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Spring Training stats review: Which Braves’ players stood out?

It’s actually just a walk and strikeout rate review

Atlanta Braves v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Disclaimer: This post was written with Spring Training stats through Saturday’s games. Since then, Eddie Rosario hit a few homers, Sean Murphy hit a homer, and there’s probably some other stuff that might slightly change the conclusions herein, but probably not that much. Make whatever mental adjustments you feel are warranted accordingly.

In years past, especially before stuff got wonky with a pandemic and then a shortened, post-lockout ramp up to the season, we historically did quick Spring Training stat reviews. You can dig one of those up if you want, but the basic ideas were:

  • With that said, some stats that stabilize a bit faster, like walk and strikeout rates, are nonetheless useful for adjusting preseason expectations, because they do contain some signal and not just entirely noise. That said, it’s important to understand that these stats are accumulated over, again, the same 50-odd PAs, maximum, so they shouldn’t adjust expectations all that much.

Now, ahead of the 2023 season, we have a few additional good news/bad news situations. The good news: many Spring Training parks have the Hawkeye/Statcast cameras installed, meaning that there’s even more input data available, like exit velocity. If a guy is suddenly hitting the ball way harder than even before, that seems like a useful data point. But the bad news: for calibration or other reasons, these data are not (yet?) converted into xStats for Spring Training, so we don’t actually have much of an actionable insight-producing dataset here. Moreover, CoolToday Park, the Braves’ Spring Training home, is one of the parks without said Statcast data, so Braves data is relatively sparse in this regard. Further, one of the “useful” Spring Training stats was stolen base rate, and the whole running game is going to be completely different in 2023, so drawing comparisons between post-rule change, Spring Training stolen base rates and projections-based-on-pre-rule-change-environments rates seems useless.

With that said, here’s the same review as before. It focuses only on walk rates and strikeout rates. In short, it takes the player’s Spring Training 2023 walk and strikeout rates, and compares them to their Fangraphs Depth Charts projected walk and strikeout rates. It then adjusts the difference between the Spring Training rates and the projected rates by standard deviations in walk and strikeout rates from the 2022 season. Again, it’s important to remember that the below is only meant as a cheat sheet for your pre-existing expectations. Having green checks doesn’t mean the guy is going to be dominant in 2023, just that maybe you should adjust your expectation upwards, modestly, based on this exercise. That’s it.

Before the table, one more note. Why is it color-coded, and more to the point, why are some checks and Xes in orange? In short, because walk and strikeout rates are related, and it’s hard to walk more if you aren’t taking pitches more, which kind of helps boost strikeouts up. A green check means the player did better than expected in both walk and strikeout rate in a meaningful way; an orange check suggests some moderation because both rates didn’t sufficiently go in the “obviously improved from projections” direction in Spring Training. I don’t think there’s much of a takeaway for the orange checks. Anyway, here’s the table.

Checks and Xes in orange suggest that both rates did not sufficiently move in a given direction to warrant a strong conclusion about the player’s Spring Training performance relative to expectations.

A quick rundown of the handful of players whose Spring Training may warrant some mental adjustment follows.

  • Austin Riley. The Braves’ third baseman didn’t have the most eye-popping output numbers this spring, but was the only guy with a reasonable number of spring PAs that walked more than he struck out, which seems notable, and meets the criteria for “meaningful” by this exercise. Given that Riley could’ve easily been forgiven for just getting his hacks in and trying to hit bombs all March long, this seems like a welcome development for a guy whose plate discipline stats have been middling and has earned his boatloads of production through contact quality.
  • Eli White. I’m bummed that White was condemned into “haha you have options” purgatory (also known as Gwinnett), because his Spring Training was wild. Aside from Matt Olson, no one on the Braves had stats as crazy as White, and he somehow cut his projected strikeout rate by more than half. I really want to see a look at White’s first 35ish to 200 major league PAs as a Brave to peek under the hood at changes he may have made (with or without the team’s coaching), but the problem is that this doesn’t seem likely unless there’s an injury at this point, and I definitely don’t want to see any injuries. Kind of a bummer. In any case, White seemed to do everything he needed to do to win a job and more... except remove his options, which was a bridge too far. Sorry, Eli.
  • Sam Hilliard. You know who doesn’t have options? Sam Hilliard. That’s why he seems like a lock for the Opening Day roster. Hilliard did kinda-sorta what White did this March, just not to the same extent, albeit over more PAs. I am not sure whether Hilliard made any obviously-observable adjustments after being acquired by the Braves (again, with or without the Braves’ coaching, it’s hard to tell), but he’s filled up the box score over the course of the month. I still think it’d be nice to go into this season without a bunch of guaranteed PAs for Marcell Ozuna and Eddie Rosario, but here we are.
  • Yolmer Sanchez. Okay, I mostly had Sanchez and Ryan Casteel here as larks, because both had enough Spring Training PAs to make it into my table, but neither is expected to play a role on the team. I then left them in because Sanchez had a nice month, and Casteel had an awful one. We don’t need to ponder these too hard. Moving on...
  • Sean Murphy. Not much to say here, Murphy had a nice time improving relative to expectation for the things we’re looking at, and did it for both walks and strikeouts as opposed to just one. These changes are probably too modest to really warrant much of an expectations adjustment, but it’s still a very light positive note, especially given that Murphy’s Spring Training has been pretty modest (zero homers, just two doubles) and could lead someone to overlook that he’s been doing the right things (by this measure) at the dish.

Hey, wait, what about Matt Olson? Olson’s raked for sure, but it’s been from a homer binge rather than anything else. He’s still striking out at pretty much the same rate as expected, so if you want to adjust your expectations for his 2023 upward, go for it, but he doesn’t meet the criteria we’re using here.

There’s not much to say about the other guys here. Both Vaughn Grissom and Marcell Ozuna were oddly aggressive in their PAs this March, which is kind of weird given their 2022 seasons. Kevin Pillar seems to have sewn up a bench spot and was more patient.

I’m not really going to comment about the Braves’ WBC participants given the paucity of PAs, only to say that Eddie Rosario really could’ve at least shown something in his 20 PAs that would make me feel better about devoting so many PAs to him to begin the season... but he didn’t.

Anyway, that was a depressing note to end this post. I still want to see what Eli White does for a sizable chunk of 2023 PAs.

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