2019 was a great redemption story for Adam Duvall. After a horrendous 2018, especially after the Braves traded for him, Duvall ended up spending a bunch of time in the minors. Though it was his first stint in the minors since 2015, he didn’t sulk. Instead, he terrorized the International League with a .602 SLG and .336 ISO (137 wRC+), and then got promoted to Atlanta, where he finished out the season with a 121 wRC+ and 0.7 fWAR in just 130 PAs (that’s a 3-plus-win pace). He capped that comeback with some big hits in a playoff series.
Heading into 2020, Duvall was essentially a roster lock, but not an obvious starter or regular. When the shortened season started, he was used in a platoon with Matt Adams, with Marcell Ozuna taking the field when Adams started at designated hitter. That quickly evaporated, though — Adams was hurt and bad, Ender Inciarte was bad, the Braves quickly shifted Ozuna to DH, even Ronald Acuña Jr. wasn’t fully healthy. That meant that even when Nick Markakis opted back in, there was plenty of regular playing time for Duvall available. Overall, he started just three of the Braves’ first 12 games, but then failed to appear in the starting lineup in just four games all season. That proved pretty fortuitous for the Braves, because Duvall stepped up where others faltered.
What went right in 2020? Duvall put up a 116 wRC+ over the season’s two months, giving the Braves another above-average bat with which to terrorize and exhaust opposing pitching staffs. He hit 16 dingers in 209 PAs, going deep with regularity over the 60-game season. This resulted in a bunch of fun milestones:
- Along with Marcell Ozuna, Duvall became part of the first pair of Braves teammates with three-homer game since 1986.
- Duvall had a couple of three-homer games in the span of a week (back-to-back Wednesdays), making him the first Brave to ever have two three-homer games in the same season.
- Duvall’s 100th career homer clipped the foul pole and was a go-ahead, ninth-inning shot that delivered a win.
- Even when he didn’t start, good things happened. While the Braves lost this game in the end, he had a pinch-hit game-tying homer on September 7 to lead off the ninth.
And those are just the ones off the top of my head.
Here’s a video of his three-homer game against the Red Sox, because why not.
This game netted him 0.46 WPA, his highest mark since a trio of games in 2016.
What went wrong in 2020? Really, not much besides what happened after the regular season ended. In 21 playoff PAs, Duvall put up a 9 (yes, 9) wRC+. In his five playoff games this year, his only positive WPA/cWPA game was one where he reached base on an error but otherwise made outs. To make matters worse, he had to bow out of the NLCS after injuring his oblique, forcing the Braves to stick with Cristian Pache and Nick Markakis for the rest of the series. (All three players ended the postseason with tiny-sample playoff xwOBAs below .260.)
Also, I guess you could say the game on August 5 went “wrong” for Duvall. Get this: he singled in the second, walked in the fourth, and hit a homer in the seventh to bring the Braves to within a run of the Blue Jays. But, in the ninth, with men on first and second and one out, this happened:
This ended up being Duvall’s worst game, WPA-wise, of 2020... even though he wasn’t even the WPA laggard in this game, and even though he provided the Braves’ only run and reached base two other times.
Outlook for 2021: Duvall, at this point, is kind of having a career like no one else. For one, did you know that he’s 32 years old yet still has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining? Because he doesn’t fit super-neatly into a well-known “player type” category, forecasting him is a little tough. But, here’s what we know — and it’s not straightforward.
For his career, including 2020, Duvall has been roughly a 1.6 fWAR/600 player. He has a platoon split, but not a huge one, contrary to the idea that he should absolutely mash lefties: .339 xwOBA vs. lefties; .317 vs. righties; 107-92 for wRC+. (It’s become a bit more exaggerated; .350 vs. .310 in 2019-2020. This isn’t too surprising given the smaller sample; it still doesn’t show him obliterating lefties, just hitting them quite well.) He put up fantastic defensive stats in a corner outfield role in 2016-2018, but considerably less so in much smaller samples in 2019-2020, with both his arm and range being notably dinged relative to past years. All in all, despite his prodigious 2020 homer total and rate, he only produced 0.5 fWAR (1.4/600) — and if you combine his 2019 and 2020, he ends up “only” at 1.2 fWAR total in 339 PAs and 2.3/600.
Breaking his offense down into its component pieces provides another piece of the puzzle. Duvall put up a 121 wRC+ in 2019, but it was due to a substantial xwOBA overperformance of .040. In 2020, his xwOBA stayed basically the same (from .320 to .324), but his xwOBA overperformance fell to .018 instead, making his batting line seem worse when the inputs were more or less the same. One confusing thing is that relative to 2019, his 2020 exit velocity fell, though his barrel rate increased and his sweet spot percentage (barrel rate plus solid contact rate) didn’t change. His real “gains” were made by improving both his walk and strikeout rates, and he somehow made worse non-good contact while transferring his good contact from just solid hits into barrels. That seems like a bit of small sample weirdness, but it’s something to watch.
In any case, Duvall may be what he is at this point: a guy with a ton of pop whose overall hitting against righties suggests a strong preference for using him in a platoon role. Having him as the short side of a platoon, ready to serve as a short-stint starter in case of injury, seems ideal. He’ll probably make around $5 million next season given his arbitration-eligible status — that would normally seem like a perfectly fine price to pay for his talents, but in what portends to be a disconcertingly off-kilter offseason... stay tuned.