With pitchers and catchers reporting next week and the Grapefruit League schedule right around the corner, season predictions and projections are starting to become available. Another slow offseason could make a lot of these projections seem like a work in progress as one major signing could have a major impact on where they fall.
Still they are a good and fun starting point to look at while we wait for spring training to kick into high gear. Baseball Prospectus released its annual PECOTA projections Thursday morning and they project the Braves to finish 84-78 in a third place tie with the Philadelphia Phillies. The New York Mets and the Washington Nationals are both projected to finish at 89-73 and top the division.
PECOTA nailed Atlanta’s defensive improvement in 2018 but they curiously see the Braves taking a sharp step backwards in that department in 2019. Baseball Prospectus projected Atlanta as the third best defensive team in the National League in 2018 in terms of Fielding Runs Above Average but they are projected for a below average finish in 2019.
A closer look reveals a drop off at third base where Josh Donaldson is expected to see the most time. Ronald Acuña Jr did not fare well among a lot of defensive metrics in his first season in the big leagues and is projected here as a below average defender. Those are areas that the projections could have missed on and it will be an area that is interesting to keep an eye on given the front office’s focus on defense.
From individual standpoint, Freddie Freeman is projected to be Atlanta’s top performer with a .289/.381/.496 line to go along with 24 home runs. He is projected to be worth 4.6 WARP which is Baseball Prospectus’ version of Wins Above Replacement.
Donaldson is projected for a .260/.370/.472 line with 24 home runs and 3.1 WARP which would surely make the Braves happy. A minus-13.6 Fielding Runs Above Replacement dings Acuña pretty bad who is projected for 28 home runs and 2.5 WARP. The system is also lukewarm on Ozzie Albies who is projected at .241/.292/.393 with 17 home runs and 1.8 WARP.
As far as projections go, PECOTA is well respected around the industry but no projection system is perfect. I think these undersell the Braves defensively but they are fun nonetheless and a good discussion point.