2016 Post-Mortem will take a look at each position for the Atlanta Braves, how it fared in 2016, and where the team is set to go in the future. Previous Post-Mortems: Catcher, 1st Base, 2nd Base, 3rd Base.
***Total BA/OBP/SLG includes every player who performed at the position and only those plate appearances in which they were at that position. Comb. WAR is the total season WAR for the players listed in the table, players whose primary position was SS. This both includes any WAR totals they picked up at other positions and doesn’t include WAR totals from other players accumulated when playing occasionally at SS.
Acquired from LA in the Andrelton Simmons trade, Aybar was expected to be a productive player for the Braves. His offense had collapsed in 2015, but given that he wasn’t that old, it seemed likely to rebound. It didn’t, at least not at first. Over the first month of the season, Aybar battled AJ Pierzynski for the honor of worst player in baseball. While most Braves fans forgave Pierzynski’s struggles because he was coming off a nice year and also happened to be pushing 40, they were less patient with Aybar, the guy replacing a fan favorite.
It was a tale of two stretches for Aybar in Atlanta, and he probably wasn’t as bad overall as most Braves fans will remember him as being. When he hit the DL on May 28 with a foot contusion, his season so far had been more or less a train wreck. His slashline was an abysmal .182/.225/.209. There are pitchers that would be ashamed to hit so poorly. He returned on June 12 and was the player fans had expected when he was acquired. From June 12 to his eventual trade, Aybar slashed .289/.346/.396. The stretch reclaimed some of the trade value he had lost, enough to deal him to Detroit in a move that picked up catching prospect Kade Scivicque. To get a prospect with a pulse was more than Atlanta had probably expected on May 28, so it felt like a win at the time. However, the whole of Aybar’s time in Georgia has to be considered a disappointment. Instead of being a stopgap to ease the pain of losing Andrelton Simmons, Aybar made Braves fans miss Simba all the more.
That was as magical as a .652 OPS can be, I think. d’Arnaud hadn’t batted 20 times in a season since 2011, but here he was, hitting like a big leaguer for the Braves in 2016. He hit like a below average big leaguer, sure, but it wasn’t laughably bad, and that marked a step forward for the journeyman. He even hit his first major league home run, a 2-run shot that turned an Atlanta deficit into a lead:
Special moments like that are fun, and they’re probably more meaningful to a team enduring a pretty terrible season than they would be to others.
Atlanta’s top prospect got a call-up late in the season and was more or less remarkable in his stint to finish out the year. He hit, not just for singles but for power, with 11 XBH in his 145 PA. It’s not bad at all for a guy who skipped AAA. At the time of his debut, I discussed how his seemingly early promotion could be a win-win for Atlanta’s decision-makers and the public relations of handling prospects in conjunction with bad MLB teams:
By bringing up Swanson now, however, Atlanta gives itself some more options. If Swanson struggles here in 2016, the team can understandably point to his lack of AAA experience. They can sign a one-year shortstop in free agency in the offseason, and Swanson can get back to his minor league double play partner, Ozzie Albies, and the two can continue progressing together in Gwinnett. Fans won’t mind as much, because they will have seen Swanson struggle a bit in the majors. Atlanta then gets to delay Swanson’s free agency with fan and press approval, and they get to keep their top prospects together to boot. It’d be a nice result if Swanson turns out to not be ready for the big leagues. We tried, he’s not quite ready, and we’ll see if we can get him back up here next September.
If he is ready? Well, the Braves have an All-Star on their hands, and they’ll later have to worry about how to keep him in the long run. There are worse problems to have. Either result works well for Atlanta, but the timing of Swanson’s call-up allows for a more flexible offseason and spring in Atlanta.
It seems as if the latter is the case. Swanson was good, too good to manage the clock on, and that’s a good problem to have. Yes, you could have played the team control game and gotten another year of Swanson. But while that’s free in terms of roster management, it isn’t free in terms of PR. Opening SunTrust Park with Dansby Swanson at SS is the obvious thing to do, and it’s probably worth the extra year of control. If the Cobb County move is going to work at all, it better mean the team can afford to sign Swanson beyond the 2022 season.
It doesn’t mean Swanson won’t struggle. He very well might. After all, he skipped AAA, and his .302 batting average was propped up by a likely unsustainable .383 BABIP. It’s unlikely that he’ll immediately be an All-Star. But he’s in Atlanta, and he appears to be in Atlanta to stay. We can watch him endure the growing pains in the big league spotlight. As long as the growth is there, that’s perfectly fine.
Castro was the best defender Atlanta had at SS last year. There were two main issues with Castro:
- He wasn’t as good a defender as Andrelton Simmons.
- Even Andrelton Simmons would have been unplayable if he hit like Daniel Castro.
He’s good defensively, but that alone won’t be enough to sustain a long career. Even Rey Ordonez had to hit .240 every now and then.
It’s Swanson time. For more on what that will be like, check out his prospect profile from OFR’s own Andy Harris. If, for some reason, Swanson doesn’t work out, Ozzie Albies is still in the pipeline and is a more than capable SS. Might as well check out Harris’ profile of young Ozhaino as well. Albies will move to 2B if both he and Swanson develop as expected.
The future of the position is pretty bright. Atlanta has its share of roster issues in both the present and future, but SS, despite its terrible production in 2016, is in good hands going forward.