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Quick Hits: Dansby Swanson’s best stretch ever?

Kinda, sorta, but really — yes!

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s April 11th. The Braves have played just about seven percent of their season so far. Dansby Swanson, he of the 76 career wRC+ entering this season, is currently rocking some bling-esque batting stats:

  • 180 wRC+. Last year, only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts finished with higher marks.
  • .441 ISO. Yeah, that number is basically unthinkable. Since 2001, no player other than Roidy McGee (Barry Bonds) himself finished above that mark, and even he only managed to do it twice.
  • 0.75 walks to every strikeout. Last year, that would have been just barely outside the top 20.

So, y’know, he’s been pretty good. Very good. But the best he’s ever been? Let’s take a look.

We can plot Swanson’s career rolling 11-game wRC+ fairly easily. It looks like this:

His most recent 11-game stretch (the entire 2019 season, to date) is represented by the very right-most point on the chart. Vertically, that point is pretty high. But it’s not the highest. Exporting these data, we basically get the following spans, in terms of Swanson’s best ever:

April 6, 2018 through April 18, 2018

This stretch is probably colloquially thought of as “the good times before Swanson hurt his wrist.” 49 PAs, .378/.429/.667. Eight of 17 hits went for extra bases, two of them were homers, and he only failed to reach base in two games in this stretch. Perhaps even more impressive, his OBP was .500 or higher in six of the 11 games. This stretch was bookended by two of its best games — a game where he fell short of the cycle by a homer at Coors Field, and then a game where he reached base three of four times at the dish and added a homer. The end result: .455 wOBA, 188 wRC+, and some (kinda dashed) hope for the future.

August 15, 2017 through August 30, 2017

This stretch is longer than 11 games, mostly because it doesn’t really matter if you move forward or back a few contests in the span. This was really a “Swanson reaches base a lot” surge, rather than anything else. Over 60 PAs, he went .400/.533/.566, with three doubles and two triples, but no homers. Most critically, Swanson posted an absurd 23.3 percent walk rate and a lowered 16.7 strikeout rate in this stretch. He reached base multiple times in 11 of 15 games played during this span, and only went truly 0-fer once, as he drew two walks in each of the other two games in which he was held hitless. The end result: .461 wOBA, 186 wRC+. This stretch, like the one above, also began at Coors Field (2-for-4 with a double) and ended against the Phillies (two singles in five PAs, and a walk). Perhaps most interestingly, Swanson entered this stretch with a 47 wRC+ on the year. This stretch pulled it up to 66, gaining nearly 20 wRC+ “points” in just two weeks. He ended up finishing the year at 64. Coming on the heels of his worst-ever month (July 2017, -2 wRC+), it was probably a welcome recovery at the time.

March 28, 2019 through April 9, 2019

Okay, well, you know about this one. .324/.419/.765 (yes, that is a number that begins with a seven). Of his 11 hits in the span, over half have gone for extra-base hits: four homers, a double, and a triple. That’s a .461 wOBA and a 180 wRC+, for those keeping score at home. In a reversal of the other two, this span began in Philadelphia and made two pit stops at Coors Field. Swanson has actually yet to fail to reach base in a game this season, and has an extra-base hit in six of 11 games played so far. Will he improve it on further? We’re going to find out, though it might be hard given that his first two games of the year were pretty good, meaning that a more recent 11-game stretch would need to improve on those games to be better).

So there you go — you’ve kind of got three similar stretches of success for Swanson to pick. The one in August 2017 was all about getting on base. The one we’re witnessing right now is about walloping the ball. The one in early 2018 was kind of a mix of these two. All featured run production of around 80 percent higher than league average. Take your pick...

...but wait, hold on. Were those first two really better? Results are fine, but what do we mean when we say “best stretch?” Do we only care about results, or do we want to think about inputs?

  • April 6 through April 18, 2018 — .373 xwOBA, .456 wOBA. Hmmmm!
  • August 15 through August 30, 2017 — .372 xwOBA, .461 wOBA. Hmmmm!
  • March 28 through April 9, 2019 — .451 xwOBA, .465 wOBA!

Basically, if you were going to make a meme about this, you’d do the one with the suave-looking man wearing the puffy orange jacket in front of a yellow background and turning his face away from the first two, and then smiling contentedly at the third one. (Am I doing it right?)

Or, we can put this visually. The chart below is 11-game rolling xwOBA, with the three stretches highlighted.

Yeah, that last red-colored portion goes way higher than the other two. (There was apparently also a good run from May 9 through May 25, 2017, with an xwOBA average around .400, but some bad luck led to a .370 wOBA/125 wRC+ that doesn’t seem too high by comparison.)

So, for the record, I think we can safely say, yes, this, right now, has been Dansby Swanson’s best 11-game stretch. So far. (Dun dun dun.)

Bonus: The xwOBA chart above is interesting. We’ve presumed that Swanson injured his wrist on April 20, 2018. (See here: https://www.talkingchop.com/2018/5/19/17368500/is-this-where-dansby-was-injured). While the immediate dropoff is consistent with the wrist injury occurring there, it’s notable that he basically got back to where he was in April, on a rolling xwOBA basis, in late May/early June, around a week after coming back from a stint on the then-DL. He then collapsed again around July and early August, so maybe it was a matter of something like the wrist healing with rest, and then getting re-aggravated with more playing time. But the rebound in September also makes that idea seem strange. Basically, this chart kind of suggests that yes, the wrist injury did hurt Swanson’s season, but it didn’t necessarily linger and represent the sole cause of his issues. In other words, 2019 Swanson isn’t 2018 Swanson but for the wrist injury — he appears, at least so far, to be a new and much more fearsome animal.

But, of course, it’s only been 11 games. Over nine-tenths of the season remain. Swanson is a mere .001 away from the team lead in xwOBA, so he’s been doing what he needs to in order to keep it up so far. But, April stats, even the predictive/more quickly stabilizing ones, tend to be wacky. Just add Swanson’s domination with the bat as another fun storyline to keep tabs on as the days roll on.

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