Feb 27, 2013; Lakeland, FL, USA; A view of a lineup card in the dugout before a spring training game between the Detroit Tigers and the Atlanta Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Optimizing the Atlanta Braves Lineup

It is without question that the 2014 Atlanta Braves offense is below average…

…and looking at them on paper, they really shouldn’t be.  There are 4 guys in Evan Gattis, Freddie Freeman, Tommy La Stella, and Justin Upton that are above average hitters for their position, 1 that is slightly above-average in Jason Heyward, 1 that is slightly below average in Chris Johnson, and 2 that are well-below average in Andrelton Simmons and B.J. Upton.  All in all, that should equal an average to slightly above average offense, so what gives?

According to “The Book”, there is a mathematical method to optimizing a lineup that, most certainly does not put B.J. Upton, the team’s worst hitter, leading off.  It also questions other unwritten rules of baseball, such as hitting your best hitter 3rd, putting a contact hitter in the 2nd spot, and so on. Borrowing the following piece from “BeyondtheBoxscore” by Sky Kalkman which summarizes optimizing a lineup, let’s look at how the Braves could get the best bang for their buck.

Who should be the Atlanta Braves lead-off hitter?

Speed. That’s what’s been known to be the end all be all lead-off hitter in the MLB.  Someone that can get on and steal a base, all other stats be damned. Au contraire mon frere.  The book says that getting on base is key.  Now why in the world would the Braves let B.J. Upton go anywhere near the lead-off spot? They shouldn’t.  Here’s the breakdown from Beyond the Boxscore:

The Book says OBP is king. The lead-off hitter comes to bat only 36% of the time with a runner on base, versus 44% of the time for the next lowest spot in the lineup, so why waste homeruns? The lead-off hitter also comes to the plate the most times per game, so why give away outs? As for speed, stealing bases is most valuable in front of singles hitters, and since the top of the order is going to be full of power hitters, they’re not as important….”

So, soaking in that li’l nugget, to whom do you think should be atop the order?  I know mine.

Who should be the Atlanta Braves 2nd hitter?

Contact.  That’s been the name of the 2nd hitter game forever in MLB.  Someone that can get the lead-off hitter over for the big bats coming up.  But what if the lead-off hitter doesn’t get on base as happens about 65% of the time in baseball?  I’ll give it back to BTB:

The Books says the #2 hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the #3 hitter, but more often. That means the #2 hitter should be better than the #3 guy, and one of the best three hitters overall. And since he bats with the bases empty more often than the hitters behind him, he should be a high-OBP player…”

Hmmm…visualizing yet?

Who should be the Atlanta Braves 3rd hitter?

Chipper Jones was the best hitter on the team for 2 decades and he batted 3rd and that’s where the best hitter should hit, right? Not according to the book and summarized by BTB:

“The Book says the #3 hitter comes to the plate with, on average, fewer runners on base than the #4 or #5 hitters…”

That can’t be right, right? It’s math, people. Think about this…how often does a #3 hitter come up with 2 outs and no runners on base? A crap load.

Who should be the Atlanta Braves 4th hitter?

POWAH! Lots and lots of POWAH!  Well, yes.  This is one where generally the book and the unwritten rules of baseball agree…kind of (from BTB):

“The Book says the #4 hitter comes to bat in the most important situations out of all nine spots, but is equal in importance to the #2 hole once you consider the #2 guy receives more plate appearances. The cleanup hitter is the best hitter on the team with power.”

Smell what I’m steppin’ in yet?

Who should be the Atlanta Braves 5th hitter?

The cleanup hitter that should have been.  That’s what the old school mentality is, and frankly, it’s pretty much the same in “The Book”, summarized by BTB:

The Book says the #5 guy can provide more value than the #3 guy with singles, doubles, triples, and walks, and avoiding outs, although the #3 guy holds an advantage with homeruns.”

So, the #5 hitter is more valuable than the #3 hitter? According to the math, yes.

Who should be the Atlanta Braves #6-8 hitters?

Once again, it sounds as though the old school way and “The Book” essentially agree with each other in the fact that the 6-8 part of the order should be talent-based with 6th being the best of the worst and 8th being worst of the worst, with one slight addition that would affect the Braves’ optimized lineup:

 Stolen bases are most valuable ahead of high-contact singles hitters, who are more likely to hit at the bottom of the lineup. So a base-stealing threat who doesn’t deserve a spot higher in the lineup is optimized in the #6 hole, followed by the singles hitters.”

Subliminal B.J. Message Upton Intended

Now, Optimizing the Atlanta Braves lineup

1. Tommy La Stella- the ideal OBP guy.  Yes, he was tried there and no, he did not fare well, but it came right during an adjustment stage in his swing where he was admittedly pulling off of the ball.  I think he should be given the spot back.

2. Justin Upton- it really is a crapshoot between he and Freeman for the 2nd spot, but I’ll give it to Justin based purely on speed and the ability to stay out of the GIDP.

3. Jason Heyward- likely the 4th-5th best hitter on the team, Jason gets this spot based on handedness and his XBH ability.

4. Evan Gattis- as of now, he’s the quintessential power in the Braves lineup and should be treated as such.

5. Freddie Freeman- According to the Book, he could be put in either the 2, 4, or 5 spot, but I put him 5th due to handedness keeping him out of the 4th spot and his lack  of speed keeping him out of the 2nd spot.

6. B.J. Upton- The speed in front of the singles hitter.

7. Chris Johnson-  The singles hitter.

8. Andrelton Simmons- Could be an argument to swap him with B.J. or even Chris Johnson, but this is likely his spot until he adjusts his approach.

So, what do you guys think? Agree? Disagree?  Let’s hear from the masses!

Tags: Andrelton Simmons B.J. Upton Chris Johnson Evan Gattis Freddie Freeman Jason Heyward Justin Upton Tommy La Stella

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