Until the acquisition of Michael Bourn in the summer of 2011, the Braves hadn’t had a true leadoff hitter since the Rafael Furcal days. Now with Bourn in Cleveland and Andrelton Simmons primarily in the leadoff role for the Braves so far in the 2013 campaign, it seems as if the Braves are right back where they started trying to find a new table setter.
Andrelton Simmons is undoubtedly the shortstop that will anchor down the infield for the next decade. He has shown flashes of brilliance and has dazzled for the Braves at times. However, just like most other 23 year old big leaguers he continues to experience some growing pains. The sky is the limit for Andrelton, and the Braves are super excited about what he can do in the future. With all of that being said, if he has proven anything within his first calendar year in the big leagues, its that he isn’t a true leadoff hitter. Simmons, like many hitters in the Braves lineup loves to attack pitches early in the count. He is not a hitter that is going to work the count and is not a hitter that will take a lot of walks, something that stereotypical leadoff hitters will do. Andrelton sees only 3.46 pitches per plate appearance which is way too low for a table setter. Hitting in the leadoff spot this season, Simmons batting average is just .228 and more importantly his on base percentage is only .258. By all accounts that is proof that the leadoff role simply isn’t the best fit for Andrelton at this stage of his career. When dropped to either sixth or seventh in the order, Simba’s average is much higher as he is raking at a .262 clip and is on base well over 30% of the time. By disproving Andrelton in that role, that raises the question as to who would be a better fit for the Braves in house to stabilize the role and set the table for the RBI guys.
At least from the play that I have seen on the field so far this year, it certainly appears that the Braves best leadoff option on the major league roster is none other than Jordan Schafer. When Fredi Gonzalez has placed Jordan in the leadoff role this season, he has not disappointed. In a rather small but impressive sample size, Schafer has hit .291 in the leadoff role this season in just 55 at bats. The most impressive stat of all is that Schafer has reaches base over 40% of the time when he bats first in the lineup. The 26 year old outfielder has really blossomed in his return season to Atlanta. Many believe he has turned a corner and embraced the talent he has been blessed with, which is his speed. I’m among those people who believe that Schafer is vastly improved and would love to see him get more cracks at the leadoff spot. The only problem with Schafer taking over the leadoff role full time is that it’d be extremely tough to tell either one of the Upton brothers or Jason Heyward that they will be playing a reserve role from now on. With the franchise believing in Justin and Jason as the corner outfielders of the future, and $15 million a year invested in BJ, it seems like it will be very tough to find regular playing time for a guy such as Schafer.
To me, the most intriguing option is a guy who has been almost forgotten about in Braves country, Tyler Pastornicky. Tyler after being demoted in June of last season, has had a roller coaster ride of a year. The excuse that Frank Wren used when sending down Pastornicky last June was that his defense was not up to par at the major league level. Tyler handled the demotion well and went about his business down in Gwinnett the rest of the 2012 campaign. This spring was a breakout one for Tyler, he hit at a .375 clip and was on base 44% of the time. Many believed that Pastornicky had earned his spot on the big league club but once again he was sent to Gwinnett to start the 2013 season. This time to tune up his skills at a new position, second base. Before his call up yesterday, Pastornicky was once again lighting up Gwinnett. He was batting .309 and had a .351 on base percentage. Although he has not been batting leadoff for the most part at Gwinnett, Tyler does possess speed and Fredi had endorsed him as a possible leadoff hitter prior to opening day last season. The only thing that really stands between Pastornicky as the starting 2nd baseman role on the big club is a man hitting under .200 with over 85 strikeouts in June. That man is Dan Uggla, who’s era in Atlanta has been mostly a disappointment. Uggla has never hit over .233 for the Braves and has been flirting with the Mendoza line for a strong majority of his time in a Braves uniform. He also had a career low in home runs and RBI’s last season.
With the cases being stated for both Schafer and Pastornicky. It remains to be seen if Fredi will be willing to sacrifice some of the power the Braves lineup possesses to get either Schafer or Pastornicky a full time chance at setting the table. With the lineup being as inconsistent as it has been so far this season, I think it would be worth a shot to give these guys a chance. The home run hitters in this lineup, make this team fun to watch at times but there have also been some moments this season where we struggle to wonder why Frank Wren was willing to give BJ Upton such a big contract instead of making a stronger push to re-sign Michael Bourn. I think Wren and the Braves at times this season have realized the importance of having men on in front of your boppers. A prime example of this has been Justin Upton‘s season so far. He has 15 home runs yet only 31 runs batted in. With hitters like Freddie Freeman in this lineup who are hungry for RBI’s, Frank Wren should be itching for a guy who can set the table and let them eat.