Braves Lineup Why Is Chris Johnson Batting Eighth?

Braves third baseman Chris Johnson has a .366 OBP and is fourth in the league in hitting why is he hitting eighth? Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves lineup this year is full of home run power but it has yet to find it’s equilibrium. The leadoff man leads the major leagues in making outs with popups and has a .282 OBP.  Meanwhile the throw-in on Justin Upton trade is hitting eighth with an OBP.366 and some folks are asking why?

Who Is Chris Johnson

As a refresher here are the lineups numbers before the Mets game on the 23rd. As you can see CJ 2.0 is third of the team in OBP and  was fourth in batting average for the NL.

  PA AB R H SO BA OBP SLG
Andrelton Simmons 418 388 51 94 34 .242 .282 .351
Jason Heyward* 293 254 35 57 49 .224 .323 .366
Justin Upton 403 345 61 88 102 .255 .351 .452
Freddie Freeman* 364 322 50 100 72 .311 .387 .475
Brian McCann* 222 193 23 56 35 .290 .374 .534
Dan Uggla 375 318 48 62 120 .195 .312 .418
Evan Gattis 203 183 26 47 44 .257 .315 .552
B.J. Upton 318 277 23 49 102 .177 .266 .300
Chris Johnson 306 287 33 94 66 .328 .366 .460
Totals 2902 2567 350 647 624 .252 .328 .425

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/23/2013.

The Braves hometown paper – the AJC – had a story about how Johnson feels about hitting eighth.  After saying that there was no difference in hitting there or in any other position in the order unless there are runners on when he comes to the plate. He’s incorrect of course there is but, more on that later.  Johnson went on to say as long as he played everyday he didn’t care where he hit

“I don’t mind (hitting eighth),” he said. “I would never ask to be moved up. I would never say that I wanted to be. That would be a slap in the face of the seven guys who are batting ahead of me. Plus, I’m in the lineup every day. That’s all I want.”

Okay that would be true is all of the men hitting ahead of you were hitting as well or better. They aren’t.  I believe skipper Fredi Gonzalez actually hit on the reason earlier in that piece.

“Maybe he’s having that kind of success because he’s in that spot now.”

There’s actually data to support that theory.

Prior to coming to the Braves CJ 2.0 played 377 games with 1295 plate appearances in his full seasons with Houston and the Diamond backs. .His slash line for those games is below.

G BA OBP SLG OPS
337 .279 .318 .437 .755

Before this year his 1295 PA include one ( yes 1) in the eight hole,  That by itself doesn’t mean anything of course but there is more. Here are his numbers when hitting in every other spot in the lineup where he’s had more than 30 PA.

Hitting PA BA OBP SLG
5th 267 .234 .285 .369
6th 555 .263 .292 .392
7th 419 .321 .344 .531

It doesn’t take an in depth analysis to see a trend.and this years slash of .328/.366/.460 in 106 PA so far continues the trend.

When it comes to leverage situations where he hits makes little difference, CJ has always hit pretty well with RISP. Hitting in front of the pitcher may have made the numbers drop a bit but they are still pretty good.

Year PA BA OBP SLG
2010 93 .329 .366 .549
2011 102 .281 .333 .360
2012 142 .336 .369 .602
2013 70 .290 .357 .435

That’s A Wrap

I suspect Fredi Gonzalez didn’t do any of this before slotting CJ into the eight hole though I could be mistaken. The platoon with Juan Francisco to start the season dictated it. In baseball if something works you don’t change it so when Juan left CJ stayed in the eight spot.  I know I didn’t count a  Antonio Alfonseca handful of games in 2009, there just weren’t enough plate appearances to be representative and none of them were in the eight spot.

I’m sure someone will tell me that lineup position doesn’t make any difference. In a perfect world where mental attitude and approach have no effect on the way a player performs that may be true. It’s also true that the best hitters don’t care, they just go hit like Martin Prado seemed to do.  Players like Chipper Jones  actually thrive on that third or fourth slot while others do better elsewhere.  I believe players feel less pressure when hitting lower in the lineup – at least in the NL – and that change in attitude produces better results. That’s why I think Chris Johnson is having a career year. As CJ gets more experience and confidence he may well seek out more responsibility and become the five hole hitter he looks like now batting eighth. Moving him up in the order now might well produce the wrong result, so let’s leave him there.  By the way, Andrelton Simmons hits significantly better in the two hole than as a leadoff man. Someone tell Fredi.

Topics: Atlanta Braves, Chris Jones

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  • cheadrick

    While he is hitting well in the 8 hole, and while that can be a valid strategy for a team – to put a hot hitter low in a lineup, it’s not a very traditional strategy, or a very wise one in my opinion. As for players who claim they have to hit in a certain hole, they frankly need to grow up. I don’t think CJ makes that claim, and if you look at his numbers where he has batted in other holes this year, he’s done pretty good almost everywhere he’s been.

    • fireboss

      The other spots are a small sample size but I do agree that isn’t a great place for the 4th leading hitter in the league. OTOH it has nothing to do with growing up, it’s not a conscious thought – Gee I’m hitting 4th that’s hard – It’s more of a conditioned reflex and as such can be changed by positive reinforcement if Fredi was so inclined. I doubt Fredi has such intricate thought processes but I could be mistake. He should be in the 4 slot behind Freddie and ahead of BMac with Jason and Justin leading off but that won’t happen. CJ is gaining confidence every game so perhaps he’ll be that 5 hole man next year…

      • cheadrick

        I cannot relate to that thought process. I played all my life, then through high school, and 2 years college. Hole never entered my mind. You can always look at numbers and say a batter hits better in one hole above another, but their job is to hit regardless of the hole. Throughout CJs career, 8 hole is a small sample size for him too, but he’s hitting well in it. That suggests to me he would hit well in any hole because he’s just hot right now. As you said, Fredi has probably thought little about it. Oh well, it’s my belief it’s a mistake to keep him at or even near the 8 hole the rest of the year.

        • JerrodKnight

          You never played in the majors, or professionally, or probably on a high collegiate level, either. In the majors, some players’ egos, pride, and sense of their role can affect their view of a hole.

          • cheadrick

            No, as I said, “I played all my life, then through high school, and 2 years college.” Irrespective of the level you play at, baseball is baseball to me. If by the majors you haven’t figured out how to set aside your ego and pride, you probably never will. I just don’t think there’s ever a good reason for a hot hitter in the 8 hole. Guess we can all just agree to disagree on that one, but CJ is proving he didn’t need to be there as he’s tore it up in the 5 hole.

          • JerrodKnight

            Moving Johnson up made sense. I’m just explaining some of the factors that may have entered Gonzalez’s earlier thinking, and the higher you go on the ladder, the more that ego and pride can enter the equation.

  • JerrodKnight

    Most likely, Johnson was hitting eighth because Fredi Gonzalez did not want to bat B.J. Upton eighth, where he would receive fewer fastballs (in front of the pitcher) and thus fewer opportunities to come around. Plus, hitting eighth in the National League could constitute a psychological blow to a player of prominence or stature, possibly affecting him negatively.

    That said, Johnson’s hitting virtually demands that he come to the plate in better RBI opportunities.

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