Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson might be experiencing déjà vu. For the second year in a row, he has begun his offensive campaign with staggering heat. His current numbers rank him close to the top of the league in several categories. He has been promoted in the lineup and finds himself hitting second more often. The recent pain that second baseman Ozzie Albies has been experiencing in his wrist might have contributed to that. If so, Swanson has taken full advantage of the opportunity.
Having this type of offensive production at the top of the lineup should be exciting for Braves fans. However, if previous seasons are any indication, they should be wary. Swanson’s historical lack of plate discipline, coupled with a proneness for injury, could hurt him. While things are going his way now, he could fall back into the middling player of the past if some of his bad tendencies and luck return.
Dansby Swanson’s Hot Start: Real or Déjà Vu?
Dansby in 2020
At this point, Swanson ranks among the best offensive players in the National League. His 16 hits place him fifth, and he’s in the top five in runs scored (11). He’s just outside the top nine in total bases (26), and four doubles place him in a tie for seventh-best. He’s hitting .296 and has an OPS+ of 121. But the most impressive statistic so far is his 13 RBI. These tie him with San Francisco Giants second baseman Donovan Solano and Cincinnati Reds right fielder Nicholas Castellanos for second in the league.
He has come through in some big situations as well. He is 9-17 (.529) with runners in scoring position. Eleven of his RBI have come in this manner, so he’s been producing runs like the average factory. He’s also 11-23 (.478) with anyone on base, and he’s 6-9 (.667) in high leverage situations. He has been clutch when the team has needed him to be, and his recent outburst proves that he has a lot of promise. While he may not be the next Derek Jeter or Ernie Banks, he could still be valuable in such a short season. When baseball returns to its standard 162 games, he has the potential to become even more valuable.
Dansby in 2018
But Braves fans have seen this from Swanson before. In 2018, he garnered 16 hits through the first 12 games. His average was .348, and he had driven in eight runs. He had also doubled five times, tripled once, and homered once. His speed on the basepaths had come through on one occasion as well. His BAbip was .429, and he was slugging .565. Yet, by the time May came around, he had already dropped in average, and the season just got worse from there. His numbers tapered severely, and he ended up with an average of .238, 14 home runs, 59 RBI, and 10 stolen bases. However, the most worrisome statistic was his on-base percentage of .304. He walked 44 times in 533 plate appearances and struck out 122 times.
The core of his offensive issues came from a lack of plate discipline. That year, he swung at 49.9% of the pitches thrown to him. Of those swings, 36.5% were at balls thrown outside the strike zone. His swinging strike percentage was 11.8%, and he made contact 75.8% of the time. By comparison, National League Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich swung at 44% of pitches, and only 27.7% were out of the zone. Yelich’s swinging strike percentage was 9.2%, and he made contact 79% of the time. His on-base percentage was .402, and he walked 68 times in 651 plate appearances.
Dansby in 2019
2019 saw more of the same for Swanson. His season got off to an incredible start. Through the first 12 games, he hit .324 with four homers, 15 RBI, 12 hits, a double, a triple, a stolen base, and seven walks in 47 plate appearances. But from there, once again, his numbers tapered off. Over the course of the next 45 games, he hit .240 with six home runs and 21 RBI. Swanson’s on-base percentage fell from a .426 mark on April 11 to a .310 mark on May 31, and his OPS went from 1.155 to .772. However, his seasonal totals had improved somewhat, as he finished with a .251 average, 17 homers, 65 RBI, 121 hits, and 26 doubles. Offensive outbursts in early June and July did a lot to help accomplish that.
While Swanson still suffered from impatience in 2019, it was not as prevalent as the previous season. He took fewer swings (45% as opposed to 49.9%), and only 27.9% were at pitches outside of the strike zone. His swinging-strike rate was almost identical (11.7%), though he did manage to lower his first-pitch strike percentage (64.0% to 56.3%). He also saw fewer sliders and more changeups, thus allowing him to readjust and reduce his habit of swinging at the sweeping pitch down and away.
Which Swanson Shows Up?
So, the question remains: which Dansby Swanson will the Braves see as the season moves forward? At this point, they’ve seen two sides to his playing ability. One side is that which fans are experiencing right now. They are getting the shortstop who drew comparisons to Jeter while in the minor leagues. Swanson is playing at a very high level, and fans should be excited about this.
However, they must also be wary of Dansby Swanson’s other side. His bad habits could return and drag his numbers down. In such a short season, this would be disastrous for the team. At this point, he is an offensive cornerstone, and they are relying on him more than ever. With Freddie Freeman’s recent woes, players like Swanson are having to step up. He is doing that, but how much longer can they expect it from him? If he returns to the free-swinging player of old, one of the Braves’ key spots in the lineup will be exposed.
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