Now that the season has ended, I thought it was a good time to go back and review the batting profiles of some of the Braves’ key players. Batting profiles are essentially the nuts and bolts behind a players production and answers the why behind what. Knowing what a guy’s wRC+ is useful but knowing how he arrived at that production gives you both a better understanding of a that players present talent, as well as a more accurate projection for what he’ll do in the future.
The most recent example of this is Dansby Swanson’s 2016 debut. Looking at just the production he put up, it was easy to conclude that Swanson was every bit the star player that he’s prospect ranking proclaimed him to be and project him for that production going forward. But as his batting profile was put together, major red flags showed up, specifically in the power department, and it became clear that more than normal regression should probably be expected in 2017. Fast-forward a year later, and that profile proved to be a useful tool as Dansby struggled with all aspects of hitting, especially power, and we can now see more clearly his path to stardom will likely be harder than first thought.
So there is value to be had.
With that, we’re going to dive right in. Here’s the chart:
We’re going to go through each guy individually but a couple quick things about the chart. I think most of the headers are self explanatory, with the first four being exit velocity metrics followed by standard batted ball types and so on. I ended the chart with wOBA and xwOBA for each guy. If you’re unfamiliar, xwOBA stands for expected wOBA. It’s a metric from the Statcast guys that basically tries to strip away the randomness that goes into batted ball results and gives what a hitter’s wOBA should be based on the type and quality of his contact.
The other thing about the chart is the cells are color-coded. If the player’s production is 2 full standard deviations above average, the cell is red. If it’s 1 to 2 standard deviations higher than average, it’s orange. If it’s 0.5 to 1 STD higher, the cell is yellow. If the player’s value is .05 to 1 STD less than average, the cell is blue. 1 to 2 STD less than average is green and anything more than 2 STD lower than average and the cell is black. So red and black are the extremes.
Ok, now for the players. We’ll just stay in the order they appear on the chart.
Note: I did not include Nick Markakis or Matt Kemp in these profiles because both guys are at a point where year to year profiles mean a lot less for them as age regression changes them so drastically from one year to the next.
As you can see, Freeman is really good. Shocking, I know. The first thing that jumps out is that insane line-drive rate. LD rate is a noisy metric that can fluctuate severely year to year so what you’re looking for is a pattern from a player that shows a clear skill to square the ball up regularly. Freeman has that skill. He consistently runs sky high LD rates which is one of the reasons he’s the monster that he is. Freeman also cut his K% down significantly in 2017 to almost a full STD below league average while maintaining a superior BB%. The other thing that makes Freeman one of the elite hitters in baseball is he hits the ball in the air over 40% of the time and crushes it when he does at 94 mph. From top to bottom this is just an impressive profile.
Albies burst on the scene in 2017 as a member of this team’s future core so his impressive performance in his debut season was of the high points for Braves’ fans. And the good news is the profile supports the results. The first thing you’ll notice is he’s already adept at keeping the ball off the ground and when watching him hit, it’s clear his trying to elevate. This is a good thing regardless of what Joe Simpson tells you and it led to more power than some were expecting. Ozzie’s is probably never going to have more than league average power but remember the bar for having average power is as high as it’s ever been. That would put him around a .170 ISO and combine that with his incredible speed and defensive value, Atlanta may be looking at a 4 to 5 WAR player. The other really impressive part of his profile is the BB/K numbers. A K rate south of 15% in today’s game is especially impressive and it’s not because he’s ultra aggressive up there swinging at the first good pitch he sees. He’ll take a walk. The one thing you’d like to see is a little more velocity on his fly balls. 88.8 mph is a little lite for how much he hits it in the air but it’ very likely that increases as he physically matures. I don’t see anything to worry about here.
So I mentioned in the open that Swanson is a prime example for why looking at the underlying skills is so important regardless of the results. Even after his impressive debut in 2016, there were red flags to consider and unfortunately for him, his profile doesn’t look any better. The first big problem is having such a high K rate despite not hitting the ball with much authority. You can live with strikeouts as a hitter as long as you’re offsetting those Ks with power. Swanson doesn’t. He just doesn’t hit the ball hard enough to generate it. At least not yet. The other big red flag is the ground ball to fly ball ratio. Even if Dansby was hitting the ball harder, a 47% ground ball rate is tough to do anything with. If almost half the balls you’re putting into play are on the ground, there’s just not enough opportunities to do damage. He has to adjust. The good news for Swanson is that’s two years in a row he’s posted better than average line drive rates. He had incredible bad luck on line drives in 2017 but if it turns out he does posses the skill to square up the ball regularly, then that obviously helps. We’ll see what the 2018 version brings.
Ender has one of the strangest profiles in baseball. Everything about his quality of contact says he should be an absolutely terrible hitter. Look at that xwOBA. He doesn’t really ever hit the ball hard relative to his peers, he hits a ton of grounders and very rarely walks. This shouldn’t work. But it does. The last 3 years he’s run wRC+ of 100, 97, and 100. Now that’s still just league average production, but given the significant value of his defense, it works for him. And it works for 2 reasons. Line drives and lack of strikeouts. Ender has a career BABIP of .328. Go look at those exit velocities and tell me how someone who hits it that softly runs a career .328 average on balls in play. Well he does it by putting a ton of pitches in play and a much higher than average number of them are hit on a line. That’s his secret. Objectively, it terrifies me if his LD rate ever fluctuates, as it’s been known to do, because that’s all he has. But so far, it hasn’t.
