Over the course of the next 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, leading up to the start of the 2016 season. The series begins with a preview of the Atlanta Braves, who finished in fourth place in the NL East last season.
The Braves’ offseason was focused on trades, as opposed to free agency. The team made a couple of significant trades in an attempt to improve their team for the future. In one, they traded SP Shelby Miller, who had a good season in 2015 despite a 6-17 record that was largely due to a lack of run support, and a minor league pitcher to the Diamondbacks in exchange for a package highlighted by the No. 1 pick in 2015’s draft, SS Dansby Swanson. That trade also sent OF Ender Inciarte to Atlanta. That trade happened in December. In November, perhaps as a prelude to the Miller deal, the Braves traded SS Andrelton Simmons and a minor leaguer to the Angels in exchange for three players, most notably veteran SS Erick Aybar, who is likely a placeholder at the position until Swanson is ready to take over at the major league level.
The Braves won just 67 games last season, finishing with their worst record since going 65-97 in 1990. Their offense was a major reason for the poor season. Although their .251 team batting average was just below the league average, they finished with the fewest home runs, RBI and runs scored in the National League last season. The lack of run-scoring not only affected the team’s won-loss record, but also the pitching staff. As mentioned above, Miller went 6-17 last season despite putting up a career-best 3.02 ERA, with a 1.25 WHIP, in 205.1 innings. He was one of the few bright spots among the team’s pitchers, though. The Braves’ 4.41 ERA was the third worst in the National League. Offensively, 1B Freddie Freeman was the team’s most productive hitter, despite playing in just 118 games. He led the team with 18 home runs and 66 RBI while putting up a .276 batting average.
After two straight sub-.500 seasons, the Braves don’t look to compete in the NL East this year either. After trading their best pitcher, the Braves are left with SP Julio Teheran at the top of the starting pitching depth chart. He’s a decent pitcher, winning at least 11 games in each of the last three seasons, but he’s not of the caliber that you would expect from a team’s ace. And after him, the team’s rotation just gets worse with journeyman SP Bud Norris currently slotted in the No. 2 slot and young, unproven starters making up the rest of the rotation. They’re going with an inexperienced closer, with RP Arodys Vizcaino in the role. He appeared in 36 games last season, finishing with 9 saves to go along with his 1.60 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in just 33.2 innings. He struck out 37 batters in 2015. On offense, swapping Simmons for Aybar is fairly even at the plate but a downgrade in the field; Aybar committed 17 errors with the Angels last season, compared to 8 for Simmons. Adding Inciarte to the outfield gives the Braves a high-average hitter, but he doesn’t have much pop. The Braves’ best hope for scoring more this season will be for Freeman to stay healthy and play a full season. If young 2B Jace Peterson and 3B Adonis Garcia, who should play a full season for the first time in his MLB career, can improve upon last year’s numbers that could also give the Braves a bit of a boost.
Overall, the Braves may be slightly improved on offense, but losing Miller is a big blow to a pitching staff that lacks both a true ace and an experienced closer. The Braves will be better in a couple of years when some of their young players — particularly Swanson — get some experience in the majors, but for now they’ll likely be competing with the Phillies for last place in the division for a second straight year.