Clint pointed out in his recap of the Braves’ first full nine-inning Spring Training game that Dansby Swanson is continuing to mash in 2021 the same way he did last season. He’s off to a 3-8 start with a couple of doubles, including a bases-clearing knock in the first inning of yesterday’s win over the Red Sox.
Of course, Spring Training stats are typically meaningless, but it’s always promising to see guys hitting the ball well, especially this early, and I’m adamant Swanson’s breakout 2020 campaign was no fluke. This is who he is, and in 2020, he will establish himself as one of the best shortstops in the game.
When The MLB Network released their Top 10 list of shortstops, Swanson wasn’t even included. There are certainly some fantastic names at the position, many with much more extensive track records of success. However, it’s a bit disrespectful to exclude the man who recorded the highest WAR of any shortstop (2.9) last season, according to Baseball-Reference. Fernando Tatis, with 2.8 WAR, was his closest competition. And while Baseball-Reference may have been higher on Swanson than others, even FanGraphs had him as the fifth-most valuable shortstop last season, racking up (1.9 WAR).
2020 may have been Swanson’s most complete season, even if it was a shortened one, but he’s actually been trending upwards since 2019. His final numbers that year — .251 average with 17 homers, good for a .748 OPS — may not have been eye-popping, but an injury to his heel brought his season to a screeching halt.
Before missing over a month, Swanson had already mashed all 17 of his homers (he was injured on July 23rd), and his OPS was nearly .800, performing the way everyone expected him to when he was selected first overall coming out of Vanderbilt. When he returned, things just weren’t the same. He was out of rhythm, and it was clear the injury was still affecting him, as he hit below the Mendoza Line without a home run over his final 27 games.
The key to much of Swanson’s success that year was his increased willingness to go the other way and do so with power. He hit his first career opposite-field home run that season and then began to do it with regularity. That all went away following his injury, but he found it again in 2020, leading to a career-year, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to ascend offensively.
Swanson also put together the best defensive performance of his career last season. His dWAR of 1.4 was second only to Nolan Arenado, which is a primary reason why he led all shortstops in overall WAR. Dating back to his college days, Swanson’s always been regarded as a fantastic defensive shortstop, but after an ugly 2019 in that aspect, it was nice to see him bounce-back with the glove.
I understand why some are late to hop on the Dansby Swanson express. He wasn’t much better than a replacement-level player in his first couple of seasons, and even though he was elite last year, it was a 60-game season. He’s still yet to put it together over a 162-game campaign, and injuries also haven’t done him any favors.
With that being said, injury problems are now the only thing that can slow Swanson down. He’s clearly found something with the stick, and with that comes confidence, followed by results. It’s just a matter of time before people around the league begin to recognize him as one of the best shortstops in the game.