2015 Atlanta Braves Predictions and Odds to Win the World Series
by Alan Matthews - 2/16/2015
Perhaps no team has had a more fascinating offseason than the Braves, and I don't mean that in a good way. But let me back up for a minute. At the 2014 All-Star Break, the Braves were tied with the Washington Nationals for first in the NL East. Entering September, Atlanta was seven games over .500 and just 1.5 games out of the second wild-card spot. A sixth straight winning season appeared a lock and a third straight trip to the playoffs a good possibility.
Then it all fell apart, and that's what led to an offseason overhaul. Atlanta was just 7-18 in September, and those last two wins were on the final two days of the season against a terrible Phillies team. The Braves had a very good pitching staff all year, but the offense was a mess and very hit-or-miss. Only San Diego finished with fewer runs and a worse slugging percentage, while Atlanta was 28th in on-base percentage and fourth-worst in batter's strikeouts. B.J. Upton (maybe the worst player in the majors), Justin Upton, Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman all whiffed at least 145 times, making the Braves the only team with four players among the Top 26 in the majors in swing-and-miss rate.
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Manager Fredi Gonzalez somehow survived but GM Frank Wren didn't. The team brought in John Hart as president of baseball operations to run the show, and he started getting rid of just about everyone he could. There was one clear goal: Be a contender in 2017 when the Braves move into their new stadium in Cobb County. As a secondary goal, Atlanta's farm system had become one of the worst in the majors, and Hart has improved that.
I'm not sure any other team has taken a bigger step back from 2014, at least from a positional-player standpoint.
Braves 2015 Projected Lineup
So here are the three biggest names gone: Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis, which was essentially the Braves' starting outfield most nights, although Gattis also played catcher. Upton was traded to Arizona and led the Braves with 29 homers and 102 RBIs. Heyward was sent to St. Louis; he hit .271 with 11 homers, 58 RBIs and 20 steals while playing Gold Glove defense. Both Upton and Heyward will be free agents after the 2015 season, and the Braves knew they weren't going to be able to re-sign either.
Gattis, now in Houston, had 22 dingers in just 369 at-bats. Also dealt was second baseman Tommy La Stella, who hit .251 as a rookie, to the Cubs. The Braves badly wanted to trade B.J. Upton, but he and his contract are toxic. Upton hit .208 with 173 strikeouts and became a part-time player. Again. The Braves also tried to give away third baseman Chris Johnson, who regressed in 2014, but again could find no takers for his contract.
For a team trying to get younger and cheaper, the Braves for some reason signed former Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis to a four-year, $44 million deal. Markakis is an OK player and won a Gold Glove last year, but it didn't make much sense, especially as he had to undergo fusion surgery in his neck. Atlanta knew this. Markakis should be fine and is expected to leadoff. Upton will strikeout behind him at No. 2. The franchise player, first baseman Freeman, bats third. He's signed long term and going nowhere. Freeman hit .288 with 18 homers and 78 RBIs last year, disappointing numbers after a huge 2013 season. Johnson (.263, 10 HRs, 58 RBIs) hits cleanup.
New addition Jonny Gomes will play left and hit fifth, followed by Andrelton Simmons, another locked-in franchise piece and the greatest defensive shortstop in baseball, second baseman Alberto Collaspo and catcher Christian Bethancourt, one of the team's top prospects. Lot of holes in that lineup. Freeman won't see many pitches to hit. In fact, the Braves might not have a player with 20 homers if Freeman doesn't bounce back.
Braves 2015 Projected Rotation & Closer
The rotation should be pretty good. Gone are 2014 starters Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang (combined 26 wins) as free agents. Ditto Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, both of whom showed signs of stardom at one point but missed the 2014 season following Tommy John surgery.
The ace is Julio Teheran, one of the best young pitchers in the NL. He was 14-13 with a 2.89 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and a team-leading 186 strikeouts in 221 innings (third in NL). Teheran is only 24 and is under team control through 2020. He'll be followed by Shelby Miller, the key piece of the Heyward trade from St. Louis. Miller has 25 wins and a 3.41 ERA over the last two seasons, during which he's made 62 starts. He's only 24 and under team control through 2018. Lefty Alex Wood is also under team control for years and only 24 as well. He was 11-11 with a 2.78 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 171.2 innings. That's a fine top three.
The rotation should be filled out by lefty Mike Minor (6-12, 4.77), and the No. 5 job will be decided in camp likely between former Padre Eric Stults, Michael Foltynewicz, acquired from Houston in the Gattis trade, and maybe veterans Wandy Rodriguez and Chien-Ming Wang.
Atlanta has the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel, who also is locked up long term. He led the NL with 47 saves to go with a 1.61 ERA and a ridiculous .091 WHIP. He's almost a luxury on this team, however. Maybe the Braves should trade him, too.
Braves Futures Odds & 2014 Trends
At Sportsbook.ag , the Braves are +9000 to win the World Series and +4500 to win the NL pennant. They have a wins total of 73.5 in Las Vegas. Freeman is +10000 to lead the majors in homers. Atlanta was 76-86 against the spread last season and 63-81-13 "over/under." On the moneyline, the Braves were -1803 units for the year.
Atlanta Braves 2015 Predictions
FanGraphs projects the Braves with 72 wins, the second-fewest in the majors. That seems a bit low to me with three good starting pitchers and the unhittable Kimbrel closing things out. True, the offense looks pretty putrid, so Atlanta will have to win a lot of 2-1 or 3-2 games. But I'd go over that 73.5 Vegas number to probably 76.
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