2019 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Ender Inciarte

2019 Review

2019 was a bust for Ender Inciarte. He pulled his hamstring and missed about a month in 2016, but he was remarkably healthy in 2017 and 2018, appearing in 157 and 156 games, respectively. But after a 2018 season that saw both his offensive and defensive performance slip, 2019 was a big year for Ender. Not only was Atlanta moving into a fruitful period of winning where someone of Ender’s quality could become expendable, he’s also starting to get a bit more expensive. After making $2.7M in 2017, $4.7M in 2018, his salary rose to $5.7M in 2019. More importantly, his 2020 salary will jump even further: $7.7M.

So 2019 was a big year for him to solidify himself as a piece of Atlanta’s core during what could be a lengthy successful run. Instead, he appeared in only 65 games due to two significant injuries. He missed 55 games early in the year due to an injury to the lumbar region of his torso. Then he missed the rest of the season after pulling his hamstring again on August 17th.

But in his 230 PAs, there were some encouraging signs but also some alarming ones. After seeing his OPS decline from .759 in 2017 to .705 in 2018, he rebounded slightly to a .740 level in 2019. After his stolen base success rate had plummeted as well in 2018 (league-high 14 caught stealings in 42 attempts), he ran less but more effectively in 2019 (7 steals in 8 attempts). The only thing worse than a guy who can’t steal bases is someone who thinks he can and continues to try to do so. I’ve said many times that Ender’s skillset is so limited, and if his physical tools erode even slightly, he can become nearly useless. The poor stolen base performance was an indication that he’s lost a step, and with speed being one of his few tools, that could turn him into an expensive fourth outfielder.

While he may have gotten smarter on the basepaths, the potential physical decline also showed up in the defensive numbers. After recording 17 defensive runs saved in 1,341 innings in 2018, he recorded -1 DRS in 491 innings in 2019. UZR saw an additional plummet: 7.2 in 2018 down to 0.6 in 2019. His arm, in short sample, might still be in good shape. Teams largely stopped running on him after his 2016 season in which he recorded 14 outfield assists, so he recorded 7 and 6 in the next two seasons. He managed 2 assists in 2019 in about a third of the action, so that still kept in line. Defensive stats, in many folks’ opinion, can be misleading from year to year, so I’m blending this knowledge with what I feel my eyes are telling me. Statcast would also agree with the lost step theory, as his average sprint speed dipped below 27MPH for the first time in his career.

2020 Outlook

I’m not sure what they’re going to do with Ender going forward. It didn’t take a genius to see that by age 30, he may not project the same skills he did at age 26. Well, we’re here now, and he’s due $7.7M next year. You have a guy more than capable of playing centerfield in Ronald Acuna Jr., so now more than ever, the specter of a position-less Ender Inciarte looms.

Could the Braves get anything for him in a trade? I would say that’s doubtful. Could they dump his salary? I think that’s more possible. He’s too expensive to be a 4th outfielder for most teams, so someone would have to have a hole in their starting centerfield position to see value in him. If the Braves do keep him, then I think the 3 WAR expectations of yesteryear are probably unrealistic. I, for one, will be particularly unenthused if we go into 2020 with two outfield holdovers from the rebuild in mostly starting roles with Nick Markakis also slated to be the primary left fielder. Actually, let me just be more blunt: I will be extremely disappointed if Ender and Nick are our primary options in LF and CF against RHP.

Make something happen, AA.

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29 thoughts on “2019 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Ender Inciarte”

  1. With the buyout he costs $17.5M for the next 2 years. He could help KC or Detroit or Balmer right now at that price.I wouldn’t expect anything back in trade but deals should be available. The O’s would want us to pay part of the salary because Angelos only has 8 billion and likes being the laughingstock of the league.

  2. I know Ender stinks to start the season every year, but how destructive is he hitting 8th? His damage is minimized if he doesn’t lead off I think

  3. With Ender, Markakis/Duvall, and the vacancy at third base leading to the possibility of Camargo again, the offense definitely needs some help.

  4. @3 & 4 He wouldn’t really be that destructive, but… as up and down as Dansby is, isn’t he almost best suited for 8th? Carrying a player such as that is fine, but two is much more difficult. Then you’re in that area where you’re giving away the bottom 1/3rd of your order.

