2020 Fantasy Baseball: Atlanta Braves Team Preview

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Atlanta Braves

The Braves worked their way back into the World Series conversation over the last two years, which came after missing the playoffs over the previous four seasons. Since 1991, Atlanta made the postseason 16 times with one World Series title and five trips to championship series. Since 1901, the Braves picked three World Series titles (1914 – Boston Braves, 1957 and 1995) with 25 postseason appearances.

Their growth in 2019 came on the offensive side of the ball. Atlanta finished sixth in runs (901), which was an improvement of 96 runs from 2018 (759). The Braves hit 259 home runs (eighth) with 824 RBI (sixth). Their pitching staff ranks seventh in ERA (3.75) in 2018, but they drifted back to tenth in ERA (4.19), with most teams allowing more runs due to the impact of the home runs hit (6,776 – most in baseball history). Atlanta finished with 44 saves.

In the offseason, the Braves signed OF Marcell Ozuna and C Travis d’Arnaud to help replace the loss of 3B Josh Donaldson. They also added a pair of arms to their pitching staff – SP Cole Hamels and RP Will Smith. Atlanta took a swing on a minor league deal with SP Felix Hernandez.

The direction of the 2020 Braves’ season falls on the success of their young arms – Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Sean Newcomb. Atlanta has four developing starting options as well at the upper levels of the minors – SP Kyle Wright, SP Bryse Wright, SP Touki Toussaint, and SP Ian Anderson. Their bullpen has multiple arms with closing experience, which points to a rotating 9th in 2020.

The core of the Braves’ offense is young and elite (Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman) while possibly lack impact bats at the backend of their starting lineup. OF Marcell Ozuna should help stabilize the cleanup spot, and C Travis d’Arnaud improves the lead catching position. Overall, Atlanta may have some regression in their offense in 2020.

The Braves will be in the hunt again this year. For them to win the World Series, they need one arm to emerge as an edge reliever and two pitchers to develop into aces. The capper would be a batter that comes up with hits in the most significant moments of games.

Starting Lineup

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1. OF Ronald Acuna

Acuna finished as the most valuable hitter in 2019 based on SIscore (12.36), which is aided by his five-tool skill set. My first take and surprise on him from last year was his high strikeout rate (26.3). In his short minor league career, he made better contact (21.3 percent). He will take plenty of walks (10.6 percent). 

Acuna continued to have a high AVH (1.851) and CTBA (.400) with a slight step back in each stat in 2019. His best month came in August (.270 with 11 HRs and 27 RBI over 115 at-bats) with a high output as well in June (.331 with nine HRs, 21 RBI, and six SBs over 124 at-bats). He had a floor of five home runs in each month. Over the second half of year, Acuna hit .263 with 20 home runs, 48 RBI, and 24 stolen bases over 266 at-bats with more regression in his strikeout rate (30.4). His hard-hit rate (46.9) ranked 35th, with more growth in his HR/FB rate (24.8).

The Braves stated that he would start the year hitting first in the batting order, which invites a much lower total of RBI chances. His RBI rate (18) is middle of the order ready. An explosive player with more upside in batting average if/when he makes better contact. Buy his edge in runs with the high floor in power and speed. Acuna will be drafted as the top hitter in 2020 while owning questions with his batting average.

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2. 2B Ozzie Albies

Last year Albies played his second full season in the majors while showing growth in his approach (strikeout rate – 16.0 and walk rate – 7.7). He also pushed his RBI rate (17) and CTBA (.358) higher while setting career-highs in batting average (.295), hits (189), doubles (43), RBI (86), and stolen bases (15). 

Albies dominated against lefties (.389 with 11 HRs and 33 RBI over 149 at-bats) while shining over the final four months (.312 with 70 runs, 17 HRs, 62 RBI, and 11 SBs). The next generation stat guys may kick his hard-hit rate (33.5 – 309th) while ranking much higher in balls hit 95 MPH or more (178 – 40th). 

His HR/FB rate (12.4) improved for the third straight year, but it is well below the top home run hitters in the game. Albies has close to a balanced swing while raising his line drive rate (25.5). There's a lot to like here while hitting between two top players. He has an ADP of 36 in the early draft season. 

I don't expect a big jump in power, but his game could surprise in his area. Albies finished 2019 as the 24th rated player in SIscore (4.54), which almost matches his draft value (26th hitter off the table). Next step: .300 BA, 110-plus runs, 25 home runs, 75 RBI, and a push toward 30 steals.

Fantasy Baseball Ozzie Albies & Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
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3. 1B Freddie Freeman

With better talent surrounding him in the starting lineup, Freeman finished 2019 with the best season with the Braves. He set career highs in runs (113), home runs (38), and RBI (121). His RBI rate (22) ranked with the top players in the game, but Freeman actually had regression in his RBI chances (375). His strikeout rate (18.4) was a career-low while having a high floor in his walk rate (12.6). He finished with a similar AVH (1.864) as 2016 (1.882) and 2017 (1.911) with a step back in his CTBA (.374). 

