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Johan Camargo is everything the Braves are

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Johan was as young and crazy good as the Braves division-winning run.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Which player on the Braves’ roster has a season that best represented the 2018 Braves’ season? An easy answer would be Ronald Acuña, but Acuña’s explosive and outstanding season probably lines up better with the Red Sox. Freddie Freeman probably isn’t it for a similar reason. You could reply with Mike Foltynewicz, but this roster emerged from the rebuild at least a year early. Whenever we expected Foltynewicz to break out, it definitely wasn’t early. So I’ll go with Johan Camargo’s season. It was unexpected yet not out of nowhere, solidly above average, and hellaexciting.

Camargo had never a lot of hype as a prospect. His best showings were on 2014 lists when he started appearing in Braves prospect lists from the mid-teens and low twenties, aside from a sole tag as the system’s eight-best prospect before the 2015 season from Baseball America. (The seven guys ahead of him: Jose Peraza, Lucas Sims, Christian Bethancourt, Jason Hursh, Ozzie Albies, Braxton Davidson, and Tyrell Jenkins.) Most evaluators were impressed with his glove. From Minor League Ball:

16) Johan Camargo ... Panamanian infielder hit .294 in Appy League with good reports on his glove

And our pre-season 2014 list:

In the field, Camargo plays a decent shortstop with a great arm. His speed is only average though, and given his strong arm, many scouts think he’ll probably end up at third base at some point during his career.

In the Beyond The Boxscore 2014 list, which was a composite of many different lists, he was No. 15. Mid-teens is not awful, but this was in 2014 before the rebuild. Lucas Sims and Tommy LaStella were our No. 1 and No. 3 that year. By 2017, the projections had narrowed Johan down to a profile of a utility player. Chris Mitchell at Fangraphs hung a KATOH of 0.7 on him (KATOH produces a WAR forecast for his first six years in the major leagues) and thought he could aspire to Abraham Nunez’s career. Minor League Ball agreed: “I still find it implausible that Camargo will become a consistent power hitter... still profiles as a utilityman, albeit a valuable one with his defense. Anything he adds offensively will be a bonus.”

But then in 2017, he hit well enough in Spring Training and randomly showed a power spike at Triple-A, earning a call-up in April and then another in May. After bouncing back and forth from Gwinnett, in June he mercifully began to save us from watching Adonis Garcia everyday. Despite sustaining an injury while jumping over the third base line, Camargo was able to put in a very nice 2017 at the plate. He slashed .299/.331/.452 with a perfectly league-average 100 wRC+. He even filled in for Dansby Swanson at short while the Braves were pretending they were in the playoff hunt, regardless of whether or not it made sense.

Going into 2018, not much was expected of the Braves in 2018. The over/under for season wins was 75 in Vegas. If you are a sports-betting Braves fan and somehow missed out on it, your instincts are bad and you should feel bad. Johan Camargo had some low expectations on him as well (especially after his rehab assignment to start the year, as Ivan pointed out).

Nevertheless, he became the most interesting player on the roster. Could he develop some kind of plate discipline? Would he hit with enough power to stick at third base? The Braves weren’t sure either, and in May Jose Bautista took over at third. Dansby Swanson was placed on the disabled list (possibly here?), and Camargo subbed in at short. The Jose Bautista experiment would only last 12 games, but his addition could have spawned a very important event. Camargo was about to show the Braves how well he knew the strike zone.

Date O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact%
4/11/2017 to 4/29/2018 34.0% 70.4% 49.8% 66.3% 85.8%
5/2/2018 to 5/28/2018 20.6% 66.9% 30.8% 84.1% 83.9%

Johan nearly turned the month into no-swing May. Swinging outside the zone took a severe dip by 13.6%. His K:BB rate spiked eight-fold.

Date BB% K% wRC+ wOBA xwOBA
4/11/2017 to 4/29/2018 5.1% 20.7% 106 .338 .304
5/2/2018 to 5/28/2018 22.1% 11.6% 98 .320 .379

He became much more picky about pitches outside the zone.

But notice what else happened. Not only were there less swings, there were better ones. His xwOBA blossomed to .379 versus .304 during the rest of his career. This difference in the xwOBA versus wOBA in the small sample was somewhat due to some really good outfield play from the Rays here and here. May 2nd also marked around the date that the inflection point in his launch angle occurs. Before May 2nd, it was 9.3 degrees, but it rose to 12.4 degrees through the end of the year. On May 29th, with Bautista gone and seemingly proving his batter’s eye, his no-swing May ended suddenly.

The walk and strikeout rate seemingly rolled back to where they were before May. What was new were the dingers.

Date BB% K% HR wRC+ wOBA xwOBA
4/11/2017 to 4/29/2018 5.1% 20.7% 5 106 .338 .304
5/2/2018 to 5/28/2018 22.1% 11.6% 1 98 .320 .379
5/28/2018 to 9/30/2018 7.2% 22.0% 17 116 .347 .298

Johan Camargo hit a walkoff on the 29th, another homer on the 30th, then went deep once again on June 2nd. The guy with no power ambition in the minors would hit 17 in the next four months or so. Where did this power come from? Some of it was self-defense. He hit 99 MPH pitches out twice, which led baseball last year.

This breakdown by wOBA (more about wOBA here) from the left side shows a hitter without a power cross (the strike zone areas that form a lowercase t). He rather picks on pitches in the middle and across the strike zone (zones 4, 5, and 6). From the right side he likes the low strikes across the plate (zones 7, 8, and 9). From the right side, he hits zones 7 through 9 at .694/.544/.486 rates (respectively, that’s not a slash line). He likes the changeup from the right as well, hitting it at a .397 wOBA versus .310 on everything else. What I would glean from this is that Camargo is using excellent bat speed control to pick on one plane of the zone at a time. He has the ability to defend a hot inside fastball or to poach a changeup because of his ability to keep the bat in the zone. I have to say that I really liked May Camargo, but I really like homers as well.

He only averaged 389 ft on each homer, which puts him in the 30th percentile overall and 19th among hitters with at least 10 home runs. He can get them around the foul pole, however. He has shown good power straightaway from the right hand side versus the changeup. Overall, he was pretty lucky with the homers. He outperformed his owOBA by .037 on the year, but only by .007 once you filter out the home runs, as Ivan pointed out.

Camargo was able to piece together his hitting tools to have a great year. As for his defense, it continued to be terrific. He was second among qualified third basemen in UZR/150, and third among those with 500 innings at third. Camargo was second in defensive runs saved among those qualified and fourth among those with 500 innings.

Yeah, he can pick it.

For his trouble, Alex Anthopoulos replaced him at third anyway with Josh Donaldson. I don’t think this will slow down his progress. They said he had no plate discipline. They said he had no power. They said his offense would not amount to anything. They said he was a utilityman with great defense. OK well, he might fill that role in 2019. But if his next year is anything like his last, Camargo will have the answer to any question about his game.