Apologies for quoting Joe Sheehan as often as the Brits quote Churchill, but Sheehan’s newsletter – it’s available via email subscription – should be at the top of any baseball reading list. In his latest post, he preaches to the choir. (Albeit a choir of one.) Scanning the early Vegas over/under on MLB win totals, this is Sheehan’s first best bet:
“Braves over 73.5 wins. I keep waiting for the Braves to commit their BAMTech dividend to Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, immediately filling out a rotation that is the team’s weak spot and vaulting Atlanta into wild-card contention. The offense is high-variance with a ton of upside, given the potential of Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna and the forgotten Dansby Swanson. The defense could be excellent, anchored by Ender Inciarte in center.”
BAMTech is the company formerly known as MLB Advanced Media. It’s now owned – well, 75 percent is – by Disney, which also owns ESPN. Last summer BAMTech was valued at $3.75 billion. As reported by Sports Business Journal, every MLB club received $50 million from the sale to Disney.
Lance Lynn is a free agent. Over his career with the Cardinals, he was 72-47 with an ERA of 3.38. In his past three full seasons – he missed 2016 due to Tommy John surgery – he posted Baseball-Reference WAR values of 3.7, 3.5 and 3.1. Going by WAR, the Braves’ best starting pitcher was Julian Teheran at 1.8.
Like Lynn, Cobb is a 30-year-old right-hander. He was 42-35 with an ERA of 3.50 for Tampa Bay. Like Lynn, Cobb had TJ; he missed all of 2015 and most of 2016. In his past three full seasons, his WAR values were 3.9, 3.9. and 2.4.
Neither Lynn nor Cobb is a No. 1 starter, but either could help fill out a still-unformed rotation. At present, the Braves have Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, Max Fried, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir as potential starters. The latter two are retreads acquired in the Matt Kemp salary dump. Newcomb, Gohara and Fried made big-league debuts last season. The next wave of young pitchers – Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz – isn’t yet ready.
As we know, the free-agent market was sluggish this winter. The signings of Yu Darvish by the Cubs and Eric Hosmer by the Padres indicate the ice is breaking. Lynn and/or Cobb could be prudent buy(s) for a team not looking for a Darvish – and both hold greater upside than the 40-somethings of last year’s season-opening rotation. (Key difference: Neither is apt to accept a one-year deal.)
Hence Sheehan’s lobbying: “The pitching just isn’t terribly deep. ... I like this bet now, but I’d like it more with even one more starter in the mix.”
Not to say I’m smart like Sheehan, but I am on record as believing the Braves, while not there yet, are drawing ever closer. I’d take the over on 73.5 games in a New York minute. (Heck, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA has the Braves winning 76.)
I know the Braves don’t want to spend big on a starting pitcher with so many young/cheap arms under long-term control. Still, in a division with only one solid team, the right acquisition might push them close to a wild card. That BAMTech windfall could be put to good use.