Braves Who Could Benefit From This Wacky 2020

Baseball is back!


The road wasn’t a smooth one – the players and owners never actually reached a negotiated agreement – but that’s a story for another day. Today, baseball will be back in our living rooms in a matter of weeks, and that’s cause for celebration.

What has rightfully been cause for skepticism is how baseball is returning. This won’t be a 162-game marathon stretching six full months before reaching a playoff field, but it will rather be a 60-game sprint covering just more than two months. Additionally, the dreaded (or perhaps anticipated) designated hitter has arrived in the National League, among other rumored rule changes.

The risks for a shorter season for the players are obvious. Of course, salaries are prorated, and while that’s fair, it also means that many players have lost millions already this year.

Add onto that the effect that such a season could have on free agency value for a slow starter. Former Brave Josh Donaldson was hitting .243 with a .787 OPS and just 8 home runs – a 21-homer pace for a full season – at his 60-game mark last year. That would’ve made it difficult to pull in the four-year, $92 million contract he landed with the Minnesota Twins after a torrid finish gave Donaldson a .900 OPS and 37 homers on the year.

But how can players – and even managers – benefit from a shorter season? This is not to say that they would necessarily be better off than they would be if the season went the full distance, merely that a 60-game campaign could have unique assets for certain individuals in baseball.

That could be the case for several Braves in key roles for the 2020 season.

Braves Who Could Benefit From This Wacky 2020: Cole Hamels, SP

This one should be relatively obvious, but a shorter campaign could pay big dividends for the veteran lefty. Hamels is just 36, so Father Time hasn’t completely come calling for the four-time All-Star and World Series MVP, but he’s also started at least 27 games in 12 of the last 13 seasons. Coming off an injury-plagued 2019 season, Hamels never really got going this spring after suffering shoulder issues in February.

But never fear, a 60-game season is here, and one that starts in late July to boot! Fans – myself included – had wondered if Hamels’ arm could handle pitching 30 games this season and then taking part in a hopefully deep postseason run. Now, all he’ll need to give is 10 or 12 starts before leading the Braves to another World Series (he said, staring blissfully out of the window).

Braves Who Could Benefit From This Wacky 2020: Austin Riley, 3B

Riley came up like a man possessed in 2019, only to come crashing down as the league adjusted. In his first 20 games, the young slugger hit 9 home runs in just 79 at-bats while posting a .329 batting average and 1.065 OPS. Unfortunately, he only hit 9 homers in the next 60 games while hitting just .185 with a .624 OPS, all while largely playing mostly in the outfield. Since he had played less than 10 professional games in the outfield prior to coming up to the majors in 2019, it’s fair to call that “playing out of position.”

I don’t know that playing in the outfield played a huge role in his struggles, but it couldn’t have helped. This isn’t your church-league softball team; playing outfield in the majors isn’t easy, and it probably required more of his focus than you’d like for a young player whose bat is his most prized tool. With the at-least temporary arrival of the DH in 2020, Manager Brian Snitker will be guaranteed to be able to get Riley into the lineup without having to stretch his defensive abilities. And Riley can hopefully focus on his bat and a defensive position with which he is much more comfortable.

Braves Who Could Benefit From This Wacky 2020: Brian Snitker, Manager

Since we brought Snitker up, let’s talk about how the bonkers 2020 season can help the Braves’ skipper. Snit has led the Braves to back-to-back division titles, but like all managers, his decision-making related to bullpen use and lineup construction have come under scrutiny. Specifically, the failure to get days off for players like Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis late in both of those NL East-winning campaigns could easily be considered contributing factors to early playoff exits.

That shouldn’t be an issue in 2020. This year, Snit will mostly be able to run out his best players as often as they’re healthy because it’s just 60 games. Sure, there will be the long stretches without off-days that might require the occasional breather, but load management can take a back seat this season. Additionally, Snitker won’t be dealing with managing the pitcher’s spot in the order and can only focus on the best matchups on the mound.

Kyle Wright, SP

This one is admittedly dependent on what MLB and the MLBPA decide to do about service time and other roster considerations. But for the sake of the exercise, let’s just operate as though the rules are such that Wright is on the Braves’ roster for most or all of the 2020 season. With no real minor league season, I’d expect that will be the case.

Wright has certainly shown promise despite some up-and-down numbers in brief big-league stints over the last two seasons. This spring, that promise was seemingly coming to fruition as the young righty struck out 15 batters and allowed just 10 base runners in 13⅓ innings. Sure, that’s a small sample size, but Wright was doing everything in his power to lock down a rotation spot.

What would’ve worked against Wright for the 2020 season – at least in terms of a long-term rotation spot – is his inning count. Drafted in 2017, the Vanderbilt product has just two full professional seasons under his belt and only pitched 144 and 132 innings in those seasons. It’s tough to see where Wright could’ve started the season in the rotation and had a shot at the postseason roster, no matter how he pitched, in a full-season situation. But under these conditions, the 24-year-old stands his best chance to do just that.

