Braves 2021 Player Review: Orlando Arcia and Johan Camargo

To paraphrase Jane Austen (you guys read my stuff for the classy references, right?): “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a baseball team in possession of title aspirations, must be in want of a backup utility infielder.” Now, as you have guessed, Jane Austen never really said that, since baseball had not yet invented when she died; the original quote was actually about cricket, and it was a backup gully she was discussing.

But was she right? The Braves won a World Championship this season with three* backup infielders, two of whom were Orlando Arcia (-0.3 WAR) and Johan Camargo (-0.4). This was because the Braves starting infield was incredibly durable: Freeman and Riley played in 159 games, and Swanson and Albies played in 156. So both Arcia and Camargo were used far more as pinch hitters, and most of Arcia’s fielding time was actually spent in left field, a position he’d never played before.

So the good news is that we never needed a backup infielder, and the better news is that it’s a good thing we didn’t, because we didn’t have one. Look: I understand that people run hot-and-cold on Dansby Swanson, but that’s not in comparison with Orlando Arcia, who had one good year at shortstop, in 2017 as a 22 year old, or with Camargo, who is overmatched when playing shortstop, though he seems perfectly serviceable at third.

Arcia is re-signed and Camargo is gone. Do we care?

I really wanted Johan Camargo to be good. He just kept getting worse. After an OPS+ of 103 in 2017 terminated by a freak hyperextension of his knee while running onto the field and 115 in 2018 he had a terrible 67 in 2019 (and no place to play with Donaldson at third spelled by the phenomenal first six weeks of Austin Riley) an eminently forgettable 58 in 2020 (OK… it was only 35 games, but he was both hurt and lost the third base competition to Riley, who really wasn’t a lot better) and a truly awful 2021: a -67 OPS+. He had no hits and two walks and 6 strikeouts in 18 plate appearances, almost all in April, without ever starting a game. (He was also 0-4 as a pinch hitter against the Dodgers in the NLCS with two strikeouts.) Now some of this has to be luck. He spent most of 2021 in Gwinnett and OPSed .958 there. But I don’t watch Gwinnett’s game and I don’t recall Camargo making a single good swing in the bigs this year.

With the emergence of Riley, the only position he had to play was Martin Prado’s old supersub position. As I said in my Panda review, he’s the guy who would have been around if Sandoval hadn’t, but I don’t think anyone thinks he would have done much better.

So the Phillies have taken on the opportunity to turn Johan Camargo around. I would wish him the best except I have no good wishes to spare on the Phillies. The first hit Camargo gets against the Braves next year is going to make me grit my teeth.

The supersub position has now gone to Orlando Arcia, but he’s not super, either. He was the regular shortstop for Milwaukee in 2017-2020 and they traded him before last season for Chad Sobotka and Patrick Weigel. If you’re trading a starting shortstop for Chad Sobotka, your assessment of him is “Oh, what the heck: let’s go with Luis Urias…. Oh, never mind, let’s go get Willy Adames.” (And it worked out!)

Arcia was better than Camargo last year, but since I would have been just as good as Camargo, and I’m 65 years old and fat, that’s not saying much. His 63 OPS+ is noncromulent. He’s an insurance policy against an infected Dansby Swanson hangnail for which we are paying somewhere between $2 million and $4 million for the next two or three years. (Interestingly, the Phillies are paying Camargo just about the same thing next year that the Braves are paying Arcia in 2023.) To pay him that kind of money means they don’t think he’s a 63 OPS+ player, and they’re way better at judging these things than me; on the other hand, I think they were pretty sure Johan Camargo wasn’t a -67 OPS+ player, either.

I would love to get the 2010 Martin Prado back, or even the 2018 Camargo. Or I can once again put my hope in the indestructibility of Freeman, Swanson, Albies and Riley. As of right now, that seems like the best bet…. And it’s really not a good bet. Maybe Sean Kazmar, Jr. should have stayed ready.

* Calling Pablo Sandoval a backup infielder is an insult to baseball players everywhere, and I’m not covering Adrianza here who is as of now a free agent and was better than either Arcia or Camargo this year, so I’m sort of ignoring him for the purposes of this review.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

31 thoughts on “Braves 2021 Player Review: Orlando Arcia and Johan Camargo”

  1. Hey crew! Sorry it took me so long to get the results of the Christmas Contest, but the winners of the contest were Alex and John Adcox! Congratulations, you 2. I’ll collect the info from both of you via email to send your prizes.
    If you missed it, here’s John’s entry:

    In the bleak midwinter
    Baseball fans made moan
    Owners stood hard as iron
    Players like a stone
    CBA has fallen
    Bold Freeman remains unsigned
    In the bleak midwinter
    Not so long ago
    Eddie and our Soler
    May have resigned here
    We need a pitcher, or a pair
    But no news reached the ear
    The hot stove has gone cold
    We in our despair
    Hoist our trophy made of gold
    Just one
    Can we win another?
    Can we have another go?
    Will they ever bargain?
    Will we ever know?
    Since I am a Braves fan
    I’ve know from the start
    In the Bleak Midwinter,
    They will break my heart
    They will break my heart

    And Alex’s:

    New Year’s Eve in Winnersville

    December, and the closing of the year;
    The hot stove watchers complete
    Their hopeful blog posts, and disappear
    Behind their ottomans on which to rest their feet.

