Fantasy Breakdown: Atlanta for 2021

A preview of Atlanta's lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021.

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

At A Glance

 

Atlanta made a deep playoff run in the shortened 2020 season thanks in large part to an offense that was firing on all cylinders for much of the year. MVP-caliber seasons from Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, and unlikely breakouts from Adam Duvall and Travis d’Arnaud, helped push them just a game shy of a World Series appearance. Though the likely loss of  Duvall and Ozuna in 2021 will likely be a setback, additions to their starting pitching corps in the form of Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton should make the team a more well-rounded threat, and a likely contender for a championship in the year ahead.

 

Hitters

By Jonathan Metzelaar

Projected Lineup

 

Infielders

 

Freddie Freeman (First Base)

2020: 51 R, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 2 SB,  .341 AVG/.462 OBP/.640 SLG | 1B #2

2021 ADP: 13.15

 

Freddie Freeman had the strongest offensive season of his career in 2020, posting career-bests in strikeout rate, walk rate, swinging-strike rate, barrel rate, and HardHit% on his way to picking up an NL MVP Award. It’s a shame the season was limited to 60 games, as Freeman was well on his way to eclipsing his previous counting stat career-highs as well. Freeman continued his reign as one of the more prolific line drive hitters in baseball last year, posting an MLB-leading 31.1% rate. But he also started lifting the ball more, which allowed him to continue to produce in the power department despite pulling the ball less than he had since 2016. If Freeman continues focusing on an all-fields, line-drive hitting approach while retaining the uptick in fly balls he saw in 2020, there’s no reason he can’t repeat in 2021.

 

Ozzie Albies (Second Base)

2020: 21 R, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 3 SB, .271 AVG/.306 OBP/.466 SLG | 2B #25

2021 ADP: 31.15

 

Ozzie Albies missed half of an already-shortened 2020 season with a bone bruise in his right wrist. The injury was severe enough that it prevented him from hitting right-handed prior to landing on the IL, and things didn’t seem to improve much upon his return as he posted just a .219 wOBA against lefties last year. Though his final line was mediocre, his injury and the bizarre nature of the 2020 season are worth factoring in here, as is the fact that he’s just 23 years old. Assuming health, Albies is likely a safe bet for about 25 homers and mid-teens speed with a decent average over a full season.

 

Dansby Swanson (Shortstop)

2020: 49 R, 10 HR, 35 RBI, 5 SB,  .274 AVG/.345 OBP/.464 SLG | SS #7

2021 ADP: 103.31

 

A popular sleeper heading into 2020 on account of the HardHit% gains he made in 2019, Swanson made good on the promise of those quality-of-contact metrics made by posting an impressive .348 wOBA last year. Swanson was a catalyst at the top of Atlanta’s lineup, getting on base at a career-best clip thanks to continued improvements to his line drive rate and all-fields approach. With decent power, a smattering of speed, and a prime spot in the lineup ahead of Freddie Freeman, Swanson is likely to outperform his ADP for a second consecutive year in 2021.

 

Austin Riley (Third Base)

2020: 24 R, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 0 SB,  .239 AVG/.301 OBP/.415 SLG | 3B #32

2021 ADP: 236.29

 

There were some positive takeaways for Austin Riley in 2020. For one, he took steps forward in cutting down on his contact rate and strikeout rate issues–two things that plagued him in 2019, but weren’t huge problems for him in the minors. If he can continue to make strides in those departments, while getting back to elevating the ball the way he did in 2019, there’s definitely potential here for decent counting stats with 30+ homers and a batting average in the .250 range.

 

Travis d’Arnaud (Catcher)

2020: 19 R, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB, .321 AVG/.386 OBP/.533 SLG | C #3

2021 ADP: 149.38

 

Travis d’Arnaud made Atlanta’s front office look like a bunch of geniuses for signing him to a two-year pact prior to the 2020 season, as he became a fixture in the middle of the team’s lineup and was arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball last year. d’Arnaud always showed an ability to avoid striking out in the past, but last year he traded some of that contact ability for increased power, posting a 57.8% HardHit rate that placed him in the top 1% of all hitters in the category. That, paired with the best line drive rate of his career, helped him maintain an elite batting average despite a downturn in his strikeout and contact rates. Time will tell if the changes stick, but we’ve seen what he’s capable of, and it’s enough to keep him in consideration as a top-3 catcher.

