The Athletic names Braves biggest surprise of 2023

cfm23040901119 padres at braves

Following yesterday’s doubleheader against the Mets, the Braves sit at 19-10, three games clear of New York for first place in the division. It’s been a much better start for Atlanta than in years past, especially considering how many injuries they have suffered throughout the first month of the season. It’s a testament to the depth of the Braves roster, and it wouldn’t be possible without a few unexpected contributors.

The Athletic recently went through the biggest surprise for all 30 teams, and Braves beat writer David O’Brien chose the powerful and athletic Sam Hilliard, who was acquired in a trade over the offseason with the Rockies.

Toolsy former Rockies prospect Sam Hilliard is having a breakthrough, hitting .296 with three homers, four steals and a .904 OPS through 20 games, mostly filling in for injured Michael Harris II. Hilliard, 29, had two tape-measure homers in a game last week against Miami. He hit .212 with 29 homers a .717 OPS in nearly 700 plate appearances during four seasons with Colorado, and the Braves got him in a November trade that cost just a fringe pitching prospect. Hilliard made the team because he was out of options and hit .417 in spring training, but now seems assured of playing time even after Harris’ return from the injured list, with Hilliard shifting to left field.

Sam Hilliard’s blazing start to the season isn’t sustainable because of his high strikeout rate. He’s striking out in nearly 44% of his at-bats. If he qualified, that would be the worst in the majors by a large margin. Hilliard’s .481 average on balls in play, which is about 181 points over league average, is helping him considerably and won’t be sustainable over a larger sample size.

Eventually, Hilliard will regress to the mean in a big way, and we’ve started to see that recently. Still, when the lumbering lefty does make contact, he’s hitting it as hard as anybody in the league. Hilliard ranks in the 95th percentile in average exit velocity, 86th percentile in HardHit%, and 67th percentile in barrel rate. That will play every day of the week, but his strikeouts must come down if he ever wants to be considered for a more prominent role.

I don’t disagree with O’Brien’s analysis. Hilliard probably is the Braves biggest surprise to this point in the season, but I might ride with Nick Anderson because he’s poised to be a much more significant contributor as the year continues.

The right-hander is finally healthy after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he looks just as dominant as he was prior to the injury with the Rays. Over 12.2 innings, Anderson is boasting a respectable 3.55 ERA, but his 1.81 FIP, 12.8 K/9, and 0.789 suggest he’s been much better than that. Anderson is already one of the most reliable bullpen options Brian Snitker has at his disposal, and I only expect his role to grow throughout the rest of the year.

Photo: John Adams/Icon Sportswire


Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: