Atlanta Braves 2023 Season Preview

Atlanta Braves 2023 Season Preview
(Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Braves have won the National League East Division for five consecutive seasons. The Braves won the World Series in 2021 and the other four seasons saw them making it as far as the NL Championship Series once and losing in the NL Division Series the other three times. That’s a five-year stretch a lot of teams would love to have. This 2023 Braves season preview expects much of the same.

The Braves won 101 games in 2023 but lost some key players to free agency.

Players Lost to Free Agency

PlayerPositionNew Team
Dansby SwansonSSChicago Cubs
Kenley JansenCPBoston Red Sox
Adam DuvallLFBoston Red Sox
Darren O’DayRHPElected free agency, then retired
Luke JacksonRHPSan Francisco Giants
Robbie GrossmanLFTexas Rangers
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The top two players on the list of the dearly departed are Dansby Swanson and Kenley Jansen. Swanson was a hot commodity in the offseason and signed a megadeal with the Cubs for 11 years and $300 million. Swanson made his first All-Star team in 2022 and also won a Gold Glove. He slashed .277/.329/.447 during 2022 with 25 home runs, 32 doubles, 18 stolen bases, 96 RBI, and 99 runs. He was 12th in MVP voting.

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Jansen signed with the Red Sox for 2 years and $32 million. A converted catcher, Jansen rose to prominence in his 12 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers and currently sits at number eight on the list for career saves — only three saves behind former star Braves closer Craig Kimbrel and one above Oakland Athletics legend Dennis Eckersley. Jansen converted 41 saves for the Braves in 2022 to lead the National League.

Both players are difficult to replace. Jansen could be headed to the Hall of Fame if he maintains his K/9 (13.0 career), WHIP (0.938 career), and saves output (391 career). Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are the only two players north of 600 saves but the next four are all under 400. Jansen has averaged 37 saves per season since 2014.

Alex Anthopoulos Makes Moves in Offseason

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The move that made the most noise was the acquisition of veteran catcher Sean Murphy, 28, in a three-team swap. The trade cost the Braves six players including catchers William Contreras and Manny Pina along with LHP Kyle Muller, RHP Freddy Tarnok, RHP Royber Salinas, and RHP Justin Yeager (minors). Anthopoulos then promptly signed Murphy to a six-year deal worth $73 million with a $15 million team option for 2029.

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Murphy slashed .250/.332/.426 with 18 homers, 37 doubles, and two triples with 66 RBI and 67 runs in 134 games for Oakland in 2022. But Murphy also brings dependable defense with him as the backstop gunned down 31% of would-be base stealers in 2022. The league average was 25%. In addition, Murphy has better range than most catchers in the league. Concerning is that although his range and fielding are above the league average, he has seen a steady decline in those statistics since 2019. But not with his caught-stealing percentage — he raised that category from 2021 (24%) to 2022 (31%), and it was his highest since 2019.

The Return of Allard

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In another off-season move, Anthopoulos sent Jake Odorizzi to the Texas Rangers for LHP Kolby Allard. The Braves originally acquired Odorizzi from the Houston Astros for LHP Will Smith in August 2022. But the Braves got the short end of the stick on that deal as Odorizzi’s ERA jumped by 1.49 to 5.24 after the trade. His strikeout rate increased after his acquisition, but so did his walk, home run, and hit rates. Smith, on the other hand, lowered his ERA by 1.11 and WHIP by 0.287 after the trade.

LHP Kolby Allard, 25, is a five-year veteran in the league and originally made his debut with Atlanta in 2018 after being drafted by the Braves as the 14th overall pick of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft. After a cup of coffee in the league (three games, eight innings) in 2018, the Braves shipped Allard to the Texas Rangers for RHP Chris Martin at the end of July 2019. Martin performed well immediately and continued that production throughout his time with the Braves. Allard had a difficult time in Texas. He pitched to a 5.85 ERA with a 1.371 WHIP in four seasons with the Rangers. His HR/9 was respectable, however at 1.8. His K/9 with the Rangers was 7.5. Allard’s BB/9 was 3.0 and his H/9 was 9.3. Perhaps his stuff will play better in Atlanta.

Hilliard Has a New Start with Atlanta

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The Braves sent Dylan Spain to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Sam Hilliard in the offseason. Hilliard, 29, looked promising in his first partial season with the Rockies but has since declined. He slashed .184/.280/.264 with two home runs, five stolen bases, six doubles, and two triples with 14 RBI and 26 runs in 174 at-bats in 2022. He hit as many as fourteen homers as recently as 2021 but that was twice as many as his second-highest season total. In 2019, Hilliard blazed onto the scene with seven homers in 77 at-bats en route to a .273/.356/.649 slash line, 1.006 OPS, and 138 OPS+. Atlanta hopes to return the outfielder to form.

Dylan Spain is a minor leaguer drafted by the Braves in the 2021 MLB June Amateur Draft. Spain, 24, moved up the ranks from rookie ball to High-A in 2021, assembling a 3.80 ERA and microscopic 0.566 WHIP in 17 2/3 innings with a K/9 rate of 10.7. He cooled off in 2022, however, pitching to a 5.30 ERA and 1.357 WHIP in 56 innings at High-A. His K/9 rate was 9.6 in 2022. Spain will look to continue his ascent in Colorado’s system.

Luetge Comes to Braves for 2023 Season

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LHP Lucas Luetge, 36, came to the Braves via trade with the New York Yankees. The Yankees received SS Caleb Durbin and RHP Indigo Diaz in exchange. Luetge has had an interesting career. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox out of high school in the 31st round in 2005 and then again by the White Sox out of community college in 2006 — this time in the 18th round. Then the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in the 21st round in 2008 out of Rice University. He spent 2008 to 2011 in the Brewers minor-league system.

From 2012 to 2015, Luetge was a member of the Seattle Mariners big-league club and pitched to a 4.35 ERA and 1.483 WHIP with a strikeout rate of 7.5 K/9. Then he bounced around between three clubs’ minor-league systems from 2016 through 2019. In 2020, he did not play. Then he suddenly resurfaced as a member of the New York Yankees in 2021 and remained through 2022. But his stats were certainly different for the Yankees: 2.71 ERA, 1.249 WHIP, and 9.6 K/9. The one statistic that Luetge maintained throughout his career is a low home run rate (0.7 HR/9) — even in New York (0.7 HR/9 in 2021 and 0.6 in 2022).

The Price for Luetge

Caleb Durbin, 23, was a 14th-round pick of the Braves in 2021. A shortstop, Durbin slashed .244/.351/.363 with eight homers, 22 doubles, three triples, 43 SB, 68 RBI, and 80 runs in his two seasons in the minors — although almost all of those stats came in 2022, which was Durbin’s first full season as a professional. Durbin did swipe 12 bags in 17 games in rookie ball in 2021 however.

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Indigo Diaz, 24, has excellent numbers in the minors. In his three-year career between rookie ball and up to Double-A, Diaz sports a 2.31 ERA, 1.029 WHIP, and 13.8 K/9. But his 2022 numbers didn’t add up for the Braves. He posted a 3.08 ERA, 1.208 WHIP, and his strikeout rate fell to a still-high 11.4 K/9. Those numbers are still very respectable and his strikeout rate is great.

Notable Free Agent Signings

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The Braves did not make a splash in the offseason by virtue of free-agent signings but they did acquire some players worth noting. The Braves signed RHP Nick Anderson, 32, who may end up closing some games this season. Anderson was most recently a member of the Tampa Bay Rays and has a career 2.89 ERA, 0.962 WHIP, and 14.1 K/9 with eight saves. Wow, right? The catch is that he’s only thrown 87 1/3 innings in his entire three-year career and 65 of those innings came in 2019 while splitting time between the Miami Marlins and Rays. He also had a K/9 rate of 15.2 during that season. Anderson’s one-year deal is worth $185,000 while he is in the minors and $875,000 while in the majors. His contract is not guaranteed.

Notable minor-league signings include RHP Jesse Chavez, 3B Joshua Fuentes, RHP Jackson Stephens, LF Kevin Pillar, RHP Tyree Thompson, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Joe Harvey, and RHP Nick Anderson. But there is a much longer list of signees for the Braves. Anthopoulos was busy this off-season.

