The Atlanta Braves recovered from a slow start to the 2022 season and entered the All-Star Break within striking distance in the NL East. The trade deadline is just a couple of weeks away from the trade deadline. Atlanta is in much better shape than they were at this point last season, but they could still seek some upgrades. Below is a look at how their position players have fared over the first half of the season and where things stand going into the stretch run. We will take a look at the pitching staff in a separate article.
- Travis d’Arnaud - .261/.310/.461/, 11 HR, 113 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR
- William Contreras - .260/.345/.532, 11 HR, 142 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR
After a disastrous 2021 season, the catcher position has been a huge plus for the Braves in 2022. Both Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras were named as All-Stars after their first half performances. d’Arnaud is fully recovered from the wrist injury that sidelined him last season and has again put up solid offensive numbers, in addition to what he provides behind the plate and his handling of the pitching staff.
Contreras wasn’t supposed to play this big of a role, but a season-ending injury to Manny Pina forced him into action. He’s enjoyed a breakout season at the plate and has forced the Braves to look for ways to keep his bat in the lineup. While d’Arnaud is still seeing the bulk of the playing time, Contreras is spelling him enough that hopefully will be rested and healthy down the stretch.
Both catchers are outhitting their xwOBA a bit; both have feasted on fastballs and are starting to see way more breaking pitches as opposing teams adjust, which will be something to watch going forward.
- Matt Olson - .255/.340/.488, 17 HR, 126 wRC+, 1.8 fWAR
- Dansby Swanson - .294/.353/.481, 15 HR, 132 wRC+, 4.3 fWAR
- Austin Riley - .285/.348/.575, 27 HR, 152 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR
Once again, Atlanta has gotten a lot of mileage out of its infield group. Dansby Swanson is turning in a career year in his final season before free agency. He is currently fourth in the National League in fWAR trailing only Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt and Manny Machado.
Austin Riley has been solid all season, but entered the All-Star Break red hot. Riley is hitting .400/.440/.871 with a 258 wRC+ through 17 games in July and is third in the majors in homers with 27. Riley enjoyed a breakout season in 2021, but many questioned whether or not he would be able to duplicate those results. His 2022 performance is showing that his breakout was no fluke and he looks like one of the best power hitters in the majors. Riley’s problematic-at-best defense at third base this year remains a sticking point, but hasn’t dragged down his value that much.
Matt Olson got off to a good start, then slumped, but appeared to be headed back in the right direction heading into the break. Returning to play for your hometown team isn’t always an easy task, and could be even more difficult when you are tasked with replacing a franchise legend. Olson leads the majors in doubles and homered in four of his last six games heading into the break. A big second half wouldn’t be surprising.
Neither Riley nor Swanson have results notably divergent from their inputs, but it’s perhaps somewhat disappointing that Olson’s 126 wRC+ includes some xwOBA overperformance. Riley actually has a .400+ xwOBA against all three pitch “groups” so far this season; Swanson is feasting on fastballs yet is seeing more of them than ever in July.
The second base question
- Ozzie Albies - .244/.289/.405, 8 HR, 90 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR
- Orlando Arcia - .256/.329/.388, 4 HR, 101 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR
Ozzie Albies broke his foot during an at-bat against the Nationals on June 13. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos recently told The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz that Albies is at 75 percent weight-bearing and that they are looking at a possible return in August or worst case, the beginning of September. That was the first we had heard of a possible timeline for Albies’ return and is good news. Albies was slumping when the injury occurred, but the Braves have missed his bat and his glove, even though he wasn’t really producing like he had in the past.
Orlando Arcia has done a good job of helping Atlanta plug the hole at second. He has a 101 wRC+ in 146 plate appearances which far exceeds his career mark, but most of that damage has come at the expense of the Nationals. Still, he has career highs in average exit velocity and his 46.4% hard hit rate far exceeds any other season in his career. He hit well for a few games after becoming the starter, and then cratered.
