A Braves Checkup: Infield

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The Braves check in at 56-38 at the All-Star Break, 2.5 games behind the Mets in the division, up 6 games in the Wild Card race, and own the 3rd best record in the National League. In today’s piece, we will evaluate each position on the field, and utilize some advanced metrics to determine needs for the upcoming trade deadline.

Catchers

For most of the year, the Braves have utilized Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras as their catching tandem, and what a tandem they’ve been. Before landing on the IL with ligament damage in his wrist that required season-ending surgery, Manny Pina played in 5 games and made little impact. That cannot be said about the other 2.

At the break, d’Arnaud is sporting his best advanced defensive metrics since his early years with the Mets and is hitting for power once again with a .461 SLG% and a .761 OPS. He’s caught the bulk of the Braves games, appearing in 63 and looks to be aging like a fine wine.

William Contreras has been adequate behind the dish and an absolute monster at the plate. In 174 PAs, Contreras has 11 HRs and an .877 OPS. Looks like the 24 y/o is here to stay.

With both d’Arnaud and Contreras making the All-Star team, it’s safe to assume the Braves are set at catching for 2022, likely 2023, and Manny Pina, who signed a 2 year deal for $8MM with a club option and who was supposed to be d’Arnaud’s sidekick this year, will probably be on the trading block in the offseason.

Grade: A. No needs to fill.

First Base

It’s hard to believe that a player that has 17 HRs at the All-Star break is ranked 12th in fWAR at his position, but that’s where Matt Olson sits for now. For 2 months, Olson was one of the worst offensive 1B in the Majors, carrying an OPS of .672 from April 19 to June 18th. However, the 28 games that followed were substantially better as Olson looked like the player the Braves thought they were getting in the trade with Oakland. Olson won’t fill Freddie Freeman‘s shoes in 2022 and he doesn’t have to, but I do think he’ll finish as a top-10 1B in the league with potential to be much more should he continue the good work from his last 28.

Grade: B-. No need to fill.

Second Base

Ozzie Albies wasn’t being Ozzie Albies even before a bizarre injury while swinging the bat that broke his foot and required foot surgery. He wasn’t hitting. There were also many defensive lapses that just seemed bizarre. The 2022 tale told up until now had him sitting at a 1.1 fWAR (which seems generous). The Braves first line of defense? Give Orlando Arcia the job. Didn’t work. .581 OPS over 85 PAs. Ok…throw Phil Gosselin in the mix. Even worse. .553 OPS. How ’bout the corpse of Robinson Cano? How could he possibly be worse, right? Not right. .500 OPS.

Until Albies comes back and is healthy, there’s no internal solution for 2B. The issue that I have is that people are banking that he’ll definitely be back and I’m not sure that’s true. The bridge of the foot is very tricky, especially for athletes. I’ll be happy when my favorite Brave returns, but like Mike Soroka, I ain’t putting $ on it.

There are about 4 dudes at AAA that could be tried out and they’d likely have the same results as the above 3 if given any real chance.

Grade: D. Huge need.

Short Stop

What’s Dansby Swanson doing that he hasn’t done before? Walking more? Nope. Striking out less? Nope. Those remain the same. However, the game changer has been the swing adjustment.

Dansby has always carried a pretty good hard hit rate, hovering around 41.5% from 2019-21. His barrel rates are also around the same mark, sitting at about 11% over those same years. And while I have no idea if this change is purposeful or not, what has increased has been his launch angle, which sits at 16.3 degrees, a significant increase from his last 4 years where he hovered around 14. Yes, Dansby is carrying a career high BABIP of .374, but unlike Chris Johnson, who was just lucky (and Frank Wren was an idiot), Dansby’s high BABIP in 2022, much like the BABIP of Tyler Flowers in his heyday, seems like it can sustain a .350ish level because he’s hitting the ball so dang hard regularly. In this year alone, Dansby has put the ball in play at an exit velocity north of 100 MPH 74 times resulting in 46 hits, 27 for extra bases. With the increased lift, these hard hit balls aren’t finding dirt and that is the secret sauce to Dansby’s success.

Grade: A. No need to fill (but dammit, a Super Utility that can handle SS and hit a bit sure wouldn’t hurt).

Third Base

What happens when you’re in the Top 3% in the league in average exit velocity and carry a very healthy 14.5 degree launch angle? You hit monster dongs. It seems ages ago, but for 2 weeks, Riley was awful. He couldn’t hit a lick, had that lost look in his eye, and was a strikeout waiting to happen. And while he started turning it around in the first weeks of June, he slumped hard again in the last 2 weeks and then the calendar turned to July. Wonderful, beautiful July.

  • 75 PAs
  • 5 BBs
  • 28 Hits
  • 6 Doubles
  • 9 Home Runs
  • 1.311 OPS

There’s no denying it. Austin Riley has become an elite hitter and if the Braves finish the season with 90+ wins, Riley will get serious consideration for MVP. When you’re in the Top 2-4% in the league in 7 advanced hitting metrics on Statcast, you deserve the attention and Austin Riley deserves a whole lot more than he gets.

Grade: A+. No Need to Fill

Final Breakdown: Overall, the infield has been the catalyst of this team. With 4 of 5 positions performing well, there’s not much that needs to happen. With the DH in place, bench players are becoming less and less valuable, but the Braves desperately need a super-utility that can hit and play 2B until Ozzie Albies recovers. Some options to consider would be Ian Happ, Brandon Drury, Joey Wendle, Harold Castro, and Brad Miller.

Author: Ryan Cothran

Ryan is the site editor and manager of Braves Journal. Follow him on Twitter.

