Braves 2010 Season in Review: Rick Ankiel

Rick Ankiel may have underwhelmed with the bat overall, but this was still one of the most memorable hits of 2010.

Rick Ankiel was acquired from the Kansas City Royals on July 31st, that also brought the Braves RP Kyle Farnsworth, in exchange for OF Gregor Blanco, RP Jesse Chavez, and MiLB LHP Tim Collins. 

The Atlanta Braves were getting poor production out of the CF position from a combination of Nate McLouth and Melky Cabrera, so they made a trade to attempt to alleviate the problem.  It's funny how things work out, because the speculation was that the Braves were targeting OF David DeJesus from the Royals, but he ended up tearing a tendon in his right thumb, which ultimately shelved him for the season, and in his place was Rick Ankiel, who was essentially not far off from coming back from his own injury (quadricep strain).  For whatever reason, the Braves felt that Ankiel was adequate enough to fill their void in CF, despite just 27 games and barely 101 plate appearances, and commenced with the trade that ironically sent off the one player who managed to shine in limited CF duty (Gregor Blanco, with ATL: .310 BA .394 OBP in 36 games).

Offense:

Rick Ankiel wasn't that much of an upgrade over McLouth or Cabrera.  Although he took a walk better than his counterparts (13.7% BB%), that was pretty much all he did better.  Brought to Atlanta with power in mind, Ankiel's .328 slugging ranks behind Melky's .354 SLG, and barely ahead of McLouth's .322 SLG.  Worse off, his isolated power was a career-worst .118 (even compared to his batting stats as a pitcher), for the Braves, which was better than Cabrera (.098 ISO), but worse than McLouth (.132 ISO).  Ankiel also had a nasty propensity to strike out with his massive, violent swing.  His 35.3% K% is the worst, again, since he was a pitcher for the Cardinals. 

The 2010 Rick Ankiel really did not like changeups, needless to say; his LD% was a career worst, and his GB% was a career high; neither of which are necessarily a good thing, and his negligible .210 batting average (for the Braves) is the worst its been since he became a full-time position player in 2007.  Only five times in the 47 games Ankiel suited up for the Braves did he notch more than one hit, and his two homers were a disappointment from a guy who hit 11 rally killers in the same amount of games back in 2007.

Defense:

Defense is where Rick Ankiel best earned his keep.  Sometimes, you don't need to look at the numbers to be able to know an upgrade when you see one, and a combination of Ankiel's good foot speed, throwing arm, and most importantly, an actual willingness to throw the ball make for improvement.  Statistically, in the 325.1 innings that Ankiel manned CF for the Braves, Ankiel posted a UZR of +2.6, simulated to 150 games gives him a UZR/150 of +13.7.  Both are vastly superior to Cabrera's -30.4 and McLouth's -31.9 UZR/150s.

Overall:

FanGraphs gives Rick Ankiel a comprehensive WAR of +0.5, due to his defensive contributions.  Obviously, had his offense been even close to his career averages, his WAR would have looked a little better, but considering the alternatives: Melky -1.2 WAR, McLouth -1.3 WAR, it's hard to believe that Rick Ankiel was the top CF that the Braves had, ending out the year.

As the numbers-ignoring fan:

From my perspective as solely a fan, a lot of my opinions can easily be justified by the numbers.  Far too often, I would watch games with a dreading sense as Ankiel stepped to the plate, and he would hit into numerous 4-3 or 3U's, when he wasn't striking out with his violent swing.  Whenever he would nurse out a walk, I would feel a relieved sense of satisfaction at how much better he seemed at being able to do so compared to Melky or McLouth.  But overall, I was vastly disappointed with the Rick Ankiel experiment, and would rather have preferred retaining Gregor Blanco, even if it meant also retaining Jesse Chavez.

Although all things considered, Rick Ankiel earned a spot in this fan's heart for his memorable, extra-inning, go-ahead, game-winning, splash-hit home run against the Giants in this year's NLDS.  For a team that lived and died with the comeback, I was genuinely glad that Ankiel too, got to have his moment as the hero, among all the others who had.

Next Year:

In all likelihood, Rick Ankiel isn't coming back, unless he's willing to take a major paycut, and even then, it's hard to say if the Braves or their fans would want him back.  For 2010, he was playing under a one-year, $3.25M deal, which includes the $500K buyout the Braves will probably exercise, to avoid his $6M mutual option year.  His agent is Scott Boras, so it's safe to assume that he's going to spin his witchcraft and get him employed somewhere willing to pay him along the lines of Jim Edmonds, even if it's not in Atlanta.

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