Ozzie Albies’s Latest Injury Keeps the Spotlight on Rookie Vaughn Grissom

Vaughn Grissom
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The return of Ozzie Albies didn’t last long. Out for three months due to a broken left foot that required surgery, the 25-year-old second baseman rejoined the Braves’ lineup on Friday, but he made it only about a game and a half before suffering a fractured right pinky that will sideline him for at least the remainder of the regular season. Once again, the defending champions will have to make do without a core player for some time.

After going 1-for-4 with a two-run double off the Phillies’ Nick Nelson in a 7–2 win on Friday night, Albies reached base twice against Aaron Nola on Saturday via a walk and a single. Upon tagging up and advancing from first base on an Eddie Rosario fly ball in the fourth inning, he slid into second headfirst, jamming his right hand into Jean Segura‘s foot as he did so. Albies remained in the game long enough to score on Ronald Acuña Jr.’s ensuing double but was replaced in the field by Vaughn Grissom at the start of the fifth.

Albies won’t need surgery, but he’ll need to wear the cast for which he was fitted on Saturday night for three weeks, after which the team will assess how soon he can return to action. If the Braves (91–55) don’t surpass the Mets (93–55) to win the NL East, or do so but fall behind the Cardinals (87–61) and don’t earn a first-round bye, they’ll start the playoffs on October 7, decreasing the likelihood that Albies is available for the Wild Card Series. If they do earn that bye, they wouldn’t play their first Division Series game until October 11, buying him more time.

Either way, it’s been a disappointing and frustrating season to this point for Albies, who in 64 games has hit just .247/.294/.409 with eight homers and a 93 wRC+ in 269 plate appearances. He began with a bang, homering six times in the Braves’ first 16 games, but hit for just a 70 wRC+ from that point until June 13. In a game against the Nationals that would mark the Braves’ 12th win in a 14-game winning streak, Albies hit an infield grounder via an awkward swing, then tripped while leaving the batter’s box and limped off the field. X-rays revealed a fracture in his left foot. He underwent surgery to stabilize the break two days later and didn’t begin a rehab assignment until September 1.

For the first eight weeks of Albies’ absence, the Braves patched things together at second base using Orlando Arcia, Phil Gosselin, and Robinson Canó, and they continued to win despite that trio’s subpar production. On August 10, when Arcia landed on the IL with a left hamstring strain, they recalled Grissom, a 21-year-old who placed third on our Braves top prospect list this spring, behind Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider. An 11th-round 2019 pick out of Paul J. Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida (where he was teammates with the Tigers’ Riley Greene), Grissom began the season with High-A Rome, where he finished last year. Between Rome and Double-A Mississippi, he hit a combined .324/.405/.494 (146 wRC+) with 14 homers and 27 steals. As with Harris, the Braves decided to promote him straight from Double-A, and the gambit has paid off.

Grissom homered off Darwinzon Hernandez in his major league debut, and he’s continued to hit at a sizzling clip since. His 130 wRC+ is fourth on the Braves since the day of his debut:

Braves Offense Since Vaughn Grissom’s Debut (8/10/22)
Michael Harris II 137 8 .336 .380 .641 180 2.2
Travis d’Arnaud 85 6 .316 .388 .632 180 1.4
William Contreras 99 4 .326 .364 .489 134 0.6
Vaughn Grissom 126 5 .302 .357 .474 130 0.9
Marcell Ozuna 48 2 .295 .333 .500 127 0.2
Ronald Acuña Jr. 142 4 .266 .338 .438 115 0.5
Robbie Grossman 109 5 .240 .330 .417 110 0.5
Austin Riley 155 6 .212 .316 .379 96 0.4
Eddie Rosario 82 1 .253 .317 .360 90 -0.1
Dansby Swanson 159 4 .243 .296 .368 83 0.8
Matt Olson 148 7 .187 .257 .381 73 -0.2
Total 1311 52 .265 .331 .454 117 7.3

It’s an unlikely group that’s been hitting the snot out of the ball lately, helping to offset the sagging production of Riley, Swanson, and Olson, who to be fair have done their shares of the heavy lifting at other times this season. The Braves have bashed out 5.42 runs per game since Grissom’s debut, going an MLB-best 26–9 (.743). It’s helped that the pitching staff has accompanied that outburst by holding opponents to an even 3.0 runs per game in the meantime.

