Wrist Injury Not the Only Question Mark for Braves’ Dansby Swanson

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Dansby Swanson #7 of the Atlanta Braves throws to first base throwing the runner out against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the ninth inning at AT&T Park on September 12, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Atlanta Braves’ shortstop Dansby Swanson saw his 2018 season cut short, going under the knife for wrist surgery. The former #1 overall pick enters the 2019 season under the microscope. Swanson struggled with his left wrist most of last season, before finally being shutdown and left off the Braves’ postseason roster. Swanson points to a cold, damp game against the Mets in April as the beginning of the issue. A two week stint on the disabled list followed in May.

Swanson was playing stellar defense, but was an offensive liability before being shut down in early November. The former Vanderbilt Commodore has said his rehab is going well. He is hitting off a tee twice a week and expects to be ready for the upcoming season. Braves’ fans are eager to see how Swanson performs in 2019 and hope the surgery corresponds with an improvement in his offensive numbers.

Gold Glove Defense

Despite his batting struggles in his first two full big league seasons, Swanson’s defense has steadily improved. While the Braves had three Gold Glove winners in 2018, many were surprised that Swanson wasn’t even a finalist in his second full MLB season. On the year he committed only ten errors in 525 chances.

Fangraphs defensive metrics puts his performance in 2018 as a “great”, rating him second among all NL shortstops. Swanson just turned 25 this off-season and the defensive improvement offers hope that his offensive progression will follow suit.

Déjà vu all over again?

Ironically, when Braves fans think about light hitting, great defensive shortstops they don’t have to look too far into their past. Swanson took over the starting role in 2017 after a bridge year from Erick Aybar. Aybar came over from the Angels in the trade that sent Andrelton Simmons west. As a side note, the Braves snagged Sean Newcomb in that deal.

Simmons came to the majors with a reputation as a slick fielder. As a hitter, his first two full seasons look eerily similar to Swanson’s. Simmons finished his first two campaigns with the Braves hitting only .246. He averaged 60 runs and 53 RBIs in those seasons.  Swanson has hit only .235 through two full seasons, but has produced 55 runs and RBIs per season. Simmons spent his first season batting leadoff more than any other spot in the order, before being dropped lower in 2014. In comparison, Swanson has spent the majority of his time batting eight and has never benefited from having protection in the lineup.

Patience is a virtue

In his third season with the Braves, Simmons raised his average twenty points before joining the Angels in 2016. Since moving to the AL West, Simmons has improved offensively each season.  In 2018, he batted nearly .300, while earning his fourth Gold Glove. Simmons has developed in to a well rounded big leaguer, finishing in the top 15 of AL MVP voting each of the last two years.

Optimistic Braves fans are hopeful that Swanson follows a similar trajectory and see’s his offense develop in his third season, as well. Swanson did see his power increase last season, when he registered fourteen home runs. A clean bill of health and a similar improvement in batting average in 2019 would go a long way to quiet the criticism of the naysayers.

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