There were many question marks surrounding the Braves’ young second baseman coming into his second professional, and first full, MLB season. He quickly left little to doubt in the opening weeks of 2018.
As April rolled around, Albies hit the ground running and piled up 9 home runs, 22 extra base hits and 34 total hits on the month, leading Braves Country into an early frenzy about the possibility of him winning an MVP award.
Albies didn’t quite manage to replicate his April production (158 wRC+) afterwards, but continued to roll, putting up a 104 wRC+ from May 1 through the All-Star Break. He collected 11 homers in that period to go with his nine dingers in April and earned his first selection to the All-Star Game, just slightly missing out on a starting role at second base to Javier Baez.
It wasn’t all roses, however, as he collapsed after the All-Star Break in the season’s second half. His wRC+ was 67 in the final 10 weeks of the year, and he added just four homers and 17 total extra-base hits to his ledger after mid-July. While it’s tempting to say that his early success was propped up by unsustainable results (and indeed, a .353 wOBA on a .311 xwOBA in the first half speaks to this), this belies the fact that he pretty much got dramatically worse as the season worse on:
- April: .410 wOBA, .332 xwOBA
- May: .317 wOBA, .312 xwOBA
- June: .323 wOBA, .300 xwOBA
- July: .334 wOBA, .277 xwOBA
- August: .271 wOBA, .269 xwOBA
- September: .284 wOBA, .275 xwOBA
- NLDS: .176 wOBA, .275 xwOBA
Still, Albies finished his year with 24 home runs, a 100 wRC+ and 14 steals. While those numbers might not sound earth shattering after the amazing start he had, it is paramount to remember that he is only 21 years old and is potentially “ahead of the game.”
He is not a finished product at this moment and Atlanta fans should be very excited to see what is in store for Albies who may have a solid chance of competing for the NL MVP award for many seasons to come.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? Made his first All-Star team while leading one of the youngest teams in baseball to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Started to make adjustments in his swing as the rest of baseball adjusted to him after his hot start to the season. Finished with 3.8 fWAR in 684 PAs, with great baserunning adding half a win, and near-elite defense at second base contributing greatly to his value. Probably not enough was said about Albies’ defense over the course of the season, potentially overshadowed by his hot start and then his lengthy struggles. But, he was consistently high quality at the keystone, finishing in the top 30 among all position players in Fangraphs’ Def in five of the season’s six months. This is especially impressive given that the positional adjustment he receives in Def is only +2.5, which puts him at a five-run disadvantage relative to center fielders and shortstops, and at a 10-run disadvantage relative to catchers.
Will he be on the roster in 2019? Absolutely. Ozzie Albies is one of the Braves’ cornerstone pieces and is expected to be in an Atlanta uniform for most of the next decade. He still has work to do, but he’s a pivotal part of the franchise and isn’t going anywhere.
What is he going to do next year? Nobody has a clue, and that is both scary and exciting. Ozzie had one of the more up-and-down seasons in MLB history where he looked like the next Jose Altuve one minute and looked like 2014 Dan Uggla the next, so anything is possible next season. Placing bets would have me guessing that Ozzie makes big time adjustments and plays out of his mind next to his best friend next season. It just seems so much like he is meant to be a superstar. A more reasonable outlook could see him repeating 2018, albeit with more consistency. No matter what happens with his bat (and he has adjustments to make about facing right-handed pitching), he appears to have a solid baserunning and defense backstop that will serve to prop up his value.
Highlight of 2018: His month of April as mentioned above. He set the Braves franchise record for extra base hits in a single month and nearly set the Major League Baseball record. He was the spark plug to the entire magical 2018 season for the Braves. Even in early May, the magic was still going strong. Here’s Albies’ first career grand slam, which turned a tense 1-1 game into an eventual 9-2 laugher.
Lowlight of 2018: His post All-Star break work. Albies really had issues with his swing in the second half, but continued to make adjustments that worked as he went. Hitting .223 and posting a wRC+ of 65 over a two month period is a lowlight for any Major League player though. A good example of his struggles in microcosm was August 31: the Braves had the tying run on second with one out in the ninth against tough Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez. While Albies’ struggles were less profound against lefty pitching, what he did in that situation was emblematic of his problems: Vazquez started him with a changeup that missed the zone, putting Albies in the driver’s seat with a 1-0 count. Albies then took a weak swing at a borderline changeup, not so much ambushing it as flailing at it, and hit a fielder’s choice with a 69 mph exit velocity. The Braves would lose the game when the next batter, Dansby Swanson, struck out.
Albies finished 2018 with a top-20 swing rate on non-strikes in baseball among hitters qualified for the batting title (top 50 among hitters with 200+ PAs). In addition, his o-contact rate wasn’t high enough to buy him a lot of extra swings, but high enough that he made a lot of weak contact. Albies was one of only 48 players to put 100 balls not in the zone in play this year, and his xwOBA on them was .253, or ranked 38th out of 48.
But, all that aside, keep your eyes locked on Mr. Albies in 2019. He’s got something special.