Unit Recap – Outfielders

Boy, did we have a weird outfield last year. The right fielder played like an MVP candidate for half the season and then like Nick Markakis in the next half, the centerfielder played like BJ Upton for half the season but would end up close to his career averages, and the left fielder played like Mike Trout. And when healthy and on the roster, they all played every day because our bench depth was rather thin at times.

You may think those are exaggerations, but they’re not. Right fielder Nick Markakis entered the season on the last year of a 4-year deal in which he was patently league average in almost all phases of the game. He was, though, steady in his presence, working his games played to a crescendo from 156 games in 2015, 158 in 2016, 160 in 2017, and all 162 in 2018. The man never spent a day on the disabled list in his time with the Braves, and that’s saying something.

Through June 30th, Nick was on a tear. He hit .326/.391/.492 (.883 OPS) in 361 PAs, by far his best stretch this decade. Had he kept that pace, he would have ended up with a league-leading 52 doubles, 18 home runs, and 112 RBIs. But almost right at game 82, he began to slow down considerably. Maybe it was all of the All-Star game hype, playing almost every day for 4 years, etc. But he would hit .266/.340/.385 the rest of the way, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the lineup. He went 1-12 in the Division Series with 3 walks and no XBH. He finished with a 2.6 fWAR, 14th among qualifiers in RF. He will end his career having earned $44M in 4 seasons, and Atlanta will have a tremendous opportunity this offseason to improve this position.

Ender Inciarte had a similarly manic season for the Braves. Through 100 games, he was hitting .253/.318/.350 (.666 OPS; how fitting). It got so bad that AA acquired right-handed hitting Adam Duvall to platoon with Ender and hit against lefties. But Ender would have a reverse run to Markakis’ streakiness, and he would hit .289/.340/.443 from August 1st on. He would finish the season with a .265/.325/.380 line that was still a little off his career pace. Fangraphs liked him fine, giving him a 2.9 fWAR, which is in line with his career in Atlanta due to the defensive metrics liking him a little better. B-Ref gave him a 3.4 bWAR, which split the difference of his first two seasons. That puts him around the top third of centerfielders in baseball overall.

It was most odd; he would steal 13 bases in 15 chances in April, but would steal only 15 bases in 27 chances (!!) the remainder of the season. Due to that abysmal rate for so much of the year, he would lead the league in times caught stealing. Perhaps bag theft slumps like hitting does?

But the guy you’re going to pencil into the outfield for the next several years was 14th in OF WAR but didn’t even qualify for the batting title. And along that thought, had Acuna not been held down in AAA and not suffered the leg injury in Boston, he would have finished 6th in MLB OF WAR if he played 150 games. Ronald Acuna was the most hyped prospect in baseball, and somehow, he exceeded that hype. We had heard it all before. George Lombard was going to be the next Dale Murphy. Andy Marte was going to be the next Chipper Jones. Christian Bethancourt was going to be the next Brian McCann. And Ronald Acuna was going to be the next… well, the Braves don’t have a player as good as he’s supposed to be. But he’s doing it.

He did everything we thought he could, within reason. He hit 26 HRs in 111 games, stole 16 bases in 21 chances, and finished with a .917 OPS. He didn’t do everything perfect, though. Defensively, he committed 5 errors, and would have occasional lapses in judgment leading to misplays. He’s striking out a little too high of a rate (25.33%) with 123 K’s against 45 BB’s. But a 144 OPS+ will play regardless of what happens at the plate along the way. The Braves may try to offer him a huge long-term deal this offseason with some of the available monies they have, and that would be money well-spent if structured properly.

Charlie Culberson logged the fourth-most innings in the outfield, so you would call him the primary back-up outfielder. And overall, he played great: .270/.326/.466 with several big home runs and overall dependable defense in LF. He did start one game in RF as Markakis DH’ed. Preston Tucker was our second-most offensively productive back-up outfielder, but his defensive limitations only allowed him to stick on the 4-man bench when Acuna was in AAA. Not sold on Lane Adams, the Braves largely began the year with Peter Bourjos, and that was a failure. Danny Santana logged some innings in the outfield. Adam Duvall, as mentioned, was acquired at the deadline to hit lefties, but he was an unmitigated disaster, hitting .132/.193/.151, being buried on the bench in September and not making the NLDS roster. For having such a limited opportunity, Lane Adams actually ended up semi-productive, carrying a nice hitting line in short sample largely thanks to a home run off of a Phillies position player. But he provides excellent defensive and baserunning reinforcement, and he’s your perfect AAAA player.