Ronald Acuña Jr., OF

Let’s be very clear here: Ronald Acuña Jr. is a freak who would’ve thrived under any season conditions this year. Despite a bit of a slump last summer, the Venezuelan phenom very nearly carded a 40-40 season last year with 41 homers and 37 stolen bases, and it still feels like he’s just scratching the surface. Without question, not getting to see just what Acuña could do with another full season in 2020 is one of the biggest baseball-related disappointments in all this.

But Acuña is also still just 22 years old. He’s certainly capable of reaching all the absurd statistical expectations that fans and the media place on him, but there’s really no way for us mere mortals to know how much pressure a place in baseball history can put on a young guy like that. Acuña could have a real chance to just go out and have fun – something he’s also quite adept at – and just see where 60 games takes both him and the Braves.

Thanks for reading “Braves Who Could Benefit From This Wacky 2020”. Find all of our 2019-20 Offseason Analysis here.

19 thoughts on “Braves Who Could Benefit From This Wacky 2020”

  1. Hey Braves Journalers! Let’s give a warm welcome to a friend of mine, Jeremy Timmerman, who is a great writer and has decided to join the ranks at Braves Journal.

  2. Welcome, Jeremy!

    I can certainly understand how a short season could very likely benefit some of our older players, because they won’t need to pace themselves, and could possibly benefit some of our feast-or-famine players, because if they’re able to catch a hot streak the season might end before they cool off. (If Kelly Johnson only played 60-game seasons, he either would’ve been a Hall of Famer or he never would have made the majors.)

    But is there a particular reason to think the Braves benefit more than other teams?

  3. Hi Alex! I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the Braves benefited more in this piece, but thinking about it, that could be the case. The rotation is composed entirely of guys who are really young or who are older/coming off injury. In the lineup, there are several more that fit that category, including Freddie who tends to overwork himself over a full season. So I don’t have every other roster memorized, but I can’t imagine too many contenders better poised to perhaps take advantage of these benefits.

  4. Great list, Jeremy. Welcome.

    @2

    I’m not sure if other rotations could handle a couple-few guys getting COVID and being out for a little while, and I think Atlanta could handle that a little better. It’s been a few months since I looked at the NL East rotation runner-ups, but I don’t think they have the options we do. If the rotation was to be Soroka, Fried, Hamels, Folty, and Felix, then that means you’d have Wright, Newcomb, Wilson, and even Anderson to pull from. With the distinct possibility you might have a mini-outbreak of people going to the COVID IL, then I think this becomes important.

    Riley’s definitely a wild card, but if he performs, you could potentially say the same thing about the position player side.

  5. Great responses to the questions I posed yesterday:

    1) Did someone — players or owners — “win” this negotiation?
    2) Was there a point in the negotiations where there was a high risk that either party would permanently walk away and there would be no season?
    3) What impact will these negotiations be on the 2021 CBA negotiation?
    4) What level of responsibility should the players and staff assume in taking the necessary precautions to avoid getting COVID? Should they “bubble” themselves? Should they force their inner circles — families, friends, associates — to take “bubble”-type precautions to avoid getting COVID?

    I think I pretty much agree with where everybody came down, so some follow up questions off of those questions:

    1) If the players were able to secure a case for a grievance, does it shift things towards the player side? Personally, if the players could win a grievance, then I think it might be the first time in history that the players were able to out-fox the owners. That would be extremely impressive.
    2) So, was there ever a point where the players specifically may have been willing to not play the season? Let’s say it stayed at 50-games pro rata. Would the players have walked away and punted the season? Even if they didn’t have legal grounds to do so, what are the owners going to do, force them to play at gunpoint?
    3) Should we care about the tit-and-tat and back-and-forth of the 2021 CBA negotiations? I lost interest about halfway through this charade. I agree with JonathanF that if someone miscalculates the “last minute” of the negotiations, yes, a work stoppage could occur. But short of that, is there any merit to following the back and forth?
    4) If a player tests positive for COVID, will that affect your opinion of the player? What would have to happen for you to “blame” the player, not the virus? Do you foresee the teams not committing enough resources to protect the players? The health and safety protocols are 67 pages currently, almost guaranteed to get longer.

  6. 1) In general, I think that if the players win a grievance, it’ll say more about how badly the owners screwed up than how well the players handled themselves.

    2) No, I don’t think the players would ever have found internal consensus for a uniform holdout. I think the players absolutely want to play. It’s what they do. I think nearly everyone who’s currently at home out of work because their business has been forced shut feels a similar way.

    3) Honestly, I find it hard watching the games every night when the Braves are a .450 team. So I think you can totally afford to ignore the CBA back and forth. It’s minorly interesting to try to read the tea leaves, but it’s mostly going to be each side angling for position by leaking half-truths and mistruths through the press.

