StrategyFebruary 22, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Atlanta Braves

By R.J. White

Welcome to the debut of a new series entitled “30 Teams in 30 Days”, where we will look at all 30 Major League teams and dissect what to expect from them this season. Keep an eye out for the hidden gems who could be the key to winning your fantasy baseball season.

First on the schedule is one of my favorite teams, the Atlanta Braves. After a historically great run of 14 consecutive division championships, the Braves played .500 ball for two seasons before plummeting last year to their worst record since 1990. The identifying thread to the Braves success throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s was high quality pitching and great young bats. With three straight seasons of watching October baseball from the couch, the Braves will have to find a new identity to be successful in 2009.

For a closer look at the Atlanta Braves and the rest of the NL East, be sure to check out The Can of Corn NL East Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Brian McCann.301.373.5236823875509
1B Casey Kotchman.272.328.4106514742525
2B Kelly Johnson.287.349.44686126911547
SS Yunel Escobar.288.366.4017110602514
3B Chipper Jones.364.470.5748222754439
LF Matt Diaz.244.264.30492144135
CF Josh Anderson.294.338.4262131210136
RF Jeff Francoeur.239.294.3597011710599

Unsettled: Left Field. The Braves have been trying to lure a prominent name to fill their left field slot, and after failing to land Ken Griffey Jr. the team has Matt Diaz left as the best option for the position. Atlanta will no doubt continue to try and sign a free agent to start in left field as Diaz’s production plummeted last year. Without any new blood in the outfield, the offense will be limited to being mediocre.

Target: Brian McCann and Josh Anderson. If you subscribe to the position scarcity theory, McCann is the catcher you want to target in the fourth or fifth round. He hit a solid .300 supported by a 87% contact rate and 31% hit rate. His 23 homeruns put him in the elite at catcher and he’s only 25 years old, so there still could be room for growth. Anderson’s speed makes him a great hidden gem. You can likely target him at the very end of the draft and he has the potential to steal 40 bases.

The Rotation

Derek Lowe (R)14-113.241.1314745211 
Javier Vazquez (R)12-164.671.3220061208.1w/ChA
Kenshin Kawakami (R)9-52.301.0611225117.1in Japan
Jair Jurrjens (R)13-103.681.3713970188.1 
Tom Glavine (L)2-45.541.64373763.1 

Unsettled: Tom Glavine. Glavine has signed a one-year, $1 million deal, worth up to $4.5 million with incentives, with the Braves. 2008 wasn’t a great year for the lefty, and it looks like he might be running out of steam and near the end of his illustrious career. Jorge Campillo would be the favorite for the #5 spot if Glavine doesn’t work out, but the guy you want to keep an eye out for is Tommy Hanson. One of the game’s best pitching prospects, Hanson could be ready for a rotation spot this year, so those in leagues with a deep bench should take advantage of his talents and snag him at the end of the draft.

Target: Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami. Vazquez will benefit from a move back to the National League, as many pitchers have seen their numbers improve after moving to the DH-less league. Despite his ratios, Vazquez was excellent last year, striking out 200 while only allowing 61 walks. Facing weaker lineups, Vazquez should flourish in Atlanta and is a great mid-round target. At the end of the draft, take a look at Kawakami, a potential hidden gem. A Japanese pitcher with excellent secondary stuff, the league could have trouble with Kawakami his first time through the majors. A smart manager will pick him up in the final rounds and look to deal him mid-season if he succeeds.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Mike Gonzalez (L)144.281.19441433.2
Rafael Soriano (R)32.571.1416914

Chasing Saves: Mike Gonzalez enters 2009 as the closer and is in the final year of his contract. When healthy, Gonzalez has shown that he has closer stuff, averaging over one strikeout per inning. He looked great in his return from Tommy John surgery and is an excellent target for your bullpen in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. Rafael Soriano will probably man the eighth inning if he’s healthy. He possesses closer-quality skills and will be a hot pickup if Gonzalez struggles.

Final Thoughts

In the early rounds, Brian McCann is a great target in the fourth or fifth round. Chipper Jones will be the next off the board, but be cautious with him as he’s unlikely to avoid the disabled list. Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami are excellent value options in the mid to late portion of the draft. Mike Gonzalez is a great second closer to add in the later rounds.

Good luck in 2009 and check back here tomorrow for analysis of the Florida Marlins in the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

R.J. White (a.k.a daullaz) has been actively involved in fantasy sports for over 13 years. He is addicted to fantasy sports and loves writing, the Atlanta Braves, music, the Buffalo Bills, theatre, the Philadelphia Eagles, his family, and the number 42, though not in that order.
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