The outfield will undoubtedly look different in right field next year, but short of a large roster-altering deal, we’ll see Acuna, Ender, and Culberson back in Atlanta next year. Who knows how great Acuna may be in his sophomore year.

66 thoughts on “Unit Recap – Outfielders”

  1. I don’t think Joc Pederson, who started the game in LF, makes the catch that Chris Taylor, defensive substitute, just made in the 5th to save the tying run.

  2. I’m going to make an assertion here and everyone is invited to disagree. I think the Dodgers (and the Nats for that matter) are very “Billy Martin Yankees”. The 70s Yankees teams were dugouts filled with oversized personalities. I haven’t checked but I’ll bet they underachieved with regards to their Pythagorean expectations (I really should go look). What people have always said is that their successes mean that clubhouse harmony (or presence whatever unmeasurable stat you want to use) is unimportant because talent always wins out. I think that’s the wrong conclusion to draw. I think that, because of the oversized personalities or poor clubhouse chemistry, each of these winning teams needed more talent to win like they were expected to. The Dodgers ended up where they were supposed to be but only because they added talent like Machado. To me, the Nats are the rule and the 70s Yankees and current Dodgers are the exceptions. Both the Nats and Ddgers underachieved by about the same amount and an excess of talent promoted the Dodgers. If you look at the number of high-WAR players as I analyzed, the Nats should have been in the playoffs and the Dodgers had 2 more 3.0+ WAR position players than any other team in baseball. With 7 3.0+ WAR position players it means they had a star essentially at every position around the diamond and yet they only one one more game than the Braves.

    We talk about the Braves overachieving but they really did not. The Braves have playoff caliber talent team-wide. What the Braves lack is sufficient superstar talent and experience (e.g. 3+ 4 WAR position players and 2 TOR starters). We underachieved by a couple of games whereas the Dodgers underacheived by 10 games. It’s reasonable to believe that the Dodgers and Nats clubhouses contributed to their underachieving. I would argue there is unquantifiable proof that clubhouse presence and cohesiveness has a definite impact on wins and losses.

  3. @8 The optimist in me tells me Duvall is a much better player than he showed, but the pessimist in me thinks this may be the first sign of “Chris Davis disease”. I think we should see how well Duvall does in Spring Training before making a decision. I’d tender him and settle in arbitration.

    I just checked and Duvall still actually has one option remaining. We could see if he can get straight in AAA next year.

  4. Rob, this a good series. Thanks. I hope everyone realizes we have a great start on a great bench already with Flowers and Culberson on it. I also think that Reed will be a better fit for Lane Adams’ role than Lane is.

    If you assume we get a Peralta type for the OF and bring up Riley at 3B (and get a starting catcher), a bench of Flowers, Culberson, Reed, and Camargo would be pretty good. It leaves Camargo as the LH PH option so it’s not perfect but pretty good. Any one of those four may be effective starters if we have an injury.

  5. I am sure Riley will start the season in the minor.

    How typical, the team beating us in the playoff ends up playing in the World Series. I want the Dodgers to lose again. They deserve it.

  6. @9 Why would you stake out a position like that without checking on its factual basis first? It would take all of ten seconds to find out you were wrong.

  7. @13 I think he did it because it was a pretty safe bet. Top to bottom, those Dodgers seem like a much better club, but we nearly had a better record than them during the regular season.

    @11 I don’t think there is a rush for Riley at 3B. Camargo’s versatility is definitely valuable, but I can’t imagine him riding the bench for anyone but a clear upgrade. It’s easy to forget he was a sophomore last season considering he ranks among the better 3B.

  8. @14 Yeah, I was just thinking about it and after knowing so much about the issues with the Dodgers (Machado, Puig, etc…) and the Nats, it seemed like a logical assertion. I looked back at the Yankees and what it seems to me is that Billy Martin was the key to managing that clubhouse. Others not so much. Houk’s teams always underperformed. I didn’t look up a whole lot of others and I, of course, realize that clubhouse effect is likely impossible to prove one way or the other. But I also see clubhouses like the O’s under Showalter and those clubhouses, including Machado, always overperformed their peripherals. There was always a wonderful fun cohesive environment. I think the Braves have a great clubhouse right now. I’m hoping that Snitker is the right guy to keep this clubhouse together – they are currently pretty enjoyable to watch and root for. I also hope that, with more experience, the team may become more than the sun of its parts each year. I’ve also been thinking about it because there have been a lot of suggestions that we bring in a Machado or Harper and lots of folks seem to think either might affect that. I honestly don’t believe it. Harper may be intense but is he any more intense than Markakis always was? Machado never got away with the kind of shenanigans he’s pulling in a clubhouse with Adam Jones. Don’t we think the same would be true in a clubhouse with Freddie Freeman? I just think there is a tangible benefit to a good clubhouse environment although it’ hard to prove it.

