So, Where Will Chipper Bat When McCann Returns?

Hello again everyone from southeast Michigan, where the thunderstorms they predicted have so far been as rare as Rafael Belliard home runs, which is actually quite fine by me.

Sitting here sifting through some recent box scores after posting the article on injuries, a thought jumped into my head: what slot in the batting order will Chipper Jones hit in after Brian McCann returns from the DL? Answering the question brings quite a few tangential issues into the equation, which may not be as simple as it sounds at first.

I think that there are three things that need to be kept in mind as the issue is addressed:

1) Chipper Jones is a future Hall Of Famer. He does have an ego. He is human. Though he has said that he’ll gladly bat in whatever slot he’s asked to hit in, he must be handled with kid gloves. And, lest we forget, he’s still a very productive hitter for a third baseman, especially with the currently depressed offensive environment. I’ll address his productivity more in a moment.

2) Freddie Freeman is a rookie. As I’ve said since before spring training, he’s a very good hitter, and he’s getting better. I still think he hits the ball as hard as anyone on the team, and he’s learning to get a lot more backspin with his “handsy” swing; his home run production is increasing accordingly. But he is still just a rookie. He has been on a long hot streak, but what will happen when he hits his first slump in the closing chapters of a pennant race? Hitting in the three hole can be a lot of perceived pressure.

3) The Braves offense is finally starting to hit its stride and be what most observers thought it would be during the spring. If Jose Constanza keeps hitting and Alex Gonzalez doesn’t forget how to hit again, there isn’t a weak spot in the lineup. As has been demonstrated many times, the batting order itself (independent of the mental issues it may bring) is not a terribly critical factor in how many runs a team scores. In my opinion, if the team hits .260 or better the rest of the way and the HR rate doesn’t decline, the batting order for this Braves team in particular makes very little difference, as they’ll score with OBP (three hits/walks in an inning), OBP + speed (two hits and a stolen base or an extra base taken on a single or double), or by HR. The main variable to be addressed, in my opinion, is to keep from stacking all your left handed hitters in a row.

I recognize that everyone may not buy into the three “assumptions” I’ve outlined above. It’s probably beyond the scope of this post to prove point 3 mathematically, but if you Google the topic and study the work already done, then factor in what the Braves lineup is doing right now, I think you’ll see that the impact cannot be really large. As to points 1 and 2, if you don’t really believe that there’s a human factor involved and that the answer should be derived mathematically, then there’s probably nothing I can do to change your mind. Just know that virtually everyone who is or has been a major league player, coach, manager, GM, or bat boy will disagree with you.

So, assuming for the moment that there is validity to points 1-3, what do you do if you’re Fredi Gonzalez? I’d submit that there will be two different batting orders, one against lefties and one against righties.

The lineup against lefties that I would use is actually pretty traditional:

1 Bourn (L)
2 Prado (R)
3 Jones (S)
4 Uggla (R)
5 McCann (L)
6 Freeman (L)
7 Gonzalez (R)
8 Constanza (L)
9 Pitcher

I would think this batting order would have the least controversy. The obvious place where a change might be considered is flopping Jones and Freeman. I wouldn’t. First, I don’t think you want to drop Chipper to sixth in the order for the first time in his career (he’s been slotted in seventh a couple of times as a pinch hitter). I’d advise you to keep in mind that Chipper is hitting close to .270 with a .782 OPS and 115 OPS+ playing on one leg. And he hasn’t had a hot streak yet. I can almost guarantee you, based on history, that Chipper will have at least one major hot streak this season. And Freddie is only hitting .246 against lefties. Finally, let Chipper do his job as a team leader and take the pressure off Freeman. Freeman will be the number three hitter long-term, maybe even against lefties, but I don’t think he should be asked to do that now.

Switching gears to my lineup against righties, it started out to not be hugely different, but actually was when I finished:

1 Bourn (L)
2 Jones (S)
3 Freeman (L)
4 Uggla (R)
5 McCann (L)
6 Prado (R)
7 Constanza (L)
8 Gonzalez (R)
9 Pitcher

Let me first say that I don’t expect this order to be used, as it’s too non-traditional for Fredi, amongst other reasons. Beyond that, though, it provides perfect left/right separation. It puts Chipper in the number two slot, which is actually a very good fit to his capabilities at this point in his career. Good OBP, good bat control, reasonable power). It puts Freddie Freeman in the number three slot against right-handers, which for him is no pressure at all as he has always raked against righties, as a left-handed hitter. The only major controversy is Prado in the six hole. I think he would be more comfortable there than the only other reasonable option, which would be Chipper. Personally, I’ll take Chipper from the left side of the plate anytime, especially on fresh legs.

I guess at the end of the day I could have titled this article “Would you bat Chipper sixth?”, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as fun. I do think the issue is more psychological than anything else, so long as the team (and Dan Uggla) keep hitting. That’s my take; what’s yours?

