Unit Recaps – Infield

Last year at this time I wrote a series on the position players, “Where Do We Go From Here?”  Think of this as “How Did We Come From There?”

The Atlanta Braves reversed a 72 – 90 record in 2017 to a 90 – 72 record, and a National League East division championship, without adding a single starting position player from outside the organization.  How did this happen?  I have no idea.  (You can review the entire “Where Do We Go From Here” series here.)

“Albies has 695 career AAA plate appearances, batting .272. I see Ozzie batting around .265 in his first full MLB season, and increasing from there.”  

Ozzie Albies teased everyone by putting up a .281/.318/.516 line by the All-Star break, before slumping to .226/.282/.342 in the second “half,” and settling about where he should have been expected: .261/.305/.452.  A nice surprise however, were his 24 home runs, the first time he broke double digits at any level, and contributing to a 3.8 WAR (per Baseball Reference) for the season.  Once again, here’s a link Alex shared earlier that describes how special Albies is for his age.  It would have been better to have had a strong 2nd half to build on, but looking at the larger body of work, Ozzie Albies is just fine.

Dansby Swanson now has 696 career Major League plate appearances with a .246/.322/.348 career line, which I feel represents the 24 year old’s floor.”

Compare the career numbers coming in to 2018’s results of .238/.304/.395, and offensively, Dansby Swanson did about the minimum expected.  However, Swanson added 14 home runs, stole 10 bases, and made substantial improvements on the defensive side.  In 2016, the Braves had only 2 position players with WAR greater than 2.0.  In 2018, Swanson was credited with 2.3 WAR, and still had the lowest total of the starters (if you combine Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers.)  This is despite missing a couple of weeks in May, and again in September, with a sore left wrist.

“If you think a Johan Camargo / Rio Ruiz platoon looks good, it is only because you have been watching the Braves for too long. For comparison, these are the 3rd basemen on the National League playoff teams: Justin Turner. Kris Bryant. Anthony Rendon. Jake Lamb. Nolan Arenado.”

These ramblings from some internet rando aged poorly, as Camargo joined Turner, Bryant, Arenado, and Mike Moustakas (Travis Shaw, if you prefer,) as the 3rd basemen on the 2018 National League playoff teams.  After putting up encouraging numbers in limited 2017 at bats, Camargo settled in with a .272/.349/.457 line in 2018, adding 19 home runs in 464 at bats.  Camargo missed the first couple of weeks with an oblique injury, and did not take over the starting position until May, as the Braves rode the Hot Hand of Ryan Flaherty and the Veteran Presence of Jose Bautista.  When the Braves finally put themselves in position to get lucky with a younger player, it paid off with 3.7 WAR calculated for 2018.

Freddie Freeman turned 28 in September, and as he continues through his prime years, it is logical to pencil him in for another .300/.400/.570 slash line, such as he turned in at ages 26 and 27.”

Freddie’s power numbers dropped off a bit, but at .309/.388/.505 his 6.1 WAR led the Braves.  An established and consistent MLB hitter in his prime, he’s the best kind of boring, really.

Author: Rusty S.

Rusty S. is a Braves Journal reader since 2005 and an occasional innings-eater. It was my understanding that there would be no expectations.

47 thoughts on “Unit Recaps – Infield”

  1. Johan Camargo continues to be a blinking question mark: is he really capable of sustained performance as a 2-3 win player? Or was 2018 one of those fluky career years that occasionally stand out in the careers of a role player (like Cito Gaston in 1970), and he’ll go back to being a platoon guy?

    The plus side: after his surprisingly useful 2017, his walk rate literally doubled in 2018, as he went from well below average (4.7%) to comfortably above average (9.7%); league average in 2018 was 8.5%. That’s a really goood sign of a player who’s learning and becoming a better hitter as he gets more major league experience.

