On Wednesday, the Braves won 29-9 against the Marlins as they sport arguably baseball’s most elite lineup. The lineup features seven All-Stars: Ozzie Albies, Adam Duvall, Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, Ender Inciarte, Ronald Acuna and Nick Markakis. Their starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud has played at that level the last two seasons with Atlanta and Tampa Bay, while third baseman Austin Riley and shortstop Dansby Swanson have taken that next step. The former, two top prospects at one point, have made the lineup more complete. Swanson was the only starter on Wednesday that didn’t record an RBI, but he was at the center of it all and he’s been the center of it all season.
He went 3-4 and scored five runs, his only plate appearance with a runner on was a hit by pitch in his penultimate appearance. Heading into Friday, the Braves lineup has been dominant. Marcell Ozuna had hit 13 homeruns (he hit his 14th tonight) with a .993 OPS. Adam Duvall has multiple three home run games and a .937 OPS. Freddie Freeman has been electric with a .333/.450/.635 statline and leading baseball in RBIs. But it’s Dansby Swanson who has done it all.
Heading into Friday, Dansby had 7 homeruns, including Thursday’s game winner against Washington and a walkoff homerun against the defending champions earlier this season. Every single one of them are in meaningful spots. A career .252 hitter who averages 16 homeruns over a 162, the defense oriented shortstop was drafted number one overall by the Diamondbacks out of Vanderbilt. Yet, it was a trade for Shelby Miller that brought him and Ender Inciarte to Braves Country, and Atlanta hasn’t looked back since. Not only has Ender been an All-Star since the trade, winning multiple Gold Gloves in the process, Dansby is starting to prove he’s the real deal. After a few disappointing seasons (compared to the hype), he’s had an insane 2020. Breaking out as one of MLBs premiere hitters, he’s hitting .310 on the season with an .875 OPS (.750 is league average) at one of the lightest hitting positions on the diamond historically.
Heading into Friday, Dansby Swanson was 2nd in MLB in Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA is a very contextual sabermetric statistic, for those who aren’t familiar with the term. Without considering a players defensive or baserunning, it determines each players’ at bat. When you look at WAR discrepancies (on Baseball Reference, Marcell Ozuna has a run a full win lower than Dansby despite being a more dominant overall hitter) and you have to paint a full story. While Ozuna has been great (15th among qualified MLB hitters), Dansby’s second place (2.28) puts his at bats as the most important in the Braves games. The amount of pitches he sees, the situational hitting (I.E. all of his hits come with a runner on base). His 2.28 is trailing only SF’ Mike Yastrzemski.
Dansby’s emergence is key for Atlanta’s success, as they lost both 2B phenom Ozzie Albies and CF superstar Ronald Acuna for ample amount of time this year and their pitching has disappointed more than a high schooler on prom night. His entire game has been stellar. His 0.9 defensive WAR (per BRef measurements) is number four in baseball and the highest for a middle infielder. He trails only White Sox outfielder Luis Robert, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado and Twins CF Byron Buxton. He is second in baseball in runs scored, only behind Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres. His 132 wRC+ is so marvelous that even Marc Mero is jealous. wRC+ is runs created adjust for the ballpark they play in, and seeing as 100 is league average, he’s been 32% above average in created runs this year. To clarify, a player creating a hundred runs a year in Petco Park would have a higher wRC+ than a player creating a hundred runs a year in Yankee Stadium due to the disparity in the measurements of the environment that they play in.
This year, Dansby has seen a drop in strikeout percentage and a raise in BB%. His .190 Isolated Power is by far the highest of his career, as the ball is finding more barrels of his bat. He has a 1.6 WAR in only 44 games per Fangraphs measurements and the highest of his career in Fangraphs measurements was 2018 when he had a 1.9 WAR. His 9.7% is the highest barrel percentage of his career so far.
Considering how well liked Dansby is within the organization, the sport and the fanbase, it’d be cool to see him continue to improve his game, but let’s hope he can keep this breakout campaign afloat as the Braves look to take the NL East for a third straight season.
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