    Each player locked away in labor strife;
    Each Freddie fan bittersweet to celebrate
    Our champion free agent, his freedom like a knife,
    Cutting up the lineup, crooked and not straight.

    Tonight we lie in Winnersville again,
    Sports Illustrated must admit Atlanta’s charms —
    Where Evander, Maddux, Max, and other men
    Renamed our town by grit and force of arms.

    The farm system struggled after Copp:
    Except Varsity and Dansby, Ozzie and Ron,
    Mallex and Povse were cream of the crop,
    Next to the flickering shadow of a forgotten Maitan.

    Now Winnersville is like the other places,
    Highways stretching flat beyond the square,
    Same stores and Waffle Houses, same composite faces
    Speaking the language of the public air.

    Old retired numbers still surround
    This outfield fence, like when you were ten
    And your team kept losing in the first round
    You left a friend from school behind you then,

    And now return, a man of thirty-two.
    Talk to the boy. Tell him about the years
    When Winnersville quadrupled, and how you
    And all his friends went on to drink beers,

    Played fantasy, March Madness, and boarded planes
    To draft in person, and eat Doritos when the pace was slow.
    You took the time to blog about your gains,
    As profit is what makes all sports business go.

    “The things I forgot I missed,” you said last week,
    “Or thought I had to, they take my breath away.”
    You put your head in hand, where your cheek
    Was hollow, stubbled lightly with new gray.

    This love is jail; another sets us free.
    Tonight the owners and commissioner distort
    The thin rewards of solidarity.
    The fans lean together for support.

    Negotiations fail, negotiators bide and wait.
    The fans are buying cheap champagne now
    For lonely New Years Eves, another year of fate
    To Zoom with loved ones. I think of how,

    All over Winnersville, when midnight comes,
    We’ll refresh MLBTR with Ryan Seacrest muted,
    To wish as children wish, who suck their thumbs,
    For the lockout ended and Fred’s wage undisputed.

    We will not have unpleasant thoughts this year
    We wear our Hammers shirts, our memories of this run
    No matter what may happen, I have no fear:
    No miracle surpasses 1914, except for 2021.

  2. JonathanF, I fear I must contradict you with respect to the date of baseball’s birth, for as John Newbery (namesake of the Newbery Medal!) wrote in 1744:

    Base-Ball.

    The Ball once struck off,
    Away Flies the Boy,
    To the next destin’d Post,
    and then Home with Joy.

    https://www.loc.gov/exhibitions/baseball-americana/about-this-exhibition/origins-and-early-days/baseballs-roots/a-little-pretty-pocket-book/

    I little doubt that in her wisdom, Jane Austen was a fan of base-ball!

  3. I don’t think Scott Boras will allow Childish Bambino to slide headfirst into anything before signing the world’s first half-billion dollar baseball contract. But after the ink is dry, I’m sure he’ll oblige!

  4. I, too, was such a Camargo booster when he came up. The idea of a multi-position, switch-hitter with some power… sadly, all a mirage for us.

    P.S. – Am I the only one who finds Juan Soto to be the funniest on-field comic ever?

    He makes Max Patkin look like John Quincy Adams.

  5. The lockout keeps making me play “what-if” games with every guy who gets a writeup. I’ll always wonder if Carmago would’ve hit in 2019 if he’d gotten a fair chance to play every day.

    In retrospect, though, it was obvious it wasn’t going to work for the Braves as they were built. I like Snitker a lot as a manager, but he’s always been a very push-button kind of guy — as manager, he always wants eight starters who play every day, bat in the same order, and play the same position every game, with the bench guys purely being used as pinch-hitters, defensive replacements, or injury depth. A Martin Prado/Marwin Gonzalez/Ben Zobrist kind of guy who played every day but not always at the same position would have never gotten a chance to play under such a scheme, no matter how good he was, as long as all the starting position players were solid. Even coming off his excellent 2018, Carmago was getting two starts a month, and the idea that he would move around the diamond and give guys a rest while still getting plenty of PAs was pretty much immediately forgotten.

    (This isn’t even really a criticism of Snitker, honestly — I think modern managers have gotten too impressed with their own cleverness, and a guy who just backs off and lets his guys play without having to constantly show off what a super-genius tactical mastermind he is all the time is more valuable than it seems. But it does mean that guys best used in less-defined or less-conventional roles are going to slip through the cracks.)

  6. Gregory Polanco to Japan. That one surprises me a little. Is he the best player to emigrate? Not a high bar to hurdle.

    The longer this goes on, I would think that better and better players getting closer to actual major leaguers will start to sign deals with Japanese or Mexican clubs. I know the NPR is a better league than the Mexican pro league, but I think I’d rather be in this hemisphere if I had to burn a year.