Most of his damage came against right-handed pitching (.310 with 30 HRs and 97 RBI over 436 at-bats). Even with an excellent season, Freeman did fade after the All-Star break (.274 with 15 HRs and 53 RBI over 241 at-bats), which may be tied to a right below issue that required surgery after the year. He had 199 hits of 95 MPH or more (20th) and 105th in hard-hit rate (42.3). His HR/FB rate (23.6) was a career-best while remaining a line drive type hitter (27.5 percent). 

High floor player with the skill set to hit over .300 with a 110/35/120/5 skill set. His ADP comes in at 15 in late January.

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4. OF Marcell Ozuna

Ozuna battled a finger injury over the summer that led to about five weeks on the injured list. His season started with 24 runs, ten home runs, and 28 RBI over 100 at-bats in April while hitting .260. Over the first three months of the year, he hit .259 with 20 home runs, 62 RBI, and eight stolen bases over 293 at-bats). 

The finger injury led to a big step back in value over the final two months (.219 with nine HRs and 27 RBI over 192 at-bats). Ozuna also lost his way against left-handed pitching (.217 with six HRs and 20 RBI over 83 at-bats). His CTBA (.315) made a massive step backward for the second straight year, but he did make a push in his AVH (1.957). 

Ozuna had the best walk rate (11.3) of his career with a league average walk rate (20.8). In 2017 and 2018, he had top-shelf RBI chances (467 and 434) with follow-through in 2018 (389) if he played a full year. The Braves have elite talent in front of him in the starting lineup with speed at the top of the order. 

Look for Ozuna to have a rebound in his batting average with a run at career-high in home runs and RBI. His ADP (117) is very attractive, especially if he can chip in with some steals after swiping 12 bags in 2019.

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5. OF Nick Markakis

Markakis was on pace for 80 runs, 13 home runs, and 93 RBI if he matched his 2018 total in at-bats (623). He missed seven weeks with a broken left wrist. All of his power came against righties (.298 with nine HRs and 46 RBI over 312 at-bats). Over the first three months, he hit .286 with .286 with eight home runs and 51 RBI over 322 at-bats). 

Even with a low average hit rate (1.475), Markakis continues to have strength in his RBI rate (18) with over 400 chances in each of his last three full seasons (444, 421, and 471). In 2019, he finished with his best HR/FB rate (9.2) since 2008 (12.6) while still producing a shallow fly-ball rate (27.1). I was surprised to see his hard-hit rate (44.6) ranked 69th in baseball (109th in 2018 and 203rd in 2017). 

Markakis has an outside chance at 3,000 hits (needs 645 hits at the age of 36). His ADP (536) remains an afterthought in drafts, but he will help in runs, batting average, and RBI. Last year he did appear to get stronger based on his hard-hit rate, which could lead to growth in home runs.

A change in swing path would help his power immensely. His downside is a platoon role with Adam Duvall. 

To view the full starting lineup, which also includes player analysis for Austin Riley, Travis d'Arnaud, Dansby Swanson, Tyler Flowers, Johan Camargo, Ender Inciarte, Adam Duvall, Alex Jackson, Charlie Culberson & Adeiny Hechavarria, subscribe now to FullTime Fantasy

Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription. Shawn Childs is a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ. Gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.

READ MORE: 2020 Atlanta Braves Team Outlook

Pitching Staff

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SP1 Mike Soroka

A spring training shoulder injury pushed me away from Soroka in the high-stakes market. 

My closing lines in his 2019 profile looked like this: With a full season of starts, I expect double-digit wins with a sub 3.50 ERA and 150-plus strikeouts. With an ADP of 291, Mike has the talent to be an impactful arm based on his price point. 

Soroka made some progress late in March, but he started the year at AAA (four runs over 9.1 innings with ten Ks). After a call up to Atlanta, Soroka allowed one run or fewer in each of his first eight starts (5-1 with 1.07 ERA and 46 Ks over 50.2 innings). He looked mediocre over his next nine games (3.83 ERA) before rebounding over his final 12 starts (2.99 ERA and 56 Ks over 72.1 innings). In late June, his right forearm had some tightness, but the issue ended up being minor. 

Soroka wasn't quite major league ready against left-handed batters (.282 with nine home runs over 277 at-bats). His AFB (93.0) came in at the league average. He gained his advantage via his slider (.159 BAA) and changeup (.126 BAA). Soroka is a sinkerball pitcher with a high ground ball rate (51.2). The biggest fear here is going from 30.2 innings in 2018 to 181.2 innings in 2019.

