The Braves’ lineup in 2020 was as good as it gets, ranking near the top of the league in just about every statistic imaginable. Let’s take a look back on the shortened season and the highs, lows and what we can expect in 2021.
Ronald Acuña Jr.
Stat line: .250/.406/.581, 159 wRC+, 14 HR, 29 RBI, 2.4 WAR
What Went Right: When healthy, Acuña enjoyed another terrific season out of the leadoff spot, serving as a dynamic weapon atop the order. He continued to hit for power, and perhaps most encouragingly, his walk rate skyrocketed to 18.8%, elevating his on-base percentage to .406.
What Went Wrong: A nagging wrist injury caused Acuna to miss 14 games, and he did not appear to be fully healthy in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if he undergoes a procedure this winter to hopefully address the issue, or if the Braves feel rest and rehabilitation will be enough. Acuña’s strikeout rate was nearly 30 percent, although some of that may be attributed to the wrist issues.
2021 Outlook: Nothing should really change for the soon-to-be 23-year-old outfielder, who is under contract through at least 2026. He’s one of the game’s most exciting players.
Stat line: .341/.462/.640, 187 wRC+, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 3.4 WAR
What Went Right: After a scary battle with COVID-19 in the middle of July, Freddie’s status for the 2020 season was in doubt before the year even started. Thankfully, Freeman made a full recovery and set the National League on fire after a slow start, ending the year with MVP-caliber numbers. As of writing this he remains the favorite to win his first Most Valuable Player Award.
What Went Wrong: Not much.
2021 Outlook: Freeman is only under contract for one more season, but nearly everyone around the Braves expects a contract extension to be worked out soon. Don’t be surprised if it happens in the coming months.
Stat line: .338/.431/.636, 179 wRC+, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 2.5 WAR
What Went Right: The latest in Alex Anthopoulos’ one-year free agent gambles, Ozuna finally broke out after two down years in St. Louis and exploded to lead the National League in homers and RBI. If not for his teammates, Ozuna would likely gather some top-five MVP votes. He will now hit free agency and get, at minimum, a lucrative three or four-year deal.
What Went Wrong: The only nitpick for Ozuna is his defense, or a lack thereof. Ozuna settled in as the team’s primary designated hitter for most of the season, and given his inability to throw from the outfield after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2018, he was a liability in the field whenever given the opportunity.
2021 Outlook: Hopefully he’s batting in the middle of the Braves’ order come Opening Day. He will not come cheap, even if he projects as a full-time DH moving forward.
Stat line: .321/.386/.533, 145 wRC+, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 1.6 WAR
What Went Right: Finally healthy after a series of injuries early on in his career, d’Arnaud was coming off a nice 2019 season with Tampa Bay and parlayed it into a two-year deal worth $16 million with the Braves. It was not a flashy or sexy signing that stole all the headlines, but looking back, it probably should have. d’Arnaud exploded as the best offensive catcher in baseball, posting a 145 wRC+, which was 19 points higher than any of his peers (Realmuto was second at 126 and figures to get a 5+ year deal worth upwards of $100 million).
What Went Wrong: If we are looking for something to nitpik, d’Arnaud was not very good in the NLCS after carrying the offense in the earlier rounds. But even this feels unfair for a guy asked to catch seven games in a row.
2021 Outlook: No one should expect d’Arnaud to repeat his crazy 2020 campaign, but if he can even come close to replicating his numbers next season, the Braves should be in great hands once again.
Stat line: .271/.306/.466, 103 wRC+, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 0.6 WAR
What Went Right: Once Ozzie was able to get fully healthy, he mashed in the month of September to the tune of a 152 wRC+ while continuing his stellar defensive work at second base.
What Went Wrong: Albies dealt with a wrist injury early in the season and was never quite right. His wRC+ of 21 through the season’s first three weeks was an obvious sign he shouldn’t be playing despite an attempt to battle through the pain. He would ultimately miss a month of the season to recover and, thankfully, looked great upon his return to the lineup.
2021 Outlook: Albies has one of the game’s most team-friendly contracts and will continue being a mainstay in the middle of the order next season.
