2021 Roster Review: Atlanta Braves

88-71 (1st in Division; 12th in MLB)

[PREVIOUS REVIEWS]

SP Wins: 57 (7th)

RP Wins: 31 (2nd)

Saves: 40 (15th)

1+ Save: 4 (Will Smith 37, Chris Martin, Jacob Webb, Sean Newcomb 1)

100+ Ks: 5 (Charlie Morton 216, Max Fried 156, Ian Anderson 124, Drew Smyly 117, Huascar Ynoa 100)

.260+ AVG (min. 350 PA): 3 (Austin Riley .303, Freddie Freeman .300, Ronald Acuña Jr. .283)

65+ Runs: 5 (Freeman 120, Ozzie Albies 103, Riley 91, Dansby Swanson 78, Acuña Jr. 72)

65+ RBI: 4 (Riley 107, Albies 106, Swanson 88, Freeman 83)

10+ HRs: 7 (Riley 33, Freeman 31, Albies 30, Swanson 27, Acuña Jr. 24, Adam Duvall 16, Jorge Soler 14)

5+ SBs: 4 (Albies 20, Acuña Jr. 17, Swanson 9, Freeman 8)

BEST BUY: Max Fried

Fried is a budding ace at #2 prices. After a slow start and injury (11.45 ERA in 3 starts then a 3-week hamstring IL stint), he reeled off 154.7 innings of a 2.44 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. He was pretty sharp in the playoffs, too, with a couple of rough 2nd innings being the only blips on his record. He had a 4.23 ERA across five starts, allowing 7 of his 13 ER in the 2nd innings of Game 5 in the NLCS and Game 2 in the World Series. If healthy, his first 200-inning season should be on the horizon and if he is at or near the 2.84 ERA/1.09 WHIP we have seen since 2020, then a top 10 finish will come with it.

ON THE RISE: Ian Anderson

A brilliant debut in 2020 definitely set the stage for 2021 hype as he was consistently taken in the Top 100. He had a 1.95 ERA/1.08 WHIP in 6 regular season starts and was even sharper in October with a 0.96 ERA/1.13 WHIP in 4 postseason starts. He didn’t replicate that kind of production in his first full season, but it was a great building block campaign as he managed a 3.58 ERA/1.23 WHIP in 128.3 IP (and again dominated in the playoffs). The 24-year-old misses bats (12% SwStr) and keeps the ball down (50% GB rate), a great foundation for an emerging star.

OFF THE RADAR: Tucker Davidson/Kyle Muller

I’m cheating with a duo here, but I wanted to mention both since it might only be one of them in the rotation to start 2022. And maybe neither if they sign someone or if Mike Soroka is ready to roll by Opening Day. That said, teams obviously need more than five arms across an entire season so both will likely hit the majors at some point even if they both start at Triple-A.

Davidson only made eight starts across MLB/Triple-A as well as an impromptu playoff appearance, but he was excellent in the four MLB starts before a forearm injury derailed the debut. He avoided the dreaded Tommy John surgery that often follows these forearm injuries and hopefully he is in the clear for ’22 and beyond. He has a three-pitch mix with heavy slider usage that hints at some strikeout upside (13% SwStr, but only a 22% K rate), too.

I actually like Muller a little more long-term, but Davidson might get the chance ahead of him being older and having better command and control right now. Muller showed flashes in his 36.7 IP (8 starts, 1 relief app.) with a 4.17 ERA/1.25 WHIP with his swing-and-miss ability on display (24% K, 13% SwStr) despite too many walks (13% BB). That is in line with his minor league work from a skills standpoint (25% K, 11% BB) with a better ERA as the lesser talent hasn’t made him pay for his command struggles as often.

Keep an eye on these two and be ready to pounce when they get their next shot with the Braves.

HOT TAKE: Dansby Swanson has the full breakout: 35 HR, 125+ wRC+.

Swanson managed a career-high 27 HR this year, but it came with just a 98 wRC+ as he hit just .248 with a .311 OBP. His .449 SLG and .201 ISO sustained his season. A true breakout has been bubbling up for a while. His 2019 first half (107 wRC+, 17 HR) was the first sign, slowed by an injury that limited him to just a 55 wRC+ and 0 HR in 38 games. The 2020 season saw him get back on track, but it was just two months so how much stock could we put into the 115 wRC+ and 10 HR?

Brutal months bookended his 2021 (wRC+: Apr-57, Sept/Oct-49) and obscure the 120 he put up in the middle four (23 HR in 441 PA). All told, it was a 98 wRC+ and 27 HR. We have seen the power for a 30-homer season and his best is yet to come. A slimmed strikeout rate and some BABIP luck fueled by his premium speed (82nd percentile Sprint Speed) could yield a .290+ AVG and 20 SB as well.

ICYMI: Austin Riley reached the fabled .300-30-100 line with a .303 AVG, 33 HR, and 107 RBI. You almost certainly didn’t miss that he had a great season, but maybe you didn’t realize how great if he wasn’t on your roster. I still remember first learning about him in the Arizona Fall League and he had “the sound” off the bat. That know-it-when-you-hear-it crack that is just a bit different than a standard crush job. Riley had it back in 2017 and it has been great watching his trajectory since then.

IF THE DH RETURNS: I don’t think their primary DH is on the roster right now. Even if we assume Freddie Freeman is re-signed, I still think he would only play there on occasion to get off his feet.





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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