It is crazy even thinking about it, but the Atlanta Braves this season are legitimately comparable to the famous 1998 Atlanta Braves.
After the Braves solidified being the best team in the MLB in the regular season up this this point with their performance against the Dodgers, it is time to start having this conversation of who was better, the 1998 Braves or the 2023 Braves?
First, let’s look at the of the impressive feats that the 1998 Braves accomplished in the regular season.
Featuring a rotation with three future Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz and an offense with Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and potential HOFer Andruw Jones in CF, the 1998 Braves boasted a 106-56 record.
This 106-56 record, in which they went 9-1 in the last ten games of the season, helped them finish the division eighteen games ahead of the New York Mets.
In this season they ended with a run differential of +245 after scoring 826 runs and only giving up 581. No other team gave up fewer runs that season and it was not particularly close. The next best team in this arena was the the then National League Central winning Houston Astros with 620.
They also went 46-30 against teams with winning records this season (.605 winning percentage).
Much like the 2023 Braves, the 1998 Braves had two players that were in the MVP mix with Chipper Jones coming in 9th and Andres Galarraga coming in 6th. Of course, no one was going to beat out Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire this season after that HR race. (Steroids aside, McGwire or Bonds should have won).
Their offense had five starters who had an OPS that was at least league average or better, with two players (Gerald Williams and Eddie Perez) with at least 150 plate appearances who could say the same.
The Braves also had the Cy Young winner (Glavine), with Smoltz and Maddux both placing in the top four. Of course, this was back when way too much weight was placed on pitching wins, but it is still impressive.
The bullpen was their “weak link” if you had to choose one, as they were 6th in the NL in ERA and 7th in WAR. To be fair when you had the rotation the Braves did, the Bullpen was at a disadvantage from a WAR standpoint because their usage was low. In fact, no bullpen was used less in the NL.
Side note, would you believe that Bobby Cox came in 5th in the MOTY voting? Voters must just became used to greatness.
Let’s compare the 2023 Braves
Just the fact that we can legitimately put this season’s team in the same sentence as the 1998 Braves is a testament in itself.
With a team also featuring at least two players to receive MVP votes and possibly multiple players receiving Cy Young votes, this Atlanta squad is on pace to win 108 games, and to top it off, they showed they could handle the good teams late in the year by the way they played the Dodgers.
This team has not just gotten lucky with beating the goods either. They already have more wins against winning teams this season than they did in 1998.
If this rate continues, this 2023 squad is on pace to have a better regular season than the 1998 Braves in more than just the win column.
We know they are better at hitting HRs after already breaking the franchise record for a single season, but we can look beyond that and see that this team may actually be more rounded.
The 1998 Braves finished the season with a run differential of +245. With almost a full month yet the play, the 2023 team already has a run differential that is about to catch that. In fact, at the end of August they boasted a +236. They are currently on pace to have a run differential of +289, which would be the best run differential for the franchise since the 1897 Beaneaters.
They are also on pace to score 945 runs, which would also be the most since 1897 (seriously, go look at the insane 1897 season).
To top it off, the Braves are on pace to score more runs per game above league average since 1897 as well.
As far as players with a league average or better OPS? All nine of their offensive starters have an OPS that high.
As of the time of this writing, the Braves have scored more runs than any other team in MLB, oh and they have given up the fewest in the NL.
Speaking of giving up runs, even with missing two of their top three SPs for most of the season and not having a true fifth starter, the Braves managed to be 3rd in the NL in SP fWAR at the time of this writing, and 2nd in ERA.
Other than the offense, the bullpen is what really sets this team apart. The Braves have the best bullpen ERA in the NL, and it’s not really close. At the time of this writing, the bullpen has a 3.44 ERA. Second place has a 3.71. To put that in perspective, the 3.44 and 3.71 is a difference of 0.27. If you were to add 0.27 to second place, they would drop all the way down to 9th in the NL.
They are 2nd in the NL in fWAR to the Dodgers, but have pitched (at the time of this writing) 56.0 fewer innings.
Unfortunately, the 1998 Braves lost in the NLCS to the Padres, even though up to this point they had the best regular season since the turn of the twentieth century. Here is to hoping the 2023 Braves have better fortune in the playoffs this year.