During Spring Training in 2021, veteran utilityman Ehire Adrianza surprised many with a strong performance that earned him a relevant role as a top reserve for the Braves during their 2021 Worlds Series title run. This led to a new opportunity on a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals in 2022. Unfortunately, injuries and struggles at the plate made success a rare experience for Adrianza this past season.
Adrianza’s career began in 2013 with the Giants, and the first eight years of his career were split between four years in San Francisco and then four years with the Twins. As mentioned above, Adrianza then joined the Braves on a minor league deal, made the team out of Spring Training, and performed well in a prominent bench role in 2021. The Nationals signed Adrianza to a major league deal with $1.5 million guaranteed and incentives allowing him to earn up to $1.7 million, hoping to get good production from him as a utility man in 2022; however, injuries and limited playing time over the first four months of the year did not allow Adrianza to establish much success.
Despite his struggles, the Braves acquired Adrianza at the 2022 trade deadline in exchange for minor league outfielder Trey Harris. Atlanta was looking to add infield depth after losing Ozzie Albies to a broken foot.
What were the expectations?
With the Nationals, the hope was that Adrianza would carry over the success from his 2021 season. In a year that was going to be the continuation of a lengthy rebuild, the Nationals saw value in Adrianza as a player who could fill in all over the diamond while occasionally adding value at the plate.
With the Braves, despite his injuries and struggles for much of the season, the Braves hoped bringing back Adrianza back to Atlanta would lead to similar success that he had enjoyed the previous year. This would deepen the Braves bench while also providing another option to play second base.
In reality, though, expectations for a player of Adrianza’s caliber were not particularly high in terms of on-field value. The Nationals were probably hoping to get like half a win out of him as a backup; by the time the Braves acquired him, his stats were so bad across his first 94 PAs of the season that he probably wasn’t going to be anything but an emergency option down the stretch.
While it was sensible to view Adrianza as a valuable utilityman and bench option entering 2022, it would be a while before he would get the chance to provide value on the field. A quad injury in late March prevented Adrianza from seeing action until June 7. Over the next two months, Adrianza received 94 plate appearances over 31 games. He struggled mightily, producing a .458 OPS along with only seven RBIs and five runs with Washington. It’s very possible for a player to severely underperform their expected stats in such a small sample; Adrianza did so with the Nats (.215 wOBA on a .264 xwOBA) but it also didn’t matter, because his inputs were also horrid. He also gave away runs defensively despite the meager playing time.
The change of scenery to Atlanta did not lead to much of a change in Adrianza’s productivity. Less than two weeks after being reacquired by the Braves, Adrianza went on the Injured List again, this time for an infection. Later in the year, he once again strained a quad, and missed another ten days. Overall, Adrianza appeared in just six games for the Braves, producing two hits, three walks and three runs over 16 plate appearances. Unfortunately, Adrianza could not recreate his success from 2021. Amusingly, he had a .331 xwOBA in those 16 plate appearances, which was better than the .314 mark he managed in 209 PAs as a Brave in 2021.
Overall, Adrianza finished 2022 with -0.5 fWAR, a career-worst for him in his tenth MLB season.
What went right? What went wrong?
Not much went right for Adrianza last season, though missing nearly half the year due to multiple Injured List stints helps explain his struggles. Across 110 plate appearances, his .470 OPS, 38 wRC+, and -0.5 fWAR were all career low marks for Adrianza.
One positive is that Adrianza continued to show improved patience at the plate, carrying over a 10 percent walk rate from 2020 to 2021 and again in 2022. However, after producing career best power numbers in 2021, Adrianza’s ISO, barrel rate, and hard hit rate in 2022 were among the lowest in his career. He also struggled defensively in a tiny sample, which is probably not something teams want to see out of light-hitting 32-year-old brought in to adequately fill in around the diamond. The end result was a disappointing year with far fewer notable moments for Adrianza compared to 2021.
Adrianza never had a game with WPA that rounded to even +0.01 with the Braves, which is perhaps not surprising given that he only got 16 PAs. His highest-WPA play with the Braves came in the meaningless October 5 game against the Marlins, where he drew the start at third base and collected five of those 16 PAs. Here’s him singling in that game.
Incidentally, that game, meaningless as it was, was also his worst single WPA game for the Braves in 2022. Yes, he had that single, but with the tying runs on base later in the game, he made the second-to-last out of the Braves’ regular season (with a .568 xwOBA on the ball, to boot):
On the surface, a 33-year old career utilityman coming off a season in which he missed nearly half the year due to injury and produced career low offensive marks may not seem all that intriguing. However, Adrianza is not that far removed from a pretty decent five-season run where he had 3.4 fWAR in 1,098 PAs — basically playing at the pace of an average regular, albeit with far less exposure.
With Adrianza being a free agent, it seems his prospects for 2023 will begin one of two ways. He could earn a cheap, one-year deal from a team who feels confident he can add value to their bench. He also could find himself in a similar situation as he did in 2021, needing a strong Spring Training to land a role on a team’s Opening Day roster.
Neither of these scenarios makes it particularly likely that Adrianza will be back in Atlanta in 2023. However, if he has not found an opportunity on a major league deal as the offseason progresses, perhaps the Braves will bring Adrianza in once again with an invite to Spring Training. The organization certainly seems to value his presence after 2021. Hopefully, whether it is in Atlanta or elsewhere, Adrianza will experience more success than struggles in 2023 and beyond.