When the Braves acquired him in 2018 for the little value remaining of failed prospects Matt Wisler and Lucas Sims, it seemed Adam Duvall could not hit a baseball to save his life. He went 7-for-53 to wrap up the season and became a running joke among Braves fans. However, Anthopoulos wisely held on to Duvall. He was a former All-Star with two 30 homer seasons under his belt, albeit in the Great American Smallpark. He also plays excellent defense and has underrated speed.
However, going into 2019, Duvall had to go back down to AAA for the first time in almost half a decade and earn his way back to the major league level. He did just that, toying with AAA pitching. In 101 games, he hit 32 homers and 93 RBI. When injuries started to mount up at the big-league level, Duvall got his chance to return and did not disappoint, hitting .267 with 10 homers, 19 RBI and a .882 OPS in 41 games.
Now, that trade doesn’t look nearly as wasteful. However, the numbers suggest that regression could hit Adam Duvall like a freight train in 2020. While he hit a respectable .267 in that small sample size, his xBA sat at .210.
xBA was invented by Statcast with the intent to measure the likelihood a batted ball will become a hit. It factors in opposing defense and bad luck. Here is how it is explained by the MLB:
Each batted ball is assigned an xBA based on how often comparable balls — in terms of exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, Sprint Speed — have become hits since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015. (As of January 2019, xBA now factors in a batter’s seasonal Sprint Speed on “topped” or weakly hit” balls).
Duvall is a career .233 hitter, with a career xBA of .231. The bigger the sample size, the more these numbers fall in line. This is evidence of that.
Of course, Duvall still has value off the bench. He can change the outlook of a game with a single swing, is a plus defender, and offers the Braves a viable platoon situation with Nick Markakis if an outfielder is sidelined due to injury, as he has been successful against left-handed pitching. But it would be wise to temper expectations, as those numbers do not appear to be sustainable.
The good news for Duvall is that even though Cristian Pache and Drew Waters are starting to knock on the door of the majors, it is unlikely the Braves call them up without available everyday at-bats until September when rosters expand. However, if one of the two can supplant Inciarte beforehand, and Duvall struggles, he could be the easy man out on the roster. Austin Riley could also present an issue for him. Duvall no longer has any minor league options remaining, so if the Braves send him down, they could lose him.
Duvall is a major league talent and a luxury to have off the bench but don’t expect him to hit anywhere near the .267 he did last season. And with so many outfield options available, he could find himself off the roster altogether at some point this season…