 

Outfielders

 

Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF)

2020: 46 R, 14 HR, 29 RBI, 8 SB, .250 AVG/.406 OBP/.581 SLG | OF #8

2021 ADP: 1.46

 

Despite a 10-day IL stint for wrist inflammation, Acuña Jr. managed to post numbers that came pretty close to what you might have hoped for if you drafted him with your first pick last season–batting average excluded. The wrist injury was something that Acuña Jr. admitted was still impacting him during the playoffs, so it’s safe to assume he never fully recovered from it. Given that, you can probably give him a pass for the uptick in strikeout rate, and consequently the notable drop in batting average. There’s no doubt Acuña Jr. has the upside of the #1 overall hitter, and he should be drafted accordingly.

 

Ender Inciarte (OF)

2020: 17 R, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 4 SB, .190 AVG/.262 OBP/.250 SLG | OF #131

2021 ADP: 702.67

 

With Adam Duvall non-tendered, Inciarte suddenly finds himself back in Atlanta’s outfield mix. Though he’s coming off two very disappointing seasons, it wasn’t long ago that Inciarte was a consistently solid fantasy producer, capable of compiling 20+ stolen bases with double-digit home runs and a batting average that regularly exceeded .290. Whether he can get back to that place is unclear, but his defense should keep him in the lineup, and he’ll be essentially free in drafts this year.

 

Christian Pache (OF)

2020:  0 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB, .250 AVG/.250 OBP/.250 SLG | OF #228

2021 ADP: 385.13

 

Most of Pache’s at-bats in 2020 came during the postseason, where he posted an awful .180/.280/.364 triple-slash, albeit over just 25 plate appearances. Pache’s standout tools during his time in the minors were his glove and arm, and he certainly showed promise defensively during his brief playoff stint. It remains to be seen how his bat will develop in the majors. His minor league profile hints that double-digit power and speed may be possible, though just barely. His glove should keep him in the lineup, barring another outfield signing by Atlanta. But if he falters to start the year, someone like Ender Inciarte could step in and fill his role.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

It remains to be seen how Atlanta will go about filling out their bench and addressing the holes in their outfield, though it stands to reason they’ll look to add at least one impact bat before the season to replace Marcell Ozuna. Truth be told, there aren’t many fantasy-relevant players on their bench as far as 2021 is concerned. As far as prospects go, Drew Waters is an interesting player to watch, especially if Atlanta chooses to address their outfield holes in-house. If he can translate his numbers in the minors to the big leagues, there’s 20+ stolen base potential with some pop and a decent batting average to boot.

 

Starting Pitchers

By Ryan Amore

 

Max Fried (Locked In Starter)

2020: 7-0, 56 IP, 50 K, 2.25 ERA, 1.09 WHIP | SP #16

2021 ADP: 57.07 (P# 18) NFBC (12/20)

Repertoire: 41.8% 4-Seam Fastball, 22.5% Curveball, 20.7% Slider, 10.1% Sinker, 4.9% Changeup

 

Despite a dip in K rate from 24.6% to 22.3%, Fried finished 7th among starters (50 IP minimum) with a 2.25 ERA, easily a career-best. Similar to Ian Anderson he’s a candidate to be overvalued heading into draft season. Fried’s batted ball profile leans heavily in favor of ground balls which puts his WHIP (1.32 for his career) in question. In eleven starts last season he allowed a minuscule .211 batting average (.204 xBA). But if we see the pendulum swing back closer to 2019’s .270 batting average allowed across a more appreciable sample don’t be surprised to see some regression in line with 2019’s 4.02 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. There’s upside here of course but be cautious in leaning too heavily on last year’s brief sample. Steamer (via Fangraphs) is anticipating some regression projecting him for a 3.80 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. In addition, last year’s 13.8% K-BB% (50th among SPs 50 IP min) makes his current NFBC ADP inside the top 20 SPs somewhat specious.

