The Atlanta Braves have made a flurry of moves over the past few weeks and there is a chance that some transactions may have been overlooked.
Jarred Kelenic and his team control through the 2028 season seem to have been the main target of the last flurry of trades, but let’s not sleep on David Fletcher.
One of the holes in the roster Braves over the last few seasons prior to picking up Nicky Lopez was a solid bench bat that could be a legitimate utility player. Lopez filled this role well in his limited time in Atlanta, but was not going to be cheap this year with a projected $3.9MM arbitration salary. Ultimately, the Braves chose to package him up in their salary relief trade with the White Sox that brought in Aaron Bummer.
Understandably, fans across social media have questioned why move Nicky Lopez and then be okay with paying for David Fletcher. Fletcher is owed $6MM this year and $6.5MM next year, with club options of $8MM and $8.5MM in the following seasons (2026-2027) if the Braves choose to keep him.
There are a few reasons why Braves would be okay with Fletcher, even though it is not as black and white as choosing Fletcher over Lopez since there were quite a few variables involved. In fact, one could venture to say it is truly apples to oranges to compare the two because it was two separate trades (three if you count the Kelenic trade) involving multiple players and Fletcher was not the main target.
First, Fletcher’s luxury tax hit would actually be smaller than his salary. Since the AAV of his current contract is $5.2MM, it is not as much of a hit as his actual contract. This matters because the Braves are already over the second CBT threshold and currently will be taxed at 42.0 percent of every dollar over the threshold.
Second, Fletcher is no scrub. He arguably has the potential to be one of the better utility players the Braves have had since they had Omar Infante as a super utility back in 2010. He obviously is not as good as peak Infante by any means, and you could make the argument that Lopez had the potential to be as good as or better than Fletcher. The point is that Fletcher is a solid player that could have a real chance to be a legitimate contributor to the club. No disrespect to guys like Ehire Adrianza, Charlie Culberson, Phil Gosselin, and Adeiny Hechavarria, but Fletcher is far better than most of the bench infielders the Braves have had in recent history.
He is in no way elite with his bat. He has a career slash line of .277/.323/.359. His average and OBP look good for a utility player, but there is an obvious lack of power.
However, he did have a promising stretch from 2019-2020 in which he had a .298/.356/.395 in 883 plate appearances which equated to just above league average in terms of wRC+ (102.0).
He was riddled with injuries in 2022, going on the IL four different times that year, which most assuredly hurt his overall numbers that year. But, 2023 was not promising with a .247/.302/.326 in a limited fashion of just 97 plate appearances.
If we look at his XSTATS, they are not promising in terms of slugging, so he was not getting unlucky in that arena. However, there are some areas that are promising. He has had four different seasons in which his strikeout rate was in the best 2.0 percent or better in MLB.
Outside of his small sample size last season, his xBA has been elite, having never dropped below .272. In 2019 and 2020 his xBA were in the top 7.0 and 10.0 percent of MLB, respectively.
Now, this is not to say that it would be wise to have him as an everyday starter though, especially in the offense the Braves have. His xwOBA has never been over .319, and that was back in 2019. However, there are some bright spots to his offensive profile that would complement the lineup around him should he need to make some spot starts.
He is a utility guy, so isn’t defense and versatility important?
Fletcher has a career fWAR of 7.3 in only 534 games. That is an average of 2.21 fWAR per 162 games played. How is this possible with a bat that has been below average? The answer is in defense, and versatility.
If you need a refresher on defensive metrics, take a few minutes and take a look back on this article about Austin Riley’s defensive improvements.
In his 534 career games, Fletcher has had a whopping thirty-three Outs Above Average (OAA). Fourteen in 2326.0 innings at 2B, fourteen in 961.0 innings at 3B, four in 987.2 innings at SS, and two in 146.2 innings in LF. He does have negative one in 18.0 innings in RF. OAA is based on catch probability without considering position. As we know, some positions are harder to play than others.
If we look at defensive runs saved (DRS), which essentially measures against how a player does against the average player at his position, we also see positive results. He has twenty-seven DRS at 2B, meaning he was one of the best defenders in MLB at that position over his career. To put that in perspective, Ozzie Albies has twenty-two DRS in almost triple the innings (6743.2) of Fletcher.
At 3B, Fletcher has had eight DRS, at SS he has had six, in LF he has had two, and in RF he has had negative one. All in all, Fletcher has accumulated an outstanding forty-two DRS. To be fair, he did not do anything impressive in 2023, but it was an extremely small sample of thirty-three games.
Although, again, it is not as simple as comparing him to Nicky Lopez with so many variables involved, Lopez has had a 2.34 fWAR/162 to Fletcher’s 2.21. It is almost splitting hairs. Lopez slightly better with the glove, and Fletcher slightly better with the bat.
Fletcher will be a welcomed addition to the Atlanta Braves as a solid bench bat infielder that the Braves have not had the luxury of having outside of Nicky Lopez in quite some time.
Of course, there is no telling what the rest of this off-season will hold.