    But there’s just no way around it: he got super-lucky on homers. He had a 15% HR/FB, which will regress. Per Statcast, he had 3.4% “Barrels / Plate Appearance,” which is a measure of how often he barreled up a ball. That’s tied with Charlie Culberson, and just behind Scott Kingery and Pablo Sandoval.

    I continue to believe that the best-case scenario for the Braves with Camargo is to use him as a Mark McLemore type, shifting him around the field as platoons and injuries warrant, rather than penciling him into a single everyday lineup spot.

    It is very likely that his 2019 batting line will look like this: .275/.350/.400, with 10 homers and 50 RBI. (That’s a tick above what the systems were projecting for him in 2018, with a specific OBP bump reflecting the improvement in walks.) That looks great for a supersub. But for a starting 3B, you can do better. I’d love to see Riley called up earlyish and given a chance at 3B while Camargo picks up more or less of a starter’s complement of at-bats by spelling Dansby at short, Ozzie at second, Freeman at first, and whoever’s in right field.

  2. @64 from prior thread. WRT Kimbrel. Eric Gagne told him he was tipping his pitches. Apparently, it’s easier to pitch well when they don’t know what’s coming.

  3. @Chief from the previous topic

    At least be willing (and able) to explain your position regarding Tucker. I think you will find it’s not at all uncommon to come up for ~100 appearances and struggle to hit.

    Javier Baez: age 21, 229 PA .169/.227/.324.

    Here’s one for laughs…

    Freddie Freeman: age 20, 24 PA .167/.167/.333

    But man, that Javier Baez sure is a huge bust. Andy Marte 2.0.

  4. @3 It seems I’m being told constantly that Riley is Andy Marte 2.0 and that we shouldn’t even give him a shot to see if he might be better at 3B than Camargo. I wish we could all get on the same page here.

    All I’m wanting to do is put Riley at 3B and see what he’s got. I agree completely with @1 that Camargo could be a huge asset as a Super Util and still go back to 3B if Riley flops.

    You guys want to trade a proven 3 WAR asset who happens to carry a GG or two for a totally unproven prospect who carries Andy Marte-like stats regardless of who else had similar stats. I say, right now, maybe not next year if Tucker has a big year, that Ender has significantly more bankable value than Tucker and it’s not even close.

  5. Good points, Roger. I’m not even in favor of a trade for Tucker, especially not as the immediate starter for an OF spot in Atlanta. The intriguing part of that trade is moving Inciarte and starting Acuna in CF — for that, I would take a top prospect in return.

    Regarding Riley, I’m not against giving him major league at bats. Like with Tucker, he wouldn’t be my opening day starter. I question the the logic behind putting Camargo on the bench, which Alex clearly outlined his thinking and Camargo would still get most of his at bats. So, maybe, Riley gets an opportunity in spring training. I’m on board with that.

    I’m in favor of anything that helps to take at bats away from anyone with a ~.700 OPS. :)

  6. It may seem inconsistent to want to swap out Inciarte for a prospect and not Camargo, but it’s not. It’s also not the path I would prefer this offseason, but I can understand wanting to sell on Inciarte — especially given his skill set — before his age 28 season.

    Alex honed in on HR/FB, which is for my money the best reason to sell high on Camargo or put him in a utility role, but likewise I can understand why people see Camargo as on the upswing of his career.

  7. The reason to trade Inciarte is we have a starting center fielder, and his name is Ronald Acuna. Unfortunately, the time to trade Inciarte was 12 months ago. So we may not get a whole lot right now. But we’ll see how the market develops.

    I still want to shove a wheelbarrow full of money at Bryce Harper.

  8. @3 24 PAs wouldn’t fit my parameters. Also .170 is not .141. Lewis Brinson hit .106 as a rookie and this year he hit .199. He was a higher rated prospect than Tucker.

    You can pick it apart all that you want but I have a good feeling that people that struggle that badly in that many ABs early on don’t have a good track record for success in the long term and for every outlier you can find, you will find 50 that follow this logic.

