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Braves season in review: Second Base

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The future is bright but 2016 was uneven.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves have not enjoyed an above-average option at second base since 2012, when Dan Uggla clubbed 19 home runs on the way to 3.4 fWAR. That is a long time in “baseball years”, and while there have been flashes of brilliance, the general attitude toward the position over the past four seasons has been indifference.

2016 was not terribly different in that regard with two players, Jace Peterson and Gordon Beckham, receiving the lion’s share of the playing time in an effort to “keep the seat warm” for the presumed promotion of Ozzie Albies in 2017. While there were appearances from Daniel Castro (my guy), Kelly Johnson (he’ll be back soon, I’m sure) and Reid Brignac, today’s “season in review” will be focused on Peterson and Beckham, with good reason.

Gordon Beckham

For a brief moment in time, it felt okay to get excited about Gordon Beckham again. The former Georgia Bulldog came out of the gate scorching in 2016, posting a .290/.387/.458 slash line in 124 plate appearances prior to the All-Star break, but Beckham hit the disabled list with a hamstring issue and that was the end of that. In fact, the now 30-year-old saw his production fall off the table after returning to action on July 7.

In his final 57 games (33 starts), Beckham compiled an ugly .167/.237/.287 slash line over 169 plate appearances, and while that sample isn’t large enough for deep-level analysis, it wasn’t ideal. Because of his recent track record in Chicago and Los Angeles, it should not come as a surprise that Beckham struggled to this degree and, given that he looks to be an average defender, his ceiling is rather limited.

There is something to be said for a player that can provide stability, is liked in the clubhouse and can play multiple positions at an effective level. However, Gordon Beckham hasn’t surpassed a 72 wRC+ in any of the last three seasons and, with free agency pending and the fact that he was traded within the last week of the season, he certainly isn’t guaranteed to be in the plans moving forward.

Jace Peterson

I really like Jace Peterson. Let’s get that out of the way now. He’s a tremendous athlete with tantalizing tools and Peterson is (still) only 26 years old as I write this. Still, he isn’t the perfect option anywhere and that makes him difficult to project.

The early moments of 2016 were not kind to Peterson, as he posted a .465 OPS (!) in 50 PA at the outset, and that earned him a demotion to triple-A Gwinnett. Somewhat amusingly, he was actually bad in Gwinnett, putting up a 52 wRC+, but something clicked after that and Peterson was a (much) better player after his recall.

To that end, the super-athletic 26-year-old accumulated a .265/.362/.389 slash line over his final 94 games (358 PA) and, at second base, that is very useful production. Defensively, Peterson appeared to slip according to most advanced metrics, and is troubling for a player that was once considered strongly above-average at second base. Some of that could be traced to the Braves attempting to mold him into a super-utility option by playing him all over the diamond, but as the team’s best returning option at second base, it would be very nice if Peterson could return to operation as a top-level glove.

At this point, the bat is what it is. I don’t think Peterson is ever going to hit in a way that you would think he could given his body and frame, but in the same breath, an OPS over .750 down the stretch breathes some life into his projection. Albies is absolutely coming up in the near future to, presumably, take Peterson’s job and 2017 will be huge for the incumbent because arbitration arrives for Peterson in 2018.

What now?

The great majority of people will pencil in Ozzie Albies for the starting job at second base to begin the 2017 season, and that makes some sense. He is (very) young but Albies is considered the most accomplished bat in the minor leagues right now after the promotion of Dansby Swanson, and it is always easy and fun to think that prospects will outperform underwhelming players who came before them.

With that said, Jace Peterson was a solid player from June through September in 2016 and it won’t be an injustice of any sort if he’s the starter on Opening Day. Albies’ healt and development should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind as the winter approaches, but Peterson is just a nice piece to have around, even if he’s not the starter when April arrives.