Although the Atlanta Braves came up short in the postseason, they had arguably the most complete roster, leading all other teams in team fWAR with 56.3. The next closest team in terms of total fWAR were the Rays with 53.5.
That being said, it could be argued that they will be in trouble when it comes to their rotation in 2024 if the front office does not make something happen. The Braves were ninth in MLB in fWAR for SP with 11.7, but strikeout king Spencer Strider is responsible for 5.5 of that 11.7.
The lack of rotation depth in the regular season was somewhat masked by the fact that the Braves scored 5.84 runs per game, which was a full .25 runs per game more than second place in MLB (Dodgers).
The Braves were able to continue to dominate in the regular season despite never truly having a full rotation. In fact, the Braves ended up starting fifteen different pitchers throughout the year with only three players starting at least fifteen games.
One of these three players was Charlie Morton, who has not confirmed yet if he will retire or not. He does have a club option in his contract though, if he does plan to hold off retirement for at least one more year.
Kyle Wright is out for all of 2024 after undergoing surgery. Max Fried, if healthy, would obviously start more than the fourteen games he did in 2023, and Spencer Strider will hopefully continue to be dominant.
As can be seen, there are some question marks when it comes to the rotation. Will Bryce Elder be a main factor? He started thirty-one games, and started in the postseason. However, down the stretch he struggled to a 5.49 ERA, 5.24 FIP, and 1.46 WHIP 78.2 innings in his final fifteen starts.
Will the Braves utilize Jared Shuster, and Dylan Dodd? Both of these pitchers showed flashes of promise, but ultimately struggled in their limited exposure at the highest level. Will AJ Smith-Shawver be part of the plans? The Braves could have potentially traded him at the deadline but ultimately held onto him pointing to potentially utilizing him in 2024.
With many of the questions we will have to wait and see, even into the regular season next year. However, some of these questions can be answered by adding to the rotation via free agency.
There are many SPs available in free agency this offseason, with big names like Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Julio Urias, Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray and others. The Braves may want to look at some cheaper options though, with already being near the luxury tax threshold.
One pitcher that really sticks out as a possibility that makes sense is Kenta Maeda. He could potentially be a low risk-high reward signing. He did not pitch in 2022 due to an injury and pitched 104.1 innings in 2023, potentially lowering his cost in years and AAV.
For his career, he has been solid, and has shown signs of being very good. For his career (seven seasons and 866.1 IP) he has an ERA of 3.92, FIP of 3.74, WHIP of 1.140, and a 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. During the shortened COVID season he ended up coming in second in the Cy Young voting with an exceptional 8.00 SO/W ratio, while leading the league with a 0.750 WHIP and carrying a 2.70 ERA. Of course, small sample sizes can have outlying results, and he likely would not have carried those numbers over an entire season. However, he has shown that he can be an above average to great pitcher.
If we look at his peripherals for his most recent season, they are mostly positive.
His xERA was in the best 33.0 percent of MLB, his xBA was best 34.0 percent, chase rate was best 24.0 percent, swing and miss percentage was best 34.0 percent, strikeout rate was best 23.0 percent, and walk rate was best 22.0 percent.
This resulted in an xwOBA against him of a .300. For reference, the league average xwOBA against was .320.
We see his ERA in 2023 was 4.23, which is nothing to be excited about. However, when we see that his xERA was much lower at 3.77, it seems more appealing. We can also look at his BABIP of .293, and strand rate of 74.1 percent, and see that there are no red flags (at least in these terms) that point to him getting lucky in 2023.
Maeda has never truly been an fWAR king, with his highest being 2.9 in a season. However, he is a solid presence when healthy and can help almost any team.
Interestingly, he has not been brought up as a popular name in forums or in social media as a potential target. Of course, the front office makes decisions that are not effected by media, but it appears that Maeda could be had at a low price due to there being quite a few pitchers ahead of him in the free agent market in terms of hype and talent.
That being said, Maeda could be a cheap option to help fill out the back half of the Braves’ rotation. With so many question marks surrounding the rotation, adding a player like Maeda, who will not command the type of money a player like Sonny Gray would, makes a ton of sense.
Ultimately, it will come down to the contract and if it makes sense for the Atlanta Braves. One rotation arm is not the only move the Atlanta Braves will be making, so all the puzzle pieces will have to fit.