  9. Along the Inciarte lines I’d also be in support of trading him as I think he is overrated and is an empty player.

  10. I don’t think Mike Schmidt even reached the Mendoza line through his first 500 AB’s. I wouldn’t write off Tucker.

    As for Camargo, perhaps the desire to put him into a utility role is because he looks more like a utility player than a starting third baseman. But he was pretty good as our third baseman and had a whole season to prove that.

    I don’t see anyone calling Riley the reincarnation of Marte. What I do see is that some want to see more at AAA before handing him the job that someone else is very capably filling.

  11. Yeah, I think the perception is that Camargo acquitted himself better than Inciarte, so it follows that trading for a CF prospect (if it comes to that) is more palatable than installing at 3B the prospect we have.

    …Is Acuna a starting CF? I mean, he’s going to be above average overall wherever you put him. But ideally, is he a CF? If that’s his position on Opening Day, I’ll trust that we’ll be maximizing his value to the team, I suppose.

  12. IMO, move Acuna to CF, sign RF i.e. try for Harper but fallback to Castellanos. Trade Inciarte and pitching prospect(s) for *proven* HR hitting but perhaps poor defender in LF. And by proven, I don’t mean Adam Duvall.

  13. @7 I think MLB really only has itself to blame there. I tuned out on the tail end of the PED era at a time when the shift was taking hold and pitching had begun to dominate (batting averages and scoring had plummeted). What was MLB’s answer to the scoring drought? To market defense and juice the ball.

  14. Meh, I tend to rant about this game becoming too friggin’ smart for the common baseball fan. I really don’t have any idea why MLB’s current stars aren’t better known, but I do at least recognize why I have a lot less interest in knowing other teams’ stars. I think it’s a combination of injuries and the diminished importance of starting pitchers (as opposed to dominant relievers). It also probably doesn’t help that I consume most of my baseball via the internet where players can hit .240/.290/.380 and be WAR superstars because “dat defense! dat glove! So fieldy! Much outs!”

    I leave you with this…
    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  15. @7 @15 I know your lack of respect for defense but I sure as heck don’t want to mangle our OF defense by putting the equivalent of Kemp in both LF and RF. Castellanos may be a worse defender than Kemp. When you say Ender is an “empty” player, it’s because you place no value on defense, which is a requirement in a CF.

    I am all for guys like Harper, Peralta, Pollock, Brantley, Schwarber, even Conforto but Castellanos brings as much negative as positive and brings no more value than Ender does – demonstrably. Castellanos (or Marwin) will not move the needle on wins.

    The Brewers were basically in the same position last year as we are this year and they drew an inside straight with Yelich and Cain. They went after “stars” and got guys who became the best two players on their entire team. The list of guys we could import to be among the top three players on our team is a very short list. Maybe six position players in all of baseball will be available and fit that description.

    The Rays went out and got Pham and he shot to the top of their list. Likewise with the Dodgers and Machado.

    Oh, and by the way, Chief, Mallex would be the 4th best player on our team along with his 2 HRs.

    We need HRs but we also need value and value should come as a greater priority.

  16. @18 I dunno. If you go by the highlight reels most of what we see are big HRs and spectacular catches. And maybe a game ending K. I agree that SPs don’t seem to get the fame they used most likely because of the trend to using more relievers.

    Players also seem less colorful than they used to. Nobody is around to make new Yogi-isms. Bk’ball players and F’ball players get notoriety for being obnoxious or offensive. I can live without that. I’ll bet Brady is not known as well as Kaepernick these days. Today’s players are also more educated and well spoken than the country bumpkins of yore. So Trout doesn’t go around screaming “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” or “I am the greatest”. Part of it is a media problem too. Joe DiMaggio was never the most talkative or interesting guy but he was a big archetypal hero because the New York media played him up. They just don’t do that for baseball players any more. At least not since McGuire vs Sosa vs Ruth vs Maris.

    Griffey, the Kid, was beloved for his smile, good cheer, and both fielding and hitting prowess. I think the guy who could most likely bring that kind of personality to the game along with skill might be Acuna.