Injuries Headed into 2023

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Starting pitcher Huascar Ynoa and relief pitcher Tyler Matzek are out for the season with elbow injuries. Expect closer Raisel Iglesias to be out until at least mid-April with shoulder inflammation. Relief pitcher Kolby Allard has a Grade 2 right oblique strain and is out until mid-April.

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Right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Wright begins 2023 on the 15-day IL. He is eligible to return on April 11. He reportedly received a cortisone injection in his shoulder in January and needs more time to ramp up for the season.

So it’s mainly pitching that the Braves worry about this season. Rookies Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd will reportedly fill out and fill in the starting rotation and each will make their MLB debuts during the first time through the Braves rotation in 2023. Both lefties had excellent 2023 spring training showings. Shuster looks like the better prospect because he has a lower WHIP, lower ERA, and more innings under his belt in the minors but Dodd is not far behind. Both competed in spring training for the final rotation spot.

Shuster, 24, was the 25th pick overall in 2020 and posted a 1.45 ERA, 0.589 WHIP, and struck out 18 batters in 18 2/3 innings in the spring. His minor-league numbers were also good: 3.69 ERA, 1.093 WHIP, and 10.0 K/9 from High-A to Triple-A in 212 1/3 innings across two seasons.

Dodd, 24, was the 96th overall pick in 2021 (Round 3, Pick 25) and sported a 2.00 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, and 10.0 K/9 in 18 innings during spring training. In two seasons in the minors, Dodd amassed a 3.87 ERA, 1.212 WHIP, and 10.0 K/9 in 156 innings.

Braves 2023 Starting Rotation

NumberPlayerThrows
1Max FriedL
2Spencer StriderR
3Jared SchusterL
4Charlie MortonR
5Dylan DoddL
InjuredKyle WrightR
Kyle Wright may slot into the number two or three positions in the rotation when he returns, which may send Dodd or Schuster to Triple-A.
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The Braves rotation may look skewed to someone who hasn’t been following spring training. Ian Anderson had a relatively ugly spring training, pitching to a 6.14 ERA, 1.773 WHIP, and allowing two homers in 7 1/3 innings. The bright spot is that he struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings. Unfortunately, he also walked 9.8 batters per nine innings. As a result, Mr. Anderson will begin the season at Triple-A, but may rejoin the rotation later in the season. The Braves expect veteran Kyle Wright back in mid-April and he may knock one of the rookies back down to Triple-A.

Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and Spencer Strider are still in the rotation. Fried did not allow an earned run in 14 1/3 innings in spring training while striking out 11.9 batters per nine innings. He did allow two unearned runs, including a homer. Morton’s spring was not as shiny as Fried’s but still gleamed as he pitched to a 4.66 ERA, 0.931 WHIP, and a strikeout rate of 11.2 K/9. Strider’s spring was also excellent. He pitched to a 1.69 ERA, 1.125 WHIP, and a strikeout rate of 11.8 K/9.

If Everything Falls Into Place, the Braves are in a Rotation Dilemma

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If Schuster, Dodd, or both continue to excel, it’s going to be difficult to hold them back. Couple that with Wright and Anderson coming back and the Braves may run into a difficult di, tri, or even quadrilemma. It’s a situation that many teams would love to be in and it would be a rotation reminiscent of the dominant Braves rotations from the 1990s. Names like Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz come to mind. Braves fans must be licking their chops at the prospect of another great and long-lasting rotation.

Braves 2023 Bullpen

PlayerThrows
AJ MinterL
Joe JimenezR
Raisel Iglesias*R
Collin McHughR
Dylan LeeL
Kirby YatesR
Lucas LuetgeL
Nick AndersonR
*Raisel Iglesias is reportedly out until at least mid-April.

Braves Outfield, Featuring Acuña Jr.

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In case you haven’t heard, superstar right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. is back and leads an outfield consisting of Eddie Rosario, Marcell Ozuna, Michael Harris II, and Jordan Luplow. Some think Acuña Jr. will end up competing for NL MVP honors and he certainly may. But he did not have an MVP-like spring training, slashing .267/.371/.467 with a double, a triple, a home run, and a stolen base in 30 at-bats. He also plated three runners this spring. When Ronald Acuña Jr. is healthy and on his game, his OPS is near 1.000.

