Albies never was No. 1 in the Braves’ chain, but he wasn’t far off. Many clubs asked if he’d be available in trade. He never was. My first sight of him came in July 2017 on a Friday night in Syracuse, N.Y. I’d gone to see Swanson, briefly demoted to Triple-A. Gwinnett’s first three batters were Albies, Swanson and Acuna. I left the ballpark thinking I’d be seeing all three with the big club for the next decade. We’re roughly halfway there.
Of the four full seasons Albies has been their second baseman, the Braves have finished nowhere but first. He made the All-Star team twice. He won a Silver Slugger award twice. He’s the National League’s best second baseman by some distance. Over the past three full seasons, he has worked 158, 160 and 156 games. He hit 88 home runs those three years. He stole 49 bases.
In 2018, Albies finished second among position-playing Braves in WAR, as calculated by Baseball-Reference. In 2019, he finished third. In 2021, he finished fourth. (We don’t count the shortened-by-COVID 2020 – too small a sample size.) The everyday Braves who ranked ahead of him: Freddie Freeman in 2018 and 2021; Josh Donaldson in 2019; Acuna in 2019 and 2021; Austin Riley in 2021.
If Albies has never quite been the best among Braves, neither has he been less than an essential contributor. Over his first three full seasons, his bWAR is 12.4. Over Chipper Jones’ first three full seasons, his was 12.8.
Albies still doesn’t walk much. He remains a much better hitter right-handed than left-handed. His career numbers as a righty – a batting average of .340, an OPS of .948. His numbers as a lefty – .250 and .748. But he has been used everywhere in the batting order, and only in 2020 has he missed significant time with an injury. Riley’s breakout season was 2021. Albies hasn’t had a breakout season. That’s meant as a compliment: Good on arrival, he’s still good.
And yet: For as much as I’ve written about the Braves over these many years, I’ve never quite gotten around to him. I’ve mentioned him a million times, but that’s not the same. I’ve written about Acuna, Swanson and Riley. I’ve written about all the young pitchers, from Newcomb to Touki Toussaint to Soroka to Fried. I’ve written about Freeman a dozen times this offseason.
Albies was the guy I thought I’d write about next, but events would intercede. (Events do that.) With nothing happening in the sport, I have no excuse. A great team always has a player who isn’t the headliner but is far too good to be deemed part of the supporting cast. The A’s of the ‘70s had Joe Rudi. The Braves of last century had Jeff Blauser. The Yankees of Torre had Tino Martinez.
If a guy of such worth is your team’s third- or fourth-best player, you’ve got a heck of a team. The Braves have Ozzie Albies. They’re world champs.