  17. @19 I couldn’t possibly disagree more with your last sentence. I do not believe that all WAR ‘value’ is equal. This team needs a power influx. Conversely, the pitchers need to strike out more batters while somehow also lowering their walks. This is why I think Hernandez was fired.

    Also, my situation counts on moving Acuna to CF. I honestly don’t care about LF defense and think that CF defense is probably 5x as important as LF defense, and 2-3x more important than RF defense. Markakis had poor defensive metrics this year in RF but could you *really* tell that over 162 games?

    I have played all three OF positions before. I actually felt that playing RF was harder than playing CF. Having said that, there are many less chances in RF.

    I would really like to see a layman’s breakdown of how dWAR is calculated. I sort of do my own WAR calculations when I see a players WAR. I will typically take the oWAR and add it to the dWAR which has been cut by 2/3. So… let’s say you have a player with 1.5 oWAR and 3 dWAR. IRL, that would probably be around a 4.1 WAR player because its not simple math to just add the two.

    I’d calculate that player to be a 2.5 WAR player for comparison’s sake to other players. Nothing will ever convince me that a players defense will ever outweigh the need for him to contribute offensively UNLESS the player is Ozzie Smith, Andrelton Simmons, or Andruw Jones (although he hit so poorly at times that might even be debatable with him). Even a GREAT fielder like Inciarte, unless they can hit is an empty player. A TRANSCENDENT fielder can be a productive and not empty player if they don’t hit well.

    fin

  18. Chief is just reiterating my main complaint about dWAR – it needs to be normalized by “chances”, and until that happens correctly, it’s a completely useless stat. It’s beyond useless, to the point where it makes every argument about WAR useless. Every single team in MLB is using metrics that are better than WAR. I don’t know why we are still stuck on it. We shouldn’t be.

    RE: this coming hot-stove season…if you have talked yourself into a stance where you want to keep all our position players, you are the enemy. We need to get better on offense. So how do we get better? There’s an argument to be made that we need to add a superstar somewhere. There’s an argument to be made that we need better coaching/preparation/analytics. Hopefully we’ll do both.

  19. Camargo is a guy who has improved in the 3 areas where he was lacking (power, walks and defense) in each of the last 3 years. This past season he solved the whole right-handed hitter thing. I’ll give him at least half a season to improve on the lefty thing before giving the position to Riley (and I love Riley). I’ll bet he raises his left handed production at least 50 points of OPS this year (while likely seeing a decent drop in the righty contribution, as he was very lucky).

    Value is value Chief. When teams stop putting Kemp and Castellanos in the outfield we won’t see the type of defensive ratings we have now (it isn’t a fault of Mallex Smith that he is compared to stiffs in the outfield!) Until then, I want the Braves to be the team getting more value than the other guys because we don’t put that stiff out there to begin with, just like we are the team getting the most out of pitch framing before all the other teams catch up. The team finally joined the shifting revolution this year and had one of the best defensive infields in the game for their trouble.

    Now, Chief does have 1 valid point: we are still 40+ homers from being an offensive juggernaut. Trading Inciarte for Tucker helps fill that void. Then sign Harper, sign Grandal, and trade Julio to be somebody else’s problem and be done.

    See you in the World Series next year.

  20. I’m not trying to be sarcastic here, but I’d really like to understand what leads some to think that 1) Ozzie is in great shape and will only get better, 2) we’ve seen the worst we’ll ever see from Dansby and he’ll keep getting better, and, 3) Camargo has basically reached his ceiling and should either play a reserve role or be traded.

    I’m not trying to put words in people’s mouth, but that’s what I’m hearing for the most part. The problem with this is, 1) even though Ozzie is almost 22, he had a flukish 1st half and regressed dramatically in the 2nd half, 2) Dansby is almost 25 and improved his defense, but his offense has been basically stagnant, and 3) Johan is 23.5 and followed what looked like an overachieving 2017 with a better 2018 and he continues to improve.

