So, back in April I wrote about how Dansby Swanson had gotten off to somewhat disastrous start to the season. Considering how Dansby has spent his career riding the proverbial wOBA rollercoaster, it was somewhat reasonable to believe that Swanson was simply picking up in April where he left off last season and this was just an extreme version of one of his big slumps.
However, I was a little concerned since Dansby appeared to be lost and confused at the plate. Who knows? Maybe he was lost and was still trying to figure it out early on in the season. With that being said I think I might’ve jumped the gun and given a kneejerk reaction to what was going on early in the campaign. As it turned out, Dansby eventually broke out of the April slump and proceeded to go on what we all figured was the ever-predictable hot streak following a slump.
To be completely honest with y’all, I figured that this was just going to be two weeks or so of Dansby tearing the cover off of the ball while waiting for the other shoe to eventually drop in short order. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” I thought! Well, here we are with the calendar getting very close to July and Dansby Swanson has come back down to Earth and is currently in the midst of yet another slu— wait, this can’t be right. I just went to FanGraphs and it says that Dansby Swanson is currently leading Braves batters in fWAR and by a pretty big margin, too!
Well, surely this must mean that something has gone horribly wrong for the Braves and they’re struggling again? Nope, they’ve recovered from their slow start and are currently in the postseason conversation for yet another season. Well, if Dansby Swanson is leading a good baseball team in fWAR then that must mean — No. No. No, this can’t be real life. I can’t be seeing this right now. I cannot be seeing that Dansby Swanson is currently a Top 10 player in all of Major League Baseball according to fWAR. Yet here it is!
Needless to say, this season has been a runaway success for Dansby Swanson so far. We’re a few games away from the actual halfway point of the season and Dansby has already reached a career high in fWAR and he’s on track to obliterate his career highs in wRC+, wOBA, OPS, and should come close to a career high in home runs if he should keep up this wonderful pace. It’s also needless to say that nobody expected this type of season from Dansby Swanson — especially after the start he had to this season and the body of work that he’s come up with throughout his career.
So what’s the deal here? How in the world did Dansby go from being a perfectly fine shortstop to one who has basically spent the first half of 2022 playing at an elite level? It’s not like his defense has gotten any better— he’s been a very good defender for most of his career now and he’s stayed at that level so far. So that leaves two other big reasons why Dansby has gone on this incredible run so far this season. One reason is obvious and has probably been sticking out like a sore thumb since I posted his stat line above and the other is obvious just from a motivational standpoint.
The obvious stat here is Dansby’s BABIP. My goodness gracious, just look at it. He’s at a scarcely-believable .390 BABIP, which is good for fifth place in all of baseball among qualified batters. He’s only behind guys like J.D. Martinez, fellow shortstop Xander Bogaerts, Miguel Cabrera (yes, in 2022) and
Braves sleep paralysis demon Marlins slugger Garrett Cooper. Naturally, it’s fair to expect that Dansby may not be able to keep this pace up — after all, his career high in BABIP over a normal season is .350. With that being said, sometimes you just have a freakish season.
Braves fans should know a lot about this — remember Chris Johnson? The former BABIP Lord somehow managed to finish a season with a BABIP of .394. With that being said, it’s pretty rare. Dating back to the 2012 season, only five qualified batters have finished a season with a BABIP of .390 or above: Dexter Fowler (2012, COL, .390), the aforementioned BABIP Lord, Avisail Garcia (2017, CHW, .392), Tim Anderson (2019, CHW, .399) and Yoan Moncada (same year, same team, .406!). So yeah, Dansby is floating in rarefied air right now and it would be shocking if he managed to keep it this high for the entire season.
Still, Dansby’s batted ball profile is pretty encouraging. He’s currently on pace for a career year in Hard Hit percentage (it’s at 46.7 percent right now, compared to his career high of 42.7 percent just last year) and Barrels per Plate Appearance (it’s up to 12.8 this year after being at 11.4 in each of the past two seasons) and his Sweet Spot percentage (40.0 percent) is up there with where it was during the shortened 2020 season (40.7 percent). So while Dansby is probably receiving a good amount of luck when it comes to his batted balls in play, a lot of this is due to the fact that he’s been making very good contact as well.
Additionally, his plate discipline is back to where you’d expect it to be for Dansby Swanson. Remember when I was fretting over the fact that Dansby was almost too selective with his pitch selection? It was weird!
Weirdly enough, he’s also not doing too much swinging at pitches in the zone, either. His Zone Swing percentage would rank at the second-lowest mark of his career (only behind his initial stint in Major League Baseball) and he’s only swung at 72 percent of pitches that StatCast would describe as Meatballs. His Meatball Swing percentage would be the lowest of his career by quite some margin and that brings me to the reason why I’m writing this article.
Last night against the Cubs, Dansby Swanson had what I would say is the at-bat that has summed up his first month here in 2022. Keegan Thompson was on the mound and all he did was pump three fastballs right smack-dab in the middle of the strike zone. Dansby looked at all three of them and then turned around and went back to the dugout.
Let’s just say that this isn’t a problem anymore. His Meatball Swing percentage is now at a career-high 85 percent and and his Zone Swing percentage would now be the second-highest mark of his career. It appears that he’s done a complete about-face with how he’s approaching at-bats and the results have been incredibly fruitful for him so far. It’s exciting to watch and it’s actually to the point now where putting him at the top of the order feels deserved and a good decision instead of something that feels like Brian Snitker is doing only out of necessity.
So, the other reason why we’re seeing such a boost in performance from the shortstop here in Atlanta is the simple fact that he’s going to be picking up a major bag in this coming offseason. Assuming Dansby’s representation does a better job with his free agency than they did with Freddie Freeman’s, Dansby has picked a wonderful time to show the baseball world what he is capable of. Whether it’s the Braves or anybody else who is in the market for a shortstop this coming Winter, Dansby Swanson is currently playing his way into becoming one of the most coveted free agents on the market once the offseason arrives. Money is a mighty motivator for many men and maybe all this came down to for Dansby was “I’m going to miss out on being able to buy a big gold boat if I don’t get it together soon,” and now here we are.
No matter what’s going on that is truly fueling this level of performance for Dansby Swanson, I think I speak for all Braves fans when I say that we’re all incredibly grateful to see it happening. If it turns out that Dansby is turning a corner in his age-28 season, then that would be pretty cool. It would be even better should the Braves decide to keep him and he keeps what he’s doing this season going into next season. Even if the Braves don’t keep him, Dansby should make out like a bandit once it becomes his turn to get a big payday. As far as this season goes for Dansby Swanson, here’s hoping that this continues all the way into and through October.