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.
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.
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.
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.
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.