I’ve evaluated both the infield and outfield for this season’s Atlanta Braves. Now it’s time to move on to the Braves first ever designated-hitter position. Be sure to check out FanGraphs DH power rankings, and don’t forget to get caught up on the positions I’ve covered so far…
Last season’s results
For examining how the Braves performed at designated-hitter in 2021 I had to use Baseball Reference instead of FanGraphs. For some reason FG’s DH leaderboard also includes pinch-hitters, which obviously isn’t the same. Per BR, during interleague play last season the Atlanta player with the most PA as a designated-hitter was Pablo Sandoval (.333 AVG), with 23, followed by Jorge Soler (.364 / 2 HR) with 14, Travis d’Arnaud (.500 AVG) with four, and then one PA apiece for both Ehire Adrianza (.000 AVG) and Johan Camargo (.000 AVG). I wasn’t able to compare the Braves overall results against other MLB teams, but I have to say, over Atlanta’s 10 games versus AL competition, it received plenty of production from its DH spot. In 43 collective PA from those five guys, the Braves finished with a .342 AVG and slugged two homers, coming out to a 145 OPS+ (which is quite similar to wRC+). Definitely not bad for an NL team with no regular DH.
Perhaps the shortened 2020 campaign is a better year to look at, for then the DH was universal all season…
Yep, the Braves were again above average in that season too, as eight different players combined to slash .316/.411/.589 with 17 home runs in 60 games (good for a 140 OPS+). Of course it helped that Marcell Ozuna had a monster year in 2020 and accounted for over 60% of the PA at DH. Just as Atlanta’s designated-hitter that season, Ozuna hit .362 with 14 long balls and seven doubles. d’Arnaud (27 PA) and Matt Adams (40 PA) also spent a bit of time there, with the former hitting .280 as a DH and the latter struggling with a .184 AVG. The point is: over the last two seasons, the Braves have done just fine when it comes to the DH position.
Changes and outlook for 2022
The Braves didn’t seem to prepare for the designated-hitter position directly this offseason. As you’ve seen in this series, the team has a nice surplus of outfielders that can fill in at DH throughout the year, which is likely what it’ll do at least until Ronald Acuna Jr. returns.
I guess you could say that signing Alex Dickerson was a step towards finding a traditional DH, but ultimately I believe this spot in the lineup will rotate a good bit to start off the season.
Braves 2022 Designated-hitter Projections
|Ronald Acuña Jr.||154||.281||.388||.571||.403||9.9||0.5||0.0||1.2|
I am a little surprised that the projections have Dickerson leading the pack in PA at DH. While I believe his bat is too good to simply spoil on the bench, I think it’s a stretch to count on him as the primary guy. Because the projections point toward quantity over quality here, the Braves DH position ranks just tenth in FanGraphs positional power rankings. I think there’s a different scenario – using different personnel – that gets Atlanta closer to the top of the leaderboard in 2022.
To me, the DH spot this season should be mostly Ozuna’s. Sure, let Acuna work his way back by letting him hit there for a week or so, but at the end of the day, this is Ozuna’s spot for the majority of the campaign. I mean, do I need to remind you again just how great he was as a DH in 2020? The fact that FanGraphs has Ozuna ranked third in PA is laughable to me. But I guess we’ll see what happens.
Here’s what FanGraphs had to say about the Braves DH situation heading into the 2022 season…
“Alex Dickerson is expected to begin the season as Atlanta’s first-ever non-interleague DH, but he’ll have to hit better than he did a year ago to keep the job. Signed to a free-agent deal earlier this month, the left-handed-hitting outfielder is coming off a season where he slashed .233/.304/.420 with the San Francisco Giants. And even if he performs closer to his career norms — .260/.330/.470 — that might not be enough. Ronald Acuña Jr. is slated to come off the IL around the beginning of May, which will likely result in Marcell Ozuna or Eddie Rosario moving over from the outfield. (Acuña could also DH upon his return if Atlanta chooses to be extra-careful with his surgically-repaired ACL.) Speaking of Acūna, few players in the game are more exciting, or as talented. The 24-year-old superstar boasts a 140 wRC+ in 1,764 career plate appearances, and in 2019 — his last full season — he had a 41/37 season. The projections peg him for a 37/24 season with a 150 wRC+. Ozuna was tremendously productive in 2020. Last season, however, he was meek through May, before going on the injured list for a hand injury. He was placed on administrative leave in September as part of a domestic violence investigation. Rosario wasted little time endearing himself to Braves fans after being acquired from Cleveland on the eve of last summer’s trade deadline. He put up a .933 OPS in 33 regular-season games, then proceeded to go 23-for-60 in postseason. The bulk of his damage came against the Dodgers in the NLCS; Rosario punished L.A. pitchers to the tune of five extra-base hits and a 1.647 OPS in six games.”
My Braves DH grade: A
The fact that the projections have the Braves ranked within the top 10 at the DH position, with Ozuna only tally 126 PA there, means its very likely the team exceeds its expectations. Whether you agree with the personnel listed in the table above or not, though, the combination of those six players are all plenty good enough with the bat that Atlanta should be able to pencil in a viable option each and every night. FanGraphs believes it’ll be mostly by committee, and I think it should be primarily Ozuna. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the Braves are once again fine when it comes to a designated-hitter.