What’s going on with Dansby Swanson

It’s pretty rare to see a first overall pick get traded before his first offseason is up, in any sport, but that’s exactly what the Diamondbacks did in one of the more peculiar trades not just in 2015, but over the past few seasons. They key piece back, Shelby Miller, has been pretty terrible in Arizona (and in general except for a couple decent years), and his weight in this trade was carried more by his former prospect pedigree than real value.

There was a reason Swanson was picked when he was, with league average power projections, and a plus hit tool, all from the offensively dry shortstop position. His 38 game stint last year saw a 107 wRC+ from him, a decent .140 isolated slugging, and average defense. It was a solid foundation to build on, one that prospectors and fans both expected to see, and left us all hopeful for his 2017 campaign.

So far much of what we’ve seen are growing pains from Swanson this year, a clear step back leaving some wondering what his true ceiling really is. He’s hitting just .213 with a 51 wRC+, his ISO has shrunk to almost nonexistent at just .098, hitting just 22 extra base hits. His defense has stayed about the same, but not good enough to solely warrant him starting – although the poor performance of the Braves this year has given him more breathing room.

Still, Johan Camargo has been getting equal shares at short and is breathing down heavy on Swanson with a 100 wRC+ at 23, older than Swanson by just two months. Camargo’s injury has given Swanson solid starts, and manager Brian Snitker confirmed that Swanson is the everyday shortstop heading forward.

Swanson has had a rough season, but looking at his rolling averages he’s had some hot stretches still that give lots of optimism for the future. Below is his wOBA (weighted on base average, similar to wRC+ but not league adjusted), with league average marks highlighted in the middle:

We see a few peaks towards the middle of the year, with a slight slump in the middle, before he crashed pretty hard. There’s no question he is still showcasing his talent, but he has struggled with consistency.

His .263 BABIP has done him no favors in the luck department, and it’s the polar opposite from what we saw in his first crack at .383 – definitely on the high-end towards unsustainable. The real answer is probably in the middle, but how far to each side will determine his value pretty heavily.

He hits over 48% grounders, and he has done that for his career, leaving reason to think his BABIP should increase. As a right-handed hitter with plus speed he is hard to shift against, and his 29.5% opposite field rate is much better than league average 25.4%. His profile suggests he’s not getting enough hits through the infield as he should, so why hasn’t he gotten them?

His hard contact rate of 29.8% is below average of 32.0%, which gives some explanation to the lack of BABIP luck. We look into his fastball success and it, well, doesn’t actually exist. He’s been worth 13.9 runs below average on the pitch, getting overpowered on the pitch he needs to be crushing. Look at where he’s been getting his fastballs this year so far:

And then look at his batting average heatmap as well:

Pitchers have a book on him: keep the heater away, and he hasn’t adjusted. His success on the pitch comes almost exclusively on the inside third, but nobody is willing to give that pitch to him. He’s young, and the organization is almost certainly aware of the issue, but he needs to be able to adjust his hitting style to start getting to those pitches. Major league infielders are good enough to react to balls shot the other way in a way that his previous competition hasn’t done, and if he’s not putting a little tabasco on those opposite shots, they aren’t going to get through.

To expand on that, he’s been over three runs below average on sliders and curveballs as well, giving pitchers a plethora of options to attack him with. While he needs to also work on his approach to off-speed pitches, he’s not going to even get to those pitches if he is struggling so much against the fastball.

Dansby Swanson is a hot prospect, but he has had a serious lack of success so far. His profile shows a weak swing, by not being able to barrel up the fastball and also failing to get hits through the infield. He doesn’t have the power to tap into where we could expect immediate production, and his contact issues run deep. Fortunately his 22.1% strikeout rate is not bad, meaning he’s having good plate appearances. But until Swanson fixes his swing he’s going to be toiling without much of a bat, and a glove not good enough to give him starts over the in-organization competition.

Swanson is a project for the Braves, and fantasy owners as well, and not someone who we can expect big things out of right now. Stay away from the guy at pretty much all costs. If he didn’t have that draft position and blue-chip pedigree we wouldn’t even be talking about him.


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James Krueger

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James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.