  9. @14 I agree that the Braves are likely to play the same kind of service time games with Riley as they did with Acuna. I also think those games contributed to Acuna’s slow start in both the minors and majors. Assuming nothing changes the dynamic over the winter, Riley will be given a shot to be a difference maker at 3B.

    Has anyone been watching Braves’ results from the AFL? Pache has been OK. Burrows has been good. Then check the results from last year’s AFL with Acuna, Riley, Jackson, and Fried. With the exception of Jackson because of his fall this year, the other three dominated that league and gave us every reason to believe they will be stars in the majors.

    Look at the last few times a team has traded a high end 3B prospect back to the A’s trading Donaldson. How well did that work out for the team making the trade? I’ll give a you a clue – not well. If Riley turns into a 4-5 WAR player, the Braves will regret any trade he is included in.

  10. I don’t think the Braves consider Riley to be anywhere near that stature of a prospect. I’m aware that he came on and had a great August, but he still finished AAA with a .810 OPS, he has no speed, and he’s rated as an average defender. Is he probably going to turn into an above-average regular? Absolutely, but I doubt it’ll be for us, and I doubt they’re enamored enough with him that he’d be on the Opening Day roster should he stay with us.

  11. Machado never got away with the kind of shenanigans he’s pulling in a clubhouse with Adam Jones.

    He threw a bat at Josh Donaldson.

  12. In a choice between talent and clubhouse chemistry, take talent every time.

    The most talented teams win in all sports way more than the lesser talented teams with *heart* do.

  13. Riley is nowhere close to Acuna from prospect stand point, and I am not sold on him. I don’t understand why people are so high on him, and I don’t even see why Johan needs to move to accommodate Riley.

  14. @21 Agreed. Riley could well end up being Jim Presley. Or Andy Marte, as some have suggested here.

    Meanwhile, we have a 24 year old who put up 3.7 WAR after missing the first month of the season. And he’s improving.

  15. @20 I agree. And I guess part of my point was that I don’t think either Harper or Machado would affect our clubhouse negatively. But I can’t help thinking that something about the Nats clubhouse, in particular, has been dragging them down. Maybe it’s the manager’s responsibility to manage the clubhouse and keep it from being a drag. The Dodgers may be more like the early 70s A’s. They underperformed their Pythagorean win/loss and still won WS three in a row.

    I also just think a team with a great clubhouse and team chemistry are more enjoyable to watch and easier to root for.

  16. @19 Yes, Machado had temper tantrums 4 years ago when he was a sophomore in the league but he was reigned in and taught better in that clubhouse and that kind of behavior ceased over the next four years. I find it very interesting that his immaturity is showing up again as soon as he leaves the O’s environment. You’re kind of proving my point. He had mental breakdowns and he didn’t get away with it without reforming.

  17. @21 @22 Hmm, yes, Josh Donaldson, for example, didn’t exceed .812 OPS until his second year in AAA at age 26. Suarez never exceeded a 500 SLG in the minors and topped out at .896 OPS at age 22 for a partial year. Even Machado never exceeded .789 OPS in the minors and didn’t get to .800 in the majors until he was 22.

    Riley is 21 and 22 in April. He will be much better than you’re giving him credit for. His defense is better than you’re giving him credit for. Riley has every capability to turn into Eugenio Suarez. That would be better than Camargo. Having a 4 WAR Riley at 3B would allow us to play Camargo around wherever he may be needed and strengthens our bench by a large magnitude. Plus we need Riley’s power potential in the lineup.

  18. There’s a saying that when there’s an absence of leadership, the loudest becomes the leader. It’s pure speculation, but if I’m a Nats fan, I’m really concerned that the constant rotation of field managers, and loud players like Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper who may or may not actually possess solid leadership skills could indeed hurt them. I’d have no way of knowing though. I think it’s a matter of positive and negative energy too.