  5. Good piece, Rob. No one should be happier than Ender to have Markakis around, because it somewhat keeps him out of the crosshairs of criticism. Lol.

    I really like Ender’s team first mentality, though. When Duvall came over, and Ender had to take a lesser role that season, he embraced it. It’s these times I wish the Braves had that 250 million dollar payroll where they could keep him as a 4th OF.

    I think they’ve got to trade him now, though. The fact that his base stealing ability might be slipping doesn’t worry me. It’s the defense. A light hitting CF who can flash the leather is fine. If he turns into a league average defender in a corner, with no stick though, oof.

    He’s far from untradeable. I just think the reality now is instead of trading him for another asset, the return now will be the salary relief and a lotto ticket.

  6. Fangraphs has Inciarte at 1.3 WAR next year over 130 games. That’s under 2 WAR for a full year, which is under league average.

    Ugh. I mean, I dunno? He’s not a helpful starter at this point. If we could trade, that’d be cool, but now our outfield needs a real stopgap until the two young guns mature, and that would be Acuna, stopgap, and platoon of Riley/Duvall.

    Cothran: outfield?

    To make that into a real like full sentence question:
    To expect to be competitive for a World Series next year, which means expecting to be a solid favorite for the division going into the year, what do we need to get from our non-Acuna outfield, and what do we do to get it?
    (I’m particularly interested in the degree to which we can afford to have the outfield be a weakness, given the strength of the rest of the roster)

  7. @8 Mailbag question, Ryan: Which young position player, not named Acuna Jr., do you see possibly taking the biggest step forward next season? Majors or Minors.

    Thanks for answering mine last week!

  8. Dang it, Nathan, I apologize. I didn’t see your much-better-worded question of the same topic.

  9. The solution to the outfield dilemma depends on the 3rd base situation. A lower priced guy like Moose and we have some wiggle room in the budget for taking on some salary to find a left handed veteran to match with Riley (with Neck and Duvall in the other corner. Spend the coin to bring back Donaldson and we will have to go with the likes of Matt Joyce again.

    Both of these assumptions are leaving room for a rotation addition as well.

  10. I find those who use numbers only to evaluate a players value and performance are lazy and have very limited baseball intelligence.

  11. Yes, Ed, none of us at Braves Journal watch the games or pay attention to scouting reports or expert opinions.

    Seeing how you have fallen in with neck-bearded stat nerds, perhaps you’ll scuttle away to someplace where people share REAL opinions. Unless you like poetry, then by all means stay.

  12. It just depends on if they want to deal prospects. Sign Donaldson, trade Ender, and then trade prospects for a guy like Starling Marte. That would be only a $3M net increase to payroll if you dump Ender and add Marte.

  13. For me, retaining Donaldson is more important than the OF because Pache and Waters are on the way.

    I’m less enthusiastic about the idea of getting Marte after spending some time on some Pirates sites. I kinda knew his defense was slipping in CF, but when they start spitting stats, it’s ugly. Some seem to feel they’re going to fetch a top 100 prospect for him, and they might? I don’t know, I just think Bryse Wilson is the very highest the Braves should go. Acuna can play CF for a year, and COF is cheap on the FA market.

  14. Technically Bryse Wilson is a top 100 prospect. He’s 96 on MLB’s and even higher on some other ones.

  15. @20
    What’s interesting is what the Braves did in this last year’s draft, spreading out the wealth to go deep into the draft on lottery tickets. Time will tell whether it will be successful or not, but many already think that Michael Harris is going to become a stud.

  16. Man, we really thinned out the tweener arms of the system in a short period of time. Should they not perform, Weigel, Walker, Pfeifer, and Dayton could get the boot this year too.

  17. Ender is a Scorpio. Passionate, independent, and unafraid to blaze their own trail no matter what others think, Scorpios make a statement wherever they go.

  18. @ed

    You essentially typed the same thing concerning a Markakis post. We don’t have much tolerance to people coming on here just to bash our writers who give of their time.

    This is your warning. Be nice or leave.

  19. ‘neck-bearded’
    at first i feared it
    so many here, i thought, accoutered thus
    too many i concluded to throw under the bus.

    @16 snowshine, wonderful phrase you came up with- and our friend loves poetry i’m guessing.

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