Remember that line from Avengers: Endgame where Thanos referenced facing off against the Avengers once again:
“You could not live with your own failure. Where did that bring you? Back to me.”
That is how I view the reunion between Adam Duvall and the Braves, when Atlanta reacquired Duvall for the second time in three years as a part of their outfield makeover. Okay, I am being very dramatic and reaching a bit with the analogy (as a fan of both Marvel and the Braves, it had to be done), but the general point remains. Though Adam Duvall did not start out the season with the Braves, he once again played a big part in their pursuit of the playoffs. Much like the 2020 season, Adam Duvall hit several significant home runs to help the Braves reach the postseason. Fortunately, unlike the 2020 season, Duvall was also able to remain healthy in the playoffs and contribute to a World Series Championship.
Duvall signed a one year, $2 million deal (with a mutual option for $7 million for 2022, or a $3 million buyout that essentially guaranteed him at least $5 million) with the Marlins at the very beginning of Spring Training to be a part of the Miami outfield in 2021. At the Trade Deadline, the Braves, just as they did in 2018, traded for Duvall, sending catcher Alex Jackson in exchange.
For much of 2019, Adam Duvall spent time in the minors refining his approach at the plate after a nightmarish 2018 season, especially after the Braves acquired him. The end result was a very productive power bat for the Braves in the second half of 2019 and for the shortened 2020 season. Duvall produced 16 home runs, 33 RBI, and a 115 wRC+ in 2020, one of many offensive contributors that made Atlanta one of the best offenses in the league. Duvall saw an encouraging increase in his walk rate, a decrease in his strikeout rate, and even though his BABIP dropped from .306 in 2019 to .240 in 2020, he continued to hit the ball squarely and in the air. In 2020, he was in the 85th percentile or better among all major league hitters in max exit velocity, expected slugging, and barrel percentage.
Entering 2021 for the Marlins at the beginning, ZiPS projected Duvall to produce a .228/.292/.472 line. It seems as if the projections felt Duvall was more in line with the 2016 and 2017 version of himself rather than the 2019 and 2020 version. The 28 home runs and 91 RBI were also very similar the production Duvall showed earlier in his career, since he would likely be playing everyday with the Marlins.
Go ahead and mark one down for ZiPS when it came to Duvall.
.228 BA, .281 OBP, .491 SLG, .329 xwOBA, 103 wRC+, 38 Home Runs, 113 RBI
174 K/35 BB, 2.4 fWAR, 3.1 bWAR
Between his time with the Marlins and the Braves, Duvall produced a .228/.292/.491 production line. While the overall production was certainly on point, for the third straight season, Duvall also mixed in an above-average HR/FB ratio above 20 percent, which resulted in Duvall hitting 38 home runs and producing a league-leading 113 RBI. Duvall became just the third player in MLB history with 35+ home runs and 110 RBI while producing an OPS under .800 in a single season, joining Sammy Sosa and Cecil Fielder.
The last sentence is a good summation of the value Duvall provides at the plate. He will produce home runs and RBI, but there is not a ton of value outside of that. He was one of only three players, along with Salvador Perez and Adolis Garcia, to strike out more than 170 times and walk 35 or fewer times in 550 or more plate appearances in 2021. Simply put, while Duvall can produce like one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball during a power surge, he also can be as close to an automatic out as anyone in the game when he is struggling. In short, what this equates to is an OBP that is below league-average about to the same extent that his SLG is above league-average. That comes out to an average-type bat, but one that gets there in a very non-average way:
What Went Right? What Went Wrong?
Duvall’s actual results compared were very much on par with hiss expected results in terms of batting average and slugging. The big benefit for Duvall was a significant spike in production against breaking balls. In 2020, Duvall had a wOBA of .249 and a xwOBA of .260; in 2021, Duvall had a wOBA of .364 and a xwOBA of .324. In 183 plate appearances, Duvall hit 17 home runs off breaking balls. This helped to overcome the sharp decline and expected regression in offensive production on fastballs Duvall was expected to and did experience from 2020 to 2021. The end result was impressive home run and RBI numbers despite expected overall production lines from Duvall.
Duvall’s 31.4 percent strikeout rate and 0.20 BB/K ratio were both the fifth worst rates among 132 qualified hitters in 2021. These numbers, combined with his counting stats, could make Duvall arguably one of the most pure all-or-nothing hitters in the game. A big reason for this is that Duvall ranked in only the 11th percentile in the league in chase rate in 2021. He guessed wrong a ton, but it paid off when he guessed right.
Of course, while Duvall certainly could have his times of both struggles and successes at the plate, two areas of added value for Duvall are his impressive base running and defense. Duvall was in the 86th percentile of MLB position players in terms of sprint speed, and won the first Gold Glove of his career as well; he was also in the 86th percentile in outs above average.) Unlike many other sluggers, Duvall once again showed he had multiple ways in which he could add positive value to impact a game. While Adam Duvall, full-time center fielder seemed a little silly, he finished the season with a bunch of positive UZR, DRS, and OAA in center, and even more absurd UZR (+10) and DRS (+19) overall (his OAA overall was a far more reasonable +4, but to be fair, that doesn’t include arm, and if it did, he’d have a similar +12-13ish). It’s unclear whether Duvall’s random sprint speed boost in 2021 will carry over in 2022, but if it does, giving him a shot to stick in center seems fine enough.
Road to the Title
Duvall’s 2021 postseason was successful compared to his 2020 post season simply because he remained healthy the whole way through. Overall, Duvall produced a .220/.266/.407 line with 16 strikeouts compared to 13 hits, good for a 70 wRC+. However, once again, Duvall found a way to make his contributions count.
Though neither of Duvall’s home runs were among the most memorable or valuable in the grand scheme of things during the World Series, they still provided some awesome moments with Duvall delivering big hits on the big stage. Yet the biggest contribution Duvall made during Atlanta’s run to a World Series title was as the primary center fielder. Despite very little experience in his career in center field, Duvall proved more than capable to support the Braves staff up the middle with solid efforts in the field.
Duvall finished the regular season with positive WPA and cWPA, but posted negative tallies in those metrics in the postseason. His grand slam in Game 5 was his biggest cWPA gainer.
Outlook for 2022
According to Steamer, Duvall is projected for a .226/.288/.458 production line with 32 home runs and 87 RBI for 2022. It seems that, despite his impressive counting statistics, projections have not changed much at all between now and a year ago. Overall, Duvall is expected to produce 0.9 fWAR as a result, even though he totaled 2.4 fWAR while slightly underhitting his xwOBA in 2021.
Duvall’s projections are not the only aspect of this offseason that may feel like deja vu for both he and the Braves. As mentioned above, Duvall had a mutual option for $7 million that also included a buyout worth $3 million if the option was declined. However, while it was a bit up in the air right after the season, the Braves do have one more year of control with Duvall, as he is in his final year of arbitration. The Braves must decide rather to tender a contract or not by Tuesday. Last year, the Braves decided to not tender Duvall a contract. This year could be interesting once again.
Adam Duvall is projected by Matt Swartz’ excellent model to potentially make $9.1 million in arbitration this year, a significant raise from his total 2021 earnings of $5 million. While the Braves may feel that could be a bit too rich for his overall production, its also hard to deny Duvall would provide a somewhat reliable option in an outfield that has very little current certainty, especially with Ronald Acuña Jr. coming back from injury. While Duvall has his flaws, his defensive versatility, power, and overall track record of being quite productive in a Braves uniform could certainly provide plenty of logic for the Braves to retain him. While we will soon find out rather the Braves at least want to make sure of that chance, it will certainly be an interesting secondary storyline to follow for the rest of the offseason.