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Braves season in review: Ender Inciarte solidifies center field

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Ender Inciarte started slow but helped nail down the center field position for the Atlanta Braves in 2016

Atlanta Braves v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The 2016 season didn’t get off to the best of starts for Ender Inciarte but a strong second half combined with solid defense throughout made center field a position of strength for the Atlanta Braves.

The Shelby Miller trade is the deal that keeps on giving, but unlike Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, Inciarte was expected to help the major league team right away. Inciarte’s contribution was slowed early on due to a strained hamstring that cost him the first month of the season.

Once he did return, he initially struggled at the plate as he looked to regain his timing. Inciarte slashed just .216/.289/.250 in May but began steady improvement as the season progressed. He topped out with a .371/.430/.526 line in August. He hit .227/.294/306 in the first half but caught fire after the break positing a .341/.396/.440 line.

It might be rather simplistic to break Inciarte’s season up into segments, but his improvement at the plate in the second half coincided with Atlanta’s turnaround after the break. His presence at the top of the order set the table for Freddie Freeman and helped jumpstart an offense that struggled throughout the first half.

The case can be made that defensively is where Inciarte’s true value lies however. Per FanGraphs, Inciarte was worth 15 defensive runs saved in the outfield for the Braves this season. 13 of those was from his time in center field with two more coming from his short stint in left. Contrast that with a year ago when Cameron Maybin put up -16 defensive run saved. That is a heck of a boost for a team with a young pitching staff that should only get younger as time goes on.

The Braves are in an interesting situation with Inciarte. On one hand, he brings a ton of value to the current team and could be a building block for the future. On the other, Inciarte’s value may never be higher and the Braves have a guy in Mallex Smith who figures to be at least comparable at the plate and in the field. Ultimately it is a good position to be in.