  7. @7: I think it’s totally fair to say that as an everyday player there is very little evidence that Johan Camargo is a worse hitter than Dansby Swanson. That said, the evidence for Camargo, at this point, is three years old. Even if you throw out the last three years (at which point Camargo looks even better) however, there is not a lot of evidence that Camargo can play shortstop at Dansby’s level.

  8. @9 – I only post that because it surprised me, and I thought it might surprise some others. I made the case when the two of them were first coming up that their high minors batting stats projected them as about the same hitter, and I was wondering where I went wrong. Turns out it wasn’t that far off, just on those 3 numbers.

    Certainly Dansby’s earned a lot more at-bats and provided a lot more value, in addition to being a pretty good shortstop.

  9. @10 Those numbers surprised me too. Not Carmago’s, but I thought that Dansby hit better than that. Seeing those numbers, I’m not sure if the Braves should offer Dansby an extension. I think I’d rather they let him hit free agency. Especially as I can’t see those hitting numbers get any better, although we’ll find out this year, I guess.

  10. Thank you, Jonathan. Good stuff as usual.

    I am perhaps the biggest Claude fan, or was, before he became not only invisible but also inconsequential. I hope he thrives in Philly against all but the Braves.

  11. The difference is Dansby’s offense is trending better while Camargo’s is trending worse.

  12. Yeah, Claude is a small tragedy – two years of such promise and then his bat just turned into a pumpkin. Hard to know what happened, or whether he could have had a long productive career with us if he’d gotten more consistent playing time three years ago, but the dude just stopped hitting altogether.

    Sad story, one that’s happened countless times before.

  13. This is as positive a synopsis of Camargo talk as has been seen in these pages.

    But go back to the arrival of La Madre on that specially staged flying visit to Georgia.

    All was well, la vie en rose. She had even added Shakespeare to his lexicon-

    ‘Seeking the bubble reputation,
    Even in the canon’s mouth’

    Sadly, such a cannon, such a mouth.

  14. @2o

    Overpay…by a mile one suspects…

    An interesting example of a newish phenomenon…for the buyer, supposed gasps all round, they must be doing so well!

    The seller in happy repose…right place, right time, half a billion? really? For what?

    Frank Deford (d. 2017) … spare a thought.

  15. @2o

    Overpay…hardly incremental one suspects…

    An interesting example of a newish phenomenon…for the buyer, supposed gasps all round, they must be doing so well!

    The seller in happy repose…right place, right time, half a billion? really?

    Frank Deford (d. 2017) … spare a thought.

  16. The Times abandoned serious sports reporting well over a decade ago. They have more-or-less successfully pivoted from an ad-supported model to a subscription model but they need new things to sell new subscriptions so they have turned back to sports, buying something that lost so much money for so long that they have to sell, or close shop, but which has demonstrated that sports news can sell subscriptions, albeit at a loss.

    If the Times were really interested in sports, they would have kept producing sports journalism. Treating The Athletic as a mechanism to sell subscriptions will probably work for a while, but it won’t make it any more lossmaking, so eventually the Times will cheapen the product, which they have already demonstrated they don’t care about. If you like The Athletic (and I do) this is the announcement of terminal cancer… it only remains to be seen how long the patient lasts.

  17. I work at a company in the industry and so it’s probably inappropriate for me to offer too many thoughts under my own name. But in general, I’m cautiously optimistic. The Athletic made a huge bet on selling sports journalism as premium content, and they were rewarded for that bet. I’m happy for them.

  18. Fingers crossed on The Athletic… as a journo-type myself, media sales are almost always alarming to some degree (in terms of content, jobs, etc.) It’s a really tough racket for any outlet (sports, news, whatever) aspiring to do any real journalism…

    Just finished a terrific book that fans of historical baseball will enjoy, called “Our Team: Satchel Paige, Larry Doby & The World Series That Changed Baseball” by Luke Epplin.

    It’s about the 1948 Cleveland Indians & it concentrates on 4 transcendent characters – Doby (the AL’s 1st black player), Negro League legend Paige, pitching ace Bob Feller & Tribe owner Bill Veeck.

    The book offers some great context of the eventual confluence of these 4 fellows & how it all resulted in Cleveland’s last WS title (vs. the Boston Braves, btw). Especially compelling are the barnstorming stories of Feller & Paige, not to mention the thick layers of B.S. that Doby had to endure (even from his own teammates). And Bill Veeck… just a gem. Definitely recommended.

    http://www.amazon.com/Our-Team-Satchel-Changed-Baseball/dp/1250313791

  19. @1 – wow! Thanks so, so much. I am utterly stunned. I just told my book editor, who is likewise … surprised.

    I am now going to change all my bios.

    John Adcox, CEO, Novelist, and now poet.

    Thank you.

  20. @26 & @28, if you want more on two of the four individuals, Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck & Ed Linn is a wonderful read, and Satchel by Larry Tye is a detailed biography.

  21. Yeah, I m wary of The Athletic getting ruined, but it seems The Times has only been able to survive by, and grow, recently with this new model. Their Cooking section has a premium fee, they bought Wired as well.
    Maybe we will get lucky.

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