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2023 Braves Season in Review: Ozzie Albies

A career year in terms of offensive output drove Albies to his highest fWAR total since 2019 — but what’s up with his defense?

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game One Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

Can you believe Ozzie Albies just wrapped up his sixth full season (and seventh year since his debut) with the Atlanta Braves? Time flies. Matter of fact, if it wasn’t for his lengthy (and mildly controversial) contract extension in the spring of 2019, Albies would have hit free agency this winter. Instead, the Braves will keep the dynamic second baseman in town for at least two more seasons with the possibility of two additional years via club options.

How Acquired

A decade ago, the Braves signed Albies as an international free agent out of Curaçao at the age of 16.

What were the expectations?

Throughout his tenure in Atlanta, Albies established himself as one of the game’s top second basemen. Generally steady with the glove, well above-average at the plate with some real power, and strong base running made him an annual threat to reach the 4 WAR mark, something he’d done or approached in each of his full (non-injury-shortened) seasons.

However, there were some holes to poke in Albies’ game. He had become hyper aggressive at the plate with one of the highest swing rates in the majors, often taking himself out of at bats where he could have walked or worked into a more favorable count. He had dealt with a variety of injuries in 2020 and 2022 — although I’d argue the 2022 instances were more of the freak injury variety — appearing in less than half the team’s games each season. And his defense, once graded as excellent in the early years of his career, had tailed off a bit in the eyes of the defensive metrics.

This all being said, I’m largely nitpicking an otherwise very good (and very affordable) middle infielder. Albies seemed like a lock to provide average production, even amid his potential for injury to eat into his playing time. ZiPS had him as somewhat above average both offensively and defensively at second base, essentially a 3 WAR player.

2023 Results

Albies did a bit better than the ZiPS central estimate in 2023, riding a career-best set of offensive outputs to 4.0 fWAR in 660 PAs. He set a new career high with 33 home runs batting in the prodigious Braves lineup. He posted his best walk rate (7.0 percent) and strikeout rate (16.2 percent) since 2019. His overall line of .280/.336/.513 fueled a career-best 124 wRC+ by eight full points. He even stole 13 bases for good measure.

What went right?

As mentioned earlier, Albies got a bit loose in the batter’s box and became too swing-heavy. He cut back on his swings quite a bit in 2023, especially in the zone, and it seemed to help.

After swinging at 58 percent of all pitches faced in 2022, he trimmed that number to 54 percent this past summer, which was much more in line with his career average. He also significantly lowered his chase rate outside of the zone from 45 percent to 38 percent. Albies is always going to be aggressive in the box, but a little more selectiveness is only going to help. Essentially, he reversed the extra o-swing he picked up last year, and seemed to be more selective inside the zone, which helped prop up his quality of contact.

Albies ended up with a strange seasonal path offensively. Overall, he outhit his xwOBA by a fair bit, so his 124 wRC+ was his career high, but .342 xwOBA was below what he managed in 2019. But, when you go month by month, it looks wacky:

  • April: above-average wOBA and xwOBA
  • May: average-y wOBA and xwOBA
  • June: huge wOBA, above-average xwOBA
  • July: great wOBA, poor xwOBA
  • August: Elite wOBA, good xwOBA
  • September: great wOBA and xwOBA

While he really turned it on down the stretch, he outhit his xwOBA so much in June and July that it made it look like he was on fire for a full four months.

Albies also provided one of the greatest swings of the Braves’ season and one of the more memorable regular season moments of this remarkable division run.

He also had a crazy game in an Independence Day loss in Cleveland, where he hit not one, but two game-tying homers in the same contest.

And there was this bolt from the blue that turned a likely loss into a very likely win on July 23 in Milwaukee:

Man, Albies was so much fun this year.

What went wrong?

Very little on the offensive end, but it was not his best year defensively.

According to Baseball Savant, Albies rated very poorly with a -6 Fielding Run Value. And while the Eye Test can lie, watching the games this summer felt like this was clearly his worst season in the field. If you consider Statcast’s OAA and the Fangraphs positional adjustment, it was his first season ever providing negative defensive value overall. I’m not sure it falls to the level of one of the worst defensive infielders in the game (which is how some of the fielding metrics saw him), but let’s hope for a better 2024 in the field sans Ron Washington.

Albies’ defense has continually ping-ponged, month to month and season to season, in a way that’s tended to be more extreme than what happens to other fielders, so it’s not clear that this is a reason for long-term concern. His bad defensive years have been driven by problems going to his right, and maybe there’s some fear that the shift restrictions will ding him repeatedly in that regard in some way, but OAA is positioning-neutral, so that might not make sense either. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Beyond that, there’s little to nitpick. Albies did kind of zig when the team zagged by increasing his z-contact rather than lowering it, but given that his xwOBACON was relatively good, it’s hard to worry too much about it.

His roughest game of the year came early, on April 7 against the Padres. He went 0-for-5 in what ended up being a one-run loss with each PA ending in disappointingly brutal fashion. He popped out to end the first representing the tying run. He grounded out with one out in the third and the go-ahead run on second. Down by a run, he struck out to make the second out of the fifth with the bases loaded. In the seventh, down by a run and with the tying and go-ahead runs on base, he grounded out to the pitcher. And, finally, in the ninth, down by a run and with the tying run on first, he struck out against Josh Hader to make the Braves’ penultimate out of the game.

And then, there was a silly contrast game: a day after that game-winning homer in Milwaukee, he came up down by a run with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth and... utterly failed to replicate his heroics by striking out. Baseball!

Like basically everyone else in the lineup, Albies didn’t do much in the postseason, with four singles and two walks in 17 PAs.

Again, this is a 4 WAR second baseman making $7 million a season. It’s hard to be too critical.

2024 Outlook

Over the full 162-game seasons in which Ozzie has been healthy since 2018, here are his fWARs: 3.7, 4.2, 3.9, 4.0. Still in the prime of his career at age 27, it should be more of the same from the dynamic second baseman next year. He seems primed to provide at least 3 WAR given his offensive talents and the fact that he plays second base (that’s also what ZiPS has him at, centrally); it’ll only take another good defensive year or some xwOBA overperformance to push him closer to 4 WAR again.

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