Welcome back to another edition of 2016 Player Reviews. Today’s a biggy with a franchise cornerstone, a righty with a funky delivery, and one of the biggest surprises of 2016. Thanks for bearing with me as I look at these players and take stock in their contributions this season. With still over 30 to go, I hope to complete this series in the next couple of weeks.
*Ages reflect the player’s age on opening day, 2017
Freddie Freeman, 1B, 27 years-old
|Keith Allison via Flickr|
2016 Review: Remember when people used to say, “sure, Freddie’s good and all, but he’s not one of the best at his position?” Yeah, about that…Freeman only hit .302/.400/.569. Want more advanced metrics? Freeman posted a .402 wOBA with a 152 wRC+. His .267 ISO was seventy points higher than his previous career-best while he eclipsed 6 fWAR for the first time in his career. His homerun total breezed past 30 in no small part because he finished with a flyball rate higher than his groundball rate for the first time. And about how he compares to the league – Freeman’s 6.1 fWAR was nearly a full run higher than the next major league first baseman and one of the ten best WAR totals according to Fangraphs in 2016. It was the kind of season John Hart – and yes, Frank Wren – envisioned when they extended Freeman for $135 million less than three years ago. His overall numbers are even more impressive when you remember that his OPS was in the .750s through 60 games. Back then, fans and media types alike wondered if his wrist troubles from 2015 would limit the effectiveness of Freeman moving forward. Now, they wonder how much better Freeman can be in 2017 and beyond.
2017 Projection: Here’s the good news – at just 27, Freeman is entering his prime. There is no reason to believe that Freeman can’t be even better in 2017, though even a slight fallback campaign would still be plenty good. One of the many bright spots in Freeman’s numbers was an OPS of .901 against left-handed pitchers. Freeman had been fairly limited against southpaws in his career with weak isolated slugging numbers against them, but that wasn’t the case in 2016. Freeman is a franchise cornerstone and there no longer exists reasons to doubt that.
John Gant, RHP, 24 years-old
2016 Review: Let’s just say that Gant is more than a funky delivery. Out of necessity more than anything, he made the roster to open the year despite having just 100 innings of experience above A-ball (all at Double A). Over six different stints with the club (including a trip to the DL), Gant logged an even 50 innings in the majors. He was about a league-average arm – which really isn’t that bad of a thing to say about a guy getting his first taste of the majors. He walked a few too many and homeruns allowed were a little much, but the strikeout total was solid (8.8 per nine). His favorite pitch was the split-fingered fastball, which he delivered about 60% of the time. The remaining 40% was split pretty evenly between his curveball and changeup.
2017 Projection: Gant was not the higher-rated prospect of the duo of righties the Braves got from the Mets for Kelly Johnson in the summer of 2015. While he did beat Robert Whalen to the bigs, I still like Whalen’s chances of sticking more. Gant does everything he can – including his delivery – to keep hitters off balance and his split-fingered heater has some decent getty-up on it. This surprises me, but he’s never really been a high groundball pitcher despite a splitter/slider combo that hitters like to beat into the ground. If he could improve that, Gant could carve out a nice role in the majors as a low-end starter/long reliever. As for just next season, Gant is in the mix, but will need a big camp to make the Braves for a second straight opening day.
Adonis Garcia, 3B, 31 years-old
2016 Review: What a strange season Garcia had. After an exciting summer callup the previous year, Garcia won the lionshare of time at 3B to begin 2016. He struggled both in the field and at the plate and was banished to the minors for most of May before a return as the Braves sought offense. While the Braves flirted with the idea of moving Garcia back to left field, he settled back into the third base spot and improved his numbers dramatically. At the plate, there was both good-and-bad. He provided some power for what was, at times, a punchless lineup. His negatives, though, included weak on-base numbers (.311) and while he did hit 14 homeruns, his ISO was a mere .133 (or about 90 pounds below his 2015 run).
2017 Projection: Garcia is a mixed bag. The Braves are probably asking too much from him to be an everyday starter. Sure, when he’s hot, like he was during July when he slashed .337/.370/.537, it’s difficult to get him out of the lineup. He’s a good enough hitter to avoid long stretches of disappearing, but not good enough to provide enough offensive talent at the plate. His defense was definitely improved after a trip to the minors and he’s competent at the position. The Braves seem unlikely to splurge for a third baseman to take over the position full time, but Garcia could still lose playing time to the rookie, Rio Ruiz. A left-handed hitter, Ruiz could be protected a bit by Garcia, who has slashed .310/.357/.472 in 213 career PA against southpaws in the majors. If Ruiz needs more time, Garcia could be partnered up with a different platoon partner (perhaps Jace Peterson) or handed third to open 2017, though that’s not ideal. Either way, the Braves are getting their money’s worth and then some with Garcia.