 

Charlie Morton (Locked In Starter)

2020: 2-2, 38 IP, 42 K, 4.74 ERA, 1.39 WHIP | SP #135

2021 ADP: 143.26 (P# 53) NFBC (12/20)

Repertoire: 35.5% 4-Seam Fastball, 32.7% Curveball, 20.9% Sinker, 8.8% Cutter, Split-Finger 2.1%.

 

The Rays declined Morton’s club option for $15 million making him a free agent. Just a few weeks later, the Atlanta Braves signed him to a one-year, $15 million contract. Like so many players, it’s incredibly difficult evaluating Morton solely from what we saw this past season. He was able to make just four starts before hitting the IL with right shoulder inflammation on August 10th. That injury would cost him about three weeks as he returned to make a two-inning appearance against the Yankees on September 2nd. From there, Morton gradually built up his pitch count as the Rays easily coasted to a division title. He finished the regular season on good terms, though, with two strong outings against the Orioles and Phillies throwing over 90 pitches in each contest while carrying a combined 28.3% CSW rate. Overall, last year Morton’s K rate fell from 30.4% to 24.7% and combined with a dip in fastball velocity from 94.7 to 93.4 MPH along with a drop in whiff rate from his bender (38.1% to 30%) there may be some trepidation here. But we also have to wonder how much health impacted his performance, especially across such a truncated season. He did end the season well while his two starts in the ALCS proved pivotal in the Rays’ charge to the World Series. Health being the critical caveat,  Morton’s upside is readily apparent as he held a 3.09 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 21.5% K-BB% across 361.2 IP from 2018-19 with the Astros and Rays. Potential age-related decline and last year’s shoulder issue will certainly dent his draft stock, but there is potential top-20 SP type upside for Morton if he proves last year to be an aberration. Keep an eye on his velocity in Spring Training as that will almost certainly dictate fluctuations in his ADP.

 

Drew Smyly (Locked In Starter)

2020: 0-1, 26.1 IP, 42 K, 3.42 ERA, 1.10 WHIP | SP # 108

2021 ADP: 237.44 (P# 90) NFBC (12/20)

Repertoire: 45.6 % 4-Seam Fastball, 36.5% Curveball, 17.8 % Cutter

 

The Braves signed Smyly to a one year deal worth $11 million. The veteran lefty posted a career-best 29.7% K-BB% this past season and 14.9% swinging K rate across five starts and two relief appearances. Most salient were upticks in velocity for all three of his pitches, as he added just about 2.5 MPH on his fastball, cutter, and curveball. We’ve seen Smyly show plus ability before, you just have to go way back to 2014-15 where he tallied a 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 16.6% K-BB% across 37 starts (219.2 IP) for the Rays and Tigers. As far as last year goes, we’re looking at a microscopic five start sample, only two of which did he manage to reach the five-inning threshold so you almost have to anticipate some considerable regression across a more meaningful sample. Smyly also has a considerable injury history as he lost all of 2017-18 with a flexor strain that would later require Tommy John surgery. Prior to that, he missed roughly three months in 2015 with a torn left labrum. He has also thrown 150 innings just twice in his career so volume is a major concern. But, based on last year and past success he’s certainly a worthwhile dart throw in the later rounds.

 

Mike Soroka (Likely Starter)

2020: 0-1, 13.2 IP, 8 K, 3.95 ERA, 1.32 WHIP | SP # 181

2021 ADP: 167.12 (P# 64) NFBC (12/20)

Repertoire: 31.2 % Sinker, 28.6% Slider, 28.1% 4-Seam Fastball, 12.1% Changeup

 

