2022 in Numbers: Position Players
A look at Dansby and Riley's big years, Harris II's near-recording setting pace, and more
The 2022 regular season has come to a close as the Braves head back to Atlanta and rest up for the Division Series round. Their opponent will be decided this weekend as the St. Louis Cardinals host the Philadelphia Phillies. I will talk more about that over the next few days.
For right now, I want to look back at the 2022 season and several of the individual and team accomplishments that changed the look of the Braves' record books. Unfortunately, because Brian Snitker is a thief of my joy, we can't talk about how the Braves became the first team in history to play 162 games and not lay down a sacrifice bunt. And honestly, I will never forgive Snit for it.
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As my bitterness grows inside of me, let's highlight some of 2022's biggest accomplishments, failures, and weird arbitrary stats I pretend are important. As this can take some time to give these numbers proper analysis, I will focus today on the positional players with a pitcher's version on Sunday.
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Dansby's Special Season
Everyone knows that Dansby Swanson delivered the kind of year that so many thought he was capable of when he was taken first overall in 2015. But just how historic was the campaign? He finished tied with Trea Turner, another free agent at year's end, in fWAR with 6.4. That was good for 11th in baseball and the second-best fWAR by a shortstop. But in terms of franchise history, it was even more impressive. Only one other shortstop in Braves history - going back all the way to the Boston Beaneaters days - hit the six-win mark. In 1964, Denis Menke set the standard for Braves shortstops with a 6.1 fWAR. Swanson has set a new standard.
It remains to be seen what the future will hold for Swanson, but his big year put him at 16.2 fWAR. That places him seventh in franchise history behind Rafael Furcal among shortstops. If he returns, one would think he'd easily pass Jeff Blauser for the fifth spot next year and then set his sights on George Wright (22.5), Rabbit Maranville (28.2), Johnny Logan (31.3), and Herman Long (38.5).
If you're curious, Baseball-Reference is less bullish about Swanson's campaign. At 5.7 bWAR, he's tied with Jeff Blauser's 1993 season for the fifth-best single-season fWAR by a Braves shortstop. The top four are the aforementioned Menke seasons (6.7), Rafael Furcal in 2005 (6.5), Johnny Logan in 1955 (6.0), and Andrelton Simmons in 2013 (5.8).
Money Mike's First Act
In terms of impact, it's hard to argue that any rookie had a bigger impact on their team's success than Michael Harris II. His callup from Double-A has a nearly-direct correlation with the team's march to the division crown. Unsurprisingly, that performance is pretty special historically.
Harris II finished with a bWAR of 5.3. The list of positional players players who had a better total is pretty small. It's one. In fact, it's Jason Heyward in 2010 with a 6.4 bWAR. The only other 5-win season was Dusty Baker's 5.1 campaign in 1972. To put a finer point on it, since 2000, Rafael Furcal is the only other rookie to reach four wins (Ronald Acuña Jr finished with 3.9 fWAR in 2018).
fWAR is again a little different. Harris II is still second (minimum 400 PA), but the #1 spot belongs to Rico Carty in 1964. However you slice it, Harris II's success has rarely been achieved by a Braves rookie.
Hard to Catch
Harris II was not just an all-around talent who impressed in the field nearly as often as he dazzled in the batter's box, but he was a beast on the bases. Harris finished second behind Acuña in steals, but the rook's twenty swipes were impressively done in just 22 attempts. That gave Harris a successive stolen base rate of 90.91%. Only one other player - Furcal in 2003 - did better and it's the only other qualified season where a Brave hit on 90% of attempts.
When Matt Olson and Dansby Swanson played the final game of the season, it marked just the second time in franchise history that two Braves played in all 162 games in the same season. But you don't have to go very far back for the first time. Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis did it in 2018.
Riley Totals Them Up
With 325 total bases, Austin Riley is tied for the 34th-best season in terms of total bases by a Brave. Maybe that's not next-level exciting or anything, but consider that over half those seasons are held by just three players (Chipper Jones, Dale Murphy, and Henry Aaron who did it 12 times!). In fact, Riley becomes just the 15th different Brave to hit the 325 plateau in a season.
