Be careful, Braves fans. I know that Braves Country is excited to see 23-year-old shortstop Dansby Swanson in his first, full big-league season, but I caution your hopes. No, this has nothing to do with Swanson’s paltry .150/.225/.220 line entering Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. No, this has to do with projection and hype. Many have looked to Swanson to be the next face of the Braves organization. While I’m not going to dispute that fact, I will warn everyone to not think of Swanson in the same light that Braves fans viewed Chipper Jones, Freddie Freeman or even a guy like Ryan Klesko. No, when you think to project Swanson look no further than the starting right fielder for the Braves Nick Markakis.
Markakis is a fine ballplayer and is one of my favorites on the team, yet he is looked upon by Braves fans in a negative light. Why? He plays a consistent right field, puts together professional at-bats, and does the little things that help a ball club win ball games. And then it hit me, “That’s exactly why.” See, Markakis isn’t great at any one thing, but he’s good at a lot of things; most things even. But he doesn’t hit .330. He doesn’t hit 30 home runs. He doesn’t play an exciting right field. Nothing that Markakis does excites the casual baseball fan. It’s easy for him to get lost in the shuffle of a lineup that includes Freeman, Ender Inciarte, and Matt Kemp. You see, those players are great at one thing, maybe two (or in Freddie’s case about five things), but they aren’t consistent across the board.
Check out what Markakis slashed before he had neck surgery entering the 2015 season: .290/.358/.435. That’s an OPS of 113 and an OPS+ of 113 (100 is average). That’s pretty darn good. But Markakis only averaged 16 home runs. He only averaged 73 RBIs. He didn’t jump out at you and it’s easy to see how he could get lost in the shuffle. Granted, Markakis has taken a step back in Atlanta, but a neck surgery will do that to you. He doesn’t possess much pop, but the on-base percentage is identical to what it was in Baltimore, he just hasn’t shown much power, but most of that is due to him hitting just three home runs in his first season coming back from neck surgery.
Another reason for fans to be bullish on Markakis is his age. There’s no hiding the fact that he’s 33-years-old and is on a team with guys that are much younger than him. But who would replace him? Xavier Avery? Mel Rojas Jr.? Dustin Peterson? Give me a solid performer to teach the young guys instead of a AAA has-been or rushing up a youngster who might not be ready.
Now let’s move to Swanson. A lot of people want to compare him to Derek Jeter, but is it really fair to compare him to a shortstop that is going to go into the National Baseball Hall of Fame? I don’t think so. Instead, I like to think of what I think Swanson will be when he is in his prime. Here’s what I came up with: .300/.370/.410. Wait a minute. Those numbers are pretty, darn similar to what Markakis did in Baltimore. And yet the Braves right fielder could only get a four-year $44M contract when he hit free agency. Why? The lack of being great at one thing.
If Swanson turns into Markakis at shortstop, I will be more than happy with that. I don’t think Swanson will possess as much power as Markakis had (Markakis hit eclipsed 20 home runs twice in his career), as the Braves shortstop is likely to hit 15 home runs in his prime. What else will Swanson do? Put together professional at-bats, play great defense at shortstop, and do the little things to help his ball club win games.
Some fans are expecting him to turn into Jones, but that’s just not fair. Swanson may not even be the offensive force that Marcus Giles was from 2003 – 2005. But he’ll stick around longer than Giles and about as long as Jones did in Atlanta. But Braves fans I warn you, be careful about what you think Swanson will be in an Atlanta uniform. He’s going to be a steady performer that does everything well, but not anything great.
To tell you the truth, teams could win a World Series with a lineup filled with Markakis batting 1-9. He’ll work counts, trap pitchers into being complacent and play a good enough defense that it won’t hurt you on the field.