On the Houston Astros side, there’s Troy Snitker, the son of Braves manager Brian, and former closer Will Smith, who hasn’t been rostered this postseason. The Philadelphia Phillies have Johan Camargo, who spent his first five seasons in Atlanta.
There’s also Jake Odorizzi, acquired in the deal that sent Smith to Houston. He could be back with the Braves barring the status of his player option for 2023, and if the Astros win, he’s getting a ring.
So, pick your rooting interests accordingly, as the team the Braves beat for their championship last fall, and the one that bounced them from these playoffs, meet.
Meanwhile, Atlanta has its sights on award season and the offseason to-do list, both of which provide the fuel for this week’s Starting Nine.
Kyle Wright, Filthy 87mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/nyxEqs8YJZ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 12, 2022
1. Kyle Wright, NL Cy Young winner?
The finalists for the Baseball Writers Association of American awards will be announced on Nov. 7, and the Braves figure to be well represented.
Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider are givens to be among the NL Rookie of the Year candidates that make the cut; likely finishing 1-2, if not potentially sharing the award. Meanwhile, a case can be made for Brian Snitker for Manager of the Year, though that doesn’t seem a given. The same with any MVP candidates.
But what about Cy Young?
ESPN’s Cy Young predictor — which is based on past results and uses a formula that includes earned runs, saves, shutouts and a victory bonus — has a predictable finish in the American League, where the Houston Astros’ Justin Verlander is the runaway leader. In the NL, though, it’s not the Miami Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara — the odds-on favorite at -20,000 — atop ESPN’s predictor.
It’s Kyle Wright.
The Braves’ right-hander, who led the majors in wins with a 21-5 record but is tied for the fourth best odds (+50,000) is given 178.7 Cy Young Points. That’s 9.6 ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Julio Urias.
The Cy Young Predictor has Alcantara fifth (153.3), trailing Wright, Urias, Braves closer Kenley Jansen (169.1) and the Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin (157.3).
The model hasn’t been an exact science, with the formula predicting both winners just eight times since 2002 — the last of those coming in 2016 when the Boston Red Sox’s Rick Porcello and Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer won — though it has had at least one right in 18 of the last 19 seasons and has a 68.4 accuracy precent in that span.
Wright does make an interesting case. Along with those league-leading wins, his 174 strikeouts are second only to Alcantara’s 207 among players in the Cy Young Predictor’s top 10. He also has the third-most innings on that list (180 1/3), trailing Alcantara (228 2/3) and teammate Max Fried (148 1/3), who comes in seventh per the predictor.
It doesn’t seem realistic though, considering Wright’s ERA (3.19) is 12th in the NL and he was 14th in fWAR (2.9). In all likelihood, Fried — who had Wright beat in innings, ERA (2.48) and fWAR (5.0) — winds up with the Braves’ best finish in the voting.
The Cy Young Predictor may not get the NL right, but it forecasts what could be the franchise’s best returns in more than two decades. Atlanta hasn’t had anyone finish higher than fifth since Tim Hudson in 2010, and last had two players in the top 10 with Tom Glavine (second) and Greg Maddux (third) in 2000.
Since we’re in the awards season mood here on Starting Nine, let’s turn our attention to the Braves’ quartet of Gold Glove finalists, with the case for each.
The Gold Gloves will be awarded Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN.
In the biggest regular-season start of his career, Max Fried tossed five lights-out innings before exiting due to illness.— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) October 1, 2022
Big-game pitcher. pic.twitter.com/ZRI50cbkQe
2. What would a Fried extension look like?
Dansby Swanson is at the top of the Braves’ offseason priority list, as they try to keep the free-agent shortstop — who is coming off a career season, and could be claiming his first Gold Glove, which we’ll get into momentarily — but high up on those to-dos has to be the future of ace Max Fried.
While Atlanta could look to lock up Wright, who is under club control through 2026, Fried is more pressing, with the left-hander a free agent after 2024. Arbitration eligible this winter, Fried is estimated (per MLB Trade Rumors’ model) to net $12.2 million, the third highest projection of any starting pitcher behind Urias ($13.7 million) and the San Diego Padres’ Josh Hader ($13.6 million).