Taking One for the Team
Speaking of Riley, he had a top-10 individual single-season total in a category that he may have wanted to skip - getting hit by the ball. Riley was plunked 17 times this season, which ties him for tenth-most in a single season in franchise history. It's the most since Tyler Flowers got drilled twenty times in 2017. And while Riley had some bruises, he's still far away from the team record of 29 set by Tommy Tucker in 1891. Tucker also has the second-most HBP, tied for third-most, tied for fifth-most, tied for 8th-most, and yeah, he's one of two players tied with Riley for tenth-most.
Not a Singles Hitter
Hey, let's stick with Riley again with a top-ten season that's a bit less painful for him and way more painful for the opposition. With 79 extra-base knocks, Riley finished with the 8th-most in a single-season. Henry Aaron (shocker) set the standard in 1959 when he had 92 extra-base hits. That broke a record that was, well, only six years old because Eddie Mathews had 86 in '53. That broke a record that was nearly 60 years-old (Hugh Duffy, 1894). Since the move to Atlanta, only Chipper Jones in 1999 and Freddie Freeman in 2016 had more extra-base hits in a single season than Riley.
But there’s more! Matt Olson finished with 78 extra-base hits. So, when was the last time two Braves had 78 or more extra-base hits in the same season?
If we decrease the qualifier to 75 extra-base hits, it did happen in 2003 with Gary Sheffield (78) and Javy Lopez (75).
The Braves have re-wrote the record book when it comes to homers over the last three non-pandemic seasons. In 2019, they broke a 16-year-old record with 249 homers, 14 more than the 2003 Braves hit. Last year, they hit 239. This season, they smacked 243 dingers. However, this year's roster did set the most-obscure Braves record I could think of. Most homeruns by a Braves team with an average weighted age less than 28-years-old.
Yeah, that's not really a thing, but the only other team to hit 200 homers with an average weighted age under 28 was the 2006 Braves. So, there’s that?
A Negative Qualifier
Since the Braves moved to Atlanta, there have been 23 instances of a player both receiving enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title and finishing with a negative fWAR. One such occasion happened in 2022 as Marcell Ozuna tied for the 13th-worst season according to fWAR since the move from Milwaukee with a -0.5 fWAR. It's also only the third time a Brave hit 20 homers and had a negative fWAR since the aforementioned move with Dale Murphy in 1978 and Bret Boone in 1999 as the only other two.
But His Intangibles Are Off the Charts!
Everyone loves Guillermo Heredia. He brings an infectious positive energy that everyone on the team seems to feed off of. That said, his season totals were...not great.
He received only 82 plate appearances which is actually less than Travis Demeritte if you can believe it. Heredia hit .158/.220/.342 when he did play. So, as I'm sure you're wondering, how bad is that? If we take pitchers out of the equation, his .158 average is the 12th-worst since the move from Milwaukee. In fact, it's been 13 years since a player picked up 80 PA and hit under .160. You have to go back to 2009 when Diory Hernandez (.141) and Greg Norton (.145) were masters at being awful at the plate.
Bet when you woke up this morning, you didn't think you'd think you'd see anything about Diory Hernandez. Just another example how Walk-Off Walk is different.
Celebrating the Rookies
In terms of positional fWAR, this season was something special for Atlanta Braves rookies. Obviously, Harris II stands out, though let's not Vaughn Grissom and (squints) Chadwick Tromp's positive contributions. Overall, the positional player rookies combined for 5.8 fWAR, the best in baseball.
How does it rank in Braves history, you ask (I'm guessing)? Well, in 1871 and 1879, the Boston Beaneaters had more fWAR from their position players, but the damn team was founded in 1871 so should that apply? And 1879? Pretend I came up with a good reason to disqualify that, too. So, let's ignore those two seasons.
The only other season where the Braves positional players did better than they did in 2022 (hush about the 1870's already) was the 2005 Braves. That's right, the Baby Braves of '05 with Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, and, uh, Ryan Langerhans. Combined, the Baby Braves had 7.6 fWAR from the rookie positional players. Nevertheless, we can say 2022 is the best rookie season in terms of concentrated fWAR, which isn't a thing but let me run with it. With just 601 plate appearances coming from rookies, it's the only time a Braves team received at least 4.5 fWAR from position player rookies while giving them less than 725 PA.
Is that cherry-picking stats? Who can say? But yes, it absolutely is.
Hope these numbers, outside of me picking on Ozuna and Heredia, brought some positive vibes to your day. Again, on Sunday, we'll look at this season accomplishments by pitchers. I wonder if I’ll mention Spencer Strider at all.
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