clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

By the Numbers: The Braves’ middle infield is carrying the club, can it continue?

The Braves boast one of baseball’s youngest and most athletic double play combos, and they have been outstanding to begin the 2019 season. Do the advanced statistics foretell continued success?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Entering the 2019 season, the Braves had high hopes that their young middle infield duo of Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson would each take a step forward in the progressions. Albies had already established himself as a major contributor in 2018, posting 3.8 fWAR in his first full season, but a very poor second-half offensively left much to be desired from the 21-year-old. Swanson, by contrast, struggled mightily at the plate for the entirety of the season. Defense was a mainstay for both Albies and Swanson last season, but the Braves would certainly benefit if each could provide more consistency with the bat in 2019. Thus far, in the first ten games of the season, those benefits have been realized, but should they be expected to continue? Let’s play around with some advanced stats to find out.

Beginning with Albies, who currently sports a .400/.475/.543 batting, we look first to exit velocity and launch angle. This season Albies has produced an average exit velocity 90.3 and a launch angle of 13.1. In 2018, Albies finished the season with a .261/.305/.452 batting line as he produced an average exit velocity of 86.3 and a launch angle of 15.5 across 527 batted balls. Those two numbers along with sprint speed have helped Albies to a .434 xwOBA, which is a stark improvement on his .303 mark from 2018.

Batted ball data is important, but hardly tells the full story for Albies, as improvements in his approach have led to an increase in walk rate (5.3% in 2018 to 12.3% in 2019), a decrease in strikeout rate 17.0% to 7.5%), and a significant increase in line-drive rate (21.3% to 37.5%). Though the sample size is very small, a more line drive-oriented approach seems to be paying dividends for Albies.

With all these advanced stats to peruse, can we confidently say that Albies is ready to take the next step? Given the small sample size, the jury is still out, but all these advancements taken together are certainly an encouraging development for a young hitter with a history of producing at a high level. The traditional stats will certainly regress toward the mean at some point, given that Albies currently sports a .419 BABIP, but if he is able to sustain some semblance of the underlying statistics that he is currently producing, then the Braves’ second baseman could be headed for a monster offensive season. When combined with his defense, an improved Albies could push upwards of a 5 fWAR season, a potential huge development for Atlanta as they look to defend their NL East title and advance further in the postseason.

For all the excitement with regards to Albies’ potential in 2019, Dansby Swanson was not expected to be a major offensive producer given his history in Atlanta. Again, the sample size is exceedingly small, but the Braves shortstop currently owns a .345/.471/.731 batting line in ten games. Those numbers are almost unfathomable for anyone who has watched Swanson struggle so mightily in the past two seasons, but like Albies, the underlying metrics back up the end results. Swanson is currently producing an average exit velocity of 91.4 and a launch angle of 10.4. Last season, Swanson posted a .238/.304/.395 batting line, with an average exit velocity of 86.8 and a launch angle of 12.9. This season, with his batted balls and sprint speed, Swanson currently owns a .450 xwOBA, which is greatly improved over his .278 mark from last season.

For Swanson the greatly improved batted ball data is encouraging, and has clearly made a huge impact on his xwOBA, but those are not the only data points that inspire confidence in a new-and-improved Dansby Swanson. The 25-year-old has performed at an exorbitantly higher level than a season ago, and sports an improved walk rate (8.3% in 2018 to 17.6% in 2019), strikeout rate (22.9% to 17.6%), and much like Albies, an improved line drive rate (19.9% to 28.6%). Again these statistics are hardly confirmation that Swanson is headed for a monster season, but the improved approach coupled with more quality contact bodes well for the Marietta native going forward. His three home runs early in the season, to all parts of the park, are a good sign that he is able to utilize his power while hitting to all fields. This would have been a foreign concept to anyone watching Swanson last season. With his superb defense and offense even remotely resembling his output thus far, Swanson could, like Albies, be a player that pushes beyond 5 fWAR.

Albies and Swanson represent two potential members of a Braves core that could push toward exciting heights in the future, and their improvements thus far serve as a reminder that young players are never easy to project. Improved plate discipline from Albies would certainly seem to be a reasonable ask, but for Swanson to make such huge strides was not a story most would have believed entering the season. The underlying statistics back up any conjecture that may exist with regards to improved approaches for both Albies and Swanson, and improved batted ball quality for the latter. These two players will be key for the Braves this season, and it will be interesting to see if their torrid starts continue, but for now all the numbers point toward real growth for both.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Battery Power Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Atlanta Braves news from Battery Power