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2018 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Adam Duvall

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Duvall struggled in 2018.

Boston Red Sox v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When the Atlanta Braves acquired Adam Duvall from the Cincinnati Reds at the Trade Deadline, they hoped that he would be able to provide some right-handed punch to their lineup, or at least their bench. The original plan was for Duvall to enter into a platoon situation with Ender Inciarte. There was just one problem: Duvall hadn’t hit much in 2018 for the Reds and he hit even less once he arrived in Atlanta.

Duvall hit just .205/.286/.399 with 15 home runs in 105 games with the Reds, though that line came with a fine .330 xwOBA that he substantially underperformed (.295 wOBA). After the trade, he went just 7-for-53 with a double, three walks and 17 strikeouts. With Duvall unable to shake out of his slump, the Braves were forced to scrap their platoon plans and ultimately left him off the postseason roster. Of course, it isn’t like the Braves tried that hard to platoon him, anyway, as he faced 30 right-handed pitchers and just 27 left-handed pitchers over the season’s last two months. But the reality was that he managed just a .206 xwOBA after coming over from the Reds, including a .157 xwOBA against lefties, whom he was supposed to crush.

Duvall’s struggles after donning an Atlanta uniform were widespread. His swing rate ballooned by nearly 10 percent, with an even greater gain in chasing pitches outside the zone. However, the weird part was that his contact on pitches he chased increased, while his contact on pitches in the zone collapsed miserably, way below what he had done before. Making contact on balls and missing strikes is a recipe for disaster, and that’s what he cooked up in his fifty-odd PAs as a Brave. Pitchers actually adjusted to this very easily and threw him more pitches in the zone, especially first-pitch strikes, but he didn’t do anything with them. The jury is still out as to whether he was injured or there was some other explanation for his production collapse, but it was far from a positive development no matter what the explanation is.

Despite his struggles, acquiring Duvall was a worthy gamble for the Braves. He hit 33 home runs in 2016 and 31 in 2017 while playing Gold Glove caliber defense in left field. He turned 30 in September but will be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason. His fate may be tied to what upgrades the team makes this offseason. He clearly struggled as a part-time player but his power potential from the right side of the plate makes him worth a shot, assuming he’s done being mired in whatever afflicted him in August and September 2018.

Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? Played good defense and was named a Gold Glove finalist in left field. However, he had a career-worst season at the plate hitting .195/.274/.365. He was pretty serviceable against lefties despite being unlucky before the trade, and had one of the worst 50-PA stretches Braves fans have seen in a while after the trade.

Will he be on the roster next year? Maybe? Duvall is arbitration eligible for the first time in his career at age 30 where he is projected for a $3.1 million salary. As noted above, this really depends on what else the Braves do. He’s not necessarily a great fit for a team that completely reinvents its weak bench, but he’s a more-than-adequate option if the team takes the path of least resistance to fielding a 2019 roster.

What is he going to do in 2019? Duvall had a career-low .237 BABIP in 2018 so that can explain some of his struggles but he never really recorded high BABIP numbers in the first place. If the Braves keep him, then they will be hoping that he can come to spring training with a fresh start and can adapt to more of a bench role. There’s still the hope that he can function as a fine fourth outfielder going forward, providing solid corner outfield defense and pop against left-handed pitchers, but his recent z-contact issues loom large. Bouncing back with someone (not necessarily the Braves) to be a decent bench player won’t be surprising, but neither will a replacement-level performance if he can’t figure out his hitting demons.

Highlight of 2018: Boy, this is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. On August 20, with the Braves clinging to a narrow 1-0 lead, he came up as a pinch-hitter against lefty reliever Stephen Brault and actually managed to line a single to left for one of his few hits as a Brave. The Braves didn’t manage to score in that inning despite getting two on with none out, but you came to the Adam Duvall 2018 Atlanta Braves highlight section, so... I don’t know what to tell you.

Lowlight of 2018: Pretty much everything after the trade, really. Duvall somehow managed to finish his season with -2.37 WPA, -1.29 of which was acquired in his fifty-odd PAs with the Braves. As a Brave, he had 10 PAs with a leverage index above 2.00, and went 0-for-10 despite facing five lefties in that span. His results, by order of leverage, were: strikeout looking, strikeout looking, strikeout swinging, foulout to first, fly out, pop out, fly out, strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, fly out. The most brutal of these was when he struck out with the Braves down by one, bases loaded, one out in the eighth against Brad Ziegler, but at least Ziegler is a righty that’s kinda tough on righties and it’s not clear why Duvall was batting in that situation (he was brought in to face a lefty reliever, but could have been pulled before getting carved up by Ziegler). Nor was immune from failing to come up big against lefties: the aforementioned Stephen Brault struck him out in a tie game with runners on second and third to end a seventh inning at one point.