Ender Inciarte has accomplished something no Braves center fielder has done in nearly a decade. It was announced earlier in the week that Inciarte had won the NL Gold Glove Award for the 2016 season.
Though Inciarte is a talented young player, he was nearly an afterthought when the Braves acquired him alongside Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair in a deal that send Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks. This trade now looks like highway robbery.
Though he had a reputation for being a great contact hitter, Inciarte got off to a sluggish start with his new team, hitting just .227 in the season’s first half. He flashed brilliance with the glove all season long, but many were worried about his bat. Then the second half of the year happened.
The former Rule 5 pick went on to hit .341 in the second half while offering elite defense. He was instrumental in the Braves’ offense taking off in the season’s second half and offered the Braves the best leadoff man they have had since Michael Bourn in his prime. Despite his offensive struggles early, his hot second half and his glove work still allowed him to post a WAR of 3.78.
At the All-Star Break, many Braves fans were upset that the team had not sold high after teams inquired on him after the blockbuster trade. However, Inciarte now appears to be the Braves’ guy in center field, at least until his contract expires in 2021. That is a long way down the road. He gives the Braves a ton of speed and contact at the top of the lineup card, and his unbelievable defense helps cover Matt Kemp’s deficiencies in the outfield.
The numbers do not lie, either. Inciarte finished third in total zone runs with 27, ironically finishing behind Jason Heyward and Nick Markakis. He also finished tied for the third most assists for an outfielder with 12 and also was tied for the most double plays for an outfielder with 4. He also had the best range factor of any outfielder. This is a special talent who is 100% deserving of this award.
Inciarte is definitely deserving of this award, and it feels good to see a Brave bring home an award in a year where the record does not signify how much progress has been made. He is without a doubt apart of a core that can compete for future championships sooner than the baseball world may think and is the best defender on this team in the post-Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons era.