Camargo was the surprise player of 2017, essentially coming out of no where to become a legitimate contributor to the major league club. There’s also quite a bit of debate on Camargo about what exactly he is so a breakdown of his profile should help. The first thing that jump out is the 22% line drive rate. Because Johan doesn’t have the track record that shows a real skill to barrel the ball up consistently, we have to assume this number is artificially inflated and due for some regression. If he repeats the skill next year, then we have a track record we can stand on it a bit more firmly. The EV numbers show basically league average across the board but given Johan is middle infielder by trade, generating even average power is a plus. The worrisome bits come in two parts. First, the BB/K ratio. A 20% K rate on it’s own isn’t that big a deal but when it’s accompanied by a less than 5% walk rate, that’s a bit of a red flag. Walks allow to you to maintain a plus OBP without having to run an astronomical BABIP and as the latter drops for Johan next year he’ll need to walk more to help with the former. Second is the GB/FB ratio. Camargo hits his fly balls at almost 93 mph which is a strong number but only hits the ball in the air 31% of the time. Those numbers indicate he’s a guy who could benefit from the fly ball revolution that’s sweeping across baseball. It’s not for everyone but Johan seems like a guy who it could work for so it’ll be interesting to see what 2018 brings.
Rio had a very strange year. While in AAA, he put up more than adequate numbers to earn a call up and even some consistent playing time. But every time he got that playing time, the strong hitter he showed in AAA ceased to exist. Part of this was fluky. Ruiz ran a 13.4% LD rate in 2017, which is one of the lowest you’ll ever see and a full two standard deviations below league average. I’d venture a guess that Rio could play a 15-year career from this point on and you’d never a see a LD rate that low again. While I’ve been lower on his prospects as an everyday guy, I will admit the rest of his profile is interesting. Above average overall EV, well above average EV on fly balls, a more than respectable walk rate, and a K rate that won’t kill you. A lot like Camargo, where Rio could see the biggest gains is hitting the ball in the air more. a 96.3 mph EV on fly balls but only a 30% FB rate equals a lot of wasted potential. If Rio can maintain the strong plate discipline he showed while improving his batted ball profile, you could conceivably see a break-out player in 2018.
Flowers is another excellent example of why these profiles can be so beneficial. It’s very easy to look at Tyler’s batted ball breakdown, look at his overall exit velocity, and reach the conclusion that Tyler simply needs to hit the ball in the air more. But a more detailed look shows that Tyler’s quality of contact actually goes down as he tries to elevate the ball. He hit his fly balls at 89 mph in 2017, which as you can see by the chart, is below league average. He’s a guy whose swing is more geared to hitting line drives and ground balls. Flowers has the track record and the profile of a guy who has found his sweet spot when it comes to his swing plane, and should just be left alone. Every other part of his profile is well within league average so really, Tyler, just keep doing what you’re doing.
As we’ve talked about guys who could benefit from elevating the ball more, Kurt is hitter who has made that change, and saw the fruits of that labor in 2017. Kurt posted a career high fly ball rate in 2017, almost 47%, and matched that with a 92 mph exit velocity on FB. It’s not hard to figure out where the power surge came from this year, and because we can see change in the under-lying skills, I’m more willing to believe his production can be repeated next year. The rest of his profile runs at pretty much league average levels with the one outlier being his low BB and K numbers. Kurt was hyper-aggressive in 2017, jumping on the first good pitch so it’ll be interesting to see if he repeats that approach in 2018.
The easiest way to describe Matt is a poor man’s Freddie Freeman and his profile in 2017 is just a lesser version of Freeman’s. Matt hits the ball as hard as Freeman does, hits in the air actually a little more than Freddie, and maintains his power as he elevates. The big differences are he’s never had the ability square the ball up consistently like Freeman and the plate discipline overall is significantly less. But Matt is still a decent hitter. His xwOBA was .343 in 2017 so he’s no scrub. The problem for him is really doesn’t have a position on a team where 1B is occupied so a move in the off-season seems most likely. But hitting the ball 94 mph in the air and hitting the ball in air 42% of the time means there are times when Matt will be a force in your lineup. You just have to live with the below average plate discipline and limited defensive value.
Other than Camargo, Lane was the breakout player of 2017. After opening some eyes with his play in AAA, Lane finally got called up to the big league club mid-way though the year. Playing time was hard to come for some reason but once he started getting regular AB’s, he produced like a major league caliber player and showed potential that have some very excited. His profile, however, has some red flags. The first one that sticks out is his K rate. Striking out 30% of the time by itself can kill hitter’s production but doing so while only producing an 85 mph average exit velocity is a serious problem. Lane has some pop but not nearly enough to run those kind of plate discipline numbers. He survived in 2017 with a higher than average line drive rate, but as we’ve already gone over, that’s the least stable of all these skills and without a track record to back it up, we need to expect regression. The good news is even with the expected regression, Lane has enough defensive and base-running value to more than likely hold down a bench spot on the team. But to be more of a weapon as a hitter, Adams is going to have to make more contact.
Ok, there are your 2017 Atlanta Braves batting profiles. We’ll do this again a couple months into 2018 when we’ll have more data on guys like Albies, Swanson, and Camargo as well as what I’m guessing is a first look at Ronald Acuna.