Braves: Ozzie Albies is just getting started

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The Braves will enter the 2020 season with one of the game’s most exciting second baseman — 23-year-old Ozzie Albies. This little fun fact isn’t anything surprising, as we’ve watched the small but electric Albies develop right before our eyes, evolving from a sometimes unaware and even reckless hitter at the plate to an All-Star that recently posted the fourth-most second base WAR in the majors in 2019. Albies has improved his game every single year since his debut in 2017… and fortunately for the Braves, it doesn’t appear he’s quite finished growing.

His approach at the plate


As I alluded to above, during Albies’ first two seasons, there were times when it seemed he was just going to the plate with one thing on his mind — swing no matter what. Albies’ aggression also appeared to intensify at critical moments during the game, like with runners on base and two outs. However, last season Albies made some impressive strides and displayed a bit more patience with the bat (though you have to dig a little bit, which I’ll explain in a minute).

Plate discipline overall is easily quantifiable, but there are also a lot of intangibles involved when trying to determine whether or not a player has improved in certain areas. Often times, the eye test is more reliable than simply looking at numbers on FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference. It’s not always as easy as checking a player’s walk-rate or on-base percentage from year to year. Though, Albies did walk more, tallying 18 more free passes last season compared to 2018 (2.5% increase), which led to a jump of 47 points to his OBP (.305 to .352). Granted, those aren’t exactly huge gains, but remember it’s not all about that, and here’s why…

Albies’ advanced stats regarding plate discipline were essentially the exact same as they’ve always been… in some areas, even worse. He’s just an aggressive guy in the box; that’s just who he is, which is shown by his 55.8% swing-rate in 2019 — the second-highest rate among all second baseman in the majors. Consider the rest of Albies’ profile:

  • 2017: 27.9% Chase | 22.8% Whiff | 80% Contact 
  • 2018: 32.4% Chase | 22.2% Whiff | 79.3% Contact
  • 2019: 34.4% Chase | 23.0% Whiff | 78.9% Contact

Wow, so Albies chased more bad pitches last season and missed more pitches overall, yet he had the best year of his career in 2019 (of course, we’re talking a few percentage points here). 

Without diving too deep into Albies’ underlying numbers, there is a trend to be found from last season that does halfway explain his improvements in the plate discipline department, and that’s when looking at his walk-rate by game situation. In 2019, Albies really hunkered down and remained patient when it mattered the most — like when there were 2 outs and runners on base. Here are his splits from the last three seasons, when separating his walk-rate by situation:


  • Overall: 7.7 BB%
  • 2 outs / RISP: 13.9 BB%


  • Overall: 5.3 BB%
  • 2 outs / RISP: 5.9 BB%


  • Overall: 8.6 BB%
  • 2 outs / RISP: 5.0 BB%


The reason it looked like Albies was more patient last season was because he was during more crucial parts of the game, increasing his walk-rate exponentially, which gave him a nice boost to his overall numbers without it showing up just by looking at his tendencies (e.g., swing-rate, chase, whiff…etc). This is good news and something that should be sustainable, considering Albies was able to stay true to his aggressive self while also being more productive at the plate. It appears he has learned to adjust when different situations arise. This is good!

Batted ball improvements 


Albies’ plate discipline and approach at the plate have always been an aspect of his game that I worried about, as it felt like the only thing that could potentially hold him back from reaching his full potential as a player. He needed to mature, and that appears to be what he has done. But when it comes down to what happens when he actually does put the bat on the ball… well, I’ve never doubted him in that regard. 

Just like with his WAR total last season, Albies ranked fourth in hard-hit rate amongst all big-league second baseman. Check out his gains over the previous three seasons:

  • 2017: 33.2 Hard%
  • 2018: 34.3 Hard%
  • 2019: 42.3 Hard%

Yeah, Albies had a Happy Fun Ball to play with in 2019 (just like everyone else!), but it wasn’t just the ball that allowed him to boost his rate by 8%. The 165-pound muscle hamster has been hitting the ball hard for a while now, as only five other National League second baseman have hit the ball harder than him since he debuted in 2017. 

His 24 homers in each of the last two seasons are just the start for Albies, considering his BABIP, wOBA, and of course, his hard-hit rate has continued to surge. On top of that, Albies’ barrel-rate and launch angle have crept up as well, explaining his .500 SLG% in 2019 (4th-highest in NL). Don’t be surprised if Albies’ offensive numbers are even better in 2020.

Defense, defense, defense


Despite the constant fluctuation when it comes to defensive stats, Albies is one of the best defenders on the team, and it’s quite apparent if you’ve watched your share of Braves’ games over the past two-and-a-half seasons. 


Defensive shifts and unorthodox positioning make it too difficult to quantify defense accurately. Stats can tell us how well a player is able to get to a ball, but a lot of that is dependent on where the player is placed on the field to begin with.

Albies’ range will perhaps always be somewhat of a disadvantage for him given his small size, which according to BaseballSavant for the 2019 season, caused him to post his worst numbers thus far when attempting to field balls to his right (the balls hit up the middle). However, Albies rated above-average in every other direction last year, successfully getting to balls hit to his left, behind him and in front. 

And when it comes to defense, I’d instead look at a larger sample size… not just one single season. Since 2017 (Albies’ debut year), the Braves’ second baseman has accrued the 6th-most defensive WAR (18.1) among all big-league second baseman, according to FanGraphs; quite impressive for a guy that only played 57 games in ’17. 

All in all, Ronald Acuna Jr. rightfully gets the most attention between the two, as the young outfielder has shown that he’s more than just a superstar but a generational talent. However, Albies has closed the gap between the two substantially over the last few years, given he has developed more patience at the plate, better contact with the bat, and elite defense at second base. The beauty of it all is that this is just getting started. The sky’s the limit for Albies, and I think it’ll be incredible how far he progresses over the next 5-6 seasons with the Braves. Trust me… this is just the start.



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