Late Monday night, the Braves acquired Adam Duvall from the Reds in exchange for Lucas Sims, Matt Wisler, and Preston Tucker. With the Braves already starting an outfield of Ender Inciarte, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Nick Markakis, Duvall will likely be a fourth outfielder and provide a platoon option for Inciarte. It’s a position for which Duvall simultaneously seems overqualified and a perfect fit. He’ll enter his first year of arbitration next year, so the Braves will have him under control for the next three years, and he likely won’t be that expensive.
Duvall has always been a bit of a curiosity. He has the makings of an excellent player, but he hasn’t seemed to put things together. He’s hit over 30 home runs the last two seasons despite being a below average hitter in 2017 according to wRC+. True Average and OPS+ have been more favorable, but both only put him at average to slightly above average. It’s underwhelming and not something you would expect from a guy who has out-homered Bryce Harper since 2016.
Duvall has his flaws has a hitter, certainly. He strikes out more and walks less than league average but not egregiously so in either category. This year his OBP is below .300 again despite him walking 9.6 percent of the time.
His hard-hit rate of 42.7 percent would be the highest mark of his career over a full season. He’s hitting roughly the same amount of balls on the ground and in the air. He’s always had low BABIP, and he has one of the greatest differences between his wOBA and xwOBA. It figures that his offensive value would rise with normal batted ball luck.
Teams are shifting against Duvall more than ever as they have become more comfortable positioning three batters to the left of second base. Duvall, however, hasn’t been a much worse hitter against the shift. In 2018, he has a .299 wOBA without the shift and a .291 wOBA against it.
Something that might be preventing his luck from normalizing is his steadily rising infield fly ball rate. This number usually fluctuates, but it’s trending in a bad direction. In 2016, Duvall’s IFFB was a modest 8.1, but it has risen four percent each year since. More infield flies mean fewer home runs which help explain the drop in power this year.
It could very easily go down next year or by the end of the season, but Duvall’s home run total is still likely to go down. The Braves have moved him from the child-sized Great American Ballpark to Suntrust Field, which has been a pitcher’s park in its short lifespan.
Duvall hasn’t changed much, if anything, about his approach so it seems strange that he hasn’t had more success when he’s walking more and hitting the ball harder. The Braves presumably figure that his luck will normalize, or that his numbers would look better if he’s limited to facing left-handed pitching.
It was a relatively low-risk move since the Braves didn’t have a clear plan for Sims, Wisler, or Tucker. Regardless of how he hits, he remains an elite defensive left-fielder. Left isn’t exactly a premium defensive position, but it’s not without value. Until Duvall proves otherwise, this was a good buy-low move for the Braves.