Finding consistency at plate from both sides crucial for Braves, Ozzie Albies

First-time All-Star Ozzie Albies hit .261/.305/.452 with 40 doubles, five home runs and 24 home runs, while adding 14 stolen bases in 2018.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — The first half of last season, Ozzie Albies was producing at a level equal to eventual National League MVP finalist Javier Baez. In the second half, there were 115 players who had a higher fWAR than the Braves second baseman.

As Atlanta tries to aid in an offense that faded down the stretch, — ranking 19th over the last month with an 88 wRC+ — finding consistency in its 21-year-old budding star’s game could go a long way.

“It’s part of the growth,” manager Brian Snitker said of Albies’ slide on Wednesday at MLB Winter Meetings. “Part of the development that these guys go through is that. It’s very rare to just — some of those guys come up, a lot of them end up going to the Hall of Fame that don’t have problems.”

“But what Ozzie went through, it’s going to benefit him coming into this year, because he’s going to know that he’s going to have to do some things.”

During his All-Star first half, Albies was almost a mirror image hitting from either the left (122 wRC+) or right side (121), but his second-half struggles were largely drug down by his hitting from the left side. He had 32 wRC+ with 34 strikeouts in 176 plate appearances, compared to 150 wRC+ with just 11 strikeouts in 76 at-bats as a righty.

On the season, he hit .261/.305/.452 with 40 doubles, five home runs and 24 home runs, while adding 14 stolen bases.

“That’s part of those layers that you peel off in becoming a Major Leaguer, you’re not going to surprise anybody anymore,” Snitker said. “Everybody is going to be ready for you. Everybody has video, everybody knows what you’ve done, and you challenge the player to make those adjustments, the physical adjustments, the mental adjustments that he’s going to make to do what we all feel like and know what this kid’s capable of.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos was asked about whether they’ve given any thought to Albies just hitting from the right side and said it wasn’t under consideration.

Albies was at his best last season hitting in the top half of the order, with a .791 OPS at second and .745 in first. But amid his second-half slide, he hit sixth seven times in September and seventh 12 times in slashing .198/.270/.386 over the last month.

With the addition of Josh Donaldson, Anthopoulos has discussed the former American League MVP hitting second, though he notes that decision ultimately lies with Snitker. Though if Albies can find balance at the plate, it could provide the option of moving NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr. behind Freddie Freeman at fourth.

Albies’ power was a surprise, as a player who hit a scant 16 home runs in 1,555 at-bats in the minors had 20 by the All-Star break. Whether or not falling in love with the long ball played a part as pitchers changed their gameplans, Albies simply wasn’t the same player in the second half with .265 BABIP compared to .297 in the first.

“We talk about adjustments constantly in this game,” Snitker said. “Making adjustments. Making adjustments. And that’s what that is. That’s all part of it. He’s such an intelligent kid, with the skill set and the feel and instinct that he has, there’s no reason to think that — this kid has a chance of being really special.”

And while talks circulates about how commissioner Rob Manfred will address teams’ reliance on shifting for hitters, it’s the athleticism of Albies that lends to Snitker’s notion of how special he can be.

Coming up as a shortstop, he gives the Braves a defensive weapon, regardless of what struggles he’s going through at the plate.

“He’s a perfect guy, I think, in today’s game with the shifting era that we’re in and the athleticism that it takes to be a second baseman now,” Snitker said. “You need a kid — we’re very fortunate to have a young man that’s played shortstop playing second base for us that has that skill set.”

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.