The Braves had a relatively quiet offseason outside of a blockbuster trade for Sean Murphy, which was a much different approach than the other clubs in the division. The Mets and Phillies spent hundreds of millions in bolstering their rosters, but the Braves are still considered the favorites for a reason.
There remains a chance this Braves team is better than the one that won 101 games a season ago if some of their key pieces experience positive regression, and several bounce back candidates are off to a hot start.
After nearly capturing the Triple Crown in the shortened COVID season, Ozuna inked a lucrative four-year, $65 million contract to stay in Atlanta. However, it’s been downhill since the signing; Ozuna has accrued -0.9 fWAR because of his abysmal defense, a .222 batting average, and .675 OPS. Moreover, he’s been a total distraction off the field.
With that being said, more than anyone, Ozuna has an excellent chance to experience severe regression, and he has impressed in Spring Training. In 40 at-bats in the Grapefruit League, the Big Bear is slashing .325/.372/.500 with four doubles and seven RBIs, good for an .872 OPS. The Braves need him if they want to accomplish their ultimate goal.
Combined, Ozuna and Rosario were a black hole in 2022, recording an unsightly -1.7 fWAR. Rosario’s campaign last season was an aberration. From 2017-2021, his average wRC+ was 109.4; In 2022, that number was down to 62. Surely, he’ll regress to the mean. He’s been barreling balls in World Baseball Classic, posting a nearly .800 OPS in the WBC, with two home runs in 17 at-bats.
Albies had a forgetful 2022, but it was primarily due to injuries. A lower leg injury cost him most of the season. Unfortunately, when he was finally healthy, he broke his pinky, which kept him out for the rest of the year. As long as Albies is healthy, he’ll be one of the top second basemen in baseball. He’s showing that in the Spring too — posting a .278/.357/.528 with three home runs and 11 RBIs, good for an .885 OPS.
I saved the best for last. Matt Olson isn’t a normal bounce back candidate. For some players, his numbers last season would be a career year. Olson had 44 doubles, 34 homers, a team-leading 103 RBIs, and recorded an .802 OPS. That’s nearly All-Star caliber production, but I believe Olson can be significantly better in his second season with the Braves.
When the Braves traded for him, Olson accrued 5+ WAR and finished in the top ten of the AL MVP race. There might not be anybody in the league that stands to benefit more from the shift ban. Moreover, Olson should feel more comfortable and less pressured to replace a franchise great like Freddie Freeman, and it seems he’s going to make some noise in the NL MVP race.
Olson is slashing .438/.486/1.063; he’s mashed six home runs in 32 at-bats this Spring, leading to a ridiculous 1.549 OPS. The minuscule sample size has to be considered, but the Braves first baseman is off to a scorching start.
Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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