𝗔 𝗳𝗮𝗶𝗹𝗲𝗱 𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝘂𝘀 𝗳𝗮𝗿: 𝗝𝗼𝗵𝗮𝗻 𝗖𝗮𝗺𝗮𝗿𝗴𝗼’𝘀 𝘂𝗻𝗶𝗻𝘀𝗽𝗶𝗿𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝟮𝟬𝟭𝟵
Guest column by Clint Manry. Clint lives in the great state of Alabama and is a mechanic/electrician by night and has been a contributor for Tomahawk Take. He’s also a very underpaid fantasy baseball commissioner.
Well, this wasn’t supposed to go this way. During the winter break and leading up to the start of Spring Training this year, Atlanta Braves general manager, Alex Anthopolous, made a rather obvious decision in moving Johan Camargo into a ‘super’ utility role. I use the word obvious, because obviously, Anthopolous had just finished signing the dotted lines of a one-year pact with former MVP third baseman, Josh Donaldson — a $23 million ‘lets see if you still got it’ deal.
It looked as if the Braves fan base had mixed feelings in regards to the move, but all in all, regardless of your thoughts on Donaldson and his health status at that time, the decision by Anthopolous did perhaps seem like a win-win: if Donaldson could revert back to his MVP days in Toronto, the Braves lineup would receive a boost like no other; and if Camargo could resemble anywhere near his 2018 version — 19 home runs and 115 wRC+ — than the Braves’ bench would immediately lengthen, allowing manager Brian Snitker more lineup options and of course a better player to provide rest for his starters throughout the long season.
There was an abundance of positives and really not many negatives. It was a rather sound move by Anthopolous.
However, now just 80 games into the 2019 season, the whole Super Camargo Thing hasn’t really panned out.
After a slowish start to the season, Donaldson has been excellent of late, batting .260 and slugging 14 home runs, in the cleanup spot for the Braves. His K rate is running a bit high (7% above his career norm), but his offensive contributions have computed to an above average 122 wRC+. Of course he’s nowhere near the pace that produced 8.7 fWAR in 2015, when he won the AL MVP award with Toronto. But currently at 1.8 WAR, JD could very well end up at around 4-wins at season’s end, depending on how far he pushes it. (This is his first full season back since shoulder surgery and calf ailments shortly after, causing him to miss 49 games in 2017 and 110 last season.)
Camargo, on the other hand (despite of course his late season heroics in the 10th inning this past Sunday), has not been good. We know this. Through 54 games this season, the 25-year-old has accrued minus-0.4 fWAR, mainly subbing in at third base and in the outfield, though he has played a little short and second base.
Currently hitting more than 30 points below his norm (.242 batting average), Camargo’s approach at the plate — at least in terms of plate discipline — isn’t too far off his usual. He’s striking out less than his career rate and walking just a shade below his 7.7% career walk rate. Usually, a player performing this bad compared to their previous season, shows at least somewhat of a dramatic fluctuation in their BB/K rates. For Camargo, that’s not the case.
Even further into his underlying numbers, there’s not much of a difference for Camargo. In fact, he’s a bit better in some instances:
▪︎ Chase %
2018: 32.2%, 2019: 36.0%
▪︎ Chase Contact %
2018: 62.7%, 2019: 58.2%
▪︎ Whiff %
2018: 26.6%, 2019: 24.1%
▪︎ Zone Contact %
2018: 79.3%, 2019: 85.1%
*Rates are from Baseball Savant as of 7/21/19
Not much has changed here. Camargo is chasing pitches out of the zone a tad more, while also missing them a bit more frequent than last season; although he’s making a little more contact on pitches in the strike zone. But we’re talking just a few percent points, not really enough to stand out as the culprit for his regression.
When looking at the batted-ball numbers, Camargo’s profile in 2019 is also very similar to his career norms. One thing that does stick out a bit is his Oppo% and Hard%. Oppo% is simply the rate in which he hits a batted-ball to the opposite field, and in Camargo’s case, he’s going the other way roughly 10% more than in 2018. Hard%, the rate in which his batted-balls are hit hard (88 mph EV and above), paints a rather obvious picture for Camargo, as his hard-hit rate is down 3.2% from last season (duh, he’s not hitting great).
What about Camargo’s performance in terms of specific pitches? Are there certain pitches that are giving him trouble this season that weren’t a problem?
Not really, he basically is worse against ALL pitches in 2019, which isn’t a surprise given that he’s not playing well this season. However, he is much worse against offspeed pitches. Maybe he’s not picking up changeups as well this year?
(𝘔𝘓𝘉 𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘨𝘦 𝘸𝘖𝘉𝘈 = .324)
2018: .379 wOBA, .510 SLG%, 15.6 K%,
2019: .326 wOBA, .460 SLG%, 10.6 K%
2018: .286 wOBA, .354 SLG%, 29.3 K%
2019: .235 wOBA, .270 SLG%, 31.7 K%
2018: .341 wOBA, .462 SLG%, 22.7 K%
2019: .218 wOBA, .250 SLG%, 24.0 K%
(*𝘱𝘦𝘳 𝘉𝘢𝘴𝘦𝘣𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘚𝘢𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘵) as of 7/21/19
In an attempt to see if Camargo’s struggles were from him not getting consistent at-bats, I went through Camargo’s game log and grouped together all games where he played in three or more consecutive contests, only including games where he had three or more at-bats (to exclude pinch-hitting appearances or games where he was subbed out early). As with the previous exercises, the results were mostly a wash.
There have been five such instances where Camargo has played three consecutive games and batted at least three times. If you add all of those games up (18 games), he’s batting just .225 while also striking out at a 20.5% clip, even more than his overall season rate for 2019. It didn’t help that from May 19-21 (3 games) he came to bat 11 times, never recording a hit; or from April 30 to May 5 (four games), he batted 16 times and only had three hits (.188 BA).
To go a little further in looking at whether consistent at-bats, or the lack of, is impacting Camargo’s game this season, we can simply just look at the games that he started and finished. Maybe he’s more comfortable knowing he’s going to be in the lineup for an entire game.
So I added up all of Camargo’s ‘complete games’ and also included two games where he left in the 9th inning (close enough), giving him, again, 18 such games or 71 at-bats. Now, these aren’t consecutive games or anything, just purely games where Camargo played the entire game. The results are a bit better, but nothing definitive.
18 games, 18-for-71 (.253 BA), HR, 10 RBI
Camargo also has four doubles and a triple in that sample of games.
So it doesn’t seem to be a matter or more at-bats, though it’s still rather hard to tell given that he hasn’t had a very long stretch of consistent play this year. Over the course of the season, more playing time may in fact help, but that’s a difficult thing to predict, being that he’s not playing well; and what manager plays a guy more when he’s not playing up to snuff, especially a utility player?
Honestly, it doesn’t seem like there’s any one thing that’s to blame for Camargo’s struggles this season. With his breakout season in 2018, it shouldn’t be too big of a surprise that Camargo has come short in matching that performance. His 2017 season was far from extraordinary, and this season may just be a case of him reverting back towards bad habits that he had before he obviously figured things out in 2018. Although, even in ’17, Camargo was practically a .300 hitter for 82 games with the Braves, he just had poor plate discipline.
The reasoning for this failed plan may not be discovered until after the season, as sample sizes grow to a more appropriate size. But one thing’s for sure — this isn’t how the plan was supposed to go. And with Donaldson playing extremely well of late, coupled with Austin Riley’s freakish start (though much less freakish lately), Camargo may have just went from breakout player in 2018, to just a glorified pinch-hitter this season. Baseball can be like that sometimes.