The Braves acquired Robinson Cano from the Padres in hopes that he could pair with Arcia until Albies returns. He is 4-for-18 with a double so far in five games. Once Albies returns, Cano could settle into a bench role as a left-handed bat. Mike Ford has five plate appearances and is currently at Gwinnett and on the 40-man roster.
Outfield / DH
- Ronald Acuña Jr. - .265/.363/.413, 8 HR, 119 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR
- Michael Harris II - .283/.319/.497, 8 HR, 124 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR
As far as the outfield picture goes, there are two sure things with Ronald Acuña Jr. in right and Michael Harris in center. It was a quiet first half by Acuña’s standards and he entered the break hitting just .222/.338/.302 over his last 16 games. His average exit velocity is down from 2021, as is his hard hit rate, but he is still hitting it hard enough and there is a wide gap between his .343 wOBA and his .395 xwOBA. Acuña’s biggest issue has been his groundball rate which is a career-high 46.4%. He has already stolen 20 bases and feels like a mechanical adjustment away from a big second half.
Harris was a surprise addition to the Braves outfield as he made the jump from Double A to the majors on May 28. He came out of the gate red-hot, posting a .347/.371/.574 line in June. July has been more of a struggle as opposing pitchers have adjusted somewhat (.405 wOBA in June, .306 in July)... but in reality, Harris was just getting fairly lucky in June (.348 xwOBA) and has hit another gear lately (.384 xwOBA in July so far) without the results to show for it.
If there is anything to nitpick about Harris, it is his 3.8 percent walk rate, as a result of an overall insanely-high swing rate on everything, but he has far exceeded reasonable expectations and could be the favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year Award with a good second half. He is already one of the best defensive outfielders in the league and is 10-for-10 in stolen base attempts. He hits the ball quite hard and has amazing quality-of-contact stats considering how often he makes bad contact and rolls over the ball — his good contact is just that good.
- Adam Duvall - .213/.277/.402, 12 HR, 87 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR
- Eddie Rosario - .129/.174/.224, 2 HR, 6 wRC+, -1.1 fWAR
The other outfield spot has been more of a mixed bag. Adam Duvall got off to a dreadfully slow start, but has looked more like the hitter the Braves were expecting of late. He had a 134 wRC+ in June and is hitting .296/.345/.667 with a 176 wRC+ in July. Like Duvall, Eddie Rosario got off to a very slow start before it was revealed that he was dealing with blurred vision and a swollen retina in his eye. He underwent laser surgery and missed all of May and June. Rosario returned in July and is 8-for-41 with no walks and 11 strikeouts.
Brian Snitker didn’t want to call the situation in left field a strict platoon, but that is how they have operated since Rosario came back from the Injured List. A hot streak by either could relegate the other to a bench role if the Braves don’t add someone to the mix at the trade deadline.
- Guillermo Heredia - .121/.203/.345, 3 HR, 49 wRC+, -0.4 fWAR
Guillermo Heredia is the Braves’ “spiritual” (swordsmanship?) leader off the field, but he hasn’t seen a lot of opportunities on the field, with the exception of being a late inning defensive replacement. With the outfield the Braves have now, that really isn’t necessary any longer.
- Marcell Ozuna - .221/.278/.407, 17 HR, 88 wRC+, -0.4 fWAR
Marcell Ozuna has played more outfield than the team probably would have liked, but should be slotted in only as the DH going forward. He has been a disappointment offensively and looks like a shell of the player that he was in 2020. Since signing a four-year contract with the Braves after the 2020 season, Ozuna is hitting .218/.282/.389 with an 83 wRC+ in 578 plate appearances. The advanced metrics are still in his favor as his .298 wOBA and his .367 xwOBA suggest, but to put it bluntly, the Braves need more from him, even if he doesn’t really control whether they get it or not. One of the problems for Ozuna is that while his xwOBA is good, it still only makes for an average contributor when you consider that he doesn’t pitch in much defensively. At this point, he needs to have even better inputs than he has so far, while having the outputs match or exceed them, to rack up the value the Braves need from him.