ATLANTA -- The questions about how the Braves would find playing time for Nick Markakis may have been answered when MLB confirmed National League teams will use a designated hitter for the 2020 season.
This is part of the health and safety protocols being put in place as Major League Baseball returns.
Markakis might not serve as the designated hitter on a regular basis, but the presence of the DH will give manager Brian Snitker a chance to utilize his veteran outfielder without necessarily taking top offseason acquisition Marcell Ozuna out of the lineup.
When the Braves signed Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal in January, the primary concern was his defense. His range has declined over the past few seasons and his arm strength has not returned since his right shoulder surgery following the 2018 season.
With the presence of the designated hitter, the Braves can put Ozuna’s power in the middle of their lineup on a daily basis without having to worry about his glove, but using Ozuna as the primary DH is just one option. Here’s a look at each of the players Snitker could consider putting in this role.
You can argue it would be best for the Braves to use Ozuna as their desginated hitter every day and that Markakis is less of a liability than Ozuna in left field.
Ozuna won a Gold Glove in 2017, and Markakis captured his most recent after the '18 season. Now that we’ve acknowledged this, let’s recognize we’re talking about two below-average defenders. According to Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average leaderboard, among the 66 outfielders who had a minimum of 200 attempts last year, Markakis ranked 47th with -2 OAA and Ozuna ranked 58th with -8 OAA.
So with Truist Park’s dimensions, who would you want playing left field most frequently? The correct answer is Adam Duvall. But the .667 OPS that Duvall has produced against right-handed pitchers over the past two years is not a ringing endorsement for him to field on a daily basis.
Ozuna will be in the lineup on an everyday basis. The question is, should he play the field or simply serve as the designated hitter while Markakis and Duvall platoon in left field?
If the Braves want to give Ozuna some playing time in left field, Markakis would be a candidate for designated hitter against right-handed pitchers, and the 36-year-old veteran would be used off the bench against lefty starters. But the .823 OPS he has produced against righties over the past two seasons makes Markakis a candidate to be in the lineup on a somewhat regular basis this year.
The Braves opted to keep Ronald Acuña Jr. in left field while Markakis was playing right field for a significant portion of the past two seasons, since left field is more challenging at Atlanta's home park. But moving Acuña from right field to left field to account for Markakis’ limitations wouldn't be a feasible option, because the young superstar will likely move to center field in relief of Ender Inciarte, who like Markakis could sit regularly against lefties.
Adam Duvall and Austin Riley
Given that Duvall is an above-average left fielder, there really isn’t any reason to use him as the designated hitter unless a favorable right-on-right matchup materializes. But Duvall's success against left-handed pitchers over the past three seasons makes him an option to play against southpaws.
Likewise, the Braves will need to find ways to create plate appearances for Austin Riley and Johan Camargo, who will battle to be the starting third baseman. Camargo has proven he can be valuable in this role, but if Riley were to come out swinging like he did when he homered once every 11.5 at-bats through his first 42 games last year, then Snitker will certainly find a way to put his bat in the lineup on a daily basis.