This time last year, Atlanta had an All-Star shortstop, who was providing elite defense as Atlanta was marching furiously to the top of the National League East. The Braves would ultimately win the Division and make the post-season, which they have done each year since 2018.
That 2018 season was notable because it was also the first season that Dansby Swanson took over as the team’s starting shortstop for the entire season. Needless to say, when Atlanta began locking-up some of its young stars, it was fair to think that Swanson would be part of that long-term core.
Swanson - a former number-one overall draft pick who was acquired from Arizona in a now-infamous trade in December 2015 - wasn’t an offensive juggernaut, posting an OPS+ of less than 100 in each season in which he played more than 60 games until 2022. Coming into last season, Swanson was still not extended and heading into his free agent season to the surprise of some and the not-so-much to others.
In 2022, he put together the best all-around season of his career, to that point, producing 6.4 fWAR behind outstanding defense and a solid .277/.329/.447 slash-line that including 25 home runs, 99 runs scored, 95 runs batted in and a 116 wRC+ while playing in all 162 games.
Meanwhile, Orlando Arcia was plying his trade for Atlanta as a utility player, seeing time at five different positions that included pitching in a game after returning from injury - one he sustained after he had became the starting second baseman due to Ozzie Albies own injury issues.
Arcia had been picked up by Atlanta in a trade early in the 2021 season from Milwaukee. He had been the Brewers starting shortstop for the prior four seasons but had struggled mightily on offensive in two of those four campaigns.
After the 2022 season concluded, and free agency began, there was still a question about whether or not Swanson would return to Atlanta. That question was answered when he signed a seven-year, $177 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.
Atlanta seemed prime to hand the starting shortstop job to prospect Vaughn Grissom, given the potential he had shown with the bat after being called up to take over at second base after Arcia’s injury.
There were murmurs of a possible stop-gap shortstop signing in the event Grissom wasn’t deemed ready but almost no one thought that come Opening Day, Arcia would be the one taking over for the departed Swanson.
Yet that is exactly what happened.
Arcia started the season hot before missing time with an injury. In his stead, Grissom struggled, and so when Arcia returned and continued his solid defense and hot hitting, it was a sigh of relief for fans and likely for the organization as well.
File this away for a bit later, but earlier this year Arcia signed an extension with Atlanta, a three-year deal worth $7.3 million total with an option year for 2026.
Fast-forward to today and the Cubs are hosting the Braves and low-and-behold, both teams are sporting shortstops who were All-Stars this season. Arcia was elected a starter while Swanson was named a reserve.
Coming into the series, the 29-year-old Swanson has produced at a level similar to his 2022 season. He’s put up 3.8 fWAR while providing elite level defense to go with a 118 wRC+. Arcia, whose 29th birthday is the same day as game one of the series, has posted 2.5 fWAR with excellent defense and a 116 wRC+ in nine fewer games than Swanson.
There were questions about whether or not Swanson would be able to replicate his 2022 season in Chicago, but he had done just that.
Conversely, I don’t know that anyone would have expected that not only would Arcia be Atlanta’s shortstop at this point in the season, but that he was putting up overall positive numbers that were almost identical to Swanson.
Swanson has been the better overall player thus far in their careers. Swanson is about six months older than Arcia, but both players debuted in 2016 and have eight years MLB experience while still not yet 30 years old. Swanson has about 1,300 more plate appearances over that span than that Arcia - about two season’s worth - and also bests Arcia by about 15 fWAR in their career to-date.
But for this season, there’s not a lot of separation between the two shortstops.
Swanson and Arcia are different players. If you take gander at the Baseball Savant pages for each player, just a quick glance of the rankings will show you that while they are both great in Outs Above Average, they ying-and-yang in most of the other categories. Arcia is slow. Swanson is not. Swanson’s arm is not the best. Arcia’s is much better. And so forth and so on.
Everything about that is fine.
It’s better than fine - it’s good.
Good for Swanson. Good for the Cubs. Good for Arcia. Good for the Braves.
Actually, great for the Braves, because the production Arcia has given them has come about $22 million cheaper that what the Cubs are paying Swanson for this season. And after this season, the Braves owe Arcia about $5 million while the Cubs owe Swanson about $150 million.
There is still almost two months left in the regular season, but so far both Arcia and Swanson have met or exceeded expectations.
Good for them.