The Braves lineup was more than formidable a year ago. They finished fifth in the NL in runs scored, second in batting average and fifth again in OPS. Their offense is what carried them to their first division title since 2013, but once they met the elite pitching staff of the Dodgers in the playoffs, it was blatant that they lacked the necessary firepower to contend for a World Series.
That’s why the first move of the offseason was to acquire a former AL MVP, Josh Donaldson. Donaldson is off to a less than ideal start, batting .184, but he’s second on the team in average exit velocity. It is only a matter of time before he gets going at the top of the lineup and adds even more juice to what has been an impressive start for the Braves’ offense – in large part due to the rise of Dansby Swanson.
The former #1 overall pick out of Vanderbilt has received his fair share of criticism for his sluggish start in the majors. He’s failed to break the .240 mark in either of his two full seasons, showed off minimal power and has had several brutally long streaks in where he has hit below the Mendoza Line. The only thing consistent for Swanson over his first two big league campaigns – excuses.
In his rookie year it was, “Oh, the Braves brought him up and made him their poster boy too early. There was too much pressure on him.” In year number two it was a wrist injury that he had surgery on in November but dated back to early April. Unsurprisingly, a significant piece of the fan base was over it and many wanted Johan Camargo to take over the reins at shortstop. The front office, however, never wavered.
They stuck it out with Swanson and given that Camargo has yet to receive a start at shortstop, it does not seem like that was ever in the cards. So far, their decision is looking genius.
Swanson is the only player on the Braves team with a higher average exit velocity than Josh Donaldson. He’s squaring everything up and driving the ball with power to all fields, something that he had trouble doing at any point until this season. But what might be even more noteworthy are the pitches Swanson is no longer swinging at.
Like most young ballplayers, Swanson had substantial difficulties against breaking pitches down and away. He couldn’t lay off of them resulting in a plethora of weak ground balls and strikeouts. Yesterday’s home run off of German Marquez was a perfect example of his development.
Swanson fell behind in the count, 1-2, then spat on a brilliant breaking pitch from Marquez that 90% of big leaguers would have swung at. I’ve seen Dansby go after far worse breaking balls over the years. Swanson worked the count back to 3-2, finally got his belt-high fastball and sent it 420 feet over the dead center field wall. The three-run homer was the end result, but it was the entire at-bat that was a thing of beauty, showing that Swanson is indeed turning a curve in his progression rather than experiencing a short-lived hot-streak.
We’ve seen Swanson get hot before, but we’ve never seen him with this much poise and power at the plate. Dansby did not hit his fourth home run until game 42 last season and until game 38 the year before that. He has not had a month of baseball over the past two years where he hit over .300 or slugged higher than .500. Swanson is currently slashing .324/.419/.765 and leading all of the Braves in WAR at 0.7 in 11 games. This is a different Dansby Swanson, and his production can take this Braves’ offense and the team to a whole new level.