We continue our Hi/Lo rankings debate series today with the Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. The former first overall pick has had a solid but unspectacular career. However, the shortened 2020 season was a breakout for the former Vanderbilt star. He posted a wRC+ over 100 for the first time in his career and flashed potential five-category fantasy potential. However, despite the overall solid line, the season was a tale of two halves. In the first half, he posted an average above 0.300 with only three homers but the second half saw his average plummet back down but with it came a big power jump (seven homers). The story of his 2021 value will be in determining which of these halves is the real Swanson.
In a fairly deep shortstop class, much of the RotoFanatic team agreed at the top end. However, one place where we diverged slightly was Dansby Swanson. Arguing the pro-Swanson side of things will be Dave Funnell and taking the opposite end of the argument is Carmen Maiorano.
The High Ranking For Dansby (SS12)
The thing about fantasy baseball is that you’re always looking to fill out (at least) five categories that combine power, speed, on ball contact, and more. Finding players that can give you enough positive momentum within a category can be tough, and the more places that they help, the better. But what if I told you it was possible to find someone who can fill all five categories for you at a fraction of the price of the league’s most expensive players?
That, my friends, is the Dansby Swanson sale. Heading into 2020, Swanson was considered a potential breakout player due to his highly successful, yet injury-shortened 2019 season where he finished with 17 home runs and ten steals. Some saw those numbers and his decent approach at the plate as a path to grow into a 20/20-type season. Last year, he kept on rolling, as he finished with ten home runs and five steals in only 60 games. What helped his steadiness was his massive success against fastballs, which he mashed to the tune of batting .336 with eight home runs. His underlying stats maintained their status from the previous year too, as his Barrel Rate (11.4%), Hard Hit Rate (40.7%) Launch Angle (14.7 degrees), and Average Exit Velocity (89.1mph) all stayed within the same range as 2019 and were all better than league average. If there’s any concern, it would be that his strikeout rate went up, but the case could be made that he was trying for more power and that this was the result. All in all, he’s the 12th shortstop being drafted off the board, and I would be fine with him being my starting shortstop in 12 team leagues. Like I said earlier, he’s someone that helps you everywhere but is being drafted at a much cheaper cost. What’s not to like?
The Low Ranking For Dansby (SS18)
I’m probably not the low man on Dansby Swanson anymore, given that the Braves signed Marcell Ozuna over the weekend. Swanson is likely not hitting higher than fifth in the lineup, and will likely hit sixth most days when the dust settles. Between that and his injury history (136 games in 2018, 127 in 2019), I don’t see him getting more than 625 plate appearances. These two factors result in lower runs and RBI than you’d like to get from a loaded SS class. I’ll acknowledge that he will get double-digit steals, which is valuable.
Swanson demonstrated a breakout in power, hitting ten bombs in 2020. This power was backed up by a big-time increase in barrel rate, jumping from 7.7% to 11.4%. He also continued to hit the ball hard around 40% of the time. I’m willing to accept most of his gains here (we have to discount it at least somewhat due to the short season) and give him 20-25 homers, with the ability to hit more if he stays healthy. However, that increase in power also came with a nearly five percentage point increase in strikeout rate. This was backed up by a two percentage point increase in the swinging-strike rate. Indeed, the Data Monster shows that Swanson was nearly in the bottom 20 percentile in swinging strikes. As a result, I expect his .274 batting average from 2020 to fall at least 10 points. With so many options at shortstop, I’m willing to let someone else take him with all the uncertainties that he brings.
The Data Monster’s Take
Let’s take a look at how the Data Monster views Swanson and his growth. There were two major changes in Dansby in 2020, for the first time in his career, he whiffed more than expected. Secondly, aside from his small 2016 debut, he posted an In_wOBA that was in the upper 25% of all hitters (93rd percentile in 2020). This is commensurate with a hitter that may have decided to trade some contact ability for better results on that contact. Overall his average exit velocity and average launch angle appear unchanged.
However, you can see that in 2020 his barrel rate improved. This may suggest that despite the averages appearing the same, he was able to become more consistent and was able to optimize his batted balls a little better. This supports the mini breakout he had. However, without really improving the exit velocities I am concerned that he will not be able to repeat the results from 2020. He is still a solid play in fantasy due to the lineup he will be hitting in and the 20/20 potential but I fear the average gains he made in 2020 made not be here to stay which will hurt the fantasy value a bit. In a top-heavy SS class, Dansby still is among the best of the non-elite shortstops but there is some room for concern in his profile as seen by the Data Monster.