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Braves Mailbag: Dansby Swanson, replacing Marcell Ozuna, MLB rule changes and more

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Dansby Swanson has been “mixing it up” of late for the Braves.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves are about to open a three-game series against the first place New York Mets at Citi Field and we will soon learn how they are going to go about replacing Marcell Ozuna in the lineup, at least in the short term. There is a lot going on in Braves Country so thank you to everyone that sent in questions for the mailbag this week. We will do it again soon.

It is time to have a serious discussion about Dansby Swanson. This is his fifth full season in the big leagues and while he has shown flashes, he just has not put it all together the way we all thought he would. Trading him now and signing one of the studs of the 2021 would be selling low on him and buying high on someone else, which is typically not the Braves M.O. Is Dansby the Braves shortstop in 2023?

I’m surprised by the number of Dansby Swanson questions this week given that he has picked up his play considerably over the last few weeks. When you say that he hasn’t put it together the way a lot of people thought he would, it makes me question whether those expectations were out of whack to begin with. The Braves didn’t do him any favors rushing him to the majors before he was ready and plastering him all over billboards as the face of the rebuild, either.

With that said, he still has not put together that complete season unless you consider last year’s 60-game sample a full year. We aren’t even 60 games into 2021 yet so he still has time. He put up a 63 wRC+ while hitting .189/.267/.316 in April. He has improved to a 136 wRC+ and is hitting .291/.323/.581 in May. In my eyes, he has been good enough defensively.

He currently has a .333 xwOBA, which isn’t great, but is still above average, unlike his wOBA. The real issue for Swanson was that he was underperforming his xwOBA a ton (.267 wOBA, .327 xwOBA) in April, which made his line look way worse than it was. He’s overperformed it in May, but is still underperforming it across the year as a whole. Defensively, he hasn’t had much of a trend, as across different metrics he ranges from below average to average to above average fairly randomly. He has some known defensive limitations, but isn’t generally bleeding value out there at shortstop either.

I can’t see the Braves spending big money to land any of the shortstops that will be available next summer unless one of them needs to take a one-year offer to try and replenish their value. It is worth evaluating Swanson over the rest of the season simply because he will be a free agent after next season. I think his play on the field has been fine and think he could still have a big season, but it really depends on how the Front Office wants to shape this roster over the next few seasons. It is hard for me to consider what they might do in free agency this offseason until we know what is going to happen with Freddie Freeman.

If a top SS becomes available, like Trevor Story or Javier Baez, should the Braves make a trade to upgrade the position?

I touched on this above, but my thinking is that you never say never because of the rate of injuries that we have seen this season. With that said, I don’t like the idea of spending prospect capital for rental players, especially not when the upgrade isn’t to a spot where the Braves have a zero penciled in.

Should the Braves get into a bidding war with another team over Freddie Freeman during the off-season or instead use that money to extend their young pitchers (Fried, Anderson, etc.) to deals that are similar to Acuña’s and Albies?

My thinking is that they need to get Freeman locked up before the offseason to remove the possibility of a bidding war, unless they’re really banking on the one-week quiet period after the World Series before he becomes a free agent. I still don’t have any reason to think that a deal won’t get done, but I will admit that the longer it goes, the more the chance that he walks increases. If the worst happened and Freeman did sign elsewhere, then the biggest topic of discussion would be how the Braves would replace him. If Freeman left, they would have to look to add another significant offensive threat to the lineup to complement their young core. Sure, some of that money could possibly go to extending some of that core, but that is an issue they are going to have to face at some point whether Freeman stays or not.

How do you think the team’s performance season reflects on Snitker? Questionable bullpen decisions have factored into our performance in and after the 8th inning (to be fair, he can’t control our hitting in extras.) The clubhouse energy / fun factor is much less appealing if we finish 3rd in the division – do you think AA would try to bring in someone else in that case?

So, the clubhouse energy and having fun isn’t appealing if the team isn’t winning? Not sure I am going to agree there. You can look up and down the league standings and there has been more parity than we have ever seen. It was always going to be dangerous to draw conclusions from the 2020 season simply because it was a small sample. The Braves have seen regression at the plate, but a lot of bad luck too. (Going back to 2018, this team is third in wOBA, ahead of only the 2018 team, but second in xwOBA, behind only the 2020 team. It has by far the largest xwOBA underperformance, but that’s to be expected given that it’s still early in the year and xwOBA is likely going to be recalibrated soon to account for the new ball.) They have dealt with another rash of injuries and still are right in the thick of things in the NL East.

Have there been some suspect decisions? Sure, but there always will be. That is the case for any team. I think Brian Snitker does a good job of handling the clubhouse and more often than not, that is the most important job a manager has in my opinion.

I was just wondering if it looks like we will have Soroka at all this season? Maybe by late July?