26 thoughts on “A Braves Checkup: Infield”

  1. Amazing write up Ryan. Thank you. All we really need at 2nd is someone who can give us what Charlie Culberson gave us in 2018 and 2019. Unfortunately it looks like Charlie can’t do that anymore

  2. I tried to see if I could find anything to disagree with you on effectively Shewmake not being a better option, but it doesn’t look like a Shewmake / Arcia platoon would be better than Arcia alone (or not by much better). However the D would be much better than Cano.

    So, do you bring up Shewmake and take a chance? I kind of think you need to see what you have. He might be able to be a Mediocre (Less than Super) Utility.

  3. Shewmake has a .672 OPS at AAA. He couldn’t be worse than Cano, but do you really want to start his service clock for such a low bar when he’s not ready?

  4. @ 4,

    He’s 24. He is unlikely to develop significantly more. he would be at Major League Minimum (unlike potential trade targets). Braves would still have control AT LEAST until Shewmake was 31 (longer if he were optioned down some). Unlikely a player with Shewmake’s minor league track record is more than a 1 to 2 million a year contract player after control years. If Shewmake is better than that, GREAT. Also, although I do not think this will happen (non zero meaning 5%) if Shewmake does fairly good, he might be your 2023 Dansby replacement.

    So, yeah, clock starting is not something to keep this move from happening. If ML adjusted offensive production says he would be as bad or worse than Arcia, then maybe for that reason you don’t make the move.

  5. I tend to think you’re better off leaving Shewmake in AAA until he shows he can be a productive hitter at AAA. Bringing him up now has the potential for a Pache-like big league performance, which would do neither his confidence nor long-term value any good.

    Edit–I do agree with Cliff that clock starting should not be a concern. I don’t have a lot of confidence now that he’ll ever be very good. I sure don’t think there is much chance he is the Dansby replacement for 2023. But Grissom by 2024 may be the ticket, if AA finds someone for a one year deal next year.

  6. I think it will be interesting to see what happens with Vaughn Grissom. I’ve read that he may not have the arm to remain at shortstop. Of course, he’s blocked at 2nd by Albies, at 1st by Olson, and at 3rd by Riley (and if doesn’t have the arm for short, 3rd wouldn’t be better). My guess is the Braves will keep him at short until he proves he can’t handle it. Otherwise, he would be ticketed for the outfield (or trade bait).

    It does look like the Braves moved Justyn-Henry Malloy permanently to left field. He was also killing it at Rome offensively and was promoted to Mississippi with Grissom. But, he committed 17 errors in 51 games at third base at Rome, and has played all of his games in left since the promotion.

  7. 7 — Adding to that, I do think the Braves are hoping that Grissom becomes a long term solution at short, and Malloy in left. (Duvall being in the last year of his contract, Rosario under a 2 year contract and playing way below replacement level, and Ozuna becoming unplayable in the field.)

  8. @8–I don’t know of any. I mentioned it because AA likes that kind of deal. And I wouldn’t have guessed that Correa would be available for one year this year. I doubt he will do that again, though, and I have no reason to think Turner and Bogaerts (the other star shortstops on the market) would do that.

  9. I think the time share is helping TDA and Contreras both stay fresh and to play well. I know you would love to plug the other in on their day off from catching at DH on a regular basis, (and this could potentially happen in the postseason) but I think the frequent days off in the regular season are helping them both. Plugging Ozuna in (whose one remaining skill is power) as the DH isn’t completely hurting the team through the dog days of summer.

  10. To be honest, I’ve liked Cesar Hernandez for a long time and I’d like if we got him. (He basically just hits for an empty batting average, which means that in the saber era, if anything, he’s underrated.)

    He’s 32, which is a good age for guys with his fringy skillset to fall off a cliff — that’s exactly when it happened to Gregor Blanco — but I don’t see an obvious erosion in his peripherals and I think it’s possible he’s just had a crappy half-season on one of the worst teams in the majors. I can’t imagine it’d take a lot more than a bucket of balls to pry him away from Washington. But I think there’s a reasonable likelihood that he’s better than Arcia. As a switch-hitter, he could at least serve as a better platoon partner than Cano or Gosselin.

  11. Generally, I would rather see an inexpensive young guy get a shot over an overpriced veteran who seems to be pretty much done. I think we’ve seen how much upside Canó has left in him.

    But I’ve said before, admittedly without knowing exact numbers, that I believe Canó is almost a free trial version, isn’t he? Aren’t other teams paying most of his salary?

    So maybe it IS better to let the kids play every day in the minors without using up options or potentially hurting their development. It kinda seems like a toss up, like Ryan said.

    In the big picture, we’re winning. Catcher, CF, and Starter #5 have been much stronger than we expected. So maybe we can live with a weak spot at 2B and still be very competitive.

    I mean, it’s not like if we lost RAJ for half a season. We couldn’t accomplish anything in that case.

  12. @14, no — by my druthers, once Ozzie’s back, Hernandez/Arcia go back to bench duty, Gwinnett, or cryostasis.

  13. Ok, having the players mic’ed up while they’re playing is a real treat. I especially enjoyed the conversation with Minoah while he was pitching.

  14. All Star game has been boring. It’s special that it’s in the virtuous and morally upright state of California rather than the wretched state of Georgia. Yes, I’m still bitter about the mlb blatently inserting politics into the game. It shouldn’t matter what political affiliation you have, that’s just plain wrong.

  15. Dodger Twitter all blaming Snitker for losing, but their pitcher was the only guy on the team who gave up a run.

  16. Possible real-talk off-season answer for SS in the offseason, assuming Swansby walks:

    Carlos Correa.

  17. Correa, Turner, and Swanson will all be free agents. The Dodgers and the Angels will be looking.

  18. I thought Kirby Yates started a rehab in minors on Sat .. anyone know if he has pitched and what team was rehab with ??????

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