Braves' Biggest Red Flags Early in 2022 Season

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2022

Braves' Biggest Red Flags Early in 2022 Season

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    John Fisher/Getty Images

    It has not been a smooth start to the 2022 season for the World Series champion Atlanta Braves, as they continue to hover just below the .500 mark in the shadow of an upstart New York Mets in the NL East.

    There is still plenty of talent on the roster, but there are also a few red flags that have emerged in the early going.

    Even with Ronald Acuna Jr. back healthy, production in the outfield has again been an issue while a less effective Charlie Morton and a thinner relief corps have also raised some question marks.

    Ahead, we've taken a closer look at the Braves' biggest red flags through the first two months of the season.

A Lack of Production from Outfielders Not Named Ronald Acuna Jr.

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    Adam Duvall
    Adam DuvallIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    A healthy Ronald Acuna Jr. is again producing at an All-Star level, hitting .284/.394/.432 for a 129 OPS+ with eight extra-base hits and nine steals in 22 games since he was activated from the injured list on April 28.

    However, the rest of the outfield contingent has struggled:

    • Marcell Ozuna: 206 PA, 87 OPS+, .229/.272/.417
    • Adam Duvall: 186 PA, 46 OPS+, .190/.258/.268
    • Travis Demeritte: 96 PA, 64 OPS+, .213/.260/.337
    • Eddie Rosario: 49 PA, -27 OPS+, .068/.163/.901
    • Guillermo Heredia: 43 PA, 27 OPS+, .103/.186/.282
    • Michael Harris: 13 PA, -14 OPS+, .154/.154/.154

    The front office did a great job patching things together in the outfield last summer when they acquired Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler at the deadline, but they can't bank on a similar influx of talent this time around.

    Expect top prospect Michael Harris to get a long look as a potential solution at one of the spots, and fellow prospect Drew Waters could debut sometime soon as well.

A Less Effective Charlie Morton

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Charlie Morton was an excellent pickup last season on a one-year, $15 million deal, posting a 3.34 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 216 strikeouts in 185.2 innings before making four starts in the postseason.

    The Braves brought him back on another one-year, $20 million contract during the offseason that includes a $20 million club option for 2024, but the veteran right-hander has not been as effective this season back atop the rotation.

    The 38-year-old has a 5.47 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 49.1 innings, and after limiting opposing hitters to a .207 average a year ago, he's surrendered a .274/.365/.437 batting line over his first 10 starts.

    Morton's not missing as many bats with his fastball (23.2 to 14.1 percent whiff rate) or his curveball (40.1 to 31.4 percent whiff rate), and at the same time, his walk rate has ticked up (2.8 to 4.0 BB/9) while his strikeout rate has dipped (10.5 to 8.4 K/9).

    None of that is a great sign, especially for a pitcher his age.

Fewer Reliable Weapons in the Bullpen

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    Kenley Jansen
    Kenley JansenIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    The Braves leaned heavily on the relief corps during their postseason run last year, with left-hander Tyler Matzek turning in a breakout performance with a 1.72 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 15.2 innings while racking up three wins and five holds in 13 appearances.

    However, it's been a less dominant bullpen unit in 2022.

    New closer Kenley Jansen has a 3.74 ERA with three blown saves in 15 opportunities, while veterans Will Smith (21 G, 3.72 ERA), Collin McHugh (18 G, 4.26 ERA) and Darren O'Day (14 G, 4.63 ERA) have all been good-not-great in setup roles, and Matzek (13 G, 5.06 ERA) is currently on the injured list.

    A.J. Minter has been great and newcomer Jackson Stephens has been a pleasant surprise, but the bullpen as a whole simply hasn't been as reliable, despite a respectable 3.40 ERA that ranks eighth in the majors.

    There is plenty of time for the pieces to fall into place, and they'll need to if the Braves are going to turn it around.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and accurate through Tuesday's games.