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:

Ozzie Albies – 93 OPS+
Adam Duvall – 86 OPS+
Eddie Rosario – 63 OPS+
Marcell Ozuna – 83 OPS+
Alex Dickerson – 14 OPS+

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 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.

12 comments on “Mets’ rival is right up there with the Dodgers as a club teams should emulate

  • AgingBull

    I think that the Mets/Braves rivalry is fantastic, going back literally to the origin of our competitiveness (1969 NLCS). I’ve had an ongoing dialogue with a couple of diehard Braves fans for a couple of decades now and can’t bring myself to “hate” the team as many others do. I reserve my loathing for the truly despicable franchises, like the Yanks and Phillies. Yeah, Chipper was a real villain, but you have to respect his approach and results. There have been a few John Rockers over the years, but largely they keep the game between the lines. That they have won only a couple WS is a great equalizer with the Mets, even though they dwarf us in pennants.

    Anyway, this might be my inner Mets fan coming out, but I’ve attributed their success in their prospects and in their FA pick-ups to their superior scouting. These three rooks this year (Harris, Grissom, and Strider) have minimal weaknesses. They continue the legacy of Swanson, Acuna, and Riley. I took a look at the Braves busts and the only one that seems like a major disappointment has been Jose Peraza. As for FAs, Grossman has been a boost, but look at what they did last year, with Soler and Rosario. They made some smart pick-ups in Travis d-A and Morton.

    The Mets have had some nice success in recent years with homegrown talent, like JDG, Alonso, McNeil, and Nimmo but in true Mets fan tradition, I am skeptical that Alvarez, Baty, Vientos, or Mauricio will be anything close to what we think they will be. How many “can’t miss” prospects have missed terribly over the years? There was Generation K, of course, and then a long line of Ochoa, FMart, Escobar, Milledge, Gomez.

    At some point, you can’t call it luck and you just gotta tip your hat. I do put the Braves in the same category as the Dodgers as far as a gold standard. Aside from the cheating scandal, which will never be forgotten, the heinous Astros are also in the conversation. So are the Yankees, specifically for prospect development.

    I think that Cohen is going about building a franchise that will churn out successful prospects on annual basis but we aren’t there yet. This year’s draft looks promising following last year’s cluster-F, but that Bryn Anderson, son of Sandy, is the director of scouting makes me a bit skeptical.

    • Brian Joura

      While I wish they would have signed Rocker, the rest of the 2021 Draft looks promising right now. Their 2nd and 3rd round picks are in the top 15, possibly top 10 of their farm system. There are a half dozen more who bear watching, including Mike Vasil. And they’ve already traded one – Nick Zwack – to bring in help for the MLB club

  • JimO

    Those guys are tough to beat; thats for sure. Strider is tremendous and so is Fried.

    • AgingBull

      I think that their Achilles heel just might be their closer. When I talk to my Braves fan friends, they seem to have the same sense of dread when Jansen gets the call. His OPS against is not awful at .645 but certainly not elite. As a comparison, Diaz has been below .600 each of the last three years and is posting an amazing .459 in 2022. Even though Diaz is getting all kinds of love this year, I think he’s been one of the most under-rated reasons for the Mets success in 2022.

      • T.J.

        Unlike the Mets, the Braves have two closers, in case on goes bad.

  • Paulc

    Organizational culture and good decision-making from the bottom up matter. That culture and good decisions explain why some teams with moderate spending restraints (ATL, STL) to severe financial limits (TBR) consistently field competitive teams. They draft well, develop players properly, innovate (shifting with spray charts, pitching with “openers”), and don’t overspend on older free agents (Pujols, for example). That goes the other way for big-spending organizations with poor decision-making (LAA with Pujols, Josh Hamilton, etc).

    As the saying goes, “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Atlanta is not lucky. It’s smart and those injury holes were filled by well-drafted and developed players.

    Cohen would be wise to emulate the methods of TBR and STL.

    • Brian Joura

      There’s well drafted and developed players.

      And then there’s hitting on all three of their top prospects in the same year, when one of them wasn’t supposed to debut until two years from now.

      I don’t care what word you want to use to describe it – fortune, luck or divine intervention. But point out to me any team that’s done that in the last five years. This just doesn’t happen. Two rookie hitters performing at 27 and 39 percent better than league average plus a pitcher tied for sixth in the majors in fWAR.

      Getting one of those would be a good year for most farm systems. Getting two in the same year is like winning $20 grand from Publisher’s Clearing House. I don’t even know how to describe getting three in one year. Maybe it’s like being the only one to win Mega Millions when the jackpot is $500 million.

      Since 2016 (chosen to give five full years, plus this year) there have been 49 hitters to have an OPS+ of 125 or greater in their rookie season (min. 125 PA) and 16 pitchers to have a bWAR of 3.0 or greater as a rookie. That’s five full seasons, a mostly-complete season here in 2022 and a partial season in 2020. Let’s throw out 2020, which eliminates five hitters from consideration. So in essentially six seasons, we have 44 hitters and 16 pitchers to do what Harris, Grissom and Strider have all done this year for the Braves. That’s 180 teams (30 x 6) to divvy up 60 players. One team getting 3 in the same year seems awfully unlikely.

      Shoot, let’s do it and see

      2016 – 9 teams have one player and the A’s have 2
      2017 – 8 teams have one player and the Rockies have 2
      2018 – 7 teams have one player and the Angels, Royals and A’s have 2
      2019 – 10 teams have one player and the Padres have 2
      2021 – 3 teams have one player and the Rays have 2
      2022 – 4 teams have one player, the Orioles have 2 and the Braves have 3

      In our 180-team sample, only one team has had 3 rookies perform at this elite level in the same season. Seems pretty damn lucky to me.

      • BoomBoom

        Once again you have issued an extremely well-timed article. Perhaps their luck is finally starting to wear out.

        • Brian Joura

          You know, I don’t want to see anyone injured. But if I was to make an exception for someone, Strider might be at the top of the list.

          I hadn’t heard that so thanks for the info and the link.

      • AgingBull

        I had a feeling that you might dismantle my anecdotal, eyeball POV with facts and data. Damn you, Brian. LOL 🙂 Good post and comeback. It’s hard to debate the “luck” stance as I don’t know how to prove that it’s not luck. But the overarching point was if the Braves are a franchise to emulate and I would have to say yes, even if only one of these prospects hit it big.

        Additionally, Mike W made the great point about how they are locking in these talents for the long haul at what could be bargain rates in a few years. It’s a gamble, but it seems like a shrewd one. We’ll get some more datapoints about how Cohen and Eppler approach FA this off-season with so many core Mets players up for grabs.

  • Mike W

    What really us the magic and shrewdness, is not only do they create great home grown talent, they signed most of them to long term team friendly extensions.

    The Mets position players are nice, but where on earth are the great young arms since deGrom came up ?

    That’s why the next few years may be tough. If we had some terrific talent on the way up, we could afford to lose some older players.

    • Footballhead

      The irony is/was that deGrom was not a heralded talent when he came up. He was in the same category as a Megill; a mid season call up for bullpen help and a spot start.

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