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The Braves’ Strength is Pitching Depth

By FanGraphs’ projected standings, the Atlanta Braves are one of the worst teams in the National League–a 73 win team at that. PECOTA doesn’t have them as much better, at a paltry 76 wins (either way, better than the Phillies).

But what they do lack in impact big league talent today, they make up for in minor league depth and prospect value. By Baseball Prospectus, for example, they are ranked as the best farm system in the sport, just a shade better than the New York Yankees, who also have a wealth of prospects. Another interesting tidbit, one that really popped out at the time, was Eric Longenhagen’s rankings of Braves prospects, where he lays out their respective future values.

By his count there are 32 40+ FV players, and of note there are 18 45+ FV players. That’s… a lot. One thing I always despised about prospect evaluation culture is the obsession with the 70, which is a future value I’m glad you don’t see from Longenhagen much, which I truly respect. Chasing the dragon of the elite player is a fool’s game because it’s the wrong game entirely. If you want to build a truly elite team, you have a ton of 45’s.

A 45 fills a spot start. A 45 fills in for injured position players. A 45 can be called up for a week for platoon advantage purposes. A 45, or a number of them, come in handy in particular when the roster expands in September. That’s what makes the Braves interesting moving forward.

You have your Dansby Swanson’s, for sure, and I think there’s a good chance he’s a three-win player or better in the immediate future. Ozzie Albies is knocking on the door and he’s just 20, and there’s a good chance he makes the club this year.

But look a little lower. Touki Toussaint, a risky pick but possible 50, was purchased for cash–a steal. And the pitching depth, in particular is where their strength lies. Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Kolby Allard, Luiz Gohara, Mike Soroka–all of them are possible 50 FV-types (despite some injury risks in there).

Toss that on top of existing pitching depth–Lucas Sims, Aaron Blair, Matt Wisler, and Julio Teheran–a few of which were top prospects in their own day, and you see a coherent strategy that I think of as anti-Cub.

The Cubs strategy was to amass position players and either fix traded starting pitchers, or shop on the open market with extra payroll, the belief being that developing pitchers is hard and risky, and not worth putting your eggs in one basket when that’s the riskiest basket.

Compare that with Atlanta, where the approach gets flipped on its head–OK, so pitchers are the riskiest, sure, but that also means having the most and best pitching prospects works to your benefit. Some are more likely to pop up successfully, securing a valuable asset; injury risk is mitigated with depth; and, you can trade from said depth for position players when teams inevitably need pitching.

I can’t say it’s crazy. The Braves made a pseudo-dynasty on pitching–Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine kept them competitive for a decade, so it makes sense to go back to a winning approach. I’ve always said that teams need to have a consistent strategy, one that fits with organizational strength, and one can imagine they have the scouting structure in place that’s conducive to plucking the maximum amount of young arms.

Who knows how this turns out. We all know pitching can implode, and I can honestly say there isn’t one pitching prospect there I’m enamored by, but I think it’s a positive they’re taking this to its logical conclusion. While the Cubs’ strategy worked while offense was on the decline and bats were at a premium, we could find ourselves in the opposite position as it seems like the bats around the league are heating up again.

No one wins a prospect pennant, and no one wants one. No one cares if you have the best farm system in baseball if that doesn’t translate into on-field success, and the same is the case here. If it fails, it’ll be an indictment of the strategy and maybe of their scouting department–in that world, maybe they’re forced to completely change course. But if it does, it vindicates a strategy they’ve long held as gospel, one that has been successful in the past. And if they rise and subsequently fall, one wouldn’t be shocked to dip into the pool of stacking up as many pitchers as possible again.

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Matt Provenzano is a recent graduate of Cornell University, where he studied Information Science and Law and Society. He has been a Staff Writer at SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley since 2013, and a baseball fan since 2002.

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