On Wednesday night, the Braves dropped their second game in as many nights to the Yankees and the most interesting part of the game was the continued production (or lack thereof) from Ender Inciarte with the bat and with the glove as well. He’s been having a rough start to the season and Wednesday night was a microcosm of everything that’s been going wrong for Ender in 2020. His at-bats weren’t really all that impressive and his only hit was a blooper that he hit off the end of the bat and flew at a leisurely 65.8 mph exit velocity. That type of soft contact is normally what you’d expect out of Ender Inciarte at the plate, but the defense has been where he’s been lacking and that’s a major concern. Aside from his Opening Day heroics, Ender hasn’t exactly been looking like the “Game Ender” here in 2020. In fact, he’s been looking kind of pedestrian.
A look at Ender’s 2020 start and a look at Ender from his most recent full season shows a lot of regression in key spots and little-to-no improvement in the places that you want to see improvement in:
It’s not a pretty sight! If this was a normal season, this would be a type of thing where you’d hope that a former Braves All-Star representative and Gold Glove outfielder would work himself back into form as the season progresses. Unfortunately for all parties involved, this season isn’t the usual marathon — it’s a sprint, and you can’t afford to go slow and steady in this race. Starting slow for a week is fine, but playing this badly for just over a quarter of the season (yeah, we’re already 25 percent done with this seaon) just can’t happen and the Braves can’t afford to just be patient with Ender Inciarte and wait and see if he can figure it out. If that was the case, then Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz would still be making starts for the Braves right now.
In my opinion, Ender can’t make starts for the time being. Granted, he’s currently up a spot on the depth chart due to Ronald Acuña Jr. spending some time getting his wrist healed up but there’s no reason why Ender should be getting significant playing time at this point once Atlanta’s outfield is at full strength. The main reason for Ender still getting plenty of opportunities was the fact that his defense more than made up for the fact that he wasn’t going to give you too much production with the bat. If he’s not out there stealing outs for the Braves and runs from the other team, then there’s really no reason to have him out there consistently. So, who should replace Ender for the time being if he shouldn’t be playing?
I’m sure it was no coincidence that after Wednesday night’s game, we got this bit of news from David Lee:
Sounds like Cristian Pache is back to full strength at the Gwinnett site.— David Lee (@David11Lee) August 13, 2020
You can throw this article in there with all of the other “loud calls for changes” that Cory McCartney mentioned in his Starting Nine piece. I’m with the MiLB crew here at Talking Chop and the masses of Braves fans on social media: It’s time for Cristian Pache. While it would be pretty risky just taking Pache from the Alternate Site and throwing him straight into the fire of making his debut in Major League Baseball, I’d say that it’s a necessary risk to take. Pache will likely give you the defense that you’d expect from Ender and while his bat is also a concern (again, especially considering that he’s coming from the Alternate Site), I think that he could provide just enough with the bat to where you could easily justify having him in the lineup as a starter. So basically, Cristian Pache would be what we all expected Ender to be in previous years: A plus defender who can bring you wins with his glove while staying afloat with the bat.
Cristian Pache would have a very low bar to clear if he was indeed called up to replace Ender Inciarte. To say that Ender has been scuffling at the plate has been an understatement, but the gory details are right there: He’s currently sitting on a 47 wRC+ number, .045 Isolated Power, and he’s barely hitting anything hard as evidenced with his 75.6 mph average Exit Velocity. Most importantly, he’s dipped into the negatives in Outs Above Average. It’s gotten to the point where at this moment, Marcell Ozuna is rated as a better defensive outfielder (-1 OAA) than Ender Inciarte (-2 OAA).
While any fan with common sense can tell you that this isn’t really a set-in-stone comparison between Inciarte and Ozuna and that things would probably even themselves out as the season progressed, the Braves can’t afford to wait around and find out. Ender’s defensive metrics should never be that low while also struggling to hit. You can struggle at one facet of the game but get away with it if you’re excellent at another. If you’re bad at both, it’s a completely untenable situation. Right now, Ender is bad at both so the writing should be on the wall.
So while I think we’d all love to see Ender get the opportunity to return to “Game Ender” status for the Braves, I think that he may be running out of opportunities in a hurry. If the Braves do indeed decide that Cristian Pache is ready for the big leagues, then that should coincide with Ender’s role with the Braves being hugely diminished. Inciarte has to start improving quickly, but there’s not much evidence to suggest that a quick turnaround is on the way here in this shortened season.