What were the expectations?
Since coming over to the Braves in the trade that sent Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks Ender Inciarte has done nothing but impress on both sides of the ball. After spending two years with the Diamondbacks, it was clear the Ender Inciarte was special on defense and could hit enough to stay in the lineup. Last season, his first with the Braves, he made a great first impression and ended up winning a Gold Glove as part of a season where he finished with 3.6 fWAR. The Braves were so impressed that they gave him a five-year deal last off-season that runs through 2021 with a team option for 2022. The expectations were more or less the same for Inciarte heading into 2017: hit reasonably well and continue flashing the leather en route to racking up another solid-to-above average season in center field.
Inciarte finished the 2017 season with a league-average line of .304/.350/.409 with a (100 wRC+) and led the Braves in stolen bases with 22. He had an amusing and welcome power outburst, knocking four homers in April en route to a career-high 11-homer season. The new short porch at SunTrust Park may have helped. His walk rate tumbled a bit from 7.8% to 6.8%, and his strikeout rate increased a bit from 11.8% to 13.1%, but in combination with the increased homer production, it was another league-average season for the young Venezuelan.
Inciarte also posted a career high in games played during 2017 by a mile with 158 played, his previous high in game played had been 132 in 2015 with Arizona. Via Statcast, he led the league in 5-star catches with seven, the next closest player having five, and Ender was rewarded with another Rawlings Gold Glove award for the second consecutive season. For various reasons, neither DRS nor UZR thought particularly highly of his defense in 2017, however. One big drop was his arm score, which was especially steep per UZR, but even his range component was worse. Still, Statcast seemed to be pretty sanguine about his defensive production, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with him defensively in 2018.
All-around Ender was easily the Braves’ second-best player behind superstar first baseman Freddie Freeman. He finished the season with 718 PAs and 3.0 fWAR (2.5 fWAR/600). He was the only non-Freeman player to finish with 3 or more fWAR, and the only player aside from Freeman or the two catchers (Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers) to finish with 2 or more fWAR on the year for the Braves.
2018 is another chance to grow for Ender Inciarte. It’ll be hard to top the 201 hits he had during 2017, but you can never know for sure. It’s likely that he will remain in center field early on, even as super prospect center fielder Ronald Acuna joins the team. With the contract extension the Braves have given to Inciarte it seems clear they are committed to keeping him around for many years to come. It is hard to predict whether he will remain in the lead-off spot as young second baseman Ozzie Albies also profiles as a lead-off hitter, only time will tell. Expect another year of league-average offensive production, as that’s essentially what he’s done so far, and a bounceback defensive year (if you’re partial to UZR/DRS) or continued defensive excellence (if you’re partial to other defensive evaluations).