Last season, the Atlanta Braves spent most of the year without their fan-favorite, highly-productive second baseman, Ozzie Albies. Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom stepped up in a big way, but still, missing a player of Albies’ caliber is no easy blow to overcome.
But, even before he got injured (and then injured again almost as soon as he returned), Albies was actually in the midst of the worst offensive season of his career. The injuries meant that Albies never got a chance to dig out of an early-season offensive funk.
Prior to 2022, Albies had a slash line of .273/.325/.477 with a home run every 24.9 at bats. In 2022, Albies had a slash line of .247/.294/.409 with a home run every 30.9 at bats.
It should be noted that 2022 was a down year offensively across the league. The league average OPS of .706 was the second-lowest since 1992 (.700 in 2014). With that in mind, we can look at wRC+ to see how players fared against the rest of the league.
Ozzie Albies had a wRC+ of 93 in 2022, meaning he was approximately seven percent below league average. Prior to 2022, Albies never had a wRC+ below 100 (2018). Even on an offensive inputs basis, Albies’ .297 xwOBA was the lowest of his career so far — though he did have a .299 xwOBA during an injury-plagued 2020 which came in a more generous run environment, as well as a .305 xwOBA in 2018.
So, what was causing Albies’ drop-off, and what can he change?
Players with offensive down years tend to share some common pitfalls and red flags; however, we don’t see those in Albies’ 2022. For example, many times a player struggles because they are striking out more, and we can break down what they are swinging at more, and if it is inside or outside of the zone.
This is not the case for Albies. His strikeout rate of 17.5 in 2022 is right in line with his career 17.3, and is actually his best rate since 2019. If we look at pitch types that he swings and misses at, there are no red flags there either. In fact, his chase rate against breaking pitches in 2022 was his lowest since 2017.
His walk rate of 5.9 percent in 2022 was lower than his career average of 6.6 percent, but this gap is not a huge eye-opener.
His groundball, fly ball, and line drive rates were also fairly close to his norms, so these do not paint much of a picture as to why his offense dropped.
The first area that does stick out is that Albies had a career-low hard hit percentage. His hard hit percentage of 26.5 was easily his lowest. In 2021 he had a 37.2 hard hit percentage, and his second-lowest was way back in 2017 with 26.6.
Specifically, Albies had issues hitting breaking pitches and off-speed pitches. Albies’ 11.7 percent hard hit rate on breaking pitches was his lowest since 2017. It was a huge drop off from his 34.7 percent in 2021. As far as offspeed pitches go, Albies had a hard hit rate of 15.2 percent. This was also his second-lowest showing of his career. It was also a big drop off from 29.2 percent in 2021.
Considering 49.2 percent of the pitches Albies saw were something other than a fastball, it is no wonder why his hard hit rate plummeted so much in 2022. Albies’ average exit velocity was ranked 102nd in MLB in 2021. In 2022, it was ranked 223rd.
From 2019-2021, Albies averaged a home run every 23.11 at bats. With Albies struggling to hit home runs at 1 per 30.87 at bats in 2022, it is a good indicator his ability to hit the ball hard played a role in is production drop-off.
If we look at barrel rate, we can see that Albies’ quality of contact also dropped as a whole. Albies’ barrel rate of 5.4 percent in 2022 was his lowest since 2018, and was a massive drop-off from 9.3 percent in 2021. Albies’ barrel percentage dropped on fastballs, breaking pitches, and offspeed pitches. In a nutshell, his barrel percentage dropped across the board. His 1.7 percent barrel rate against breaking pitches in 2022 was his second-lowest since 2017, and his barrel percentage against fastballs has dropped every year since 2020.
One reason that seems to point to his hard hit rate and barrels dropping is that Albies had an uptick in contact with breaking pitches outside of the strike zone.
If we look at his chase and miss percentage on breaking balls, we can see that his 31.2 percent rate was the second lowest of his career.
Looking at his chase and miss rate by itself does not tell the whole story though. Once we factor in that Albies was also swinging at breaking pitches outside of the strike zone at a career high mark of 45.6 percent, we get a much better idea of what was happening.
In 2022 Ozzie Albies was swinging at bad breaking pitches, yet was making contact with them. This can lead to more balls in play with lower velocities that can be easier to field. This was over much fewer games than 2021, but it does appear to be something Albies could make an adjustment on and see positive results.
If we factor in his drop off in hard hit rate and barrel rate, we can look and see how his increase in pulling the ball also played a part in his drop off. In 2022, Albies pulled the ball 46.6 percent of the time. His career average is a 40.7 percent rate. For reference, the league average is 36.8 percent since 2017.
Typically for a player to be a pull hitter, they need to be hitting the ball relatively hard to be successful. With Albies hard hit rate being the lowest of his career, and his pull rate being the highest, it was bound to result in at least some drop-off in production.
Ozzie Albies was by no means terrible in his limited 64 game cameo in 2022. However, we did see a drop-off offensively.
In a nutshell, his drop-off can be attributed to a few areas. First, he did not hit the ball as hard as often in 2022. We see this with his drop-off in hard hit percentage, and average exit velocity. He specifically struggled against breaking and off-speed pitches.
Second, Albies had a drop off in barrel percentage. With a drop off in barrel percentage, we see his quality of contact dropped. His barrel percentage dropped across the board when it comes to pitch types.
Lastly, we saw Albies pull the ball at a career high rate that was well above league average.
Combining these areas will almost always result in an offensive drop-off. Fortunately, he did have a tad of bad luck with a career low BABIP, so if he can work on hitting the ball harder, and not pulling it as often, there is a good chance we can see a bounce back in 2023.