No one wins a pennant by Mother’s Day, but there are plenty of teams who will essentially be out of the race this weekend. In the case of the Atlanta Braves, we’ve got a team that is sporting the second-worst winning percentage in the National League with a paltry 11-20 mark. Fangraphs suggests that the Braves have a 0.6 percent chance of reaching the playoffs and literally a 0.0 percent chance of winning the World Series.
But those gloomy numbers doesn’t mean the Braves are the worst team in the league. Advanced stats compiled by our crack staff here at Contest General suggest Atlanta could turn its ship around rather quickly as we continue through May.
There’s no doubt that the Braves are a rebuilding ball club, still a few years away from contending for the postseason. That was an accepted fate as they opened the gates to their new ballpark in the heart of Hotlanta this year. Even bringing in veteran pitchers like R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon wasn’t going to turn a team that won just 68 games last year into a legitimate contender. But the Braves are on track to lose 104 games this season, and they’ve been killing players who are in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests in the early going.
That said, Atlanta ranks No. 19 in the bigs in Win Probability Added (WPA) at -0.91, insinuating that it should much closer to a .500 team than a .355 team.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat doesn’t carry the clout that it used to in the majors, but it remains a good metric of how well a team is performing in relation to your typical “replacement players.” The Braves were awful in that category last year with a team WAR of 10.0, meaning that a roster full of guys plucked out of Triple-A would have only been 10 games worse than the 2016 Braves. That left Atlanta ranked No. 29 out of 30 teams, only in front of the woeful Athletics. In comparison, the World Series champion Cubs finished with a team WAR of 38.7.
Atlanta is 19 percent of the way through its season, so it’s understandable that the small sampling produces WAR numbers much lower than they were last year. But already, the Braves are at a WAR of 3.7, leaving them on a pace for a WAR of 18.8, and giving them an expected win total of around 77.
Through six weeks of the season, Fangraphs portrays the Braves’ expected win total at 69.6, and while that seems conservative based on the projected WAR, it’s nonetheless a suggestion that they’ll play .450 baseball the rest of the way.
So why are the Braves struggling so much in the early goings? The bottom line is that they can’t hit their way out of a paper bag.
Ender Inciarte hit .291 last season for the Braves and had a respectable Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) of .329. This year, he’s plummeted to a .256 average and a .276 BABIP, easily the lowest marks of his career. Adonis Garcia and Dansby Swanson are hitting .234 and .162, respectively, and their BABIPs have reached grotesque lows of .243 and .203.
The Braves’ lineup doesn’t currently feature a hitter who is grossly overachieving this year either. Freddie Freeman’s .336 batting average is likely to dip at some point, but he’s expected to be the highest WAR player on the team and is carrying his weight with a 2.2 mark. You could argue that Nick Markakis won’t finish with a .368 BABIP either, but even with that great BABIP and a solid .280 average, his WAR mark is still just 0.5 through 31 games.
It’s easy to point at the Braves and their 4.93 ERA as a pitching staff and suggest that’s the problem. Certainly, that’s not helping, but where Atlanta should really start to pick up some more wins soon is with its bats. And that’s bound to happen as hitters settle into the season.
The upcoming schedule is going to probably help out a bit, too. Three games are on deck with the Marlins, who have allowed at least five runs in eight of their last nine games. Following that series comes a road trip to Toronto where the Braves will have access to a designated hitter and will get to face a staff with a 1.37 WHIP.
Don’t mistake the Braves for a playoff contender because they’re far from that status, but this also isn’t a 100-loss team either. Their franchise is based on these young hitters stepping up to the plate and executing. It will happen eventually, and when it does, you want to be on the right side of their run by capitalizing in your MLB Pick ‘Em Contests.