For a franchise with a rich history of success, it takes a lot for something to qualify as a special summer in Atlanta. But 2023 fit that bill, with Ronald Acuña Jr. putting together a 40-home run/70-stolen base season, Matt Olson clubbing a new single-season franchise record 54 home runs and the Braves winning an MLB-best 104 games.
And yet, the season ended in disappointing fashion for the second year in a row, as the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies once again upset the Braves in the NLDS.
The good news for the Braves is that they once again look like a team that will win 100-plus games in 2024, with manager Brian Snitker’s squad very well-regarded in the annual ZiPS projections that Dan Szymborski puts together for FanGraphs.
For those unfamiliar, MLB.com offered this synopsis of what ZiPS aims to do.
“The system uses statistics from the previous four years for players from ages 24-38, and it weights more recent seasons heavier. For younger or older players, it uses weighted statistics from only the previous three years. The system also factors velocities, injury data and play-by-play data into its equations.”
Sound interesting? Let’s do a deep dive on the 2024 Braves ZiPS projections.
Key Position Player Takeaways
- Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. is projected to put up staggering production once again, with the system predicting he’ll hit 43 home runs, drive in 118 runs, walk 88 times and swipe 51 bases. Among position players, Acuña finished in a tie with Mookie Betts for the best mark in baseball in 2023 at 8.3 fWAR. ZiPS believes he’ll post a 7.1 fWAR in 2024, again the highest mark in the sport.
- Six of the nine projected starting position players for the Braves are predicted to have at least 3-WAR seasons. Acuña is the highest at 7.1, joined by Austin Riley (4.6), Sean Murphy (4.0), Matt Olson (3.6), Michael Harris II (3.6) and Ozzie Albies (3.2).
- Olson finished fourth in NL MVP voting last year, leading the senior circuit in home runs (54), RBIs (139) and slugging percentage (.604). In many years, he would have been the NL MVP. ZiPS doesn’t project that he will repeat his career year, but still has him putting up elite power production, with 37 home runs, 116 RBIs and an .875 OPS.
- ZiPS believes that DH Marcell Ozuna’s production will come in somewhere between his disappointing 2022 campaign and the monster season he had a year ago, that saw him hit 40 home runs. Ozuna is projected to finish the season with 25 home runs, 78 RBIs and a .793 OPS. It certainly would be better than the .687 OPS he posted in 2022, but more than 100 points shy of the .905 mark that Ozuna put up in 2023.
- Atlanta acquired former top prospect Jarred Kelenic from the Seattle Mariners in December, and while ZiPS isn’t projecting him to be a star, they do see him being a complimentary piece in a lineup full of elite players at their respective positions. Still only 24, Kelenic is projected by the system to slash .239/.315/.410 with 15 home runs, 70 RBIs and .725 OPS.
Key Starting Pitcher Takeaways
- You won’t be surprised to learn that the system believes Spencer Strider will have another tremendous season, going 15-6 with a 3.28 ERA, 2.96 FIP and 234 strikeouts. Strider finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting a year ago, and numbers like this would put him right back in the mix for the senior circuit’s top pitching honor in 2024.
- In a contract year, Max Fried is projected to go 11-5 with a 3.27 ERA and 3.44 FIP, which would be a strong campaign. However, the system only has him throwing 129 innings, which would add to durability concerns before Fried hits the open market.
- Bryce Elder was an All-Star a year ago, posting a 2.97 ERA in 18 first-half starts. However, after the midsummer classic, Elder struggled, finishing with a 5.11 ERA across 11 starts in the second half of the season. ZiPS projects he’ll log an impressive 157 innings in 2024, but won’t regain the All-Star form, finishing with a 4.22 ERA and 4.45 FIP.
- Seven-time All-Star Chris Sale was acquired in a trade with the Boston Red Sox in December, and subsequently agreed to a new two-year, $38 million deal, which includes an $18 million club option for 2026. ZiPS isn’t high on the chances that Sale has a renaissance season with the Braves, though, projecting that he’ll go 5-5 with a 4.30 ERA and 3.98 FIP over just 90 innings.
- The Braves have three starters — Strider, Elder and the ageless Charlie Morton — that are projected to throw 145 or more innings this season. But Strider would lead the team with 161 innings pitched, leaving Atlanta again without a workhorse.
Key Relief Pitcher Takeaways
- While his 2.90 FIP paints a picture of someone who was a bit unlucky, A.J. Minter had a relatively disappointing season a year ago, finishing with a 3.76 ERA in 70 games. That came a year after the lefty was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, posting a 2.06 ERA and 2.13 FIP in 75 appearances. ZiPS believes he’ll have a campaign similar to what he did in 2023, posting a 3.66 ERA and 3.46 FIP in 70 games.
- Raisel Iglesias pitched in 58 games in his first full season with the Braves, recording 33 saves in 37 attempts. Iglesias is projected to have a 3.09 ERA and 3.13 FIP in 57 games for Brian Snitker and the Braves in 2024.
- Reynaldo López split last season with the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Guardians, but should have some stability moving forward after inking a three-year, $30 million deal to join the Braves this offseason. ZiPS believes López will post a 3.76 ERA across 52 games, spanning 76 innings. The system has him projected to make six starts, and the Braves are reportedly planning to stretch him out during Spring Training, leaving open the possibility of using López out of the starting rotation.
- Atlanta had one of the greatest lineups in MLB history last regular season, and even if a few guys — Ozuna and Orlando Arcia, for example — come back down to earth, either the Braves or the Los Angeles Dodgers have the best lineup in baseball entering the season.
- There’s a lot to like about the starting rotation, but this is a team that really needs a 200-inning horse. When they’ve gotten into short series with the Phillies the last two years, they haven’t been able to go blow-for-blow with the duo of Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Perhaps that will be something president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos addresses in advance of the July 30 trade deadline.
- The last player to repeat as NL MVP was future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in 2008 and 2009. Would it really surprise anyone if Acuña snaps that streak this year?
- This era of the Braves has weirdly inherited the frustration from fans that “the team of the 90’s” (and really, the first half of the 2000s in the NL) only managed to win one World Series. This group will likely win their seventh consecutive NL East title in 2024. But they will ultimately be judged by their postseason results, and whether they’re able to add a second championship to the one they won in 2021.