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How commitment to talent over fit led to Atlanta Braves winning World Series

Robbie Stratakos

A July 28 loss to the rival New York Mets dropped the Atlanta Braves to 50-53. The Braves then went on to win the National League East with 88 wins, defeating the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers (who won 18 more regular-season games than the Braves) in the NL playoffs and beat the Houston Astros in the World Series. Sports, right?

The Braves winning the 2021 World Series in what was their first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1999 is thanks to several players and clutch moments; that’s the case for any championship team.

What ultimately led to the Braves finally breaking through, though, was the organization’s commitment to talent, rather than obsessing over fit.

Atlanta Braves had deep-rooted positional and pitching core

MLB: World Series-Atlanta Braves at Houston Astros
Nov 2, 2021; Houston, TX, USA; Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning in game six of the 2021 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and Austin Riley are high-level hitters who headline what has been a high-octane Braves’ offense. That comes even without Ronald Acuna Jr., who suffered an ACL tear in July, and Marcell Ozuna, who was absent for most of the season due to a domestic violence investigation.

Manager Brian Snitker had a similar situation on the hill, that being a mostly homegrown pitching staff without a couple of individuals due to injuries. Starters Max Fried and Ian Anderson have continually improved while Huascar Ynoa and Touki Toussaint had their moments this season.

Mike Soroka was the Braves’ ace in 2019, but he hasn’t pitched since 2020 due to an Achilles tendon injury. Meanwhile, free agent signee Charlie Morton was a force on the hill every fifth day this season but suffered a fractured fibula in Game 1 of the World Series.

In the wake of these setbacks, the Braves still had a sturdy starting rotation, which was accompanied by a reliable bullpen. The likes of Luke Jackson, Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Jesse Chavez, and others formed a dependable bullpen throughout the regular season and were a pivotal factor in the Braves reaching the World Series, as they got through jams and took on a heavy workload.

This is a team made up of players who have improved in each passing year. The Braves didn’t give up on them; they kept investing in them.

Atlanta Braves have continually strengthened strengths

MLB: World Series-Atlanta Braves at Houston Astros
Nov 2, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder Adam Duvall hits a single against the Houston Astros during the sixth inning during game six of the 2021 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves reinforcing their roster dates back to the winter of 2018 when they signed third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal despite Johan Camargo showing promise at the plate the previous season. They made this move, had subsequent infield depth, and were one of the better offensive teams in MLB.

Atlanta made a similar signing the following offseason, adding Ozuna on a one-year, $18 million deal despite having Acuna, Adam Duvall, Nick Markakis, and Ender Inciarte. Ozuna had an MVP-caliber season at the plate in 2020 and made the Braves a relentless offensive attack from top to bottom — again.

Regarding their 2021 campaign, general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided to buy in spite of the Braves’ losing record and outfield absences. He acquired Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall (welcome back!), Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson and Stephen Vogt. The bulk of these acquisitions were plausible forces down the stretch and produced lasting memories for the Braves. Heck, Soler won the World Series MVP.

As for the bullpen, there’s some parity as the Braves had a lot of relievers who typically found success in one-inning roles. However, it reached the point where they collectively pitched at a high level, therefore making that repetition an asset. Atlanta’s starting pitching threw just 20.3 innings across six World Series games, and it didn’t matter because of the vibrant and reliable nature of those who entered the game in place of their starter on that particular day.

When you combine a stellar player development program with a front office capitalizing on opportunity, (e.g. the Braves signing Ozuna when his market didn’t develop in 2020) you get a well-rounded ballclub that inevitably becomes a contender.

Related: Top MLB free agents of 2023 – Aaron Judge, Nolan Arenado surge as MVP candidates

Atlanta Braves aren’t going anywhere

Yes, basically all of the Braves’ trade deadline pickups, as well as franchise royalty Freddie Freeman, are free agents, and most of them will likely be playing elsewhere in 2022. In reality, it’s not a big deal for the Braves; they’re built to withstand departures.

First off, the Braves should get Acuna and perhaps Soroka back at some point next season. It’s also at least remotely possible that Ozuna returns to the field, as well as former top prospect Cristian Pache becoming an outfield fixture. When a team continually develops raw talent, they essentially have MLB-caliber players in their minor-league ranks.

For better or worse, the Braves focused on maximizing players instead of trading away the farm for established commodities who could’ve been better immediate fits alongside their standout young stars. They were able to develop players under team control for the foreseeable future (e.g. Swanson and Fried), allowing them to give out hefty short-term deals in an attempt to push their ballclub over the top.

Furthermore, the Braves created defensive versatility in Acuna, Riley, and Camargo. Acuna has started at all three outfield positions. Riley, a third baseman, received reps in left field earlier in his MLB career. When on the active roster, Camargo has played second, third, and shortstop.

Atlanta could’ve easily added veteran utility players to bypass some growth. Instead, they chose to play their youngsters all over the field, creating more defensive options. When it reached the point where they had to make trades to stay afloat in the NL East, some of the new arrivals like Pederson and Duvall brought versatility with them.

Atlanta has an elite offense and a reliable, ever-improving pitching staff. They will lose faces that played a role in them finally reaching the promised land, but the team will remain in the thick of championship contention because of its depth. Generally speaking, fit is paramount in sports. If the puzzle pieces fit, a prosperous operation can unfold in front of one’s eyes. Baseball can be the exception. This team epitomizes that.

The Atlanta Braves’ road to triumph wasn’t based on a secret formula. It was actually quite simple: they developed and added talent wherever possible with fit being a secondary concern. There was no panic. Props to the Braves. They stuck to their guns and managed to win on their own terms.