May 19, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder Jordan Schafer (17) hits an RBI single in the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Braves once again lacking a leadoff hitter?

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.



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Tags: Andrelton Simmons Dan Uggla FanSided Fredi Gonzalez Jordan Schafer Tyler Pastornicky

  • fireboss

    Fredi doesn’t get to make that decision. Frank Wren shocked every other major league GM when he committed 5 years and 75 million to a an average center fielder with a below average OBP who struck out more than Uggla in 2012. We can discuss why he did that elsewhere but as long as the mid-market Braves are spending that much money the player will play145 games a year barring injury. We know this because his previous ill-advised checkbook opening has kept Uggla in the lineup when we had players who would have done as well or better on the roster. This isn’t Uggla or BJ’s fault. If they offered me guaranteed money like that I’d go out and do what I could. It wouldn’t be pretty but I’d do it.

    BJ isn’t going anywhere for a while but Uggla has value in trade if we eat some money. Since this is what my old buddy Bob Horton would call a sunken cost it should be explored. Whether we use it to fill out our bullpen or aquire a direct replacement at second or third – CJ will not keep hitting like this but he will provide as much pop as Uggla it seems – makes little difference if it opens a spot for Rev or the player we get in return can do the job. I don’t see Wren making that move but of course he always does the oppositie – well except for Justin Upton – of anything I’d do. One thing’s for certain, unless Uggla or BJ are absolutely awful they will play if Fredi wants to keep his job because anything else wouldpoint directly at the GM and he cannot allow that.

    • carpengui

      Okay… Who Could Use Uggla? …would the Braves be willing to eat $8m/yr for the rest of that deal?

      1. White Sox. Jeff Keppinger has been a disaster… and they signed him for 3 years, but fortunately for the Sox, it’s ‘only’ at $4m per.
      2. Blue Jays. Kinda depends on whether they want to blow it all up (again) or try and rehab this season’s failure. They have 3 guys who can play second, and they’re all worse than Uggla…maybe not Derosa, who’s 38. Of particular note, Brandon League has been very shaky as their closer lately and the Braves could really use him. This one makes too much sense.
      3. Twins. Uggla isn’t their kind of guy, and the money wouldn’t appeal to them… even at only $5m/yr. Also not the right kind of park for Dan.
      4. Orioles. This also makes sense, and Uggla would actually be an improvement … except defensively. This would mean the end for Brian Roberts there, though he’s had such a tortured tenure there anyway, and his contract is done.
      5. Rockies. Likely not since LeMahieu has been adequate for them, and the front office is hard to make a deal with.
      6. Royals. There could be a lynching of Dayton Moore if he does yet another deal with an Atlanta cast-off. However, they’re getting nothing out of either Elliot Johnson or Chris Getz, and this is a team that went ‘all in’ with James Shields, et al. They need something.
      7. Seattle. Meh. Why would they bother? They are going nowhere. Maybe in the off-season.

      Blue Jays – Orioles – Royals. That’s my phone calls.

      • fireboss

        I’m sure the White Sox are sellers at the deadline not buyers. The Orioles are interesting, I hadn’t considered them but I suspect Buck could get more out of him. Now whether Duquette would consider it I don’t know. I don’t know about the Jays either though AA needs to come close this year he really has more power than he needs so I don’t see that as a fit. The Royals are possible as are the M’s who really want to challenge now. Oddly enough the Mets too might fit, it would allow them to slide Murphy to first and provide experienced pop (albeit occasional ) alongside Wright.

      • carpengui

        From MLBTR:

        “Asked about the Orioles seeking a potential upgrade at second base via the trade market, Ghiroli said that the team isn’t looking for second base upgrades. Baltimore is satisfied with the defense of Ryan Flaherty, and Brian Roberts is nearing a rehab assignment. According to Ghiroli, the Orioles would prefer to “[funnel] any and all resources and trade chips into helping out the rotation.” ”

        Huh. Okay.

        • fireboss

          That makes sense to me. They have lots of pop and need sure hands in the middle.

  • cheadrick

    Yeah, as I’ve said before, in a perfect world, BJ would simply sit the bench, and perhaps a Jordan Schafer would lead off. He’s really the only viable candidate unless you think maybe Uggla, where while he’s typically in for power, does walk alot. Strange yes, but you just need a higher OBP at leadoff, period, whoever that is. This isn’t a perfect world though, and Fred is right – BJ will play, pure and simple. If he sucks at leadoff, which he does despite being acquired for that role, but must play, then Fredi’s options are quite limited. If it were me though, and BJ had to play, you just keep plugging with AS, and hope his OBP improves as a leadoff, or you continue tinkering. Who knows what will happen by the trade deadline(s)… we could see changes we didn’t expect.

  • Lee Trocinski

    Welcome aboard Jordan. Apparently, I leave and everyone wants to come write here. Must say something about me…

    The Braves just don’t have any high-OBP guys that aren’t middle-of-the-order type. Schafer has been good so far, but anyone who thinks his OBP will be above .320 the rest of the year is fooling themselves. Pastornicky doesn’t square the ball up enough to post a .350 BABIP at the majors, so his OBP would be around .300.

    Uggla hasn’t been good, but his OBP and SLG are close to league average. His bigger problem is on defense, which won’t be getting any better at his age.

    Finding a table-setter is a lot harder than most think. Using ZiPS rest-of-season projections, only 104 players are expected to have an OBP above .333. Of those hitters, half of them have ISO’s above .175, so they’re middle-of-order guys. The only 2B on the list that looks to be available is my favorite position player, Chase Utley. If he shows he’s healthy after his current DL stint, he would be a great target. I don’t see it working out financially, but hey, I can dream.

    • fireboss

      Daniel Murphy would be a good fit too. I suppose Altuve fits as well though the Astros have little or nor use for Uggla, not a Luhnow kind of player.

      • cheadrick

        Yeah, I like Murphy. He’s not the ideal leadoff with his OBP that has fallen off a bit, but he hits for avg. pretty well, and may be affordable.

        • fireboss

          When he had better players around him he had a better obp. I attribute the decline to being all alone.