    I’m not arguing that Ozzie and Dansby will be busts, I’m just wondering why the signs from Camargo seem to be better than the other 2, but many people think he’s seen his best year in Atlanta.

  21. @25 I suspect Ozzie is somewhere in between his 1st half and his second. A plug and play .275/20 HR and 80 RBI guy for the next 10-12 years.

    As far as seeing the worst from Dansby we’ll see, I highly doubt it. I think he is more akin to a .240 hitter than he is a .280 one. Credit where its due, his defense really improved this season.

    I’m probably higher on Camargo than some on BJ. Having said that, is he a ~20 HR hitter with good/great 3B D or is he a 10 HR hitter at a CI position? If he’s the former, I’d just keep him where he is and leave him alone. If you THINK he’s the latter, we have to upgrade.

  22. I will be really interesting to see the data on how all these relievers perform in the 5th inning vs how starters used to perform the third time through.

  23. Never seen Transformers 3. In what ways was it like that?

    I’d love it if the World Series could end already. So many teams looking to make moves, including ours, and so many trade partners out there too. Looks like a couple/few teams will sell off. I think players will sign early. Bring it on.

  24. Haven’t been at my computer today. Who the heck were the finalists for SS that kept Dansby off?

  25. Johan Camargo should have been a finalist. He has the highest Fangraphs dWAR among third basemen in the NL.

    The Gold Glove is a joke award. Rafael Palmeiro won it once when he was a DH all year.

  26. @37

    Sam

    You did notice the name I hope. FFG is rapidly becoming good. We should have snatched him up!

    Re Atlanta United. Sorry to read you had to lose your excellent coach but apparently he didn’t have much of a choice. Who’s next in line?

    Us? Wenger finally out after 22 years, Emery in, everyone loves him. Why? We won our 12th in a row in Lisbon tonight. Easy schedule though, trouble coming.

  27. @33

    Alex, you disappoint me. I did write a thread a week or two back – The game, always the game – and here we are at the game of the year, we should pay it homage and not allow the parochial to blind us.

    You should have jumped on me when that thread appeared – nobody said a word! At least there would have been time then to argue . Or are there times with the Braves back at home when a game between two very good teams can hold you?

    Great to see you posting so much these days. Cheers.

  28. Rob @27…Relievers coming on the fifth.

    You will be aware that the combined winning run total of the Sox, both games, was 6 – four in the first game, two in the second.

    In both games the early pattern was the same. LA had been able to match early leads from the Sox and it was anyone’s game. Our acquaintance Ryan Madson came in for LA both times in or around the fifth. He inherited five base runners in total when he did so. All five scored.

    What do we learn from that?

  29. Well, at minimum, we are learning that Ryan Madson does not do well against the Red Sox lineup.

    I’m interested to read krussell expound on the shortcomings of dWAR or article someone likes about the subject. If there’s an issue with dWAR, then sure, WAR is a misleading stat, but I’ve not read anything poking a legitimate hole in dWAR.

  30. @42, there’s tons of critiques of WAR, a lot of them from total hacks like Bill James. He doesn’t like some of the shortcomings in the offensive side of the equation – thinks that things like clutch performance should factor in, stuff like that. A lot of people think that reached-on-error should factor in, since that’s correlated to speed (and you should get credited for not making an out).

    On the defensive side it’s usually about the data itself, and the way the data is applied.

    My beef is very basic – that offense should be weighted higher than defense since you have more offensive “chances” in a season than defensive ones (especially in the OF).

    Also, hitting is harder than defense. Making a routine play in the field should be a given. Hitting a routine 92 mph fastball is still really hard.

  31. “If you think a Johan Camargo / Rio Ruiz platoon looks good, it is only because you have been watching the Braves for too long. For comparison, these are the 3rd basemen on the National League playoff teams: Justin Turner. Kris Bryant. Anthony Rendon. Jake Lamb. Nolan Arenado.”

    I like these words

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