Is This Braves Lineup the Best Ever?
OK, I’m going to start with a crazy premise, an absurd, recency-bias, check-your-history hot take worthy of any afternoon talk show in America. I don’t normally partake in the world of hot takes, but I started to think about this after reading a comment from Brilliant Reader Mike … and the more I’ve researched it, the more I have come to believe in it.
Here it is:
The 2023 Atlanta Braves might just be the greatest lineup in baseball history.
OK, so because I have tried always to avoid hot takes, I’m a little bit unsure how to do this — should I first talk about how awesome this Braves lineup is, player-by-player, or should I first make the case that they’re the greatest lineup ever?
You know what? Let’s start first by going through their most common lineup:
Ronald Acuña Jr., rf (.338/.423/.577 with 27 homers, 55 steals, 107 runs)
Acuna is having one of the all-time statistical seasons; he seems all but certain to become the first player in baseball history to hit 30 home runs and steal 60 bases in the same season. As an aside, he might walk more than he strikes out — right now he’s at 65 walks, 67 Ks. What a force.
Ozzie Albies, 2b (.267/.327/.514 with 28 homers, 11 of 11 steals, 90 RBIs)
Even with the recent power surge, only nine second basemen in baseball history have hit 35 home runs and driven in 100 runs in a season. Six of those have been in this century. Here’s a fun trivia question: Can you name the three second basemen from the 1900s who did it? Answer: Rogers Hornsby (three times), Ryne Sandberg in 1990 (40 homers, exactly 100 RBIs) and the tough one, Jay Bell (!) in 1999, when he hit 38 homers and drove in 112. Albies was placed on the IL on Tuesday with a strained hamstring, but he still has at least a shot at 35 homers.
Austin Riley, 3b (.279/.337/.514 with 20 homers, 89 runs, 76 RBIs)
Riley has been an MVP candidate in each of the last two seasons, but he got off to a sort-of sluggish start this year. As you will see, this is a repeating trend with this Braves team. On May 16, he was hitting .239 and slugging sub-.400. Since then? Yeah, he’s hitting .299/.345/.573 with 22 homers in 76 games.
Matt Olson, 1b (.276/.387/.619 with 43 homers, 95 runs, 107 RBIs)
Olson has played in all 119 Braves games so far. If he plays all 162 and keeps producing at this pace … we’re talking a 58-homer, 147-RBI pace. Both of those would be all-time Braves records going back to the Boston Red Stockings of 1876.
Sean Murphy c (.276/.383/.539 with 20 homers)
Braves catchers — that would be Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud — have hit 29 home runs and driven in 88 runs, and they’re slugging .521. At the end of the year, the Braves catchers probably won’t quite reach the power numbers that Javy Lopez achieved in the early 2000s, but they very well might hit 35 home runs and drive in 110 runs.
Marcell Ozuna, dh (.245/.320/.478 with 24 home runs)
Ozuna got off to such a terrible start — he was hitting sub-.100 at the end of April — that it seemed he would not even be with the team at this point. Since the beginning of May, however, he (like the rest of this team) has been slugging .500 and he has 21 homers in 84 games.
Eddie Rosario, lf (.247/.296/.455 with 17 home runs)
Those are not especially good-looking numbers … but he’s another Braves hitter who got off to a sluggish start. He’s been slugging .505 since the beginning of June.
Orlando Arcia, ss (.285/.340/.447 with 13 home runs and 50 runs)
OK, this one makes no sense at all. Arcia is 28 years old, and if there’s one thing he proved decisively in his first 2,200 or so plate appearances, it is that he cannot hit. He had a 75 OPS+ coming into this year. But ever since he got to Atlanta, he began to show positive signs, and this year he has played like an All-Star, with a 108 OPS+, and he will likely set career highs in pretty much every offensive category.
Michael Harris II, cf (.287/.337/.451 with 11 home runs and 16 steals)
See if this sounds familiar: Last year’s Rookie of the Year got off to a spectacularly terrible start. On June 6, he was hitting .163 with two home runs. Yuck. Since June 6? Oh, I don’t know — how about .359/.392/.571 with 25 extra-base hits in 59 games? That will play.
Add it all up and, yes, the Atlanta Braves are slugging .502 as a team. That would be the highest slugging percentage for any team in American or National League history — there were some Negro leagues teams who slugged at that pace, but that was a different thing.
Anyway, that slugging percentage is just a starting point for this hot take. I want to show you the top lineups in baseball history in a bunch of different categories … and at the same time show you what these Braves are on pace to do.
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