In his one postseason appearance, he looked the ace part after allowing one run and two hits over seven innings. His low strikeout rate (7.3) puts him well behind the top arms in the game. His ADP (108) looks more than favorable. His next step is improving his swing and miss ability while finding a better way to attack lefties.

 Possible 200 innings with 15-plus wins, a sub 3.00 ERA, and only 150 strikeouts, while making sure there are no adverse injury reports in March.

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SP2 Cole Hamels

Hamels enters his 15th season in the majors with a 163-121 record with a 3.42 ERA and 2,558 strikeouts over 2,694.2 innings. Over his past four years, his walk rate (3.3) has been well below his career resume (2.6) while maintaining his strikeout rate (8.4). In 2019, Hamels struggled in his first start (five runs over six innings with four Ks) before posting a 2.53 ERA and 99 strikeouts over his next 99.2 innings. Over this stretch, he did miss the whole month of July with an oblique issue. 

After two bad starts in August (12 runs and 21 baserunners over five innings), Hamels finished the year with a 4.22 ERA and 36 strikeouts over 32 innings. Late in the season, he did battle a left shoulder issue. He no longer has a clear edge over right handed (.259) or left handed (.265) batters. His AFB (91.8) was his lowest since 2009 (90.9). Both his changeup (.159 BAA) and cutter (.204 BAA) grade as top pitches. 

Batters pretty much drilled both versions of his fastball (four-seam – .315 BAA and sinker – .369 BAA). The Braves saw enough in his arm to pay him $18 million for one-year while I'm scared to death to roster him even with an ADP of 252. 

Hamels needs to regain some of his lost velocity plus show a rebound in his command. Atlanta will win games, so a dozen wins with a 3.75 ERA, and 175 strikeouts are viable.

Fantasy Baseball Mike Foltynewicz, Atlanta Braves
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SP3 Mike Foltynewicz

Last year I had Foltynewicz in the avoid column due to his lack of length of success in the majors and his expected draft value. In a way, he saved some fantasy owners by suffering a late March elbow injury that led to over three weeks on the injured list. His season started with six games with four runs or more allowed over 11 starts, which led to a 6.37 ERA, 1.416 WHIP, and 16 home runs over 59.1 innings. 

After a six-week trip back to AAA (3.86 ERA and 45 Ks over 51.1 innings), Foltynewicz regained his 2018 form with the Braves (6-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 55 Ks over 57.2 innings). A big part of his failure came from home runs allowed (1.8 per nine). His walk rate (2.8) beat his career average (3.1), but he lost value in his strikeout rate (8.1 – 9.9 in 2018). 

Foltynewicz had regression against right-handed batters (.258 with 12 HRs over 240 at-bats – .208 with six HRs over 327 at-bats in 2018). His AFB (95.0) dropped by almost 1.8 MPH while being a career-low. He had the best success with his slider (.235 BAA) and changeup (.200 BAA) with similar value with his four-seamer (.250 BAA), sinker – .260 BAA), and curveball (.250 BAA). Foltynewicz has a rising fly-ball rate (40.2) and a career-high HR/FB rate (16.9). 

With an ADP of 206, fantasy owners will be placing their bet on a rebound season. There is growth in this arm, but I do fear a TJ surgery is coming (rising home runs paired with a drop in velocity). Anywhere from a sub 3.00 ERA to summer-long vacation. If the spring reports show an uptick in his fastball, I would be more tempted to invest. 

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CL/RP Will Smith

The closing role for Atlanta will be in flux this spring training, and it may take some time for someone to seize the job long-term. Smith should be the top option based on his success over the past two seasons (2.66 ERA, 167 Ks, and 48 SVs over 118.1 innings). In 2019, he proved to be more than worthy of being a top closing arm. 

His season started with a 1.98 ERA, 53 strikeouts, and 23 saves over 36.1 innings. Smith tripped up in multiple games in July and August, which led to a drop back in value (4.64 ERA and 29 Ks over 21.1 innings). His struggles came from six home runs allowed (1.4 per nine innings on the year). He missed some time in September (1.17 ERA over 7.2 innings with 14 Ks) with a back issue. 

Smith finished with the highest strikeout rate (13.2) of his career, with a slight step back in his walk rate (2.9). He dominated lefties (.157 with one HR over 70 at-bats). His AFB (92.9) regressed slightly with batters hitting .290 vs. his four-seamer. Smith offers a plus slider (.177 BAA) and a winning show-me curveball (0.083 BAA). 

A potential 100-strikeout reliever with 40-plus saves and an edge on ERA and WHIP. 

To view the full pitching staff, which also includes player analysis for Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Mark Melancon, and Shane Greene, subscribe now to FullTime Fantasy.

Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription. Shawn Childs is a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ. Gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.

READ MORE: 2020 Atlanta Braves Team Outlook