    One thing intangible ::ducks:: about Dansby is his intense, positive energy, and I think that does have a positive impact. But what probably helped the Braves so much is the strong leadership from the field manager and coaching staff, and the clear, constant, almost silent leadership that Nick and Freddie provide. Once again, pure speculation, but that just may not exist in the Nats clubhouse. There were reports of those closed door meetings with the Nats that Scherzer and Harper were just yelling at the team, seemingly, and I doubt that plays as well nowadays as it used to. The Braves don’t seem to have that because it never gets to a point of “hopelessness” that the abundance of talent and subsequent letdown of the Nats probably created that behavior.

    And I think AA has a pulse on this better than some GMs, which is encouraging as well. He seems to have the same analytical lean as anyone else, but he understands the value that Snit, Weiss, Wash, Freddie, Nick, Flowers, Kurt, Dansby, and the crazy fun that Ozzie, Johan, and Acuna bring that provide a good mix of “winning culture” ::ducks again::. I actually agree with Roger that when you have some guys that are really over-the-top like Puig and Machado, you do actually probably have to have a little more talent than you otherwise would to balance some of that, especially when it can become negative energy like Scherzer, Harper, Papelbon, etc. I thought Bellinger’s thoughts were interesting.

    Once again, just this man’s opinion, and I can see the draw to just say, “Who knows whether any of this is true, so just put the best 25 baseball players on the roster you possibly can, and you’ll be just fine.”

  19. #26

    I’ve always viewed Strasburg as the fly in the ointment over there. The incident between him and Scherzer this season solidified my opinion.

  20. The ’86 Mets were a team of moral degenerates who did not get along. Hernandez and Strawberry got into a fight at the team’s group photo session. That team kicked some serious ass. They were fun. My friends who rooted for the Mets loved those teams.

    Meanwhile, my team’s star drank milk, didn’t curse, and rescued kittens from trees. The Braves finished last that year, as I recall. Not much fun.

  21. I’m going to go so far as to say that any planning of the ’19 roster around Austin Riley would be a huge neglect of his responsibilities by AA. I will eat my hat with a knife and fork if Austin Riley is the OD 3B.

  22. @28

    I’d argue we are one milk drinkin’, clean talkin’, kitty rescuin’ 1986 model Dale Murphy from being a favorite to win the NL without Cocaine Darryl and Jackass Keith.

  23. @27 Meaning because he seems to refuse to stay on the field? That rubs the clubhouse the wrong way?

  24. #31

    No, injuries can’t be helped, but Strasburg shouldn’t be so sensitive when Scherzer tries to mollify any disappointment Strasburg may have felt after getting pulled. Strasburg acts like a spoiled child, like it’s all about him, and, clearly, it’s not.

  25. Yes, Machado had temper tantrums 4 years ago when he was a sophomore in the league but he was reigned in and taught better in that clubhouse and that kind of behavior ceased over the next four years. I find it very interesting that his immaturity is showing up again as soon as he leaves the O’s environment. You’re kind of proving my point. He had mental breakdowns and he didn’t get away with it without reforming.

    Machado also spiked Dustin Pedroia, injuring him, in 2017.

  26. @25 All this is true, but they’re not going to hand OD 3B to him, which was my point. He will almost undoubtedly be a productive major league regular, but probably not in 2019.

  27. If he’s wearing the proper laundry throwing bats and spiking people magically becomes “grit” and “gamesmanship.”

  28. Has no one ever had an asshole on their team before? You recognize him as an asshole, but you just shrug…it’s not that complicated. You don’t even have to tell yourself Sam’s line of BS about “grit” and whatnot. I’m not sure why everything has to have an explanation in this regard.

  29. Having a jerk on your team can even be fun. It’s just sports, who cares.

    But no laundry is sufficiently magical to make me want to look at those ears day-in and day-out each summer. If I were Machado, I’d be angry too!

  30. I’ve contended for a while that the Braves organization is too nice and needs a couple guys like this. Folty could be that type of guy but his is more immaturity than being a red ass warrior, etc.

    Every good team that I have ever been on in my life had at least one guy like this. The guy you don’t want to fight, the guy that would run thru two brick walls to do whatever it takes to win. I get that at this level that this stuff matters less.

    Give me a team full of mega talented jerks over a team of untalented nice guys and I’ll win 7 or 8 times out of 10.

