The Braves were full of pleasant surprises, from Dansby Swanson’s electric first half to the quality contributions they received from Matt Joyce, Anthony Swarzak, and the rest of guys that are often forgotten when talking about this team. I could have gone with Luke Jackson here, who saved the Braves as the closer for a couple of months. But instead, I’m sticking with one of Atlanta’s star players, who proved he might be the best bargain in baseball for the next seven years.
Coming into the season, I wouldn’t say anyone was down on Ozzie Albies, but there were some warranted concerns based on how he finished 2018. In the second half of the year, he hit .226 with a .624 OPS, four home runs and just 11 doubles in 65 games. His disappearance took a ton of juice out of the lineup heading into the playoffs, and many began to wonder if he should give up hitting left-handed altogether, where he hit .231 on the year. But Albies stuck to his guns, turning in a monster 2019, and the best part about it might be how he has exploded in the second half of the season.
From the left-side, Albies’ average is up to .267 this year with an OPS of .787. It still doesn’t compare to his gaudy numbers from the right side of the plate (.397/.422/.699 with a 1.121 OPS), but switch hitters are always going to have a side they favor more than the other. In the second half of this season, he’s hitting .310 with a .900 OPS, ten home runs and 22 doubles. For the year he leads the league in doubles and is tied for the National League lead in hits with 187 – all while playing a Gold Glove second base. Last year might have been the season he was recognized as an All-Star, but those are chosen midway through the season. 2019 is the year he became a bonafide star in the MLB.
I was expecting improvement but not this drastically – at least not this quickly. You can make the argument Albies is the second-most valuable player on the team this year, as he’s second on the Braves in fWAR and fourth in bWAR. There were a lot of surprises that led to this magical season in Atlanta, but none had the impact that Ozzie Albies did on this team.
When looking at the current roster, there aren’t too many players you can point to as disappointments. Most everybody exceeded expectations, which is why the Braves are approaching 100 wins on the season. However, there were a couple of relief arms that were abysmal, and as a result, forced Anthopoulos to use prospect capital at the trade deadline to replace them.
Chad Sobotka was a guy I called X-factor to this bullpen’s success heading into the season. He impressed so much down the stretch last year that he ended up making the postseason roster. There’s a lot to like. Sobotka is an intimidating 6’8″ figure on the mound, can hum it in the high-90s, and features a nasty slider. However, when you walk 19 batters in 29 innings, things aren’t going to go your way at this level. It resulted in a 6.21 ERA and an eventual demotion to AAA Gwinnett – where he wasn’t very imposing either. In 17 appearances for the Stripers, Sobotka had a 4.79 ERA.
The reason I called Sobotka the X-factor is because there was so much unknown surrounding him. The sample size from last season was minimal, and he was not a highly regarded prospect. However, A.J. Minter has been projected as the next great closer for the Braves for some time now, and he took seven steps back in 2019.
Coming into the year, he was supposed to split closing duties with Arodys Vizcaino. Since Vizcaino was never healthy, he was handed the full-time job, but the Braves quickly found out he was not ready. In 32 appearances, Minter has a porous 7.01 ERA. He had 23 walks in just 29.1 innings and recorded a WHIP of over two! That is almost unheard of, especially for a player with such high expectations. Minter still has top-of-the-line strikeout stuff, but his total loss of control is something I don’t think anyone saw coming. Hopefully, both of these guys can clear their brains this winter and come back much stronger in 2020. If that is the case, this Atlanta bullpen looks quite encouraging with Mark Melancon and Shane Greene also in the fold.