Peterson is an interesting player because, when looking at his first two seasons, you see an evolution. Most of that evolution is the good kind, which isn’t shocking for a 26 year old, but not all of it is. Peterson drew walks at a higher rate in 2016 than he did in 2015. It wasn’t a slight uptick but a noticeable difference, from 9.4% to 12.7%. He struck out less frequently down from 20.1% of plate appearances to 16.9%. He got on base at a .350 clip, a big improvement over his .314 rookie mark and the .334 MLB average at the position. At the plate, almost everything improved. He didn’t hit one infield pop-up (seriously!). He homered on 10% of his flyballs. His % of batted balls marked as soft contact was down, and his CF and opposite field batted ball rates were up. On pitches outside the strike zone, he swung less frequently and made more contact. On pitches in the zone, he made better contact. Offensively, he was almost a league average MLB-er. 2B is becoming a position that demands power, more than Peterson is likely to provide, but he wasn’t a liability at the plate. That’s a nice development.
Defensively, I’m not sure what to make of his season. Defensive Runs Saved and UZR both saw a collapse. FRAA, on the other hand, suggests improvement. Those who study defensive metrics agree that one year is too small a sample to trust, so at best it paints part of the picture of his defense, and in all 3 cases, the defense is a tad below league average. Only 15 players can be at or better than league average, so it’s not a huge blemish on his game to say he’s one of the top 20-25 defenders at the position. His harshest critic among metrics, UZR, has him at -3.3 runs above average per 150 innings since coming to Atlanta, which ranks 33rd out of 48 defenders with at least 450 innings at the position. However, rankings can mislead. Peterson’s -3.3 runs is actually closer to Omar Infante‘s 12th place +4.8 UZR/150 than it is to Ryan Schimpf‘s dead last -11.6. So, Peterson may be 33rd of 48 according to one metric, but there’s not a real discernible difference between being in the top 15 or being, say, 40th.
I realize I’ve been extolling his virtues, so let’s get back to Earth a bit. Jace Peterson is a good player to have on the roster, but his best role would be one where he comes off the bench, plays some competent defense at a few different spots, and serves as an occasional pinch hitter and runner. He’s fast, so he has value as a PR, but the Braves have to either team him how to steal bases or encourage him to stop trying. He’s 17/32 since arriving in Atlanta. It’s not working. Quit costing the team runs already. Still, while Peterson wasn’t quite a star in 2016, he was an acceptable starter for a rebuilding team, and he would be again in 2017. However, by the time Atlanta is ready to make a playoff push, they should plan on doing it with Peterson in a bench role where his talents can be of greater value.
Remember when Beckham was briefly the star of the offense? Yeah, the Braves weren’t good in 2016.
If you cherry-pick the dates right, Beckham had a good little stretch. Over 36 games from April 10-June 19, Beckham slashed .277/.372/.454. That’s pretty good! After that, he slashed .164/.240/.264. That’s pretty bad!
Atlanta traded Beckham to San Francisco with only 4 games remaining in the Giants season. If you’re wondering what kind of player can buy you 4 games of a bad player, the answer is apparently Rich Rodriguez, a 22 year old who slugged .183 in Class High-A ball this year and had more strikeouts (21) than total bases (20). Oof.
At least Beckham had a stretch in which he was briefly the star of the offense. Kelly Johnson slashed .215/.273/.289 for Atlanta in 2016, a disappointing attempt to repeat his productive, trade profile-building 2015 season (.275/.321/.451). I still love Kelly Johnson, one of my favorite Baby Braves, but this stint in Atlanta just didn’t work out at all, as Johnson was pretty terrible. However, Atlanta still managed to trade Johnson as planned, once again to the Mets for Akeel Morris, who is not an insignificant player to have added. As long as the Mets are willing to acquire him in the warm months, perhaps Atlanta will sign Johnson again this offseason for another ride.
Peterson improved in 2016, but he didn’t necessarily improve enough to make himself the future of the position. That said, he’s an acceptable present. Beckham was good for a minute, but mostly bad, and Johnson was only bad. Others did play some at 2B, but we’ll cover those players when we hit their primary positions. All in all, 2B wound up a liability for the Braves in 2016, a position that contributed to the last place finish.
Peterson is slated to return in 2017, and if he’s the regular starter, it could be his last year in that role. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, as Peterson could be a very useful super-utility guy for a contending team. He can be part of the team’s near-future, even the optimistic version of that future.
Prospect Ozzie Albies is a player to be excited about, and he’s not far away from reaching the majors. The diminutive switch-hitting speedster has the natural talents of a shortstop, but with Dansby Swanson seemingly entrenched at the position, Albies has moved to 2nd. His defense at 2nd should be really good, and his offense should also be good enough to start, once he’s ready. With less than 60 AAA games under his belt and a .248/.307/.351 line in those games, he might not be ready just yet, but it shouldn’t be long. Behind Albies, Atlanta has another interesting 2B prospect in Travis Demeritte, acquired from Texas this summer in the Lucas Harrell trade. Demeritte, a Georgia native, hasn’t reached the high minors, so he’s not exactly knocking on the door, but he did hit 28 HR and steal 17 bases in high-A this year, with fall defense that impressed some evaluators so much there were whispers of a 70 grade (that’s Gold Glove level). A lot could still go wrong with any player who hasn’t reached AA, but there’s a lot about Demeritte to like. While 2016 was a pretty bad year for Atlanta at the position, the future appears bright and not especially in need of acquisitions from outside the organization.