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)
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)
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?