It’s a sizable jump for Fried, who won his case in June — remember, those were pushed into the season due to the lockout — and made $6.85 million in 2022 and followed that with career highs in fWAR (5.0), FIP (2.70) and innings (185 1/3), along with his best ERA (2.48) in a 162-game season.
In giving rookie Spencer Strider a six-year contract with an average annual value of $12.5 million, the Braves locked up the first pitcher in their run of extensions, and if they look to follow suit with Fried, what would that deal look like?
This past offseason, one WAR was worth an average of $5.4 million on the free-agent market. It’s a different animal with Fried having two years of control, but that math would push him to a value of $27 million a season. The Braves have never paid a position player more than $23 million in a single season (Josh Donaldson in 2019) and the most a pitcher has earned is Charlie Morton’s $20 million in 2022 and 2023. If Fried gets that estimated $12.2 million and follows it with another five-win season, there’s a real possibility he’ challenge the $19.75 million the Detroit Tigers paid David Price in 2015, which remains the arbitration record for a starting pitcher.
The benefit of the extensions the Braves have already doled out to Strider, Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris II, Matt Olson and Austin Riley is that they’ll never have a combined AAV higher than $81.2 million. That gives them plenty of room for Swanson to return to $20 million-plus a season and Fried in that range as well. But is Fried, going to trade free-agent years for security on club-friendly deals that those much younger players did? If an extension doesn’t get done this winter, it seems less and less likely the Braves can keep Fried from getting to the market, and we could be looking at a deal with an AAV into the $25-million range to keep the ace in place.
3. Gold Glove Case: Travis d’Arnaud
Travis d’Arnaud is a finalist for the first time in his career, joined by the New York Mets’ Tomas Nido and Philadelphia Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto.
While d’Arnaud has long been known for working well with a pitching staff, he hasn’t had the reputation as a great defensive catcher. In seven of his 10 seasons he’s had a negative dWAR, but this year was different. He had a career high there with a 0.8 dWAR, double what he had a year ago, was third overall and first in the NL in catcher framing runs (10) and threw out runners at a clip higher (25 percent) than league average (24 percent) for the second time in seven years.
But as good as d’Arnaud was, reputation as much as performance plays its part in the Gold Glove discussion. Realmuto has both and is the clear pick as the only catcher with a dWAR of 2.0 or higher.
4. Gold Glove Case: Max Fried
This is Fried’s third straight year as a finalist, and he’s the winner of the last two Gold Gloves. He’s joined this time by the Dodgers’ Tyler Anderson and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Corbin Burnes.
That trio ranks first, second and third in Defensive Runs Saved among all pitchers, with Anderson first (five), Burnes second (four) and Fried third (three). But the Braves left-hander had the most pickoffs in the group with three, had the fewest errors (one) and the highest fielding percentage (.976).
Back to that point on reputation, Gold Gloves come in bunches for pitchers. The last 32 in the NL have been won by eight players, with Zack Greinke winning seven straight before Fried’s first in 2020. Here’s thinking Fried keeps that trend going and makes it three in a row.
5. Gold Glove Case: Matt Olson
A two-time Gold Glove winner in the American League, this wasn’t Olson’s finest defensive season. His dWAR was in the negatives (-0.1) for the second straight year, and he had a negative Defensive Runs Above Average (-9.4).
In his defense (quite literally), Olson did have the most scoops (17) in the NL and was tied for the second most Defensive Runs Saved (five) in the circuit. That had to factor as Olson made the cut as a finalist along with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt, who is going for his fifth win, and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker.
Goldschmidt also had a negative dWAR (-0.6), while Walker led all first baseman in that category (1.0), Outs Above Average — where his 14 were 10 more than anyone else — and with 17 DRS he had 12 more than the next closest player.
Olson’s first year in the NL doesn’t look to get him another Gold Glove, as this one looks to be Walker’s.
#BatteryPowerATL: First among all NL players in Outs Above Average, Dansby Swanson has been building toward a Gold Glove.— Battery Power (@BatteryPowerSBN) October 21, 2022
Will the #Braves shortstop be adding that piece of hardware?