The last official update we got on Soroka was that he was having exploratory surgery on his Achilles and there hasn’t been an official update since. The team did not rule him out for the remainder of the season, but honestly it is a little hard for me to see him making it back now. It is one of those situations where you will gladly take it if it happens, but are not really expecting it.

Some of us huffed when PECOTA pegged the team for a 4th place finish, saying a bunch of guys would see regression... Now that’s exactly what’s been happening. But a look at some of the advanced stats tells a different story. The team’s xWOBA, exit velocity, hard hit rate, etc are all at or near the top. And even the eye test seems to indicate that the Braves have been hitting it really hard all season and finding the other teams’ gloves.

The biggest reason that PECOTA didn’t believe in the Braves was due to their pitching. Craig Goldstein wrote a great article explaining this shortly after the PECOTA projections were released. I’m not as worried about the hitting for the exact reason you mentioned. We have already seen Austin Riley turn his season around after a tough start. Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies have been showing signs of life as well, and have good-to-great xwOBAs.

If there is a question for me offensively, it is how they deal with the injuries that seem to be slowing them down. Marcell Ozuna had looked better in recent days but now he is gone for six weeks. Travis d’Arnaud is another player that played a huge part in 2020. William Contreras has had his moments, but losing d’Arnaud’s bat was significant.

After the injury to Marcell Ozuna, is there a chance that we would pull up Drew Waters or Orlando Arcia instead of Johan Camargo or Sean Kazmar? I guess Ozuna would need to go on the IL for that to happen, but it would be good to get a look at one of them to see how they respond to bright lights and loud stadiums as well as good pitching.

I received this message on Thursday and I want to note that I am answering it Friday morning, before the Braves officially replace Ozuna on the roster.

There has been a lot of noise within the fanbase about Drew Waters but I would be shocked if he was brought up this early in the season. While I do believe that Waters can be successful in the majors, I don’t think he is ready yet and his performance at Gwinnett over the first month seems to back that up. Additionally, the Braves have already seen one outfield prospect in Cristian Pache struggle and I am not sure that they would be willing to make it two at this point of the season.

Orlando Arcia has six years of Major League experience so we don’t need to wonder how he will respond to the “bright lights and loud stadiums.” He has been on fire at Gwinnett as well, but the story that the team has been saying is that they see him as an everyday player and not a bench piece. That is why he is at Gwinnett and not on the Major League roster currently. Ozuna’s injury would seem to open the possibility of Arcia coming up. Brian Snitker said Wednesday that he didn’t really want to move Austin Riley off of third base, but that the team would consider their options during the off day Thursday. Putting Arcia at third with Riley in the outfield seems like it would be on the table. Could Arcia play left field? Maybe? There is also the possibility that they select someone like Abraham Almonte or Phil Ervin to serve as a fourth outfielder for a while.

Still, if I had to make a prediction, it would be Camargo getting recalled with Ehire Adrianza serving as the fourth outfielder, at least in the short term.

What should our expectations be for Kyle Wright going forward?

My expectations for Wright haven’t really changed. I think he has the stuff to succeed at the Major League level but hasn’t been able to make enough progress with his command to find that success. The good news is that the Braves aren’t in a position where they have to bring him to the Major League level. It seems that Tucker Davidson and Bryse Wilson are now the top two names on the shortlist for when a starter is needed. I haven’t given up on Wright but he needs to start to show some signs of progress soon.

I’m not opposed to the ‘traditional DH’ – but think that tying the DH to a minimum number of innings by the starting pitcher (say 5 innings) is a more balanced solution. Essentially – if the starter goes five complete innings – DH remains in place for the remainder of the game and if not ‘NL style’ ball from the point the pitcher is removed.

Any thoughts on the topic and how some sort of ‘compromise’ might potentially benefit both sides in the upcoming labor negotiations?

My thought is that I hate it. Either put the DH in both leagues or take it out of both leagues. I don’t see how this hybrid DH idea that has been floating about helps negotiations at all. The players wanted the universal DH but weren’t willing to sign off on an expanded postseason to add it, which is what the league was wanting as a trade off. This proposed hybrid DH rule isn’t going to help players like Nelson Cruz or even a Marcell Ozuna down the road so I don’t see it as a plus in any sort of CBA negotiations.

My guess is, the universal DH is coming in 2022. It makes too much sense and both sides want it. Expanded playoffs are coming as well, although what that looks like is still to be determined.

Which MLB rules do you think need to be updated/changed? Examples being the running lane to first and the infield fly rule.

I agree with what Snitker said recently about the running lane. It seems like it is just there to be controversial and is seldom enforced. I’m fine with the infield fly rule, Sam Holbrook notwithstanding. I want to see the replay system overhauled completely. I think there is a place for replay, but the current system isn’t working. I have always been kind of meh on an electronic strike zone, but some of the umpiring I have seen this season has me rethinking that.

That is it for this week! Thanks for all of the questions.