Ozuna’s spring was great. He slashed .321/.368/.491 with one homer, six doubles, eight RBI, and nine runs. Rosario’s spring was not as great as Ozuna’s. Rosario slashed .231/.259/.500 with two homers, one double, five RBI, and five runs in 26 at-bats. Michael Harris II seems to be in mid-season form already as he batted to a .283/.353/.543 slash line with two home runs, two doubles, two triples, two stolen bases, six RBI, and seven runs. As Hall of Famer Vin Scully used to say, “The deuces are wild.”

Braves Infield, Featuring the Braves Infield

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New acquisition Sean Murphy joins Travis d’Arnaud as the two backstops for the Braves. d’Arnaud was first in the NL in framing pitches while Murphy was fifth in the AL. Other than the departure of Dansby Swanson, everyone else is returning. Matt Olson is at first base, Ozzie Albies at second, Austin Riley at third, and Orlando Arcia is the other newcomer to the infield at shortstop. Olson put on a hitting display in spring training with eight home runs, two doubles, 18 RBI, and 12 runs. He slashed .432/.519/1.023. Yeah, that’s right, his OPS was 1.542 this spring. All that was encapsulated in only 44 at-bats.

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Albies also had a tremendous spring as he slashed .300/.390/.580 with four homers, one triple, and one stolen base with 15 RBI and nine runs. His OPS was .970. Albies walked seven times in spring while striking out 10 times. Hopefully, that ratio continues as it drove up his OPS and will present Atlanta with more opportunities to score runs. Albies averages 46 walks per 162 games in his career.

Riley turns 25 on April 2, so SportRelay would like to wish him a happy birthday. Riley slashed .262/.392/.524 this spring with three home runs, two doubles, six RBI, and five runs. That amounts to an OPS of .916. The main reason for the high OPS is, like Albies, more walks. Riley walked eight times while striking out nine times. The Braves hope he carries that production into the season.

Arcia also had an impressive spring showing as he slashed .333/.422/.513 with two homers, one double, eight RBI, and four runs. His OPS was .935, which is well above his .664 career mark. The Braves hope Arcia is primed to break out offensively in 2023.

And Finally, the Atlanta Braves 2023 Projected Starting Lineup

NumberPlayerBats
1Ronald Acuña Jr.R
2Matt OlsonL
3Austin RileyR
4Marcell OzunaR
5Michael Harris IIL
6Ozzie AlbiesS
7Travis d’Arnaud / Sean MurphyR / R
8Eddie RosarioL
9Orlando ArciaR

Vaughn Grissom had a heck of a showing in spring training but it wasn’t enough to keep him on the big league roster. He slashed .371/.400/.829 with two doubles, two stolen bases, six RBI, and six runs in 35 at-bats. That’s an OPS of .829.

Braves 2023 Season Outlook

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The Braves look to return to the days of Hall of Famer Bobby Cox with current skipper Brian Snitker. A four-time NL Manager of the Year Award winner, Cox managed the Braves to 11-straight division titles from 1995-2005, 15-straight winning seasons from 1991-2005, and six separate 100-plus-win seasons. He also won five NL pennants and one World Series with the Braves and is known as one of the greatest managers of all time. He is the winningest manager in Braves history with a Braves managerial record of 2149-1709 (.557).

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Snitker, 67, has amassed five-straight division titles — and that streak is current. Additionally, he has a pennant, a World Series Championship, and an NL Manager of the Year Award of his own. 2022 brought Snitker his first 100-plus-win season. It doesn’t look like much will change in 2023 — although some teams in the division beefed up their rosters as well. The only real questions Braves fans should be asking are how many games will the Braves win and will they topple the 100-win mark for a second consecutive season?

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Chris Gray

Chris Gray

Chris is a writer, philosopher, and web developer. He is currently the Web Developer as well as an Editor and Contributor for SportRelay.

When Chris was young, he played Little League Baseball for years. In addition, he used to look at the statistics on baseball cards to compare the different players and trade the cards with his friends. As a teenager, he worked as a Computer Technician until he landed a position as a Network Administrator at a middle school in Los Angeles, California.

Feeling unfulfilled with a lack of education to combine with his work and life experience, he returned to school, obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy from UCLA, and now spends his time writing, investing, thinking, programming, and enjoying baseball.

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