Today I’m wrapping up the outfield, as I move along to evaluations of the Braves right field position group. Be sure to check out FanGraphs positional power rankings, of which this series follows along. And go ahead and look back at the positions I’ve covered so far…
Last season’s results
Considering the team only received roughly a half-season worth of production from its starting player in right field in 2021, the Braves managed to do well at the position last year. Thanks to an incredible start to the campaign by Ronald Acuna Jr., featuring a .283 AVG, 24 HR, a 157 wRC+ and 4.2 WAR in 82 games before being injured, Atlanta ended last season with the third best right field group in the majors (via FanGraphs WAR). Not too bad given the circumstances.
Braves right fielders in 2021: .265 AVG / 50 HR / 135 RBI / 127 wRC+ / -7.9 Def / 5.8 WAR
Although, despite Acuna accounting for roughly 72% of the position’s value in 2021, all the credit shouldn’t go to just him. Once RAJ went down, Ehire Adrianza filled in admirably for a stretch (94 wRC+ / 209 PA) – or at least long enough to bridge the gap to the team’s trade deadline additions. Because during the second-half the position received a huge boost from both Joc Pederson (101 wRC+ / 7 HR / 194 PA) and Jorge Soler (132 wRC+ / 14 HR / 242 PA), with the latter player going on to win World Series MVP. As you can see, only Adrianza ended the year with a sub-100 wRC+ in right field in 2021, which is rather impressive considering the Braves were just trying to simply stay afloat following a major injury to its superstar. Losing someone like Acuna could’ve been devastating, but instead, right field turned out to actually become one of Atlanta’s many strengths down the stretch last season.
Changes and outlook for 2022
The Braves currently roster a plethora of options in terms of viable corner-outfielders, including not only a soon-to-be-healthy Acuna (hopefully by the first of May), but once again guys like Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Marcell Ozuna, Guillermo Heredia, Orlando Arcia, and in the minors, Drew Waters and Travis Demeritte. Soler and Adrianza is gone, but tendering both Duvall, Heredia and Arcia contracts was smart by GM Alex Anthopoulos, as well as locking up Rosario for two more seasons at $16 million. All of those guys should at least play a part at both the left and right field positions.
Anthopoulos also went out and signed a rather underrated player this offseason in Alex Dickerson. On a no-risk, one-year, $1 million contract, the 31-year-old Dickerson is a career .260 hitter (113 wRC+) in the majors, who wields some serious power versus right-handed pitching. The former third round pick (2011 MLB Draft) is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he played a rather integral role within the Giants offense, combining to post a .256 AVG and a 116 wRC+ in 163 games in both 2020 and 2021. Dickerson’s glove isn’t ideal, as his career -11 OAA in left field (in over 1,700 innings) paints a pretty scary picture. But in terms of a fourth or fifth outfielder who can platoon versus tough righties, Dickerson should provide some solid value in 2022. I expect him to see time at both corners this coming season.
Braves 2022 Right Field Projections
Like I mentioned above, and as you can see in the table, the Braves have several options for right field in 2022, and all of those pieces should come in handy while the team deals with Acuna’s absence throughout the month of April. But once again, FanGraphs’ projections, in terms of personnel, is a bit questionable. The site pegs the lion’s share of PA in right going to Duvall, with Rosario posting nearly equal playing-time, which as a result, has Atlanta’s right field position projected to finish 19th in WAR in 2022. Sure, maybe that would be the case if that’s how it plays out, but I don’t believe it. For some reason, FG thinks RAJ is the team’s starting center fielder when he returns from the injured list. The problem is, Acuna will likely start in right, which essentially makes these projections useless.
I believe a realistic expectation, at least during the first month of the season, is that we’ll be seeing a lot of Rosario in right field, with a combination of Duvall and Heredia in center, and Ozuna and Dickerson in left. Whoever is left out in that group will likely DH. Although once RAJ returns, we could see a Rosario, Duvall, Acuna outfield (right to left), with Ozuna taking on a more traditional, every-day DH role. Either way you slice it, though, the Braves will be counting on as many as six different players to take care of three outfield positions throughout the 2022 season – and because of that depth, I believe the team will be fine.
Here’s what FanGraphs had to say about the Braves right field situation for the 2022 season…
“Duvall’s a player of great strengths and glaring weaknesses. Last year’s career-high 38 homers attest to his power, he barrels the ball frequently (16.1%), and he is an exceptional defender; his 19 DRS split between the three outfield spots tied for the major league lead, while his 9.9 UZR ranked fourth. He also strikes out a ton (31.4%) while rarely walking (6.3%), leading to sub-.300 on-base percentages (.291 career). Last year, it came together well enough for him to match his career high with 2.4 WAR while batting a lopsided .228/.281/.491, but that hasn’t always been the case. If you prefer your .300ish OBPs to come from the left side with a dash of speed, there’s Rosario, the NLCS MVP. He offers a contact-oriented alternative to Duvall, and he has some power — he did homer 45 times in 2019-20, but was nonetheless non-tendered by the Twins — despite infrequently barreling the ball. Heredia is a very good defender but a replacement-level concern thanks to his career 83 wRC+ in 1,484 PA. Acuña is an MVP candidate when healthy, but he’s recovering from a right ACL torn just before the All-Star break. He’ll likely debut in late April as a DH, then begin playing the outfield in early May. Ideally that will be in center field, a position he hasn’t played regularly in the majors except in 2019, but an alignment with Duvall in center and Acuña in right is a fallback option.”
My Braves right field grade: A+ (if RAJ makes a successful return)
How productive this position will be in 2022 is obviously very dependent on when Acuna returns to the field. Reports have indicated that the star outfielder has had no setbacks and that we could see him as a DH in the Braves lineup as soon as later this month, with a potential to get back out on the field in early May. If that winds up being the case, then yes, right field should be one of the team’s best positions this coming season.
However, even a prolonged return for RAJ isn’t the end of the world for the position, as the aforementioned depth at the corner-outfield spots should be enough to keep the Braves afloat until its star player is 100% ready. All in all, getting Soler or Pederson back would’ve been nice, but Anthopoulos did a nice job of at least bringing back Duvall and Rosario, who were each significant pieces of last year’s World Series run. A right field featuring Acuna could very well be the best right field in the sport, but even a Acuna-less one shouldn’t hold the Braves back in 2022.