  31. Give me a team full of mega talented jerks over a team of untalented nice guys and I’ll win 7 or 8 times out of 10.

    No one is proposing that dichotomy.

  32. Man, things have slowed down here so much… I wish the Dodgers and Red Sox would stop taking their time with this series and just get it out of the way. I’m sure that 85% of MLB fans are just as ready to move forward, but one little insignificant series is slowing everything down!!!

  33. Ender has got to have the happiest block trigger finger on the interwebz. But, great article Ryan. With the team-friendliness of his deal and two CFs in the system with higher ceilings (and one already better), I would think it’s when, not if, he’ll be traded. In a vacuum, I like trading Ender for a high upside young player like Kyle Tucker, but it would be up to the Braves’ scouts and FO to decide if anything else other than Tucker was needed. The ideal trade would be simply Ender for a corner outfielder, but as Ryan noted, you don’t have a ton of options for that easy of a trade. I don’t think Schwarber and Almora for Ender and Gohara makes sense. Ender for Conforto would be a really interesting trade that fits that bill.

  34. @45

    I’ll be very interested to see if a lot of players take early money in the offseason, and the hot stove simmers down earlier than it did even before last year. Are intermediate players going to take the money early on and maybe just a Bryce and Machado are the early ones that go into January or even December without a deal?

  35. Minor leaguers that declared free agency:

    I would think all will either return as minor league FAs or we won’t miss them. Santana has assumed the Bonifacio role.

  36. @47 I like Conforto and the Mets have been disappointed with him. That’s a trade that would help both teams. I’d rather have Nimmo though.

    Tucker is intriguing.

  37. @47. and don’t forget Drew Waters. He looks like he can remain in center and certainly has a better offensive profile than Inciarte. He excelled at Rome and made it to High A where he didn’t embarrass himself in 30 games as a 19 yr old.

  38. Sale vs. Kershaw is apparently the first time that both pitchers that have ever had 300 K in a season have met head to head in a World Series game.

  39. Kyle Tucker’s stats look incredibly like Andy Marte’s through age 21.

    As I commented on the WOW thread, we gots to rearrange our thunking this winter. We are no longer the team trading current value for future value; we are the team trading future value for current value. If we trade Ender, there better be a genuine 4+ WAR player in the deal coming back. Even with Conforto, you’re trading defense for offense and I don’t think it’s worth it. With Tucker you’re trading for -0.8 WAR of proven production. No deal. Playing Riley in the COF is a better bet without having to trade Ender away.

    No more shiny new prospects in trades; we need stars. We can get more prospects in the draft.

  40. I get that it was a *very* SSS but I have a hunch that players that hit as low as Tucker did as a rookie, .141 BA in as many ABs as he did, never amount to much. Call it a strong hunch.

  41. The “Matt Kemp was fat and lost weight last winter” narrative is as annoying as “Jason Heyward reinvented his swing!”

  42. Who knew it could still shock so much after all this time away?

    Alex Wood’s melodramatic introduction into a tight ball game late last night allowed no time for subtlety, for recalling his days here. A 3 run homer to a little known pinch hitter he had been called on to eliminate. Line Drive over the Monster, no air, screamer, first pitch if I recall. Game over.

    The instant it happened, and for just that one moment, it was as though he was still a Brave, his pain ours.

    So something was learned. Visages of his mother at Turner Field even appeared, so proud she was. And I had thought it was all over and done with.

  43. Chief,

    You are off the reservation again. Mike Trout was barely better than that in his first call up.

    Turn it the other way. When somebody gets a 1.000 OPS at AAA how often are they not an above average offensive player at ML level?

  44. Chief’s search for bad asses to toughen our sinews has found one. Machado simply ups his game by a large measure when he hears those boos. It’s perverse, but no it isn’t. His blood warms, he can’t wait for his next at bat while he fills the time by adding more macho zip to his throws to first.

    More gently the cockles were warmed by our old friend Matt Kemp lifting one over the wall on his first at bat off Sale. 85 rbis eh, what gives, we were always too quick to condemn. (Ageism again, it’s happening anew.) So pleasure can still be found via a departed soul, not just pain!

  45. Kimbrel was apparently back on the ball last night. 13 pitches, 10 strikes. If any tipping had been going on he has apparently put it to rest.

    But, then again, a four run lead. We must wait and see, when the screws go tighter.

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