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2021 Braves Player Review: Dansby Swanson

Dansby Swanson was finally able to bring a World Series ring back home

MLB: World Series-Atlanta Braves Championship Parade Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Dansby Swanson has become a household name in the Braves organization, and rightfully so. The 27-year-old shortstop made significant contributions during the rebuild and played a major role in the 2021 World Series win.

How Acquired

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Swanson with the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. The Braves acquired him on December 9, 2015, in the same trade that brought Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair to Atlanta in exchange for Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier. After the trade, Swanson spent some time with the Carolina Mudcats, who at the time were affiliated with the Braves, as well as the Double-A Mississippi Braves. Swanson made his major league debut on August 17, 2016; flash forward a bit more than five years, and he just finished his sixth season in the big leagues and ended it in the best possible fashion.

Expectations and Projections

During his 2016 season in the minor leagues, Swanson collected 113 hits in 105 games, 39 of them falling for extra bases. Once he was called up to Atlanta in August, Swanson put together 39 hits in just 38 games. He slashed .302/.361/.442 and drove in 17 runs. As the first overall draft pick, numbers like these were expected from Swanson.

After the rookie’s performance in the final month of the 2016 season, Swanson was expected to be a .260-.280 hitter who aimed for hard contact, rather than hitting homers every at-bat. He was also expected to be a solid defender.

Swanson’s hitting did not line up with the expectations every season. He struggled in 2017 and at one point was even optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett after a rough start with Atlanta, though he only stayed down for a couple of weeks. Since then, he’s struggled to find consistency — he hit poorly in 2018 but was propped up by very strong defensive work, followed by worse defense but much better hitting in 2019 that was unfortunately muted by some bad luck on balls in play. He finally broke out with good offensive results in 2020, but that was a shortened season. In short, Swanson was projected to be a solid regular in 2021, combining decent defense at shortstop with decent hitting — his offensive inputs in 2019-2020 were exciting, but he had had a longer track record of underwhelming offensive prior to that point.

2021 Season Results

Swanson appeared in 160 games this season and continued to be a strong asset to Atlanta’s starting lineup. His .248 batting average is comparable to his BA from previous seasons. However, Swanson played longball this season more than he has in the past. He tallied 27 round-trippers this season, with two of them coming in the World Series. Overall, Swanson tallied 3.2 fWAR with a 98 wRC+ and decent defense (+3 OAA, +1.1 UZR, -7 DRS), exceeding expectations and turning in a career-best season.

In August, Swanson bypassed Denis Menke and broke the record for most home runs by a Braves shortstop in a single season. Menke hit 20 homers with the Milwaukee Braves in 1964.

What Went Right? / What Went Wrong?

Swanson put together a third straight campaign with solid offensive inputs. His xwOBA wasn’t as good as 2019-2020, partly because he posted the lowest walk rate and line drive rate of his career, but it was still decent. He did a great job honing in his plate discipline, with his highest rate of swinging at strikes and his lowest rate of chasing balls, ever, but the benefits of this were muted because he still missed a ton of pitches he swung at, and because his raw power is fairly average.

One curiosity of Swanson’s season is that despite a bunch of notable, high-leverage plays, Swanson actually finished negative in Fangraphs’ clutch score in both the regular season and postseason. That probably has more to do with some poor luck on balls in play in higher-leverage situations, but that hasn’t been a common issue for him in the past.

Road to the Title

His 56 postseason wRC+ and underwhelming .224/.265/.345 line may not show it (nor do his negative WPA and cWPA in both the regular season and postseason), but Swanson’s bat made a huge impact during the playoffs in a few key spots. Swanson’s performance in the NLDS against the Brewers was underwhelming, as he hit .200/.200/.267 in the four-game set. His most impressive offensive stats came in the NLCS against the Dodgers, where he posted a .261 BA and collected six hits. In the World Series, Swanson accounted for four of the Braves’ runs, and his late inning heroics helped lead the Braves to their first World Series title since 1995.

Dansby Swanson 2021 Postseason Spray Chart

One of Swanson’s biggest moments this season came in Game 4 of the World Series, where he launched the game-tying home run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Another cool, although not-quite-as-impactful moment for Swanson in 2021 was his July 31 outburst against the Brewers. He had a game-tying single off Brandon Woodruff in the fourth, a go-ahead two-run homer that chased Woodruff in the sixth, and then a grand slam off John Curtiss in the eighth.

Outlook for 2022

Swanson is projected to be a slightly below-average hitter in the 2022 season, likely with a 20+ homer total. Steamer projects a solid season altogether:

Swanson will be eligible for arbitration this offseason, and MLB Trade Rumors projects a salary of $10.1 million. Following the conclusion of the 2022 season, Swanson will become a free agent, unless the Braves are able to secure his services for a longer term.

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