Late last night, the Braves engaged in a
trade, sleight of hand, great train robbery with the Diamondbacks. I previously shared my own thoughts on dearly-departed Shelby Miller, his 2015, and an outlook going forward here; meanwhile, I leave thoughts on the two prospects acquired in the trade (Dansby Swanson, aka "Danson Swansby," and Aaron Blair) mostly to folks that know better than me.* The below, then, aims to be a bit of a primer on Ender Inciarte, the trade return with a couple of major league seasons under his belt.
* I will say, however, that you could make a case for Inciarte-for-Miller or Swanson-for-Miller being pretty decent straight-up swaps, in terms of surplus value calculations. The fact that the Braves got both of those guys, and another Top 100-ish prospect, is why this trade still seems insane(ly awesome for the Braves), even after a (curtailed) night of sleep.
Ender David Inciarte Montiel is 25 years old and hails from Maracaibo, Venezuela (which has produced a smattering of MLB players, including Carlos Gonzalez and Rougned Odor). Inciarte was signed by the Diamondbacks way back in 2008 as an international free agent. After four not particularly notable seasons as a farmhand (his wRC+, which is league-adjusted to account for the average batting performance at each minor league level, was around 99 over this stretch), he was taken in the 2012 Rule 5 draft by the Phillies, and actually won a Spring Training battle to earn a spot on the Phillies' 2013 Opening Day roster. However, he wore a Phillies uniform for just one game: the Phillies claimed Ezequiel Carrera off of waivers from the Indians and kicked Inciarte off their roster, returning him to Arizona; Carrera would be DFAed after about a month to make space for Delmon Young. (Both Carrera and Young posted sub-replacement level lines for the Phillies in 2013, Inciarte has put up over 6 WAR for the Diamondbacks since then.)
Back with the team that signed him, Inciarte continued to do his league-average bat thing at AA, where he made the Southern League All-Star Team, and after he spent April 2014 at AAA and hit a little better (109 wRC+, driven by a .368 BABIP), the Diamondbacks called him up to be a backup center fielder/late inning defensive replacement for the corners, but had to use him as a full-time starter after A.J. Pollock went down with a hand injury in June. After Pollock returned, Inciarte shifted to the outfield corners, which is where he spent most of 2015, along with some occasional time spelling Pollock in center.
Ender Inciarte has, so far, had about 1,000 plate appearances in the majors. Over that stretch, he's hit .292/.329/.386, good for a 94 wRC+. (Since his home ballpark was previously a bit of a hitter's haven, you should not necessarily expect similar offensive stats in Atlanta as far as the slash line goes.) Inciarte is a pretty generic "bat-to-ball" hitter, in that he rarely walks (5.1% BB rate is very poor) but also rarely strikes out (11.0% K rate is excellent). To wit, he's in the bottom 15% for walk rate among major league regulars, 2014-5, and in the bottom 10% for strikeout rate.
He also does not offer much of anything in the power department: his .094 career ISO is paltry and made a bit more so by the fact that he played a substantial amount of his games at Chase and Coors Fields (though also a lot of road games at AT&T Park, Dodger Stadium, and Petco Park). Basically, he's probably going to hit a lot of singles and somewhere between 20-40 extra-base hits.
Overall, his batted ball stats are skewed heavily towards ground balls, which makes sense given the aforementioned lack of pop. He does hit line drives at a rate somewhat above league average (closer to 23% versus 21% for league average), but the lack of fly balls (25% compared to 35% for league average) dampens his offensive production. Still, that's not to suggest that he should hit the ball in the air more: that's likely not really in his skillset as an effective outcome: his HR/FB (5%) hovers around half of league average, and he was 5th-worst (!!!!!) at batted ball distance in 2014 and still in the bottom 10% in 2015 (n = around 285 players each season with the most fly balls in play).
With that said, Inciarte has been able to post a .321 BABIP as a major league hitter so far. Part of this is because fly balls have lower BABIP and he hits fewer of them, part of it is that he hits fewer infield pops than league average (7% versus 11% for league average), and part of it is the aforementioned uptick in his line drive rate, but he's not really considerably better than the league at reaching base on grounders or line drives (maybe marginally on line drives). Given his batted ball profile, his BABIP isn't actually particularly noteworthy - to that end, I think a BABIP between .310 and .340 is probably pretty reasonable for him so long as he keeps his batted ball profile similar.
Why is that last point relevant? Mostly because Steamer (I think ZiPS is not out yet for Inciarte) still has him pegged as a league-average .299 BABIP type going forward. So that 88 wRC+ which Steamer projects for him is probably an underestimate if you think, like I do, that his central estimate BABIP should be around .020-0.030 or so points higher.
Inciarte is an extreme spray hitter: whereas the average hitter's pull%/center%/oppo% are about 40/35/25, he's at 34%/33%/33%. Expect to hear a lot about how he "uses the whole field" as though that means something in and of itself. He resembles a more traditional pull hitter against righties but pulls the ball even less against lefties, though his overall effectiveness is considerably better when has the platoon advantage. Splits-wise, he's been an above-average hitter (to some extent) against righties (109 wRC+) and almost unplayable offensively against lefties (59 wRC+). The Braves may want to find a lefty-mashing platoon partner for him if they want to maximize the value of his roster spot in that regard. (He's also yet to homer off of a lefty as a big leaguer.)
