sport before turning it around including a .878 OPS in the second half to go along with his all-world defense. Despite that rough start and missing 24 games due to injuries he still finished 7th in fWAR amongst Centerfielders. 

MHII projects as one of the best in the sport in 2024 with projections having him hitting north of 20 HRs and elite defense and being a bonafide top 3 CF including some projections having him ahead of guys like Mike Trout and Luis Robert Jr. Then in Right Field it’s the man who needs no introduction. 

The only player in baseball history to have 40 Home Runs and 70 Stolen Bases in one season. The 2023 National League Most Valuable Player. Ronald Acuña Jr. Ronald is projected as one of if not THE best in Major League Baseball in 2023. He projects to have a WAR total sizably above guys like Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, and Aaron Judge with nearly 60 stolen bases and around 40 home runs we could be looking at one of the best MVP follow-up campaigns in baseball history.

Starting Pitching

         The Braves only got 14 starts out of Max Fried and 7 from Kyle Wright and struggled with a depth of starters in 2023 and it showed. Atlanta starters ranked 17th in the majors in ERA had 16 different pitchers start a game but only 3 have more than 15 starts for the ball club. The top 3 all had their ups and downs but were good enough to have ATL SP rank 9th in fWAR in 2023. 

The Braves knew they needed to add to this room and decided to go for one of the biggest high-risk, high-reward arms out there trading Vaughn Grissom to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Chris Sale. The All-Time leader in strikeouts per nine who has finished in the top 5 in Cy Young voting 6 times and dominated the American League in the 2010s. 

Sale headlined one of the most dominant World Series winners in 2018 as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Sale has struggled heavily with injuries since coming to Boston however, and hasn’t started more than 30 games in a season since his first year in Boston in 2017. He had his best season in terms of health in a long time last year as he made 20 starts his most since 2019 with a 4.30 ERA, 125 strikeouts, 29 walks, in 102.2 innings. Sale has had some truly heroic postseason performances and could bring a much-needed big game edge to the backend of the Braves rotation. 

Spencer Strider is getting the Opening Day nod after an odd season. Strider notched 20 wins and struck out 281 batters across 186.2 innings with a 2.85 FIP but he got bit by soft contact and poor defense which ballooned his ERA to a 3.86. Strider had two heroic performances in the NLDS but the Braves offense wasn’t up to the task of supporting him. Strider projects as one of the top pitchers in the sport with an ERA around low 3s and WAR totals in the top 5/3. 

A big key for Strider in 2024 is the addition of his curveball which paired with his elite wipeout slider and overpowering fastball as well as a sneaky changeup gives Strider some of the best stuff in the sport. 

If Spencer can get some more consistent defense behind him he may fulfill his preseason picks as one of the favorites for the National League Cy Young award. He would be the Braves' first Cy Young winner since Tom Glavine in 1998. 

The 2nd starter has to be Max Fried who has etched his name into the annals of Braves lore with some great performances but none greater than his 6 innings of work in the World Series clincher in Houston in 2021. 

Fried went 8-1 with a 2.55 ERA but in just 77.2 innings of work as a result of injuries. Fried is in his last year under contract with Atlanta and if this is his last dance with the Bravos it has been an electric ride and hopefully a healthy campaign for Fried would lead him to a massive payday. He has a 3.03 ERA across 710 innings of work in 7 years of work coming into 2024 all in a Braves uniform. Projections see Fried pitching around 185 innings with his traditionally low ERA and WAR totals that would make him a top-10 pitcher in the major leagues. 

Then in the 3 spot, you will likely see the elder statesman of the Braves as 40-year-old Charlie Morton is back at it again. In 2023 Morton had an odd season where he would go through several great starts and then one meltdown and vice versa. He actually had the best ERA+ amongst Atlanta starters with a 122 mark as the former Braves draft pick back in 2002 threw a 3.64 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 163.1 innings. 

Morton’s curveball remained perfect even in his old age as it had the greatest run value of any pitch in baseball in 2023 with its only slight defect being a tad bit too much run, resulting in a high rate of hit by pitches against left-handed batters. Morton projects as an excellent starter in 2023 and is going to slot in nicely at the 3 spot. 

The 4 spot belongs to the aforementioned Chris Sale who, if stays healthy projects to have yet another great strikeout season and hover around 3 wins above replacement. 

Then the 5 spot is a very interesting debate with free agent acquisition Reynaldo López, a free agent signed from the Cleveland Guardians, being the current favorite to slot in there. López can throw hard but when he is in a starter role he typically reigns in the velocity going from upper 90s to around 92 on his fastball. The Braves lost some starter depth this offseason when they dealt away Kyle Wright and Michael Soroka but they also have Bryce Elder, AJ Smith Shawver, Huascar Ynoa, Ian Anderson, and Dylan Dodd, who have all started at the major league level and seen some success and even 2023 first-round pick Hurston Waldrep as a potential option.

Bullpen

         Atlanta’s bullpen got off to a rocky start in 2023 but ended the year as a top-10 unit with a very strong backend. In 2024 the Braves have retooled the pen and now are looking emblematic of other top reliever corps in the majors with a lot of flamethrowers ready to pitch at a moment's notice. 

Familiar faces Raisel Iglesias, AJ Minter and Tyler Matzek are here as well as Joe Jimenez and Dylan Lee. Matzek missed all of 2023 due to injury but figures to be back in a big way after a strong spring training with his fastball back up in the 97-miles per-hour range. The Braves brought back the hard-throwing Pierce Johnson and took a flier on Aaron Bummer who has struggled with performance and injuries but has a high upside after some stellar years for the Chicago White Sox. Projections like the Braves bullpen specifically the reclamation of Bummer as he is projected to have the best ERA and top 3 wins above replacement numbers on the staff. 

Closing Thoughts

         This figures to be another strong year for Atlanta Braves baseball. With most previews, predictions, and projections having the Braves taking home their seventh straight division title and winning over 100 games for the third straight season but at this point in the Braves contention window the success of a season will solely be determined by how far they go in October. With two straight NLDS exits against a hated in-division foe the Braves have a lot of fuel to their competitive fire for this season and I truly could not be more excited to spend this spring, summer, and fall relentlessly tuned in to this ballclub.


JP Barry

Hello! I’m JP Barry a Junior broadcast journalism major from Spartanburg, SC. I’m in my fourth semester with WUSC and SGTV and here for WUSC I host the JPSportsReport where I talk about practically any sport imaginable with certain sports musical assistance. Outside of sports I’m a huge Godzilla and Halo nerd and my favorite music is a tie between Avenged Sevenfold and Outkast.


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