For as impressive as Grissom’s production has been, sustaining it would appear to be a tall order unless he can consistently hit the ball harder. The combination of his .345 batting average on balls in play and 84.2 mph average exit velocity is an unlikely one, with only one major leaguer owning both a lower EV and higher BABIP over the course of at least 100 PA this year:

“Williams” is the Marlins’ Luke Williams, whose .354 BABIP is offset by a 31.9% strikeout rate and 83.3 mph average exit velocity, and who hasn’t been very productive overall:

.320 BABIP with Average Exit Velocity 85 mph or Lower
Garrett Stubbs PHI 107 84.5 .338 .287 .368 .511 145
Vaughn Grissom ATL 126 84.2 .349 .302 .357 .474 130
Kris Bryant COL 181 85.0 .338 .306 .376 .475 125
Alejo Lopez CIN 121 84.4 .337 .297 .355 .387 103
José Iglesias COL 451 83.9 .336 .300 .337 .392 91
Luke Williams SFG/MIA 135 83.3 .354 .238 .289 .317 72
Jason Delay PIT 137 84.0 .325 .219 .270 .266 53
Minimum 100 plate appearances

All of the players with combinations of EV and BABIP that are similar to Grissom’s are either pulling it off within a small sample or play in Colorado or both (yikes, Kris Bryant). And already there are signs that the league is catching up to Grissom, as The Athletic’s David O’Brien noted:

The good news is that Grissom’s 33% hard-hit rate (the percentage of batted ball events 95 mph or higher) and 34.1% sweet spot rate (the percentage of batted ball events with a launch angle in the 8–32 degree range) are both within a couple of points of the major league averages (35.8% for the former, 33% for the latter), and his 7.7% barrel rate is a full point above the average. His actual slash stats are well ahead of his .267 xBA and .433 xSLG, which is certainly ample production for a middle infielder, if not as eye-opening as the line he’s putting up.

On the other side of the ball, Grissom is fairly new to playing second base, and his defensive metrics — to the extent that we can put stock in them after 290 innings, which is admittedly a stretch — are a bit rough. As Eric Longenhagen wrote in his prospect report in June, the Braves drafted Grissom believing that he could stick at shortstop, and in the minors he’s played 161 games there, compared to 29 at third and 19 at second. He’s a bit in the red at the keystone via both DRS (-2) and RAA (-3), which jibes with Eric’s report of him being “back to projecting more in the 2B/3B area, and [possibly] en route to a super utility role” that would include time in the outfield rather than him being the shortstop in waiting if Swanson departs via free agency on the heels of a career-best season (115 wRC+, 5.7 WAR).

In the short term, the Braves will probably be fine with Grissom filling in for Albies, though the division race is tight, and the difference in paths between the winner (likely a first-round bye) and the runner-up (likely a series against the second Wild Card team, currently the Padres, with the winner playing the top-seeded Dodgers) is significant. Our Playoff Odds give the Mets the edge at holding onto their lead (67.3% to 32.7%) and at winning the World Series (16.5% to 11.8%), though it’s the Braves who will host the final regular-season matchup between the two teams, from September 30 to October 2. The NL East title remains up for grabs, and while losing Albies is a blow for the Braves, they won last year after losing Acuña for half a season. Neither the Mets nor any other team who crosses their path is likely to need a reminder.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and Mastodon @jay_jaffe.

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4 months ago

The thing that stands out to me is the strikeout and walk rates. He’s not striking out a lot while also taking some walks. Considering the limited amount of minor league work he had before jumping into the fire, that’s pretty impressive! And he has enough juice to pull one over the wall every once in a while. Steamer has him as above average with the stick RoS. Ultimately, he may settle into a utility role but he’s got the skillset of a useful player.

4 months ago
Reply to  kylerkelton

He has the makings of a guy that does enough things decently to be an overall good player, if he can find a defensive position, whether that is a passable shortstop, an average second base, or a good corner outfielder.

It’s interesting that so far he has not shown game power that well as it was reported that he has added 30 pounds since being drafted. If he doesn’t convert that into better EV, he might regret it, to the extent it was really within his control, and to the extent that the added bulk may be hurting his defensive abilities.

4 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

I mean he has a .165 ISO, which is above the league average of .153. And 5 HRs in 132 PA. That’s a rate of about 20 home runs per 600 PA. That’s pretty decent game power.

4 months ago
Reply to  kylerkelton

I think in a sample this small the EV and barrel rate, and other metrics are more important.

I will say, he appears to me to have something of an old school approach. And maybe it will work for him. He seems to really try to battle with two strikes, which used to be the norm. Maybe it will work for him?

4 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

Sure it’s a small sample. The barrel rate you mention is above league average also.

He does kind of have an old school approach. I like it. He has the ability to ambush a pitch and hit it over the wall or like you said, he seems content to shorten up and go the opposite way with two strikes.

All in all, it’s the profile of a solid player. You’d like some more exit velo, sure, but let’s not forget the results. Franchy Cordero kills the ball but he sucks as a hitter.