Unfortunately, we only saw Soroka for three starts last season as he suffered a devastating Achilles tendon injury on August 3rd. The Braves haven’t provided an official timeline in his recovery from surgery, but the good news is that he began throwing in late November. The rehab process was originally billed at around five months so we should get a better idea as we clear January. For context, Adam Wainwright sustained a tear in his left Achilles tendon in April 2015 and was able to return in relief just before the season ended on September 30th. In Soroka’s case it was his push-off leg (right) that was injured. Considering his sensational rookie 2019 season where he recorded a 2.68 ERA and 1.11 WHIP across 174.2 IP Soroka’s ADP should get plenty of helium if we hear favorable news out of camp. Though, Soroka may have been ticketed for some regression considering his 2019 K-BB% of 14.4% was 38th among qualifiers. And even if he’s fully recovered by the start of the season, he’s only made three live starts since October of 2019 so it might be a mistake to assume effectiveness right from the start as his command could be off some given the long layoff. Setting aside last year’s three starts, superlative control is the young righty’s strong suit exhibited by an excellent walk rate of 5.8% in 2019. That has been his penchant throughout his time as a prospect so that should help him to maintain a trim WHIP. But, barring some growth, a below-average career K rate of 19.6% will make him susceptible to ratio regression if variance falls more toward the other side of 2019’s favorable .236 batting average allowed versus a .268 xBA.

 

Ian Anderson (Locked In Starter)

2020: 3-2, 32.1 IP, 41 K, 1.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP | SP # 42

2021 ADP: 91.86 (P# 35) NFBC (12/20)

Repertoire: 46.9 % 4-Seam Fastball, 30.8% Changeup, 20.8% Curveball, 1.4% Sinker

 

The third overall pick from the 2016 Amateur Draft, Anderson made his major-league debut against the Yankees on August 26th, tallying six strikeouts, allowing one earned run while earning the win across six frames. In six starts last season, Anderson dazzled with a 1.95 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 19.6% K-BB%, and 29.1% CSW rate. The righty features a fastball that sits at 94.1 and tops out at 96.6 MPH while his changeup and curveball held whiff rates of 39.8% and 40.5% respectively. He also showed the ability to throw both for strikes too with his changeup and curveball holding zone rates of 42.3% and 39.5% respectively. Immaculate results across last year’s six starts along with prospect status on a World Series contending team do make him a candidate to be over pursued in upcoming drafts. There’s no denying the upside, the only problem might be leaning too much on last year’s impressive, but brief 32.1 IP sample. He has carried a double-digit walk rate (10.1% last year) going back to his days in A-ball in 2017, not a huge concern by any means (League average walk rate last year was 8.3%) but it does add a little volatility. He could also face some regression in his first full season as opposing lineups and scouting reports become more familiar with him. Projections are bearish on Anderson, Steamer (via Fangraphs) having him pegged for a 4.30 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Monitor his ADP and adjust accordingly if it begins to reflect his ceiling.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Falling painfully short from their first World Series appearance since 1999 the Braves made a couple of early off-season acquisitions to shore up their rotation in Morton and Smyly. But Morton is 37-years-old and coming off of a shoulder injury, Smyly has an extensive injury history, and Soroka is tentatively set to return from an Achilles injury so you don’t have to squint too hard to see some innings opening up here. Touki Toussaint carries strikeout upside, but a rough 14.3% career BB rate makes him a longshot at this point especially after finishing last year with a 7.52 ERA and 1.62 WHIP across five starts. Kyle Wrightthe Brave’s fifth overall pick from 2017’s Amateur Draft, made eight starts last season but failed to distinguish himself with a 5.21 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. He has shown an effective slider at times but walks and a sub-par fastball are holding him back. For now, he’s just a name to take notice of in deep NL leagues if he flashes improvement in the Spring. Huascar Ynoa did also make five starts for the Braves last year but his 4% K-BB% was far from exciting. Bryse Wilson logged just two starts (8 IP) at the very end of the season. However, he made a very impressive start in Game 4 of the ALCS allowing just a single earned run across six frames. The righty Wilson posted a 3.42 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 18.3% K-BB% across 121 innings in 2019 with Triple-A Gwinnett. 

