We transition to the National League with a look at some betting tips and players to watch for the Atlanta Braves. The biggest story in the NL East isn’t Bryce Harper. It isn’t Juan Soto. It isn’t Patrick Corbin. At this point, now that the dust has settled, the biggest story, at least in my mind, is that the Braves did very little to upgrade their ballclub. With injuries now to Mike Foltynewicz and with some further uncertainty in the rotation, this is a team that has a cloudy future in the division and for the season.
Then again, maybe I’m just too sour on the Braves. Their season win total remains in the upper 80s and some books did take action on them to win the NL East. The Braves went 23-12 in one-run games, which is a little concerning, but they also won more games on the road than at home, which is a positive. They were 69-46 against righties and just 21-26 against lefties, which could be a main reason why Josh Donaldson’s services were employed.
The Braves beat up on bad teams and played around .500 against teams .500 or better. There is one thing I’d like to point out. The Braves went 43-38 at home and scored 23 more runs. They also allowed 57 more runs. On the road, they were +68 in run differential and went 47-34.
What doesn’t connect to me is how and why the Braves scored more runs at home and why games were higher scoring overall. SunTrust Park ranked 26th in wOBA on fly balls and line drives last season. Only Marlins Park, Comerica, Citi Field, and Busch were lower. It wasn’t the ground ball either, as hitters had a .240 BA on grounders in Atlanta. Something doesn’t add up. Braves home games averaged 9.23 runs and Braves road games averaged 8.25 runs per game. More on that in a bit.
Money Line Spots
We’ll see if I pay for this point of view, but the Braves are a team I really don’t like much for this season. I think they’re the fourth-best team in the NL East and I think they’re something of a regression candidate. The lineup is strong. The pitching staff is not. There is good depth, but a lot of guys with flaws.
It won’t be any secret to fade Julio Teheran, who posted a 3.94 ERA with a 4.83 FIP and a 4.72 xFIP. Mike Foltynewicz, whenever he gets back, will also be something of a fade guy with a 2.85 ERA and a 3.77 xFIP. It will also be interesting to see how Kevin Gausman is viewed after his posted a 2.87 ERA and a 4.46 xFIP in his 59.2 innings with the Braves.
As for guys to back, though, I do think there is some staying power to Foltynewicz. We’ll see if the market agrees with me or not, but his arsenal changes last season were all a positive. His K% jumped 6.5 percent and a lot of it had to do with increased slider usage and decreased fastball usage. There are some signs of concern, like a .194 batting average against and a .251 BABIP, which were both well off of his career marks, but if the prices are right, I can see myself with a Braves ticket when he’s on the hill.
I mentioned earlier about SunTrust Park having some really weird numbers. Well, the Braves scored 65 runs in 10 home games against the Phillies and 64 runs in nine home games against the Marlins. That would be 6.5 and 7.1 runs per game, respectively. In the other 62 home games, the Braves scored just 4.23 runs per game at home. It does seem like the numbers against the Marlins and Phillies created some noise in the sample.
As a result, we may get some inflated Braves totals at home. In looking at how SunTrust Park played overall, and in seeing how the Braves scored 129 of their 391 home runs against the Marlins and Phillies over 19 games, I’m thinking there’s some under value here.
The Braves were 79-78-5 to the under last season, so a pretty neutral team. I do think they have a good offense and a poor rotation, so unders are very scary here, but there seems to be some things that don’t quite line up.
Individual Players to Watch
Touki Toussaint – Like Sean Newcomb and, to a degree, Mike Foltynewicz, Toussaint is a guy that isn’t always quite sure where the ball is going, but it’s hard to for hitters to handle when it gets there. The Braves have a lot of “effectively wild” pitchers that avoid barrels, but also miss the strike zone quite a bit. Toussaint is a guy that will run up some serious pitch counts against disciplined teams.
Against free-swinging teams, though, especially those that rely on the long ball, I like Toussaint. I think he’ll be mispriced as a great unknown in this rotation. There aren’t a lot of NL teams that fit this mold, but even looking at teams that don’t walk a lot, Toussaint makes a lot of sense against the Rockies, Padres, Pirates, and Giants. The Braves will be clear favorites in those games, but Toussaint’s presence should keep those lines mostly manageable.
Dan Winkler – This Braves bullpen concerns me. AJ Minter is really solid, but the Braves didn’t really do much to bolster this unit and opted to stick with the in-house options. Dan Winkler was a primary one last season, but he threw 60.1 innings and made 69 appearances. The converted starter only had 21 appearances prior to that across 18.2 innings and he made his Major League debut in 2015. With a depth-shy bullpen, a guy like Winkler is huge. He was excellent in April and May and not very good after that, including a shutdown in September. This unit concerns me greatly and Winkler is a primary reason why.