Maybe the Braves don’t need to trade for a second baseman

Braves Arcia

When Ozzie Albies immediately went to the ground following an awkward swing a few days ago, it caused a lot of concern in Braves Country. Of course, the big question was Ozzie’s well-being; while his fractured foot is most likely not season-ending, it’s still not a quick recovery. So another obvious question emerged: since Ozzie will be sidelined for anywhere between eight weeks and a few months, who’s going to replace him? While this hasn’t been Albies’ greatest season at the plate, his quickness and sure-handed fielding make him one of the best defensive infielders in the game. Filling his (literally tiny but metaphorically gigantic) shoes is no easy task.

Right off the bat, there were a lot of potential options discussed. Would William Contreras be taught how to play the infield? Could Adam Duvall, who has experience at both corner infield positions, slide in to play second? Or what if we shifted Riley over to second, slid Dansby to third, used Max Fried as the DH, and somehow managed to trade Blooper for Jazz Chisholm? (Last time we traded away a mascot, we got Eddie Rosario out of the deal, right?) 

Joking aside, the real answer is a lot simpler, and it’s the path the Braves have correctly chosen so far: use Orlando Arcia as the regular second baseman. The veteran utility infielder/outfielder has shone at the plate whenever he’s had a chance this year, most notably with a walk-off home run against the Red Sox in May. He’s proven to be willing and versatile enough to fill gaps at any position, save pitcher or catcher—although I’m pretty sure he’d give either one a try if asked. Orlando just wants to be in the game, and with four seasons as the Brewers’ starting shortstop between 2017 and 2020, he’s got plenty of middle infield experience. 

Arcia started Tuesday’s game at second, but his defense didn’t look overwhelmingly impressive. However, it also didn’t sink the team—he got some legitimately bad luck on difficult balls hit his way, and all was forgiven when he homered late in the game. The offense steamrolled the Nats, and Atlanta cruised to a 10-4 victory. 

On Wednesday, however, Orlando really started to bloom. Showing a flash of what’s already been dubbed his “Orlando magic,” Arcia went 4-4 with a walk, three singles, and a solo homer. That wasn’t his only big highlight—he also made one of the best recoveries from a would-be error I’ve ever seen. With two outs and a runner on first, Nationals leadoff hitter Lane Thomas chopped a high, hard bouncer towards second. Orlando charged the ball, scooped it, and then bobbled it high into the air on the transfer. It seemed certain that he’d earned himself an E4. Instead, after the failed transfer, he lunged after the ball, barehanded it on the bounce, and casually spun and threw back to second from his knees, nabbing the runner. You can see a video below:

Sure, if you put Ozzie in that situation, he probably fields it cleanly and throws to first. And yes, Arcia only got the out at second because the runner made a mistake. However, the athletic ability to recover from an error like that, as well as the presence of mind to immediately spin and throw to second, is certainly impressive.

Arcia’s perfect offensive performance on Wednesday brought his season OPS up to 1.047. For reference, the AL MVP frontrunner Aaron Judge carries an OPS of 1.067. While this is of course a small sample size—Arcia has only been to the plate 66 times this year—it prompts the question, what more do you need?

With a slash line of .375/.439/.607, even if it’s “only” through 66 plate appearances, Arcia is certainly doing something right. I’ve been beating this drum for a while now, but just because you have a small sample size doesn’t mean the player’s production is unsustainable. While regression is certainly possible, Arcia’s OPS could drop by a full 200 points and it would still be well-above-average.  

So let’s ignore sample size, and look at a cumulative stat—Wins Above Replacement, via Baseball Reference (bWAR). Arcia has currently accrued 0.8 Wins Above Replacement in those 66 PA, or in other words, it takes him 82.5 plate appearances to earn one bWAR. At the time of writing, Austin Riley, the Braves’ 2022 bWAR leader, has 2.4 in 278 plate appearances, adding them at a rate of 115.8 plate appearances per Win Above Replacement. And the aforementioned Aaron Judge sits at 3.4 bWAR in 264 plate appearances, meaning he notches one every 77.6 PAs. What this means is that, in the 2022 season, Arcia has a bigger impact on the Braves’ success per plate appearance than Austin Riley. In fact, it means Arcia’s impact on games is closer to that of Judge than that of Riley, if you gave Orlando a commensurate number of plate appearances. That is, to say the least, quite impressive.

With how he’s performed offensively, Arcia’s earned this playing time. He’ll be a more-than-adequate second baseman; a few games to knock off the rust, with Ron Washington’s fatherly guidance, will bring Orlando’s defense back up to speed in no time. Barring anything crazy, I just don’t see the Braves bringing in anyone to replace him.

Photo: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire

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