Since 2018, the main strength for the Atlanta Braves has certainly been their offense. Obvious reasons for this include the arrival of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman’s emergence as one of the best offensive talents in the majors. Furthermore, there are plenty of smaller yet significant developments that have also contributed to this success, such as Dansby Swanson’s progression as a hitter and Alex Anthopoulos hitting the jackpot on back to back one-year deals with Josh Donaldson and Marcell Ozuna.
The peak of this offensive prosperity certainly occurred in 2020. Freddie Freeman truly was the best hitter in the National League and rightfully won the MVP Award. Travis d’Arnaud, Adam Duvall, and Marcell Ozuna each had the best offensive seasons of their careers. As a result, the Braves arguably were the best offense in the majors, and truly performed at a level that made a difference in the playoffs.
However, as many have pointed out, the ability for the Braves to return to that level of production is going to be rather hard in 2021. As of now, both Ozuna and Duvall are currently free agents. Even if the Braves were to resign one or both of them, or acquire another significant offensive talent, it seems a bit far fetched to expect any of the aforementioned players to repeat what they did last season. This is not meant to be a negative forecast for the Braves. It is simply a recognition that a bit of regression is a likely reality.
Fortunately for the Braves, another reality that exists is one that hardly anyone has forgotten, but few have had frequent reminders of in a while. That is the fact that Ozzie Abies will be fully healthy for the 2021 season, and that the Braves will benefit from a full campaign from the best second baseman in the National League.
MLB Network’s Top 10 Second Basemen Right Now:— Michael Mayer (@mikemayer22) February 2, 2021
2. JEFF MCNEIL
Yesterday, MLB Network released their list of the “Top Ten Second Baseman right now.” To no one’s surprise, Albies was apart of the list; however, he was listed as the tenth best second baseman in the majors. If one were to approach this list from the perspective of offensive totals from the 2020 season, then sure. However, to base the conversation of the best second basemen in the MLB right now on counting stats from a shortened season seems to be a bit flawed.
If fact, it is absolutely incorrect.
Albies played 29 games in 2020, eleven of which were during a stretch of time where he clearly was not right due to a wrist injury. Naturally, if Albies played less than half the games that many of the other players at his position played, and nearly half of those were played with an injury, he is not going to produce as well as others. However, after a month of rest, Albies finally returned to action at full health. And though it was just for a third of the season, he immediately reminded everyone how talented he was by arguably playing the best baseball of his career.
While an 18 game sample size certainly should be kept in context, it is hard to ignore that once Albies was finally healthy, he was the best talent at the keystone position in the game besides DJ Lemahieu. Albies was among the top five producers on both offense and defense among players at his position. He also was the most productive second baseman in the National league.
Furthermore, there is a far bigger sample size to validate the aforementioned claims than the last 18 games of the 2020 season. In fact, if one were to need more proof that Lemahieu and Albies are the two best second basemen currently in the game, they simply need to look at their production since Albies made his debut in 2017.
While Javy Baez, Jose Altuve, and Whit Merrfield have produced more value since 2017, each of them has either changed positions or showed a recent decline in production. As a result, the two best players at the position are Lemahieu and Albies. Furthermore, this adds validation to how both players compared to their peers to end last season, as they not only were the two best second baseman in the game, but were producing some of the best offensive rates of their careers.
Not only was Albies producing at an incredibly high level when he returned to health in 2020, he was doing it as a result of highly encouraging numbers against RHP. Though it was only over 94 plate appearances, Albies produced an .869 OPS and .247 ISO against RHP. Throughout the start of his career, Albies has been far more productive against LHP (he struggled in 2020 due to his wrist injury.) However, though he is not yet elite against right handers, he certainly has continued to show significant improvement:
Before 2019, .242/.298/.419, .717 OPS over 672 PA against RHP
Since 2019, .270/.333/.458, .791 OPS over 640 PA against RHP
Though there are other second baseman who hit better against RHP, the improvement Albies has shown proves that his overall game continues to expand. Another aspect that positively impacts his overall value is his defense. Since coming into the league in 2017, only Kolten Wong and Lemahieu have been better defenders than Albies among active second baseman. Based on the eye test alone, few second baseman have the range or the consistency Albies has shown in the field at such a young age.
Age is one other significant factor to remember when it comes to the production Albies has shown over his career. He has emerged as one of the best and most consistent second baseman in the game despite recently turning 24 years of age. In fact, his 10.8 fWAR is the 9th highest fWAR produced by a second baseman before the age of 24 in MLB history. No second baseman has generated as much production at such a young age as Albies has since Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar produced 15.1 fWAR before the age of 24 between 1988 and 1991.
There are certainly many ways to define the best players at a position “right now”. However, the information above seems to create a convincing case that Ozzie Albies is the second best second baseman in baseball behind DJ Lemahieu. Since he entered the league, Albies has emerged as the best all-around second baseman in the National League, and one of the most productive second baseman before the age of 24 in the history of baseball. That seems to be a more valid basis to define where a 24-year old star ranks among players at his position than one 60-game season.
Regardless of rankings, one truth that certainly cannot be denied is that the Braves will certainly benefit from a full season of Ozzie Albies. Both offensively and defensively, Albies should quickly remind many why he is one of the brightest young stars in the game, as well as being one half of arguably the best young duo of teammates in the game with Acuna Jr. Even if the Braves offense does regress a bit in 2021, Albies will certainly be a significant reason as to why Atlanta will likely remain among the best offenses in the game in both the present and future.
Along with his production, the passion and professionalism that Albies plays the game instantly made him a fan favorite in Atlanta and one of the most enjoyable players to watch in baseball. As a result, both the Braves and their fans will remain extremely lucky to enjoy the play and production of Albies for the foreseeable future.