The Atlanta Braves had a lot of star power on their team in 2023. Because of this, it resulted in some players flying under the radar as unsung heroes. There are a few players, had they been on worse teams than the Braves, would have likely been talked about quite a bit more across media outlets.
Of course, calling a player “under the radar”, “unsung hero”, “underrated”, or any of the other similar terms is truly just a matter of opinion, but it is safe to say that the Braves had some players that were in the shadow of players like Ronald Acuña Jr., Matt Olson, Spencer Strider, etc.
In this article we will attempt to highlight some performances this past season that may have fallen in the above category.
First, let’s start with arguably the best set-up arm in MLB. Relief pitchers that are not closers tend to not get the love from fans that their closer counterparts do. A.J. Minter leads all non-closer relief pitchers in fWAR over the past three seasons, yet you will find many of the lists that different media outlets put out of their top RP in MLB excluding him.
To be fair, Minter started the season poorly. In his first twenty-seven games he had a terrible ERA of 6.66 (although his FIP was much lower at 2.98). Hitters had a solid slash line against him of .286/.321/.429.
There were a few factors. The first, we can make an educated guess that he was adjusting to the pitch clock since he had one of the slowest times between pitches on the Braves in 2022. Next, hitters had a BABIP of .385. Of course, league average BABIP fluctuates year to year, but .385 is much higher than average suggesting that hitters would come back down to earth against him over time.
Turns out, Minter made adjustments and had a stellar season from starting in the beginning of June. In forty-three appearances (39.0 IP), Minter had a 1.85 ERA (2.85 FIP), with hitters slashing .201/.279/.302 and a much closer to average .291 BABIP.
This was led by his excellent strikeout rate of 31.5 percent which was in the top five percent of MLB pitchers along with hitters struggling to hit the ball hard with him having well above average exit velocity against and hard-hit percentage against him.
Listing Ozuna among these players may be a stretch to some, and expected to others. Like Minter, Ozuna started off cold. In the first month, Ozuna had a terrible slash line of .085/.194/.203. It was so bad that there were some fans calling for him to be released.
However, he was hitting the ball hard and was truly getting unlucky with a BABIP of .077. To put that in perspective, of qualified hitters for the 2023 season, the lowest BABIP was Pete Alonso with a .205.
After the first month, Ozuna went on a tear to hit .297/.366/.603 and ended the entire year with a .274/.346/.559 with forty HRs which was sixth in the MLB behind two of his teammates. It is pretty bizarre that Ozuna had a wRC+ of 139 (eleventh in MLB) and still had two players on his own team that had higher marks in the wRC+ department.
Had Ozuna been on twenty-two other teams, he would have led them in wRC+. He also was third in MLB for qualified Designated Hitters in wRC+ behind Shohei Ohtani and Bryce Harper, the later of whom he was tied with in fWAR. For some reason he was overlooked for comeback player of the year, and his excellent season was not talked about as it would have been if he was on pretty much any other team.
It feels weird putting Austin Riley on this list, but much like Ozuna, his fantastic season was overshadowed by other players on his own team. This, of course, is not a bad thing, but it is more so interesting.
Riley is a fan favorite, but it is bizarre to think he led MLB third baseman in fWAR and led the second best in the NL by a full 1.7 fWAR, yet it seems as though he is somehow “underrated” due to not getting the limelight that would typically come with the season he just put up.
Of course, when you’re the fourth best hitter on your own team, it does make sense. Also, fans and media alike tend to focus more on offense than they do defense, and that is where Riley really stood out from his past seasons. Riley’s 127 wRC+ (27.0 percent better than league average), which was the third best of his career.
Riley was twenty-first in wRC+ in MLB, but was fourteenth in fWAR. This was due to a few factors. Riley was not an elite defender, but if you look at his “Def” rating on Fangraphs, that is his first time ever being in the positive category. He actually had a -3.3 last season, so we saw a 5.5 swing since last season. The Def rating is based on how a player does in comparison to the average MLB defender, regardless of position.
If we get position specific, he had a Defensive Runs Saved (which compares against players of the same position) of nine. We also saw his UZR increase tremendously, which factors in range, arm strength, and errors. In terms of range itself, he saw a range increase in terms of Range Runs Above Average (which is a variable in UZR) of 255.5 percent.
His large increase in defensive value is hard to see with the naked eye, so it makes sense why him leading all third basemen in overall value (fWAR) has not been talked about like one might expect.
An argument can be made for other players on the Braves roster as who has been possibly overlooked on fantastic seasons that they had, but these three players stick out as examples of how some players can get lost in the shuffle in terms of recognition when they play on such an elite squad.