Dansby Swanson, in many ways, has become Freddie Freeman’s replacement. In the wake of the longtime Atlanta Braves superstar’s absence, Swanson has done everything. He’s become the team’s offensive and defensive cornerstone, as well as an adamant leader. While his year certainly did not begin in this manner, times have become good for the shortstop. In short, this is the Dansby Swanson that Braves fans thought they were getting in 2016. It may have taken him a few seasons, but he has truly come into his own.
At the time this was written, Swanson was slashing .304/.361/.507 with an OPS of .868. He’s recorded 14 homers, 49 RBI, and 93 hits while playing in all 81 games so far. His 18 doubles and 52 runs scored only elevate his position at the top of the team’s offensive weaponry. An offensive WAR of 3.1 ties him with the Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras for third in the NL. He’s also currently tied with the New York Mets’ Pete Alonso and the San Diego Padres’ Manny Machado at 57 runs created. In short, Dansby Swanson has been something of a savior for the team. Let’s dive in and examine this a little more in-depth.
Dansby Swanson vs. The League
When it comes to league-wide lumber, Swanson is among the very best. His wOBA of .372 is in the top 10% of the league and ranks 23rd overall. This is a massive improvement over where Swanson was a few seasons ago. In 2017, he posted a wOBA of .276, which put him in the bottom 3% of the league. Even last season, when his wOBA was a staunch .322, couldn’t compare with his successes this year. He’s hitting balls harder (a 5% increase over last season), and he’s hitting them, on average, a mile per hour faster than last season. Improvements like these may seem minuscule, but they translate to greatness over time.
We can see this in many ways when looking at Swanson’s last 250 plate appearances. During that stretch, he’s gone from hitting .207 with a wOBA of .278 to .325 with a wOBA of .396. Both are .118 improvements over his previous marks, and both are the best in baseball over that stretch. Not only that, but Swanson’s slugging has improved by .214 and his xSLG has gone up by .238. These are massive advantages for a Braves team that, at times, has sought an offensive leader this year. Swanson has taken that role and started to run with it.
Improvement in Selectivity
Another way Dansby Swanson has improved is in his selectivity at the plate. Last season, he had a run value of +5 on fastballs. This season, he’s increased that mark to +11. He’s also pushed his run value on sliders from a flat zero to +6. Considering his proponent for swinging at pitches well down and outside the strike zone, this is a very big accomplishment. Last year, 24.3% of pitches Swanson saw were sliders. Simply put, teams knew he’d offer. This season, he’s actually seeing more sliders (26.5% so far) but has managed to bring himself to the point where he’s not quite as vulnerable.
Dansby Swanson’s Torrid June
This was especially true over the month of June, as Dansby Swanson raked opposing pitchers over the proverbial coals. He slashed .330/.390/.563 with an OPS of .953, recording seven homers and 19 RBI in the process. Productivity-wise, he had 37 hits while scoring 22 runs. Overall, he managed to raise his batting average by nearly thirty points. Despite all of this terrific work, his strikeout totals were still high. His 29 punchouts in 112 at-bats translates to a 26% strikeout mark. However, when all of one’s other work comes together so succinctly, it’s enough to make many fans look past this.
The Braves shortstop had an outstanding month from another perspective as well. Namely, the runs that he created. He posted a wRC of 24 and a wRC+ of 163. Among all shortstops in this period, only the Minnesota Twins’ Carlos Correa has a higher wRC+ value. Swanson leads the position in wRC, finishing three ahead of the Cleveland Guardians’ Amed Rosario. Considering all of the facts, Dansby Swanson has to be considered one of the best shortstops in the National League for the month. Whether or not he deserved Player of the Month is up for debate, yet the statistics don’t lie.
Another way that Swanson has contributed has been defensively. True, his glove was never really in doubt, and this season has been no exception. In other words, he’s been something of a steel wall on the left side of the Braves infield. He has posted six outs above average, putting him in the top ten in the league. Currently, everyone is chasing Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner, in terms of defense. Dansby Swanson is only three behind him in OAA and two in runs prevented. His 77% success rate places him in the top 15 in the league. In short, given the correct time frame, he could contend for being the best all-around shortstop in the league.
Dansby Swanson: MVP Candidate
Conclusively, though Dansby Swanson did not enter the season as such, he is a prime MVP candidate. He has shown some terrific improvement at the plate and continues to do so with each passing game. A staunch refusal to give in has become a part of Swanson’s offensive approach and, as he continues to utilize it, his strikeouts should begin decreasing. He’s thrived in the second spot on the team’s lineup. Pair those marks with a plus glove and Braves fans should be extremely satisfied.
In 2016, when Swanson was first called to the big leagues, many were filled with excitement. The reactions were not without warrant, as he was one of the most exciting prospects in team history. In fact, this writer was in attendance for his first game. The reaction his first hit got, even in a half-empty Turner Field, was reflective of the buzz. Unfortunately, his first few years in the major leagues were somewhat disappointing. This season, though, something has clicked. In the words of Braves outfielder Adam Duvall, “This is a stretch where it looks like Dansby has figured something out. He’s sustaining it.”