Gambling is all about accurately predicting, and some hoping, that something goes right (or horribly wrong, but in your favor) in order for you to hit your desired wager. Previously in this series I touched on what someone gambling on the Minnesota Twins this year to hit the Over in their Over/Under wins total would need to go right this season.
Here we’ll be discussing the 2019 Atlanta Braves, whose 2018 season ended with a loss in the NLDS to the Dodgers after a 90-72 regular season. In my opinion, the Braves have a particularly advantageous Over/Under for 2019.
All odds via BetStars. 2018 stats via Baseball-Reference
Wins Over/Under: 86.5 (Over)
MLB Over/Unders can be tricky; it’s not uncommon for a playoff team the previous season to find themselves with a top-10 draft slot after the following season. However, the Braves to me feel like a team with the potential to be even better than last season, as opposed to the three games worse you’d need to cash-in on your Over bet.
The 2018 Braves were largely fueled by a young core, one that looks to improve as a whole for 2019. Offensively there’s a ton to like about this squad. Freddie Freeman turned in a 6.1 WAR season at age-28 as the key cog in the Braves lineup. Ozzie Albies parlayed a spectacular first half and sorta meh 2nd half into a 3.8 WAR season, & Johan Camargo quietly turned in a 3.7 WAR season at age 24.
The 2019 Braves get a full season of Ronald Acuna, who lit baseball on fire last year, accumulating a 4.1 WAR, hitting 26 home runs, swiping 16 bags, & getting on base at a .366 clip in only 111 games. Even getting 140 games out of Acuna this year makes the Braves a mile better. Even if they hadn’t added a single offensive piece in the offseason they’d be primed for improvement.
But, lucky for you and your Over 86.5 wins bet, they did add an offensive piece. The Braves made one of the earliest signings in the offseason by taking a flyer (A $23M flyer, but a flyer nonetheless) on former MVP Josh Donaldson. Between 13-17 Donaldson averaged 7.2 WAR, and that’s with an injury shortened 2017. Injuries hampered his 2018 season as well, leading him to only play in 52 games (although he did slash .280/.400/.920 during his final 16 games of the season with the Indians).
The Braves are hoping for the 13-17 version of Donaldson to reappear, but frankly even if only a less effective version shows up in Atlanta, that still might be a 4-win player. If you threw money down on the Braves, offensively you’re really just hoping for a bounce back from Donaldson, and continued growth from all the young players, which hopefully isn’t too tall a task. Acuna is a stud, Albies needs to find the plate discipline that made him in All-Star in the first half, and you’re hoping Dansby Swanson can finally realize some of the potential that made him the #1 pick a few years back.
On the mound the Braves were also buoyed by youth, as their massive stable of young arms on the farm began to arrive in Atlanta earlier than expected, along with steps forward by young veterans that can hopefully be sustained.
Post-2018 the Braves potentially have their young 1-2 punch of the future. Mike Foltynewicz delivered on long-awaited promise and posted a season that landed him 8th in the Cy Young voting, and at only age 26 anyone betting on the Braves has to hope there’s even more in the tank. Kevin Gausman, a mid-season acquisition from Baltimore, also delivered on long-awaited promise, posting a 2.87 ERA in ten starts with Atlanta.
Julio Tehran may never be the Cy Young winner that was hoped for when he was in the minors, but he did surpass 175 innings for the 6th straight year & lowered his ERA and improved his K-rate in his age-27 season. His walk rate did climb, and his FIP didn’t entirely reflect his 3.94 ERA, but if you’re only asking him to be your #3 starter there’s plenty to dream on. Sean Newcomb still walks too many batters, but matches that with nasty stuff, especially as a #4.
The aforementioned arms from the farm arrived in a flurry, as years of draft picks & good trades started to pay off. To bet on Atlanta, you just need a couple of these guys to turn in solid seasons. Luckily for you, there are plenty of guys to hope on.
Mike Soroka was stellar through his first 25 innings as a big leaguer before a shoulder ailment ended his year. Shoulder injuries are never fun to think about, and his apparently is already barking in Spring Training, which will hamper his ability to win that 5th starter spot out of the gate. If not Soroka, it could be Touki Tossaint, for whom words can’t do justice on what he can do with a baseball.
If that weren’t enough, there are a few other potential impact pitchers still left in their prospect troves that could help either the rotation or pen this year. Luis Gohara had a rough 2018 both on and off the field, but it was just a couple years ago that he was primed to be a potential CC Sabathia-type. Kyle Wright flew through the minors a year after being a first round pick and could also make an impact, while former #7 overall pick & Top 100 prospect Max Fried is too looking to break through.
Having a plethora of young, promising arms is never a bad thing, and Atlanta just needs to see continued growth from a few of them to surpass their Over/Under of 86.5 (and potentially make a run at a pennant). If you bet the Braves, you’re betting on youth, and that’s an exciting wager.
By Kyle Bandujo