 

Relief Pitchers

By Ryan Amore

 

Bullpen Roles

 

Chris Martin (Possible Closer/Setup)

2020: 1 SV , 6 HLD, 18.0 IP, 20 K, 1.00 ERA, 0.61 WHIP | RP # 46

2021 ADP:471.53 (P# 183) NFBC (12/20)

 

Last season, the Braves bullpen tallied 13 saves. Mark Melancon converted 11 of them while blowing two. The veteran righty is the antithesis of today’s prototypical leverage reliever as his 14.7% K rate put him in the bottom 6th percentile. So he was almost certainly the beneficiary of some fortuitous variance. Regardless, he’s now a free agent so there is a saves vacancy to speculate on. The two saves last year that did not go to Melancon went to Bryse Wilson in a four-inning effort in long relief. As mentioned earlier though, he profiles more as a potential arm in the rotation. The other save went to Martin who last year held a 1.00 ERA and 0.69 WHIP across 19 appearances. Combining the past two seasons (73.2 IP), the veteran righty Martin has posted a stellar 2.8% BB% rate and K rate north of 30% a favorable combination for a potential closer. The Braves are certainly a favorite to add to their pen but for now, Martin is definitely a name worth filing away.

 

Will Smith (Possible Closer/Setup)

2020: 0 SV, 5 HLD, 16.0 IP, 18 K, 4.50 ERA, 0.94 WHIP | RP # 96

2021 ADP: 253.53 (P# 96) NFBC (12/20)

 

The other, more familiar name to be aware of for those hunting for saves is of course the lefty Will Smith who signed a three-year deal with the Braves back in the 2019 off-season. We’ve seen Smith be a very effective closer back with the Giants in 2019 when he posted a career-best 37.4% K rate to go along with 34 saves, 2.76 ERA,  and an All-Star appearance. Given his past experience, look for Smith to be a potential candidate for the coveted closer role. At the very least, he’ll be an asset in holds leagues as he finished tied with Minter for second on the team with five this past season (Martin led with six holds).

 

A.J. Minter (Other Holds Options)

2020: 0 SV, 5 HLD, 21.2 IP, 24 K, 0.83 ERA, 1.11 WHIP | RP # 72

2021 ADP: 574.74 (P# 221) NFBC (12/20)

 

The lefty Minter was huge for the Braves last year as he broke out for what was easily a career-best 0.83 ERA while also increasing his K rate from 23.8% to 28.2%. A 2.97 xERA indicates some regression is likely, still his batted ball numbers were impressive across the board as his xwOBA, barrel %, xBA, and hard-hit% were all in the top 75th percentile or better. Minter figures to be a strong source for holds out of the Braves pen, though one that comes with a less than ideal 10.1% career walk rate.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

As mentioned, the Braves are a team that could certainly be in the mix to add to their pen. In addition to losing Melancon to free agency, Shane Greene, who had nine holds last year, is also gone. For now, either Martin or Smith seem like reasonable bets to get the closer job. While Minter should be a strong source of holds. Another interesting name to come out of the lunacy of 2020 was the lefty Tyler Matzek. Further proof that pitching for the Rockies is a perilous proposition, Matzek had not made a major league appearance since 2015. Fast forward five full years and he found himself pacing the Braves pen with a 35.5% K rate across 21 appearances. Given how effective he was last year he’s certainly a name to be aware of. The walkless wonder, Josh Tomlinwas also incredibly effective in his 18.1 IP out of the pen as he paced Braves relievers with a 28.6% K-BB%.

 

ADP data taken from FantasyPros composite ADPs.

2019 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson, Kyle Ross / Icon Sportswire; All-Pro Reels Photography | Design by Quincey Dong (@threerundong on Twitter)

Ryan Amore

Writer for PL, artist, DFS enthusiast, and occasional Yankee fan. Once won a GPP with Henderson Alvarez. A proprietor of the Ketel Marte Fan Club. Appreciates walks but only of the base on ball variety.

One response to “Fantasy Breakdown: Atlanta for 2021”

  1. Avatar Beary B says:

    Give my man Cristian Pache some love and spell his name right!!

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