    4) Absolutely not, I would not blame players for getting COVID. It’s a highly infectious disease that has caused a global pandemic. If a player did the Melky Cabrera/Raul Mondesi thing of partying every night till all hours in really unsafe situations, I would blame them for the risky behavior, but I wouldn’t blame them for the sickness itself, if that makes sense. I don’t think getting sick is a priori evidence that they didn’t take sufficient precautions. It is pretty much guaranteed that some players will get sick. We just have to pray it won’t be many.

    Timo @7, thanks — I’m enjoying it right now!

  7. Good to have you aboard Jeremy – good writeup. For some reason I think Camargo is going to benefit from the short season. I guess he seems to profile as more of a slow starter, but who knows what kind of effect the layoff will have. If given the chance I just see him getting hot early on and riding the hot streak. Of course, “if given the chance” is the key operative.

  8. @6

    1) If the players win a grievance, that’ll tip things toward the players’ side in terms of an advantage from this particular negotiation. The answer to question 1 from the last thread (Did anybody “win” these negotiations?) would change from “not really” to “probably the players.” I’m not sure that determines a whole lot for the 2021 negotiations, though. Maybe it forces the owners to start off in better faith, but it could also cause the players to overplay their hand (after all, the owners thought they had the upper hand in this negotiation after they’d gotten the better of the last few).

    Also, I’m not sure if you’d characterize it as “outfoxing” the owners, but the players have gotten the better of negotiations plenty of times in the past. From the Marvin Miller days (where they won arbitration and free agency) to the ’94 strike (which the players did get the better of, such as it was…the owners got basically nothing they wanted), the players have a history of getting the better of negotiations. Just not really since the end of the strike.

    2) No, the players were never going to choose to sit out the season. If they had, all they’d have gotten was the $170 million advance they agreed to with the owners in March. And it’s possible the owners could’ve come after them to get some of that money back if they’d refused to play despite agreeing to let the commissioner set a schedule in the March agreement.

    3) I wouldn’t presume to tell you what to care about, and you’re certainly in the majority if you find yourself in the “Just shut up, make a deal and inform me when it’s over!” camp. God help me, though, I actually find the back and forth of sports labor negotiations interesting. Despite having a background in neither law nor business. Maybe JonathanF can point me in the direction of a practitioner who can prescribe me something for this cursed affliction.

    4) I would definitely not blame a player (or anybody, really) for getting COVID-19. It’s a virus, and even if you do everything right, you can still catch it. My sympathy level could possibly wane a bit if it turns out said player was wantonly acting in a reckless manner that could reasonably be expected to increase his chances of contracting it (especially if he then spread it to a bunch of other people). But even in that case, this really does not need to turn into a witch hunt, and I wouldn’t blame the player for catching it. Given the general contours of social media, though, I fear there will be at least one situation this season where a player tests positive and a photo/video of him dancing with a bunch of people at a club or something (sans mask and distance) surfaces and there’s a large-scale freak out .

  9. Well done, Jeremy. Thank you. I look forward to hearing your voice in this hallowed space again soon.

  10. Keith Law is still optimistic on Touki and Bryse, by the way:

    Alex
    1:46 I can’t believe there haven’t been any Braves prospect questions so… has the ship sailed on Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson as starters? The 60-game season makes it hard to work in these kind of bubble players. Are they change of scenery guys?
    Keith Law
    1:46 Jeez, why are you giving up on them so quickly?

    http://meadowparty.com/blog/2020/06/25/klawchat-6-25-20/

  11. @12
    I am, too. Touki looked great this spring. Bryse is working to add to his arsenal. He has great command and zone recognition but just needs another plus pitch.

    I’ve always thought of Touki as a reliever and Bryse as a starter, but that idea could be flipping in my noggin.

  12. Thanks Jeremy.

    I feel bad for Dansby, though. He’s going to lose most of his age 26 season, and I was optimistic that he was going to take a leap forward offensively this year. He may still, but it will be harder to know if it is real or just sample size.

  13. Yeah, one thing for certain, owners that sign players to big contracts based mostly on 2020 results are stupid. It’s going to happen though. Hopefully we will buy low on players who didn’t have a great 2020.

  14. Has anybody heard anything about how a season without fans in the park might hurt the Braves? As I understood it, two things known about the team finances are that they planned to make a good deal off the facilities around the park (which are useless this year) and the Braves make less money off TV revenue than most contenders.

    This of course is all moot when you remember how much damn money Liberty Media has and could spend if they wanted. I’m just already dreading the company line this offseason about how the team can’t spend.

  15. @16 Agree, will hurt the Braves especially when you also add loss of revenue from The Battery.

  16. @17 Yeah that’s what I’m afraid of. That their next excuse to scream poor will be no Battery income. I’ll be the first to call bullshit when they do.

    Also, I haven’t been on here in a few months – have we all sufficiently made fun of the Rangers horrible new stadium and Battery-type complex? It is uuuuuuugly.

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