The term “unlucky” often gets looked at an excuse as to why a player underperformed. However, when analyzing numbers from a trend analysis point of view, you can tell when odds heavily favor a bounce back statistically over an extended period of time. The Atlanta Braves had a handful of players that fit into this category in 2022.
We are going to look at the Atlanta Braves who were the “unluckiest” in 2022. In theory, this means the players that have the best odds of seeing an improvement in 2023. Like with any useful exercise, we need to set some parameters.
First, we will only look be looking at players who are projected to start for the Atlanta Braves in 2023, or are part of the projected regularly used group of relievers. So, no Danbsy Swanson, and no Orlando Arcia. If we did the entire 40-man roster, things could get a little hazy because of the small sample sizes involved, and there is no real use in looking at players no longer on the team.
Second, we are going to purely look at the numbers. We know players like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. dealt with, or were recovering from injuries. So, it makes sense that they would have bounce backs. However, we want to look and see if they actually had bad luck last year as well, beyond just the injuries themselves.
Lastly, we are going to look at stats that were expected (XSTATS) and what the player’s actual outcome was, as well as some other factors like how their BABIP was in comparison to their norm. We do know that with the limit on the shift, we could see change in player’s performances as well.
To be fair, Jiménez was not a Brave last year, but he is now. He was a solid reliever for the Tigers in 2022. He pitched 56.2 innings, which as a reliever is commendable. He ended the 2022 campaign with an ERA of 3.49, which in and of itself is still solid, and was 9.0 percent better than league average. Hitters ended up having a batting average of .226 against him while maintaining a wOBA of .268 and a slugging percentage of .341. Hitters also had a batting average of balls in play (BABIP) of .328 against Jiménez.
While these numbers are very good, Jiménez was still a bit unlucky. His expected batting average (xBA) against was .216 according to Statcast which was .010 points lower than his output. His expected wOBA (xwOBA) was almost right on track with his wOBA at .266 (.002 better). But, the real kicker here is his BABIP against. As stated earlier, hitters had a .328 BABIP against him in 2022, but his career BABIP against is much lower at .316. Jiménez has been in the league since 2017, so he has established a legitimate baseline as far as BABIP goes. One thing we can’t be sure of is if the limit on the shift will play a huge role. The league average ground ball rate since 2017 has been 44.9 percent. Jiménez does not rely heavily on ground balls, as his career mark is 33.5 percent.
Add all of this together and Jiménez had an expected ERA (xERA) of 2.90, when his actual ERA was 3.49. Even with a change in the shift, look for Jiménez to have an improved year in 2023 if he continues to pitch like he did in 2022.
The big splash for the Atlanta Braves this off-season, Sean Murphy had a very good year for the Athletics in 2022. Of course, a lot of Murphy’s value is on his extremely high defensive floor, but he was still good with the stick. He had a batting average of .250, wOBA of .331, and a slugging percentage of .426. Ultimately, he ended the season with a wRC+ of 122 (22.0 percent better than league average when adjusted).
But, by the way he was swinging the bat, odds lean towards him having even better results over a longer period of time. There was a big enough gap in his XSTATS and his actual numbers that it does draw the eye. He had an xBA of .255, xwOBA of .344, and xSLG of .439. Those are differences of .005, .013, and .013 respectively. Now, his .290 BABIP was higher than his career .277 meaning that it could negate some of the progress the XSTATS show that could happen, but both of those numbers are below the 2022 league average of .292 BABIP.
Even if Murphy were to produce another 122 wRC+ in 2023, it would be a huge boon for the Braves considering he had a 5.1 fWAR. But, it does appear that Murphy was slightly unlucky last year.
In all honesty, we do not know how much playing time Ozuna will have in 2023 now that Sean Murphy is in the mix. In today’s MLB you do not typically have one player occupy a large chunk of the DH duties. So, with Murphy and d’Arnaud in the fold, how much will Ozuna actually play? As of right now, it does look like he will get at least notable amount of playing time.
In 2022, saying Ozuna had a bad year would be putting it lightly. He had a slash line of .226/.274/.413 with a wOBA of .298. For reference, his wRC+ was 11.0 percent lower than league average.
There is some hope that Ozuna was actually quite unlucky. His BABIP was well below his career average. Ozuna had the same issue in 2021, to be fair, but the gap is significant. Ozuna’s BABIP was .057 below his career average. The shift most likely will not play a role in his BABIP due to his 38.4 ground ball rate in 2022 being well below both his career average and league average, but his BABIP does paint a good picture towards progression in the future regardless of ground ball rate.
There were also significant gaps between his XSTATS and his SLG, BA, and wOBA. His xSLG was .478 while his actual slugging was only .413 (.065 difference). His xwOBA was .337 while his xOBA was only .298 (.039 difference), and his xBA was .256 to his actual batting average being .226 (.030 difference).
Although many fans have good reasons to not want to see Ozuna be on the roster, there are quite a few variables pointing to his poor performance last year having quite a bit of bad luck involved.
Ronald Acuña Jr.
Arguably the unluckiest player on the Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuña Jr. had a rough year by his standards (which are high) in 2022. It was obvious he was still recovering from his season ending injury in 2021. Injury aside, he was also quite unlucky in terms of gaps between his XSTATs and actual numbers.
Acuña ended 2022 with a .266 batting average, .335 wOBA, and .413 slugging. The interesting part is that his BABIP was right on par with his career to this point. He had a .331 BABIP in 2022, when his career BABIP is .333.
The difference in his xBA from his actual average is only .006, but it still shows a slight likelihood for progression. What really draws the eye are his power numbers. His wOBA of .335 in 2022 was significantly lower than his xwOBA of .366. That gap of .031 is second only to Ozuna on the Braves. His xSLG .486 is significantly higher than his actual slugging percentage of .413. His gap between the two is .073. This slugging percentage gap is the largest on the entire team among qualified hitters.
Acuña was extremely unlucky in the power department in 2022. Factor in him being healthy, and that he was unlucky in 2022, we can expect an excellent year for Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2023.