Fredi Gonzalez LOVES lineups. It’s one of his most favorite things in the world, next to poor bullpen management and sitting on the bench with a look of bewilderment every time the opposing team scores. He loves lineups so much he has used 63 different ones entering Thursday’s game and only used the same one five times and that’s not including the pitcher so it’s only the top eight. Guy freaking loves the strategery that goes with formulating that day’s lineups.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t use much thinking beyond the made up SNL word. Entering Thursday, Andrelton Simmons had batted leadoff 47 times. The common reason to this consistent stupidity is that the Braves simply don’t have a true leadoff hitter, unlike last year when they had the swift Michael Bourn at the ever-ready to employ. In fact, for the majority of the season, the top four has not changed too awfully much since day one. Simmons is typically followed by Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Freddie Freeman.
It’s not fair to put the entire blame of the lineup misuse on Gonzalez. After all, injuries to a few players, plus down years from nearly everyone, PLUS the surprising contributions from the bench have forced his hand to some degree.
So, to take a little bit of the stress off Gonzalez, here is my lineup to use.
Batting first, Jason Heyward. Yes, we don’t have your stereotypical leadoff hitter, but that doesn’t mean you utilize possibly your poorest option just cause. Heyward, after struggling early, gives you a strong walk rate (10.2%) and has hit .307/.368/.482 since June 3rd. His BABIP was suppressed early and he was due a lot of hits to follow and we are seeing that.
Batting second, Chris Johnson. Truthfully, I am not a huge fan of Johnson, but facts are facts and after awhile, they became a little irrefutable. What good is a .379 OBP hitting 8th, even if it’s bloated by a .333 batting average? Ride the wave as much as possible and score a few more runs while you are at it. I kind of understand why Johnson has been hitting 8th for so long. One, this kind of production has to be unsustainable. Second, because you are caddying him with a defensive replacement, you might see a lot of Paul Janish (and previously, Ramiro Pena) in this spot after switches. In the event of a tie game or a lost lead, that could present situations where pitchers would find this spot in the order and force your hand. Still…ideally, you might score more runs with this lineup so that problem might be muted.
Hitting third, get your chants ready, it’s Freddie Freeman. With Heyward and Johnson on ahead of him, it should lead to more run-producing at-bats. What more can you say about Freeman this season? While his ISO is a little low at .162 for your ideal number three hitter, he should get that closer to .200 before the end of the season and it’s good to see that he has maintained his walk rate as it reached 10% last season.
Batting cleanup, Justin Upton. Eventually, he has to start slugging again. The walk rate has been considerably strong all season and when the homers start to return, the ISO will get closer to where it’s expected to be at. He wasn’t the Superman of April, but he’s considerably better than this.
Getting the nod in the five-hole, Brian McCann. He has had a power-binge of late with four doubles and three homers in his last eight games and his BABIP should continue to climb from .268 to his career .291. Starting to think it’s safe to say he has put his rough 2012 in the rear-view. Plus, he has to understand that every homer has a chance to garner him a nice deal on the open market following the season.
Hitting sixth, Dan Uggla. I know, I know. The first five are easy, but from here, it is a little big more difficult. What sets Uggla apart from the next two? His walk rate remains extremely strong and his isolated power was still over .200 entering Thursday. Now, will he continue his quest to be the living embodiment of The Three True Outcomes? Probably not to this extent, but while he will strike out a great deal in any spot in the lineup, he has a good shot of falling into some multiple-run-producing at-bats with this lineup ahead of him.
Batting seventh, B.J. Upton. He has shown some signs of late, posting a .740 OPS since May 21st, and continues to walk at a solid rate, much like the majority of this entire lineup, save Johnson and the guy in the 8-hole. Unfortunately, every time he looks about ready to go off on a tear, he has a couple 0-for-4’s and it all comes crashing down.
And hitting eighth, Andrelton Simmons. No player has brought me such joy and frustration like Simmons this season. In the field, he is almost worth the price of admission. He already has a 24 DRS and a 11.3 UZR. And he does it so quietly, often without the need for the flair that gets other worse players on Web Gems and other highlight shows. Ozzie Smith would be proud. Unfortunately, he has regressed with the bat. After a 9.9% walk rate in AA before his promotion last year, it reverted to 6.6% in the majors last season and 4.9% this year. You want to believe his BABIP of .254 explains some of his struggles, but there is no career baseline to make that judgement with much authority. However, to bat this guy leadoff is to hamper your team from the get-go. Let him grow as a hitter lower in the order while getting so much value in the field from him.
Some added information…I change zero for L/R splits, but when he returns, Jordan Schafer should grab two-to-three starts a week from B.J. When he plays, I would bat him leadoff and drop Heyward back in the two hole with Johnson hitting sixth and Uggla dropping one spot to seventh.
There you go, Fredi. Time to make it happen.