Topics: Alex Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves, Braves, Brian Mccann, Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, Frank Wren, Freddie Freeman, Fredi Gonzalez, Martin Prado

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  • FredOwens

    It does make a difference who hits where in the lineup. The top 3 places hit more often than the rest that’s why LaRusa hots the pitcher 8th- in order to give Pujols more opportunities with RISP. The lineup isn’t all that complicated IMHO. Mac will hit third Freeman move to sixth with Alex 7th and Constanza 8th or ninth. Should the slumbering Heyward awake he would slot in behind Freeman or Gonzales depending on Fredi’s allegiance to r-l-r-l-r-l-r-l order. Your best hitter hits third. This year that’s Mac. Chipper is quite happy in the 5 hole and has hit well there. Uggla does 4 just fine with Chipper in back of him and Mac hitting in front will force pitchers to be more careful aggressive with Prado meaning he gets better pitches to hit. Freeman comes out on the short end here because with Alex behind him the pitchers won’t be so willing to throw him the fastballs he gets now. If Heyward is hitting that changes too of course,

    Elementary my dear Robert :-)

  • FredOwens

    It does make a difference who hits where in the lineup. The top 3 places hit more often than the rest that’s why LaRusa hots the pitcher 8th- in order to give Pujols more opportunities with RISP. The lineup isn’t all that complicated IMHO. Mac will hit third Freeman move to sixth with Alex 7th and Constanza 8th or ninth. Should the slumbering Heyward awake he would slot in behind Freeman or Gonzales depending on Fredi’s allegiance to r-l-r-l-r-l-r-l order. Your best hitter hits third. This year that’s Mac. Chipper is quite happy in the 5 hole and has hit well there. Uggla does 4 just fine with Chipper in back of him and Mac hitting in front will force pitchers to be more careful aggressive with Prado meaning he gets better pitches to hit. Freeman comes out on the short end here because with Alex behind him the pitchers won’t be so willing to throw him the fastballs he gets now. If Heyward is hitting that changes too of course,

    Elementary my dear Robert :-)

  • BobHorton

    @FredOwens Hey Freddy! I also think Chipper is happy in the 5 hole, but I don’t think he’d be so happy in the six hole. And, when you run the numbers, the batting order becomes more important when there are fewer players hitting well (kind of common sense when you think about it, I guess!). Anyway, I don’t think you’ll see Mac stay in the three hole against lefties, even though he’s hit them pretty well this year. I have no issue with him hitting there against righties.. It’ll be interesting to see how Fredi handles it!

    Still in ATL?

    Bob

  • BobHorton

    @FredOwens Hey Freddy! I also think Chipper is happy in the 5 hole, but I don’t think he’d be so happy in the six hole. And, when you run the numbers, the batting order becomes more important when there are fewer players hitting well (kind of common sense when you think about it, I guess!). Anyway, I don’t think you’ll see Mac stay in the three hole against lefties, even though he’s hit them pretty well this year. I have no issue with him hitting there against righties.. It’ll be interesting to see how Fredi handles it!

    Still in ATL?

    Bob

  • FredOwens

    Fredi G says he’s hitting 6th. I think that puts Freeman behind Uggla and protects him with Chipper but leaves Chipper unprotected with Alex, Jason or Jose behind him. Perhaps that’s the right move as Chipper is the past and the rest are the present. It will hurt his average, and other numbers and his is still arguably the best with RISP. We’ll see how long that lasts.

    I got home this afternoon. Wish I could afford to stay there all summer the loaf somewhere all winter. I doubt anyone wants to give a 62 year old ex-firefighter a job. I wouldn’t need a huge salary but it’s one of those things that isn’t happening. O could get used to two days a week at the Ted.

  • FredOwens

    Fredi G says he’s hitting 6th. I think that puts Freeman behind Uggla and protects him with Chipper but leaves Chipper unprotected with Alex, Jason or Jose behind him. Perhaps that’s the right move as Chipper is the past and the rest are the present. It will hurt his average, and other numbers and his is still arguably the best with RISP. We’ll see how long that lasts.

    I got home this afternoon. Wish I could afford to stay there all summer the loaf somewhere all winter. I doubt anyone wants to give a 62 year old ex-firefighter a job. I wouldn’t need a huge salary but it’s one of those things that isn’t happening. O could get used to two days a week at the Ted.

  • BobHorton

    @FredOwens Hey, my brother just retired from the fire dept. In Clayton County, Ga. He still has the part time gig he’s had forever with A&E(Sears) appliance repair. We should email about it.

    Also, I figured FG would take the easy way out and bat him sixth, even though he’s showing signs of going on a major tear right now. Jeez!
    Bob

  • BobHorton

    @FredOwens Hey, my brother just retired from the fire dept. In Clayton County, Ga. He still has the part time gig he’s had forever with A&E(Sears) appliance repair. We should email about it.

    Also, I figured FG would take the easy way out and bat him sixth, even though he’s showing signs of going on a major tear right now. Jeez!
    Bob