Lineup turnover. It is unfortunately a part of the game today. We’re in an age of specialization; an age of arbitration; an age of free agency. It is an era in which dollars and length of contract matter as much as batting average, OPS, FIP and SIERA. We all want our favorite players to be Cal Ripken Jr. or Chipper Jones – these icons of baseball who play for the same team for their entire careers.
Baseball’s Free Agency really began roughly in 1976. The case of Curt Flood dates back to 1969, but it took the actions of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally in 1975 to really get the ball rolling. Since 1976, of the top 30 hitters in career fWAR, 10 played for a single team. Since 1986, that top 30 count was reduced to 7. Counting from 1996, you find 7 again (Chipper, Derek Jeter, Todd Helton, Chase Utley, Jeff Bagwell, David Wright, and Jimmy Rollins – who may or may not stay on this list).
Now despite Chipper Jones‘ example, it’s hardly a shock to guess that the Braves had experienced a lot of lineup turnover from year-to-year. You might be surprised, though, at just how much there’s been.
The following graphic (click on it if it’s too hard to read) shows the names of the players starting each first game since 2007 for Atlanta… at every position:
The numbers beside each group show the number of different names that held at each position during these past seven seasons. Thus the most “stable” positions have been Right Field and Catcher… the latter of which might even had been a “1” if Brian McCann had been recovered from his surgery of a year ago. While it doesn’t surprise me to see Left Field as the most “volatile” position, the surprise is in Center Field – especially given that Andruw Jones‘ name appears as the 2007 starter. But alas, that was the 10th and final year of his tenure with Atlanta.
Even the year-to-year overall turnover hints at instability. Here are the numbers of changes experienced over these same 7 seasons:
- From 2006 to 2007: 2 player changes, plus the starting pitcher (33%)
- From 2007 to 2008: 4 player changes, plus the starting pitcher (55%)
- From 2008 to 2009: 3 player changes, plus the starting pitcher (44%)
- From 2009 to 2010: 5 player changes (55%)
- From 2010 to 2011: 4 player changes (44%)
- From 2011 to 2012: 4 player changes, plus the starting pitcher (55%)
- From 2012 to 2013: 5 player changes, plus the starting pitcher (66%)
Don’t even get me started about the bullpen.
As I recall, though, we went into the post-2012 off-season with only the following needs: either Third base or Left Field (whichever Martin Prado didn’t occupy – or so we thought) and Center Field. McCann was going in for surgery, but all we had to do was re-up David Ross, right? In fact, the biggest debate point was whether Juan Francisco could handle third base on a daily basis. So once Center Field was resolved, we pack up everything and head for Florida, right?
Yeah, that plan went well.
So What’s in Store for 2014?
Unfortunately, we already know about a couple of changes, but it is looking like the Braves could have the least lineup turnover since 1995 coming up next Spring:
- Due to the departure of Tim Hudson, we will definitely have a new Opening Day starting pitcher. But that’s the only definitive change we know about at this point. Right now, I’d put the odds at 20% that our next OD starter is a player not currently on the roster… but that’s a topic still wide open for speculation, rumor and innuendo over the next few weeks.
- Oddly enough, we could actually see a repeat of Gerald Laird behind the dish on Monday, March 31st. But it could also be Evan Gattis in there.
- It’s pretty much an open secret that the Braves are shopping Dan Uggla. If successful, that would obviously mean a change at second base.
Other than that, I am not anticipating much else to move between now and the end of next March – injuries notwithstanding. And despite the possibility of still having players in that lineup who experienced such forgettable performances in 2013, it’s actually largely calming to know that so many familiar faces should be out there again for 2014.
Of course, by the time those lineup cards are exchanged on March 31st… well, by now we know that almost anything can happen.
Pitchers and Catchers reporting date is February 13th. 80 days away. Can’t Wait.