The 2019 Braves had no shortage of compelling team and individual storylines. Ronald Acuña, Jr. chased an elusive 40-40 season; Mike Soroka pitched like an ace and like few 21-year-old pitchers ever have; Josh Donaldson had a great comeback season; and the team won another division title against all odds. But the story that hasn’t received the attention it deserves is how Ozzie Albies has emerged as arguably the best all-around second baseman in the league.
Since the Braves signed Albies at the age of 16, he has done nothing but improve every year, even when he had already been performing at levels rarely attained by someone his age. Albies became an All-Star at the age of 21 in 2018, but that experience did not make him complacent. Rather, Albies worked on deficiencies in his swing, particularly from the left side, and continued to hone his craft defensively.
Albies’ drive paid off in 2019, as he achieved his best season yet as a professional. He had his best offensive season by almost every rate metric with career highs in average (.295), slugging percentage (.500), wOBA (.354), and wRC+ (117). Additionally, Albies had not only the highest fWAR of his career (4.6) but the highest fWAR among players who played the majority of their games as a second baseman this season. At the age of 22, Albies has become arguably the best primary second baseman in baseball.
Albies coupled his best offensive season with another stellar defensive showing. Among qualified second basemen, Albies recorded the most put-outs (273) and the fewest errors (4). He also led all players with the most double plays turned (66). His ability to make the spectacular play, though, was equally as impressive as his ability to consistently make the routine one. To be clear, Albies’ defense was worthy of a Gold Glove.
One of Albies’ primary flaws offensively coming into the season was his ineffectiveness hitting right-handed pitching. This was clearly an area of focus for Albies in the offseason as he improved remarkably. His wRC+ against right-handers rose from 85 in 2018 to a respectable 98 in 2019. He walked more, struck out less, and hit for better average and power. Albies essentially improved every facet of his offensive game from the left side of the plate.
While Albies’ marked improvement from poor to league average against right-handers is very encouraging, his ability to hit left-handers went from very good to elite. To put it mildly, Albies destroyed left-handed pitchers in 2019. He hit to a gaudy 1.099 OPS and 180 wRC+ against lefties, which ranked him fourth and fifth, respectively, in baseball among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. Simply put, Albies emerged in 2019 as one of the best hitters in baseball against left-handers.
What makes Albies’ improvement even more sweet for the Braves is the fact that they agreed on a seven-year, $35 million contract extension just before the season began. The deal was stunningly team-friendly at the time and is even more so in the light of Albies’ improvement in 2019. To put it in perspective, if one WAR is worth $8 million (which is the current consensus value on the free market), Albies has already exceeded $35 million in value in just his first of seven seasons. Additionally, the Braves have two team options at the end of the contract that will cost a mere $7 million each. From Albies’ perspective, the deal made plenty of sense. He clearly loves playing the game and has suffered a serious elbow injury in the past, so to guarantee yourself $35 million to play a game you love is a decision anyone would love the opportunity to make.
If there were any flaws in Albies’ game this season, it would have to be his lack of consistency. When Albies is hot, he can be a catalyst in the lineup that can carry the team. However, he has also been prone to prolonged slumps. In 2018, his prolonged slump occurred at the end of the season when he hit for a combined 70 wRC+ in the months of August and September. In 2019, he slumped to his worst month offensively in his career when he hit a paltry 53 wRC+ in May. Fortunately, he bounced back with a big June where he hit 147 wRC+, but this further demonstrates how streaky he can be as a hitter. Overall, Albies was more consistent in 2019 than in 2018, but there is still room for improvement.
If there is anything we know about Albies, it’s that he will work tirelessly to improve his game. You can expect to see progress in the areas of weakness in Albies’ game in 2020, particularly when it comes to hitting right-handed pitching and consistency. With Albies’ drive, work ethic, and talent, the sky is the limit for him, and no one is more deserving of such success.