Just like nearly all hitters, Inciarte hits the ball more on the ground when he pulls it, and considerably less when he goes the other way. To that end, you should expect him to roll over a bunch of balls, especially against lefties, while spraying soft fly balls and liners over the infield the other way occasionally.
Lastly, there's something minorly interesting about his quality of contact stats. You'd expect that given his weak batted ball distance, he'd be perhaps a prototypical "poor contact" player. However, that's not entirely true: his ability to avoid soft contact is pretty average, and he's fairly below average at hard contact, but it's not abysmal, like his overall batted ball distance.
The above gives a good sense of his outcomes, I think. In terms of within-plate appearance performance, the notable takeaways are:
- He chases somewhat more than an average hitter (O-swing of 35%, compared to 30% for league average)
- But, he also makes contact with way more of those chased pitches than average (O-contact% of 81%, compared to 66% for league average)
- He's also pretty good at making contact within the zone (94% versus 87%)
- Pitchers, as a result, throw him lots of strikes, because there's not much point in getting him to chase
- You've probably figured this out, but he rarely whiffs (swinging strike rate of about 5% compared to 9.5% for league average)
As you might be aware from a cursory look at his stats, a ton of Ender Inciarte's defense is tied up in his glove (and arm). In about 1.5 full seasons in the outfield, he's saved 52 runs (above average) per DRS, and 34 runs (above average) per UZR. That's... a lot. Like, a whole lot. By both measures, his arm contributed about a quarter of that value, which is pretty substantial.
The real question, of course, is to what extent his defensive stats will keep this torrid pace going forward, given that these metrics are inherently very volatile. Steamer takes a very conservative view and assumes that he will be worth essentially zero runs on defense in 2016: this can be interpreted as either him being around 7 runs above average in a corner spot full time, or him being about 3 runs below average in center field full time. Given what we already know about his defensive output (which again, is like 1.5 seasons' worth), I think that's a little pessimistic.
If we separate out his performance in the corners and in center, we get that over 1,171 innings in corners, he's put up +33 DRS and +19 UZR. That suggests that even with some heavy regression (assuming he's exactly league average in every other inning he plays to get to 3 full seasons' worth of data), he's around +2-3 runs above average in a corner. That actually makes his Steamer projection look optimistic, as far as corner value goes.
In center, however, he's put up +19 DRS and +15 UZR in 801 innings. Again, using the heavy regression, that's around +1 run above average, even though Steamer had him as somewhat below average in center going forward.
Combining all of his outfield innings together (and thus regressing far less), he looks like a +5-8 run above average "outfielder." That's rosier. If we assume that he splits time at that performance level across the corners and center at around 40% in center, 60% in the corners (which is how his time has been split to date), I estimate that he can be worth somewhere around +1-5 runs above average defensively (after baking in positional adjustments). It's not much, but it's also less dour than Steamer's goose egg in that regard.
However, stepping back from the numbers, it's worth noting that when Inciarte played a corner, he had A.J. Pollock and his strong center field defense playing next to him. To the extent that this impacted his defense in any way, it may not have been picked up in the metrics (for example, if they play Inciarte more towards the line to account for Pollock's range, and there's a ball hit into the gap but in Inciarte's "zone" that Pollock fails to get to, that would ding Inciarte despite the defensive positioning; it may have also prevented Inciarte from making out-of-zone plays in the center fielder's zone that would boost his metrics, etc.), and thus depressed his defensive value a bit.
I'm wary about making any serious prognostications on his defense -- we'll see what happens going forward, especially given whether the Braves plan to use him in center or not.
Given all of the above, here's what I think Inciarte will do in 2016:
- wRC+ of 95 (pretty much his career average rate, see no reason to deviate)
- Defensive value of +10-11 runs (either stellar, vacuuming defense in a corner or above average in center, with a substantial boost from the regressed metric stats I computed above based on the fact that all of his compatriots in the outfield are not fleet of foot and will give him substantial out-of-zone chances; Mallex Smith playing very good defense might warrant a downward revision here)
- Overall, I figure somewhere around +2.8-3.1 wins for Inciarte, though again, that's driven heavily by defense. In case you're wondering why this differs so much from the Steamer projection: 1) About a half-win differential on hitting, based mostly on a 7-point wRC+ difference due to BABIP; 2) me assuming his average baserunning rate, leading a 1-run differential; 3) a win of differential on defense; and 4) a few runs of differential that appear to be some kind of issue or obscurity in Steamer's calculation that I can't figure out.
Proposed Nicknames for Ender Inciarte
- Bender (if you like Futurama... or drinking, I guess?)
- Obligatory Ender's Game-type references (if you like Ender's Game, or traumatizing children)
- Return to sEnder (when he hits a comebacker)
- The CritEnder Compromise (if you like American history)
- The Inciarterator (if you like fire and spelling is hard)
- Endinosaur (if you like dinosaurs, because who doesn't?)
- Incinerate Red
- Nectarine Ride (delicious)
- Retired Canine
- A Cretin Denier