The calendar has made its way into February, which means that the countdown to spring training is officially on. That also means that the Opening Day will be here before you know it, so it’s time to start really thinking about what the future has in store for our Atlanta Braves.
This is usually the time of year where the major projections start coming out from Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system and then FanGraphs with their playoff odds. In recent years, it’s always been interesting to look at the projections and then gauge the reaction — with the reaction usually being “Why does PECOTA hate the Braves?” whenever the projections had them finishing behind the Mets or something like that, or the preseason playoff odds being brought back to the forefront like they were when the Braves won the World Series despite being left for dead in the middle of the Summer.
However it’s usually been good to try to understand and use the projections as a somewhat reliable guide for how the season could end up going. Despite the fact that FanGraphs’ Playoff Odds essentially (and understandadbly) gave up on the 2021 Braves before the trade deadline, their preseason projection did end up nailing Atlanta’s win total of 88 and PECOTA’s less-than-rosy projections also tracked with how rough the season was until the Braves finally found their groove. Still, it’s understandable for Braves fans in particular to feel a bit skeptical of these projection models — especially PECOTA since the Braves have made a habit of overperforming their PECOTA projections since becoming a force in the NL East in 2018.
However, we’re in a weird position this year as fans. This time, we actually get to see what happens when the projections actually have a little bit of a crush on our favorite team. FanGraphs has projected the Braves to win 98 games with an 87.8 percent chance of winning the NL East once again, a 98.6 percent chance to make it back to the Postseason and a whopping 25 percent chance to win the World Series. Shockingly enough, PECOTA is even more impressed with how the 2024 Braves are looking heading into next season. PECOTA is giving Atlanta a 100-win season with a 92 percent chance of winning the division, a 99.4 percent chance of playing in October and a 19.3 percent chance of lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Simply put, those numbers are astronomical in terms of preseason projections and honestly, I don’t know what to think of them. On one hand, it makes sense — we’re talking about a team that has proven over the past couple of seasons that they are one of the dominant forces in baseball in the regular season and haven’t had any major departures and have managed to fill the “holes” that were on the roster. Between that and some really big projections for guys like Ronald Acuña Jr., Spencer Strider, Michael Harris II and nearly the entire Braves infield, it's very easy to see why this team is very impressive on paper and it makes all the sense in the world as to why they're projected to do so much damage this season.
Still, it's just a very interesting change of pace to see the Braves tabbed as this big of a favorite. Granted, it's been a while since the Braves were considered to be a real underdog by either one of these projection models — the last time Atlanta was seen as a rank outsider was arguably 2019 when they were given just a 13.2 percent chance by FanGraphs to go back-to-back as NL East champions and PECOTA figured they'd win 84 games and finish in third place. It's not like they've been coming out of nowhere and making the projection models look stupid or anything like that. Rather, they've just been doing a solid job of overperforming and now they're in a position where expectations are sky high.
It's a new spot to be in as far as the projections go but it's also a demanding spot — either they win 100 games or more for the third season in a row and the reaction is "Well, you should've done that since that's what you've been projected to do and also what you've been doing for a while now” and anything less is veering on a failure. To be quite honest with you, it’s actually a little refreshing that the expectations from the projections are matching what you would expect the actual team to believe that they’re capable of.
It’s pretty clear that the Braves have got this whole “regular season” thing figured out — it’s time to put it together in October again. There are still plenty of players from the 2021 squad who are here with the team today and know what it’s like to reach the summit of baseball in October. Unless this current era doesn’t want to start being compared to the 90s Divisional Dynasty — meaning that they if they want to be more than “just” a divisional dynasty — they’ve got to start going deeper in the Postseason on a regular basis.
This is about as good of a time as any to actually meet the expectations. The Braves are set up to be good for much longer than 2024 but at the same time, the team is in a position to where their window to be great is open and just waiting for them to go through it. While baseball is still a weird sport and always will be in terms of Postseason results, Atlanta’s absolutely got to start doing something with these Postseason lottery tickets that they’re getting. This time, the projection models are in agreement that this has got to be the season where they cash in one of those lottery tickets in exchange for another piece of October gold.
So while it may be a weird change of pace to see the projection models being this infatuated with the Atlanta Braves, it’s also a sign that the expectations are and should be higher than ever in Cobb County. Spencer Strider (in this article from David O’Brien of The Athletic ($)) seems to have the right idea and while he’s bold enough to publicly verbalize it, I wouldn’t be shocked if the rest of the clubhouse has the same mindset as they get set for another year of battling to become the best in baseball.
“I think just changing the way we talk and the goals we set and what we verbalize into existence, that’s going to be important for us. I think that there should be no acceptance of anything less than winning a World Series in this organization.
“I said it a little bit ago, and I believe it. I’m biased, but it’s the most talented team in baseball. And we need to set our bar as high as possible, and anything less than that is an underachievement for us.”