️ @grantmcauley & @coryjmccartney
▶️ https://t.co/kdCHeQ6qHT pic.twitter.com/9Qo09P24mX
6. Gold Glove Case: Dansby Swanson
A finalist in 2020, Swanson didn’t win, but this time he has a resume that seems hard to deny.
He had the most Outs Above Average (20) of any NL player, regardless of position, led all shortstops in Defensive Runs Above Average (21.3) — tops in that category by a margin of 5.2 — and Fielding Runs Prevented (15). He also had that flair for the dramatic.
That’s all trending in Swanson’s favor, but SABR’s Defensive Index rankings are part of the equation. The final installment isn’t released until the Gold Glove winners are announced, but in the Aug. 28 ratings — the most recent available — Swanson’s SDI of 6.5 SDI is behind one finalist — the San Diego Padres’ Ha-Seong Kim (7.4) — and ahead of the other, the Marlins’ Miguel Rojas (6.1).
Those OAA, which are double any other NL finalist, speak volumes, and Swanson should get his first Gold Glove.
21.3 Defensive Runs Above Average led the position by a margin of 5.2.
7. MLB’s best division? Isn’t it clear?
The Phillies and Houston Astros will open the World Series on Friday night in Houston, and regardless of outcome, Philadelphia’s inclusion is a statement for the NL East.
It’s the third time in the last four seasons that the division has been represented in the Fall Classic — with the Braves, of course, last season, and the Nationals in 2019 — and the Mets’ making it in 2015 means every team except for the Marlins has played for a championship in the last eight years.
No other division has had more than two teams represented in the last eight years, and should the Phillies pull the upset, that would give the NL East three championships by three different teams in a four-year span. That hasn’t happened since the league went to three divisions in 1994.
8. Bidding war coming for Kenley Jansen?
As noted last week in this space, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos discussed the possibility of Kenley Jansen returning during his end-of-the-season availability, but Jansen seems to be hinting toward a different reunion.
Hit up by TMZ Sports at LAX — for the record, not a fan of those “journalistic tactics” of cornering people at an airport — Jansen didn’t rule out a potential return to the Dodgers, where he spent his first 12 years.
“Hey, we’ll see,” he said with a smile. “We’ll see what’s out there.”
Jansen, who still lives in Los Angeles, did discuss the Braves, saying “I can tell you all great things about Atlanta. Atlanta is awesome. The fans, the people, the organization. I had a great time there, and we had a great season.”
The 35-year-old led the NL in saves last season with 41 and is coming off his best xERA (2.34) in the last six years and his best xBA (.169) since 2016. He’s projected at a $13.8 million market value per Spotrac, but with the Dodgers’ struggles in the ninth — their 4.02 ERA was 21st overall — and the failed Craig Kimbrel experiment, they could well overpay for a commodity they know.
The Braves are well positioned to move on after dealing for Raisel Iglesias if it turns into a bidding war for Jansen’s services, but the bullpen was undeniably better with both. Atlanta ranked second on the season in fWAR (7.6) and third (2.77) with both Iglesias and Jansen.
9. HBD, Barry Bonnell
Today’s a parade of birthdays for Braves both present — pitcher Jay Jackson — and past — Barry Bonnell and Martin Prado among them.
Bonnell spent three years in Atlanta, playing in 344 games in that span, topped by 1979, when he hit eight percent below league average and had a .735 OPS. It was largely nondescript, and we put the focus on Bonnell for his time with the franchise off the field.
He was close with former Braves owner Ted Turner. Both were from Cincinnati, they hunted together at Turner’s plantation in south Georgia, and during the offseason, Bonnell worked at Turner’s small UHF station, WTGC.
When Bonnell was traded in Dec. 1979, Turner called him into his office and invited him to lunch. They took Turner’s care and drove to a construction site.
“This is going to make or break me right here,” Bonnell recalled Turner telling him.
Asked what it was, Turner replayed “It’s 24-hour news.”
“Ted,” Bonnell told him, “I’m sorry, man, but there’s no way that’s going to work.”
That, of course, was CNN, and we all know how that played out.