The Braves appear to be a team in flux after failing to win at least 80 games for the first time since 2008. Atlanta isn’t necessarily full-on rebuilding, but with turnover in the front office as well as on the field—the Braves said goodbye to Jason Heyward, Ervin Santana, and Jordan Walden this offseason—they aren’t so far away from that. Still, the National League East isn’t the strongest division and a run at the second wild card isn’t out of the question. Now that I’ve sufficiently angered optimistic Braves fans, let’s take a look at the fantasy relevant players in Atlanta.
A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.
Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.
Julio Teheran – SP
Teheran isn’t a fantasy ace as he falls into the second tier of starting pitchers, much like in real life. His sophomore season was a lot like his rookie year only he was able to throw more innings by working deeper into games and his secondary offerings were even better. More innings this year begat an increase in his strikeout total, but with his stuff there’s still a chance he could increase his 21 percent strikeout rate and top 200 strikeouts. Teheran earned $28 in 12-team mixed leagues this year, according to BP valuation guru Mike Gianella, and it easily could’ve been more, as in his last eight losses of the season, the Braves scored a total of nine runs and were shutout three times.
Craig Kimbrel – CL
Kimbrel is one of the best closers in all of baseball and even if you’re understandably down on the Braves’ outlook for 2015, closers on bad teams still rack up saves. Kimbrel may not be quite as dominant as he was a couple of years ago, but he’s still outstanding.
Justin Upton – OF
A move to the cleanup spot in the order paved the way for Upton’s first campaign with at least 100 runs batted in. Otherwise, Upton’s season was strikingly similar to his 2013, but he’s simply too good for the what-you-see-is-what-you-get section. Upton has solidified himself as a top-25 hitter in 12-team mixed leagues.
Freddie Freeman – 1B
Freeman ceded the cleanup spot to Upton this year batting third in all 162 games and, predictably, saw his run total increase to 93 and his RBI total fall to 78. He still earned $22 in mixed leagues despite being unable to repeat his career high average of .319 in 2013. Freeman still has a high floor for his average as he led all of baseball in line drive rate with a rate of 31 percent and has hit below .282 in a full season just once. Early and unofficial PECOTA projections have him pegged for 20 home runs and a .279 average, which you can basically pencil in right now.
Alex Wood – SP
If you’re surprised to see Wood in the stud section, you might be playing in too many AL-only leagues. Wood was a top-30 starter in mixed leagues this year and while he’s unlikely to repeat his 2.78 ERA and 80 percent strand rate, his season wasn’t a fluke. He answered questions about his repertoire as his curveball emerged as a weapon and how his funky delivery would hold up under a starter’s workload as he threw 171 2/3 innings. Early and unofficial PECOTA projections have Wood for a 3.12 ERA and 9.0 K/9 in 27 starts next year. He’s no joke.
Andrelton Simmons – SS
After hitting .255/.316/.472 in the second half of 2013, I certainly didn’t see Simmons’ power outage coming. He hit more home runs in the second half of 2013 (nine) than he did the entire season this year (seven) on his way to a .087 ISO. Simmons isn’t hitting for nearly as much power as he did because he’s not hitting the ball as hard (line drive rate went down from 18 percent in ’13 to 16 percent this year). He’s also not lifting the ball like he used to as his ground ball rate shot up to 52 percent from 42 percent the previous year and his HR:FB rate went down to five percent from eight percent. He needs to get back to hitting for power because he’s merely an “only” league play as is.
Mike Minor – SP
A shoulder injury among others limited Minor to only 25 starts and his performance fell way short of expectation as his ERA shot up to 4.77. Shoulder injuries are always scary for pitchers, but at least Minor’s draft day price for next year is likely to be low. There’s of course upside in Minor getting back to what he did in 2013 when he had 3.21 ERA, but he has to be considered a risky proposition after a season to forget.
