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Very preliminary, pre-FA ZiPS projections have Braves as best team in MLB

If we assume all free agents are banished to the nether realm, the Braves are overwhelming favorites for the 2023 season, per ZiPS

Atlanta Braves v Oakland Athletics Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Due to the Braves’ superlative performances during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, there’s been a bit of an apocryphal/unsubstantiated narrative that’s pervaded since, about how the “projections” continually undersell the team for Atlanta. (Maybe PECOTA, not other projections, really. I have the receipts.) In any case, here’s something to gouge a big chunk out of that narrative, if you needed it: Dan Szymborski published his “absurdly preliminary” ZiPS projected standings earlier today, and boy, the Braves look like a juggernaut of a roster therein.

Why “absurdly preliminary?” Well, the offseason is still in its toddler stage at this point, most free agents are unsigned, and this exercise is the result of simulating the season a bunch of times without assigning said free agents (or trades, or anything else) to any team.

The result? The Braves, without adding anything else, are projected to win 96 games as a point estimate. The next closest teams? The Cardinals and the Dodgers, at 91 wins apiece. Per this particular simulation, the Braves appear to have made the playoffs in over 94 percent of trials, and won the division over 77 percent of the time; no other team exceeding 83 percent or division odds exceeding 68 percent. Do you only care about simulation-based projections for a team’s chance of winning a title? Well, these no-FA Braves have nearly 1-in-5 odds of doing so (18.5 percent), compared to the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Astros, each at right around a 1-in-10 chance.

Here’s what the ZiPS-creator man himself had to say about the Braves:

Here we see the results of Alex Anthopoulos ruthlessly ensuring that Atlanta’s entire core stays put for a very long time. Dansby Swanson is a big loss, but when you see the projection for Vaughn Grissom, you’ll understand why the Braves dominate this very preliminary run of the NL East standings.

Just for context, ZiPS isn’t alone in having particularly high esteem for the current iteration of the Braves roster. On the current Fangraphs Depth Charts, which currently import only Steamer (and not yet a blend of Steamer and ZiPS, as will happen eventually as we get closer to the season), the Braves are second to just the Padres, by a fractional win, in projected team WAR.

Of course, all of this will change as teams add (and sometimes subtract) players, and I’m guessing the Braves won’t be the proverbial pick of the litter once we get to Opening Day, given that there are a few rivals that really like flexing their financial muscles in a way the Braves likely won’t. Still, this is a great place for the team to be in late November, and they should be well-positioned to have another awesome season relative to their rivals, regardless of what the rest of MLB does.

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