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Braves Player Projections: Outfielders

Someone please tell me what Hector Olivera is going to do, because I have no idea.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It's commonly said that having too much of a good thing isn't a problem at all: that sort of thing tends to work itself out in baseball. However, as we saw with the infielders and catchers, this is not a concern for the 2016 Braves, even though at times this offseason it appeared that they had amassed a glut of outfielders. Similar to the infield situation, there's one potential standout for the crew in the outfield, followed by a lot of question marks and likely below average performers.

Included below are the outfielders I figure will get somewhere between "some" and "a lot" of playing time in the outfield, should they make the team. I'm re-including Emilio Bonifacio and Kelly Johnson here because I have no idea where they'll play (if Bonifacio even makes the roster), Hector Olivera is also included here and not in the infield because it looks like the Braves are pretty serious about playing him in left field, for better or worse. Again, the "position" column is a true WAG about where these guys are likely to play: I figure Inciarte might see time everywhere despite his defensive chops for "reasons," and Mallex Smith might be relegated to fill-in duty around the outfield when he's called up. I didn't include Nick Swisher along with Bonifacio and Kelly Johnson because him back in the outfield would be a disaster that would be difficult to put to human forms of expression (maybe an interpretive dance?).

(For explanation of what these crazy capital letters above mean, see the catcher projections post.)

Michael Bourn

The general consensus is that Michael Bourn might be on his last legs as a productive player, and I can't help but agree. He's generally been a below-average hitter, and has trended downward in that department since departing Atlanta. His fielding has generally been very volatile, both year-to-year and across UZR versus DRS, so it's hard to peg down. Either way, Bourn probably fills the "poor backup" role for the Braves this year, assuming he's on the roster. In that way, he's pretty similar to a bunch of other less-than-ideal role players the Braves have amassed for the 2016 club across their infield and outfield.

Personally, I think he'll hit a little better but field a little worse than Steamer/ZiPS, but the end result is pretty much the same: meh.

Ender Inciarte

Ender Inciarte is the crowning jewel (one might say, the Freddie Freeman) of the outfield. Perhaps unfortunately, Steamer is not really a believer in him, heavily regressing his defense and assuming he can't sustain a BABIP over .300 to push his wRC+ down to below 90, with an end result of him clocking in as a below-average regular. I think a lighter touch with regressing his defense makes more sense (DRS gave him much more value than UZR did in 2015, for example, and I'm not even accounting for that).

Hitting-wise, he put up a .330-ish BABIP last season and I agree that might be difficult for him to sustain, but .315 or so doesn't seem crazy given his speed and what he's done in the majors to date. I'm figuring a wRC+ in the low 90s, and combined with great defense, should make him a well-above average player pushing three wins. Thanks, Dave Stewart.

Nick Markakis

The Nick Markakis line in the table above is kind of depressing (to me, anyway), and I'm more optimistic about his 2016 chances for success than ZiPS or Steamer. I'm not sure how Markakis will approach the coming season from an offensive standpoint, but the same kind of "dink looping liners over the infield" strategy he employed for much of the season in 2015 is actually fairly effective at securing a league-average hitting line, and I don't think that those skills have deteriorated to the extent where he won't be able to do so again. I also think that having Inciarte nearby will potentially help him in the outfield, and one wonders whether the really poor arm ratings by the defensive metrics from last year are replicable, or just an aberration.

In any case, I figure that he'll come out to be an average corner outfield with an average bat, which is a below-average player. This makes sense: he's not really providing "excess" value with the stick or the glove (even though he's playing an "easy" position). One hopes he can do better as a result of improvements in health, but I don't see him returning either to 2014's fluky aggregate defensive performance or 2012's offensive output.

If he hits a little worse than average and ends up closer to what Steamer/ZiPS think of him this season, then 2016 will be just a little uglier than previously expected.

Hector Olivera

I have no idea. Let's just get that out of the way. No idea whatsoever. Replacement level? Sure. 3-win player? I can see it. He's really Dan Rather, who is really Beyonce, who is really a horse, who is really a broom, who is really Melky Cabrera, who is really John Schuerholz, who is really Adonis Garcia? I'll buy it. Basically, I don't know. You tell me.

Steamer and ZiPS use something to figure he's basically a somewhat below-average bat and an average-or-somewhat-worse fielder in an outfield corner. I guess that makes sense, but the hitting part is probably heavily weighted by his 80 big league PAs last year. If we assume he's generically average at fielding relative to his positional peers and hitting but stuck in left field, that's basically similar to the Nick Markakis line in the table above, so there's no reason to assume, he's going to notch two wins or more. But at the same time, there's no real reason to assume he's only going to be an average bat; on the flip side, there's no real reason to assume he won't be a below-average left fielder either.

Your guess (and yes, at this point it's very much a guess, I think) is as good as mine. I think it'll be unfortunate if Olivera ends up being just a one-win player, but he'll have to hit enough to overcome any plausible defensive deficiencies to punch his value sufficiently high for him to be a worthwhile starter.

Mallex Smith

This is another case where I don't have much to go on. Steamer and ZiPS assume Smith will be a fairly poor hitter, presumably based on the way other players with his skillsets have seen their offensive success translate (or, well, not translate) to the majors. As far as defensive metrics go, he's a wild card, and his overall defensive play will probably vary in rating based on how well he's able to learn, progress, and adapt on that front.

With that said, I do wonder whether Smith can be an above-average bat in the majors, and fairly quickly. He wasn't putting up .400 BABIPs and killing the league once he got to AAA, but he still managed to pull his line up above a 100 wRC+. Steamer and ZiPS both have him at a .315 BABIP, but I do wonder whether he'd have a .330 clip or so in the majors if given sufficient exposure. His Gwinnett numbers showed a dip in walk rate but also a corresponding (smaller) dip in strikeout rate; I wonder if, with additional comfort at a given level, he can return to a K/BB ratio similar to what he posted in AA and below.

.270/.330/.370 is reasonably close to a 96 wRC+ (this is similar to Cameron Maybin's 2015 line). That's worse than Smith hit at Gwinnett after a notable slow start. Can he get up to that? I think so. If he does, he'll be the team's second-best outfielder, lack-of-power-induced warts and all. What's amazing (and not in a good way) about this is that it's not just me that thinks he's capable of being the team's second-best outfielder: Steamer and ZiPS are right there as well, they're just more pessimistic about the outfield contingent across the board.

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