Stat line: .274/.345/.464, 116 wRC+, 10 HR, 35 RBI, 1.9 WAR
What Went Right: As we’ve seen during the last few seasons, when Dansby is healthy and going right, he is arguably a top-10 shortstop in the game with his all-around ability on the diamond. He was on pace to blow away all of his previous career-best numbers during the 60-game season.
What Went Wrong: Swanson is a notoriously streaky hitter, and that continued once again this past summer. He started off red-hot and then experienced a 5-for-40 skid in August, followed by an even worse 2-for-43 stretch in mid-September.
2021 Outlook: A candidate for a possible contract extension, Dansby enters another offseason where he is eligible for arbitration. He figures to be a mainstay in the middle of the Braves’ order once again in 2021. A true breakout season into stardom feels possible if he’s able to put it all together over 150+ games.
Stat line: .237/.301/.532, 116 wRC+. 16 HR, 33 RBI, 0.5 WAR
What Went Right: Always underrated, we were treated to the full Adam Duvall experience in 2020. He belted 16 homers, including two games in which he hit three.
What Went Wrong: Duvall was a key cog in the middle of the Braves’ order all season long, but a brutal oblique strain in his first at bat of the NLCS ended his season prematurely.
2021 Outlook: It seems likely the Braves reach a deal with Duvall in arbitration; the Talking Chop projections estimate he will earn $4.9 million next year. Whether in a platoon or starting role, you can do a lot worse.
Stat line: .254/.312/.392, 89 wRC+, 1 HR, 15 RBI, -0.4 WAR
What Went Right: Markakis originally opted out of the 2020 season but returned shortly after the games began and hit well in the month of August, posting a 173 wRC+ in the middle of the Braves’ potent lineup. Unfortunately, that was the end of the feel-good story.
What Went Wrong: For as good as Nick was in the early weeks, the wheels completely fell off in September and the postseason, batting .164/.218/.233 across his final 78 plate appearances and experiencing a postseason where he had no chance on anything with velocity up in the zone. Markakis will turn 37 next month and it appears Father Time has finally caught up to him.
2021 Outlook: Batting 5th. (Just kidding; I would imagine Nick will need to go elsewhere to continue playing, or retire.)
Stat line: .239/.301/.415, 89 wRC+, 8 HR, 27 RBI, -0.1 WAR
What Went Right: We should do a deeper dive on Riley at some point because I’m not sure what to make of him right now. He’s certainly improved over the last two years — most notably with his defense and plate discipline — but his offensive numbers remained nowhere near where a Major League third baseman needs to be. He’ll be 24 on Opening Day next season. Is that good enough? Or is his starting job in jeopardy? As for 2020, he started off slowly but was much better during the final six weeks of the season, posting a 115 wRC+ from the middle of August on. He launched a game-winning homer in the first game of the NLCS.
What Went Wrong: It was not all his fault, but Riley’s base running blunder in Game 7 in the NLCS will linger in our minds for a long, long time.
2021 Outlook: As written above, I’m not entirely sure. Could he be the Braves’ third baseman of the future? Absolutely. Could the Braves also move on and use Riley as a trade chip to improve the position immediately? That feels possible, too. It’s anyone’s guess at this point.
Others To Note
Tyler Flowers took a backseat to d’Arnaud in 2020 and had just 80 plate appearances, posting a modest 86 wRC+ but ugly 42.5% strikeout rate. The Braves obviously value his strong framing work behind the plate, but it may be time to move on and save a few dollars as the veteran catcher turns 35 this winter.
Has Ender Inciarte played his final game as a Braves outfielder? It feels like it. Despite given every opportunity this past summer, Ender was ultimately benched and never appeared on any of the postseason rosters. Anything more than a rolled-over ground ball felt like a win.
Johan Camargo was given a chance to split time at third base with Austin Riley to start the season, but he struggled once again and eventually found himself with the Gwinnett taxi squad. I would assume he is around next season as organizational depth after the club added him to the NLCS roster in wake of the Duvall injury.
Finally, Cristian Pache made his big league debut — although he was seldom used after that — but was then thrown into the NLCS fire following Duvall’s injury. While still raw offensively, Pache launched his first big league home run in Game 3 of the NLCS and showed strong plate discipline. It will be interesting to see what the Braves’ plans are for him in 2021, whether it be another taste of the minors or as the club’s starting center fielder.