It is safe to say that most Atlanta Braves fans want to see Vaughn Grissom have an excellent year in 2023 and beyond. Even though he did cool off, it is pretty evident that his bat can be effective at the MLB level.
In a small sample size of 156 plate appearances (forty-one games), Grissom had a wRC+ of 121, which equates to 21.0 percent better than league average. He had a slash line of .291/.353/.440. A slash line like that across a full season would make any manager ecstatic.
Although metrics show he is in line for regression, he would need a massive drop off to not be a bat worth getting significant playing time.
The question mark with Grissom is if he can handle SS. Ron Washington seems to be high on him, and based on the lack of depth added as a contingency plan, it appears that it is his job to lose. If we look back when we talked about his defensive metrics, we see that they do not favor great glove work so far.
It is a small sample size at 2nd base from 2022, but Fangraphs’ defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating did not take kindly to his work with the glove. In 347.0 innings, Grissom had -3 DRS and -1.8 UZR. In terms of Outs Above Average, he had -5.0. dWAR from Baseball Reference factors in position, so had he played SS it would have likely been a bit higher, but he had a dWAR of -0.3
So, what happens if Grissom can’t handle SS?
The real question is: If worse comes to worst, what are the options that the Atlanta Braves have to fill SS from a defensive standpoint? Grissom could still be used in a super utility type role and still bring tremendous value to the team in that capacity. Think Ben Zobrist, or Chris Taylor in his prime.
The first option in a short-term fashion would be to shift Grissom to a super utility role with Orlando Arcia filling the SS spot. Even though Arcia had arguably the best year of his career in terms of hitting, this scenario would not be flashy. Arcia had a wRC+ of 104 in 234 plate appearances (68 games). Prior to 2022, he never had a wRC+ higher than 97, and that was during the COVID shortened season.
A positive note shows that his underlying metrics show that his offensive performance was not a fluke. His .244 batting average was below his xBA of .253. His .416 slugging was lower than his xSLG of .421, and his wOBA of .321 was lower than his xwOBA of .329.
His approach, which we covered in great detail back in October, of waiting on fastballs and crushing them has worked well for him.
Arcia’s walk rate of 9.0 percent was well above his average of 6.3 percent.
Defensively, Arcia had an uncharacteristically bad year with the glove. Of course, prior to 2022, Arcia had only had 9.0 innings at 2nd base during his time at the MLB level. In 2023, he played 398.2.
Could it be that the position change was a difficult adjustment? In 2017, 2018, and 2020 Arcia’s Outs Above Average (OOA) was in the top 11.0 percent, 6.0 percent, and 26.0 percent respectively (all of which at SS). But, in 2022, it was in the bottom 19.0 percent.
As far as DRS goes, he was right at league average at 2B with 0, but UZR did not favor his work at -1.1. In total, Arcia has a career 407.2 innings at 2nd with -1.0 DRS and -2.2 UZR.
In 4274.0 innings at SS, Arcia has 9 DRS and -6.0 UZR. It should also be noted that since the start of 2019, Arcia has -6.0 DRS.
Using Arcia instead of a trade does make sense due to him already being on payroll at an extremely palatable rate of 1.5 million dollars towards the luxury tax.
So, there are mixed results as to if Arcia would actually be that much of a defensive upgrade to Grissom at SS. So, if the Braves are to the point that if they need defense, they may want to explore a trade at some point in the season (if Grissom has to move positions, of course).
Nick Ahmed is not a name that is heard very often across social media platforms or anything like that, especially since he only played in seventeen games in 2022. However, when healthy he is one of, if not the best defender at SS in MLB.
He has never been a threat with his bat. His highest output was a 96.0 wRC+ in 2020 shortened season. His career wRC+ is a well below average 75.0.
However, what he lacks with the bat he more than makes up for with his glove. In terms of DRS, he has accumulated 79.0 since 2014. That is not a typo. He has also accumulated 12.9 UZR. In terms of Outs Above Average, in the years that he qualified from 2017 to 2021 he was top 5.0 percent, leader in OOA, top 1.0 percent, top 1.0 percent, and leader of OOA respectively.
If we look at SABR’s Defensive Index (SDI), he does not rate quite as well, but every year that he qualified he has been in the top seven defensive players at SS with multiple top ten rankings regardless of position.
With Ahmed seemingly not costing an exuberant amount via trade capitol, it would make a lot of sense for the Atlanta Braves to pick him up as a rental to fill the gap since they are legitimate championship contenders this year. With an AAV of 8.125 million dollars, it would not be a huge hit in terms of luxury tax payroll.
Of course, a trade is not guaranteed because both parties would have to come to an agreement.
These two options make the most sense, but there are of course other trade options. The remaining free agents don’t make much sense, but Alex Anthopoulos is known for his crafty trades.
Are there other trade options?
Could the Braves look at someone like Jorge Mateo, who is an obvious glove first SS being in the bottom of the league in every offensive category as far as XSTATS, but elite defensively with being top 3.0 percent in OAA in 2022? He would obviously not be the long term answer, but could be a defensive compliment to Grissom’s bat first approach. Odds are slim, because they would have to give up some capital from a slim farm since Mateo is under team control through 2025. We also don’t know if Baltimore is ready to take the next step towards competing with a roster that is on the verge.
Nico Hoerner no longer is the starting SS for the Cubs, but he would likely cost even more than Mateo having a 4.0 fWAR season and being under control through 2025.
Other than these three trade options, most other defense savvy options are on teams that will most likely be looking to compete either this year or the near future.
Like stated earlier, most Atlanta Braves fans surely are rooting for Grissom to be able to handle everyday duties at SS. However, if time goes by and it is discovered that he cannot, the options are limited to pretty much Arcia, Ahmed as a rental, or paying prospect capital for a player that would be simply to upgrade defensively.
Here is to hoping that the faith Ron Washington has been showing in Grissom pays off.