There is something to be said for the utility guys on every major league squad. They play every position, come up with clutch hits after sitting on the bench for three hours of a game, and rarely get an ounce of recognition for their work. Most of the time, they are the hardest workers on the team, waiting for their rare opportunity to make an impact on the 162-game season. This year, nobody has played more true to that role than Charlie Culberson.
I remember the first time watching Charlie Culberson for the Braves. Who is this Dansby Swanson doppelgänger and why is he on the Braves? That thought crossed my mind several times over the month of April as Culberson batted to the tune of a .080 batting average in 25 at-bats. Who knew three months from then, Culberson would become my favorite player on the team.
The Rome, Georgia product heated up in May as a reserve, hitting .316, but it was not until a late May scare involving Braves prodigy Ronald Acuna Jr. that Culberson had the opportunity to play every day. He spent most of the month of June as the Braves left-fielder, solidifying himself as a valuable asset to the organization. While Acuna missed a month of time, Culberson hit for an average over .300, mashed four home runs (two of them walk-offs) and drove in nineteen runs.
Once Acuna returned to the lineup, Culberson returned to his role as a super-utility man, but the Braves knew they needed to find him more playing time. It also did not stop him from raking. Culberson hit .309 in July with eight doubles and a home-run in fifty-five at-bats.
When the trade deadline was looming, rumors swirled about the Braves possibly adding another bat. Talks for the likes of Adrian Beltre, Mike Moustakas, and others were ongoing. While all of that sounded fine and dandy, Culberson was filling that role as an extra bat as well as anybody possibly could, and taking away more at-bats from him frankly made little to no sense.
Here are Duvall’s stats prior to being dealt to the Braves:
105 games, 331 at-bats, .205 batting average, .286 on-base, 15 home runs and 61 RBIs
Here is Culberson’s stat line in 2018:
75 games, 201 at-bats, .279 batting average, .326 on-base, 7 home runs and 29 RBIs
You can see Culberson is a much more consistent hitter. Duvall has slightly more power, but he did benefit immensely from playing in Great American Ball Park.
The move to acquire Duvall may not have cost the Braves much in terms of prospects, but it takes the bat out of one of the Braves most productive hitters this season, something the organization had to be considering prior to going through with the trade.
On Tuesday, this situation reached its boiling point. In an ugly 8-3 loss to the Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader, Culberson smacked a pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning. Brian Snitker chose to start Culberson in game two. All he did was tie the game with a long home run off Max Scherzer in the sixth inning. The Atlanta offense was unable to get anything going, but leave it to Culberson to come up with another clutch hit off the best pitcher in baseball.
If it was not clear to the Braves before this week, it is clear now. Culberson has been a .300 bat for the majority of the season, can literally play every position and has been the most clutch hitter on the team bar none. There may be a surplus of position players available at Atlanta’s disposal, but with guys like Duvall and Swanson struggling to hit their weight, Culberson needs to be playing every day down the stretch.