Steve Cohen when he took over said that he wanted to be the East Coast version of the Dodgers. As a big market team with a ton of success, it was a perfectly reasonable comp for him to make. But Cohen could have gone in another direction and said he wanted to be the northern version of the Braves. Now, the Dodgers had just won the World Series when Cohen made his remark and the Braves hadn’t won it all since the 90s. But then the Braves went out and beat the Dodgers in the playoffs last year before winning their first championship since 1995.
My opinion is that the Braves have been an incredibly lucky organization, especially the last few years. But, it’s certainly more than just luck. And you can make the argument that the luck balances out the payroll discrepancy between Atlanta and Los Angeles.
The Braves have a budget and do a great job of fielding strong teams under those constraints. They let Freddie Freeman walk, went out and got a somewhat reasonable facsimile at a cheaper rate and haven’t really missed a beat. They’ve had their fair share of injuries and they respond by promoting from within whenever possible. And when there are no internal options, they’re not scared of pulling the trigger to bring in someone from the outside.
If you were new to this country and had no city/state allegiance and you wanted to pick a team to root for, the Braves would likely be on the short list. They are an extremely competitive club, with a strong farm system, a manager who has the respect of the team and a front office that knows what it’s doing.
But dear God, can they ease up on the good fortune?
The Mets lose Jacob deGrom for more than half the year after he put up a 373 ERA+ in 2021. They lose Max Scherzer for two separate stints that total around 9-10 weeks. Scherzer when healthy has put up a 180 ERA+ this year. Starling Marte had the club’s second-highest OPS+ (131) when he went on the IL 17 days ago and there’s no firm idea when he’ll be able to return to the lineup.
Meanwhile, the Braves lose the following guys from their starting lineup on Opening Day:
And they get replaced by Michael Harris (139 OPS+), Orlando Arcia (101), Vaughn Grissom (127) and William Contreras (134). They trade for Robbie Grossman, who has a 76 OPS+ and he comes on to produce at a 93 OPS+ rate. They suffer a slew of injuries and somehow get better because the injuries happen to weak spots and rookies and unheralded guys produce more than anyone has any reasonable reason to expect.
Harris was their top prospect according to FanGraphs. But there was speculation that he would top out as a fourth outfielder and they gave him a Future Value rating of 50. Brett Baty had a Future Value of 55 and he had a 66 OPS+ in the majors before going on the IL. Grissom wasn’t expected to reach the majors until 2024 and had a Future Valley of 45. Vientos had an ETA of this year and also had a Future Value of 45 and he has a (-37) OPS+.
How on earth is it that the only guys they lose are ones that are underperforming? OK, Travis d’Arnaud missed time, too, but that’s just par for the course. And Ronald Acuna Jr. hasn’t been quite the same since returning from last year’s season-ending injury. But he wasn’t in the lineup on Opening Day.
Spencer Strider starts the year in the bullpen and is listed by MLB.com as the club’s seventh starting pitcher when it publishes the team’s Opening Day roster. So, of course, he’s terrific as a starter and is a co-favorite with Harris for Rookie of the Year.
A strong farm system? Without a doubt and kudos to their scouting and development people. But it’s just not normal for a club’s top three prospects – this case Harris, Strider and Grissom – to come up and excel right away. How many times do you think that’s been done among all 30 MLB clubs in the last, say, five years? My guess is that you can count them on the fingers of one hand. And still have fingers left over. Perhaps even as many as four fingers.
There’s an argument that if something happens over and over again, that you can’t call it luck. The Braves have an inordinate amount of good fortune again and again and again. If you think that it’s no longer in the realm of luck – well, that’s another strong argument to make the Braves the one that teams out of the playoffs should look to emulate, right up there with the Dodgers.