Now that Braves Fest has passed, and the off-season has slowed to almost full stop, it seems to be a good time to do a deep dive on some minor moves that the Atlanta Braves have made recently.
Often overlooked seems to be minor league deals. It makes sense, as the odds of these players making a large impact are low, especially on a competitive club like the Braves. The Braves have the luxury of being able to add players with the intention of purely adding some insurance if things go haywire.
Even though the Braves won the World Series in 2021, we saw firsthand how important it is to have a contingency plan in place should players get injured. We saw similar situations (although not as drastic) when Ozzie Albies and Eddie Rosario went down in 2022 and Max Fried in 2023.
One of the reasons the Braves have been successful is by having (or trading for) depth to patch the holes should a player get hurt, or under perform.
The Braves continued this off-season adding insurance with Jordan Luplow. Luplow is no stranger to being added to the Braves as an insurance policy. He was added to the 2023 roster on a major league deal worth $1.4MM, but he never made an appearance in a Braves uniform that year. The Blue Jays claimed him off waivers from the Braves on April 5th.
This time around it is a minor league contract. If Luplow does not work out, then it’s a “no harm, no foul” situation. But, if he is needed, this signing could end up being beneficial.
The Braves’ offense is so stacked that a single injury likely won’t derail their offense. However, if you can add cheap insurance, why not?
Luplow is obviously not flashy at all. He has a career slash line of .212/.314/.423 with a wRC+ of 101 in parts of seven seasons. These career numbers can be a bit deceiving too because a lot of the positive production came in one single season (2019). In 2019 he had a .276/.372/.551 and 141 wRC+ in 261 plate appearances.
Why would the Braves add a player of Luplow’s profile?
We talked about insurance, but would it truly be insurance if it is a player that has not had a wRC+ of league average or better in five of his seven seasons?
The answer can be yes for a few reasons. There is no sugar coating it. Luplow just simply cannot hit righties well enough to be a full-time starter. Other than 2021 in which he only had 84 plate appearances against RHP, he has never had a wRC+ against them better than 72. This came way back in his rookie campaign. Even in his very good 2019, he had a wRC+ vs RHP that was 48.0 percent below league average.
If we look back on his career, other than his time with Cleveland in the 2020 shortened season, he has been on bad teams. What this means is that typically bad teams don’t focus as much on using roster spots for platoons. In Luplow’s case, when he should have strictly been used when there was a LHP starting the game, he still got a large chunk of his plate appearances against RHP. This lowered his overall slash lines.
Of course, ideally you would want your players to hit both LHP and RHP at a decent clip, but that just was not a realistic expectation for Luplow. However, Luplow does have a solid track record of hitting LHP.
Starting in 2019 Luplow’s wRC+ vs LHP have been 202, 114, 97, 86, and 110. As can be seen, three of those five seasons were above league average. Of course, there are two seasons (2021-2022) that were sub-optimal. However, if we dig a little deeper, we see that he may have had some misfortune in those seasons. In 2021 his BABIP vs LHP was a measly .192, and in 2022 it was even lower at .155. BABIP is not the whole story, but with BABIPs that low, he was bound to see positive regression to the mean over a longer period.
Now, his xwOBA vs his wOBA does show that his regression to the mean would not be due to purely how he was swinging the bat though. In 2021 he had a wOBA of .307 vs LHP while his xwOBA was .289 and in 2022 his wOBA vs LHP was .291 while his xwOBA was .270. League average xwOBA vs LHP in those seasons were .319 and .310 respectively.
In 2023 his xwOBA was back up to .292 in which he had a wRC+ of 110 vs LHP.
Again, these numbers are nothing to get excited about. But, when you consider that Jarred Kelenic is largely unproven, it starts to make sense. What if it turns out that the Braves need a righty platoon bat to pair with Kelenic? What if Harris II starts struggling and needs a righty platoon bat? What if an outfielder at any position gets injured and the Braves want to go the platoon route? The odds vary in these situations, but each theoretically have a probability above zero.
LHP only threw 26.4 percent of pitches last season. If the Braves decided to go a platoon route in any of the situations mentioned above, Luplow would not see a large chunk of time if he were the player they choose to be the righty hitting platoon option. When he is the field, he would certainly be more than an automatic out. He has the legitimate chance to bring positive value to the club.
We could take time digging into Luplow’s defense in which he has been league average or better in the corner spots in terms of DRS and UZR and can play CF in a pinch. However, odds are that since he would be the righty bat in a platoon, he would not see much time in the field anyway. Defensive metrics can be spotty in small sample sizes.
Adding Luplow on a minors deal makes sense. It is purely cheap, low risk, insurance in case a righty hitting platoon bat is needed at any point in the season. With him being on a minors deal, the Braves may even find a better option. Time will tell.
If the Braves do decide to utilize Luplow at any point to face LHP, they could do far worse. Luplow is not a starting caliber player, but he can be an asset in specific situations.