The Atlanta Braves signed Jordan Luplow to a 1 year, $1.4MM deal on December 19th, which appeared to be a surprise to many. Alex Anthopoulos has a decent track record of acquiring players that seem unexpected at the time, that end up being valuable assets to the team.
Luplow did not exactly have the best showing in 2022, which is why this signing may have seemed to be so shocking to some. His overall slash line was .176/.274/.361, which equated to a 78 wRC+ (22.0 percent below league average).
He did end up with a 0.2 fWAR in 83 games played, with 2 defensive runs saved in right field, while also playing every position besides shortstop, second base, and catcher in 2022.
Versatility is great, but with a slash line like the one Luplow sported in 2022, the question has to be asked, why was he actually signed?
This question prompts doing a deep dive on Jordan Luplow’s output to try and figure out the reason behind this signing.
What does Jordan Luplow bring to the Atlanta Braves?
If we look at overall xwOBA, Luplow did not excite in 2022. His 0.288 was below the league average of .309 in 2022. To be fair, he did have an extremely low BABIP of 0.185, which points to him being unlucky. For reference, the league average BABIP in 2022 if you remove bunts was 0.289.
That being said, even if Luplow had a slightly higher xwOBA, his offense in 2022 as a whole is not the type of offense that would typically make a team much better.
However, Luplow does seem to have some attractive platoon splits. At first, we see that he is a righty, so we could assume that he hits lefties better than his overall slash line shows. Great, that could pair well with Eddie Rosario who will hopefully be hitting righties better than he did last year.
Prior to 2021, that was absolutely the case. Luplow had an insanely good xwOBA of .412 against lefties in which he saw the most plate appearances against them in his career at 155. For reference, the league average xwOBA against lefties in 2019 was .319
In the COVID shortened 2020, Luplow did not have as good of a season, but he still fared well in the xwOBA department with a .342 against lefties, while the league average was .322.
These two seasons saw Luplow have a wRC+ of 202 and 114 respectively against lefties.
What is odd is that after the 2020 season, we saw Luplow’s platoon splits reverse. His wRC+ against lefties in 2021 was 95, and in 2022 was down to 85. This was largely due to his xwOBA dropping drastically as well. His xwOBA against lefties in 2021 was .289, and in 2022 was .270.
As can be seen in the graphics below, the shift in xwOBA platoon splits was drastic.
Versus righties, we saw the opposite happen. Prior to 2021, Luplow never had an xwOBA against them above .297, and that was way back in 2017. But, in 2021 we saw his xwOBA against righties spike to .349. It did drop to .308 in 2022, but that was right on par with the league average, which was also .308.
Of course, xwOBA is an XSTAT so it does not directly translate to on field results. It helps show what will most likely happen over an extended period of time.
In 2021, Luplow had a wRC+ of 143 against righties, and a 69 in 2022. It is important to note that, again, Luplow had terrible luck in the BABIP department in 2022 with a .219 BABIP against them. His .269 wOBA was also much lower than his .308 xwOBA.
Combine his low BABIP, and his league average xwOBA against righties, we can see that Luplow is primed to have a bounce back against righties if used properly.
The issue the past few seasons is that since he did so well against lefties from 2019-2020, he was be used mostly as the platoon partner to face lefty pitching in 2022, even when he was performing better against righties
In 2022, he had 127 plate appearances against lefties to only 107 against righties. Let’s run some math here. Only 27.34 percent of all pitches in 2022 pitches were thrown by lefties, yet Luplow had more plate appearances against them when he was clearly hitting righties better.
Should the Braves find the right way to utilize Luplow, he could be a real asset to the team, especially on such a cheap contract. Luplow is obviously not an everyday player on a competitive squad. The true question is if he is going to be utilized as a 4th outfielder, of if he is going to be used in a platoon situation.
Another area to consider is with the limit on the shift, could this help Luplow? He had terrible luck in the BABIP arena, while also hitting grounders at a 41.1 percent clip.
Had Luplow’s platoon splits not drastically reversed, he would be a great compliment to Eddie Rosario as a platoon partner, who historically has hit righties at a decent clip. From 2017-2021 Rosario’s wRC+ ranged from 89 to 117 against righties. It is not elite by any means, but it will get the job done for a player projected to be in the back end of the lineup.
Since Luplow is hitting righties better as of late, does that mean that when facing righties the Braves would put Marcell Ozuna in at DH, Luplow in left field, and have Sean Murphy catch since Ozuna has been hitting righties at a decent clip, and d’Arnaud has been faring better against lefties? That takes away Rosario’s role, who should theoretically have a better season in 2022 than in 2021 due to having a fully healed eye and getting a full spring training to get ramped back up.
Luplow is no defensive wizard (although 2 DRS in only 228.2 innings is not bad), but he does have a cannon for an arm. In 2022 he ranked in the top 4.0 percent in MLB in arm strength. He was 14th in MLB with an average throw of 93.8 MPH. The only current Brave who had a higher average MPH was Ronald Acuña Jr. with 97.9 MPH and ranked 2nd in MLB.
Rosario has a history of having a good arm, being ranked in the top 4.0 percent in arm strength in 2020, and top 11.0 percent in 2021. However, he dropped off in 2022 being in the top 46.0 percent.
We already know that Ozuna has no business being in the field.
So, with Luplow’s defensive versatility, and his platoon splits being reversed as of late and seemingly not fitting as a perfect platoon partner, it appears his role out of the gate will be similar to what Guillermo Heredia’s was the past few years, minus the pink swords of course.
Should injuries happen (and they will), Luplow’s value will come in handy on a cheap contract. If Luplow channel his 2019 form in which he had a 141 wRC+ and 2.6 fWAR, the Braves may have once again caught lightening in a bottle. If Luplow’s output can match his xwOBA and he could bounce back from his terrible BABIP luck, Luplow may just be the next pleasant surprise from the one and only Alex Anthopoulos.