Shelby Miller – SP
Miller burst onto the scene in 2013, starting the year with a 1.91 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings in his first 12 starts. In his last 19 starts of the season, he had a 3.95 ERA. 2014 was similar in that once again Miller wasn’t so hot for about half the year (4.29 ERA in the first half), but at least he got his act together in the second half (2.92 ERA) as his strikeout (18 percent) and walk rates (six percent) were acceptable. Miller still has some upside because of the strikeout potential if he’s able to put it all together for a full season, but that, of course, remains to be seen.
What You See Is What You Get
Nick Markakis – OF
It hasn’t been much fun to own Markakis in fantasy in the years since he ended 2012 on the disabled list with a broken thumb. In each of the last two seasons, Markakis failed to reach 15 home runs or hit .280. He still has value for his runs total and hasn’t hit below .271 yet, but he’s likely to lose a few home runs in the move to Atlanta. Markakis should score another 80 runs and do just enough in the other traditional fantasy categories to be worth a low-teens dollar figure in 12-team mixed leagues next year.
Chris Johnson – 3B
It’s easy to say that Johnson’s career high .321 batting average in 2013 is an outlier after he hit .263 this year, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Johnson’s .394 BABIP in ’13 proved to be unsustainable, but perhaps more troubling was his ISO dipping below .100. He still strikes out too much (26 percent strikeout rate) for a player who can’t even be counted on to hit 15 home runs annually. Considering the advanced metrics distaste for his defense at the hot corner and that he had a .292 OBP this year, one might wonder if the Braves would be looking to make a change at third base if they hadn’t inked Johnson to an extension through 2017.
Evan Gattis – C
Gattis is basically a deep-league play as he won’t earn much in 12-team mixed leagues ($7 according to BP valuation expert Mike Gianella). He strikes out a ton, but has catcher eligibility and can hit .250 with at least 20 home runs. It’s still a useful fantasy profile and there’s still a modicum of upside if he can top 108 games.
B.J. Upton – OF
Upton hit a few more home runs, stole some more bases, and got his average back over the Mendoza line this year, but the category that salvaged what’s left of his fantasy value was his 67 runs scored. Unfortunately for Upton, 54 of those runs were scored in the 91 games Upton batted either first or second in the lineup and it’s difficult to envision the Braves continuing to bat him as high in the order after his third consecutive season with a sub-.300 OBP. Unless he makes some unforeseen improvement, he won’t even earn $10 in “only” leagues next year.
Alberto Callaspo – 2B
Callaspo was an underrated addition for Oakland at the trade deadline in 2013, but he had his worst single season TAv since 2010 (.231) this year. His .242 BABIP was the worst of his career, giving owners hope for a batting average revival. Callaspo’s power could really be gone, unfortunately, as he only managed to hit four home runs. He’s still tough to strikeout and should get his average back over .250, but he’s a deep league play at best at this point.
David Carpenter – RP
Carpenter’s control issues remain a thing of the past as he had another career best walk rate (six percent) this year. His strikeout rate remained intact (26 percent) and his FIP was under 3.00 again (2.94). Carpenter should once again provide some strikeouts and solid ratios as Atlanta’s eighth inning guy.
David Hale – SP
Hale spent most of the season in the Atlanta bullpen, but had a better ERA as a starter despite a 22-to-16 K:BB ratio. As the Braves’ fifth starter, Hale only has value in leagues where basically every starting pitcher is owned.
Prospects for 2015
Jose Peraza – 2B
While Peraza’s eye-popping minor-league numbers distort expectations on his bat, he still should hit enough to let his speed drive his fantasy value.
Kyle Kubitza – 3B
Kubitza is 24 and doesn’t have a standout skill. He’s merely solid across the board and could get to the majors next year after some time with Triple-A, but it might also be in a bench role.
Christian Bethancourt – C
Betancourt has power for a catcher, but he’s not to be owned outside of really, really ridiculously deep leagues.
J.R. Graham – SP
[Editor’s note: Graham was selected by the Twins in last week’s Rule 5 draft.)
The upcoming season could determine if Graham’s ultimate role is in the starting rotation or bullpen. He suffered a shoulder injury in 2013 and was inconsistent in his return this year. Graham has strikeout upside in either role as long as he’s healthy.
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