We are halfway through December and all of the All-Star shortstops are off the board… except Dansby Swanson, whose market now consists of the Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Cardinals, Twins, and Red Sox — that we know of. With all of those clubs still in need of a shortstop, it seems like it might take a miracle for Swanson to return. Like most Braves fans, that worries me a bit, but FanGraphs projects the Braves will be just fine replacing their All-Star shortstop with Vaughn Grissom.
Swanson is coming off a career year, one that saw him finish 12th in all of baseball in fWAR with 6.4. He won a Gold Glove, was named an All-Star and hit 25+ homers for the second consecutive year. For those reasons, he could easily eclipse the 200+ million mark in free agency, judging by the other contracts that have been handed to shortstops this winter. If Swanson continues to put up 6+ WAR seasons over the duration of his next contract, he’ll be a bargain at whatever amount he signs for, but the Braves seem skeptical that’s possible, and FanGraphs agrees.
FanGraphs has a number of different player projection systems they release before every season, but the two that are out so far believe Swanson will take a considerable step back in 2023, going from 6.4 fWAR to 3.3 fWAR.
A primary reason for that is Swanson’s defense. Last year, he was arguably the best defensive shortstop in all of baseball, earning a 21.4 rating defensively. That’s incredible, which is why he won his first Gold Glove, but FanGraphs doesn’t view that as sustainable, as they expect that number to drop all the way down to 4.9, which is much closer to his career averages. I don’t believe the drop will be that drastic, but the point remains: it will be very difficult for him to repeat the year he had defensively; in fact, it may not even be possible, given his next-best season in the category was a 9.6 in 2021.
Offensively, FanGraphs also projects Swanson to regress. He’s coming off his best season with the stick, in which he recorded a 116 wRC+ (16% above league average). FanGraphs has that falling back down to 104, which is still 10 points higher than his career average. A big reason for that is Swanson’s BABIP luck in 2022. He recorded a .348 average on his batted balls in play, which is WAY above what is considered league average of .300. For his career, Swanson has hit .317 on balls hit in play, so there is reason to expect a substantial dip in this number next season.
As far as offense goes, FanGraphs actually projects Grissom to be the better player in 2023. In the 41 games he played in 2022, he posted a 121 wRC+, which was higher than Swanson, and FanGraphs believes that is sustainable, as they predict him to end 2023 with a 111 wRC+ over a full slate of games — again, higher than Swanson.
Given Grissom’s small sample size at the major-league level, this is an aggressive projection, but I don’t find it too ridiculous. Grissom dominated the minors offensively, never recording a wRC+ below 120. Of course, all of that came in AA and below, since he never played a game in AAA before being called to Atlanta.
Defensively is where the gap will be much wider. Grissom ended 2022 with a -4.1 defensive rating and that was at second base. Who knows how he will handle the adjustment to shortstop, but Ron Washington seems to believe he’s ready to take the reins if needed. FanGraphs projects Grissom to earn a 1.1 rating in 2023.
If that’s the case, the decision to move on from Swanson is a no-brainer. I do believe Grissom will hold his own offensively at the major-league level. One thing he has done at every stop is rake, and shortstop isn’t a position filled with offensive superstars. The questions lie on the defensive end. Do the Braves believe he can fill the shoes of a Gold Glover like Swanson? I guess we will know within a couple of months.
Photo: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire
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