Buying or selling Braves' offensive projections for 2016?
The Braves' lineup has, without question, undergone some dramatic changes. Just three players who started on Opening Day 2015 -- first baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Jace Peterson and right fielder Nick Markakis -- are expected to start in the '16 opener. Another, Kelly Johnson, is back, but isn't projected to be a part of those first innings. So what kind of numbers will Atlanta's revamped offense produce? Let's look at the forecasts for the presumed starters via the Bill James Handbook and services Marcel and Steamer, and whether we are buying or selling those figures. -- Cory McCartney
The spring should give us a better indication of how Fredi Gonzalez is going to balance the work load between his two veteran catchers, and it's important to remember most of these projections were made before Flowers was teamed with Pierzynski. It's clear that after hitting .300 at age 38, Pierzynski's late-career renaissance is expected to continue, but given the desire to cut back on his workload, are double-digit homers a possibility? The Steamer picks of a time share may be more realistic.
The 23 homers forecasted by Bill James and Steamer represent a return to the 20-HR standard Freeman set from 2011-13, though if he follows the Marcel picks it will be the fewest of any of his full major league seasons. What's intriguing is the plate appearances. From 2011-14, Freeman had no fewer than 620, but coming off the wrist issues, ever projection service seems to expect the Braves to give the 26-year-old two-time All-Star more time off in '16.
After totaling 597 plate appearances over 152 games as a rookie, it appears every service is expecting the group of Gordon Beckham/Daniel Castro/Kelly Johnson to steal some innings in '16. It's valid, given that Atlanta's brain trust has discussed giving Peterson more time off after his second-half dip (.221 average after hitting .252 in first half). The stolen bases via Bill James and Steamer are only a slight uptick over last season's 12, but after racking up 148 in the minors, that's an area where Peterson could make vast improvements in his second full year.
The only projections that anyone is going to concern themselves with over the new shortstop is how he is expected to perform compared to the old one. Aybar is forecasted to have a better slash line than Andrelton Simmons (.260/.311/.364), more doubles than his 23 and fewer homers than Simmons' six. The advanced defensive numbers aren't likely to weigh in Aybar's favor, but if he outperforms Simmons offensively, it will be exactly what general manager John Coppolella promised.
Steamer provides the only projection with Garcia getting the brunt of the time at the position, though he is forecasted for fewer homers (11) than Marcel (12) in over 150 less plate at-bats. Whether he can show enough progression defensively to hold onto the job -- Garcia had minus-3 defensive runs saved and 10 errors in '15 -- will be intriguing, but he's expected to continue to be a source of power, even if his role diminishes.
Frankly, if the numbers forecasted by Marcel and Steamer are a reality, it will be a left down for the Braves given what they gave up to acquire him. Granted, he'll be adjusting to a new position at the major league level in left field, though there's always the chance we could still see him at third base, too. But if he has 317 at-bats or less, as both Marcel and Steamer project, it's going to mean he didn't live up to the progress at the plate that the front office is hoping for.
Last season, Braves leadoff hitters had a .327 on-base percentage, which ranked 17th in the majors, and were 21st with a .252 average. Inciarte, who is expected to claim that role, is projected to provide an upgrade in both departments. With a minimum of 17 steals, he also figures to add another dimension there, as well. If we didn't know already, Inciarte has the makings of being Atlanta's best leadoff hitter since the heyday of Michael Bourn.
The message here is that they're buying that Markakis will get his power back after a season of normal offseason preparations -- to a degree. After hitting three in '15, Markakis is only expected to see a slight increase to nine in '16, which would be his first seasons back-to-back seasons in the single digits. Maybe after flirting with .300 (he hit .296 in '15) for the first time in three years the now 32-year-old will stay the course, but here's thinking he exceeds those homer projections, slightly.