Making Sense of Yesterday’s Roster & Lineup Decisions

Ozzie Albies hits for the Gwinnett Braves.

Making Sense of Yesterday’s Roster & Lineup Decisions

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It was already going to be a big day as far as major league debuts go, but the surprising afternoon news of another new addition to the list of players to play in the bigs was a bit confusing at first. The decision to bring Ozzie Albies to the major leagues yesterday was given some context as the day went on.

Albies WAS NOT brought to the majors for an injury. He WAS NOT brought to the majors for to spend some time around the team. He WAS NOT even brought to the majors because the Braves needed depth. He WAS brought in as Brandon Phillips‘ replacement at second base. Quite simply, the Braves decided to bring Albies up to be the difference maker we believe he can be.

But that wasn’t the only decision the Braves made yesterday. Let’s look at each decision and what they mean for the Braves over the next couple of months.

The big news of the day was originally going to be Lucas Sims Day. One of the last holdovers from the Frank Wren regime, Sims was essentially handed Jaime Garcia‘s spot in the rotation after a brief reminder that Aaron Blair is unlikely to be the guy. Unless “the guy” is defined to mean “remember the guy who also came over with Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte?”

Sims went six innings while allowing six hits, including a homer, and three runs. He walked nobody and struck out three. He also got a pickoff and might have had a better night had Tyler Flowers not air-mailed a throw to third or had Danny Santana not gone all Roger Dorn on a hard grounder. Even with that in mind, it was the kind of game Braves fans have been clamoring for from the bounty of young starters the team has loaded up on for the last few years.

Regardless of what the future may hold for the young righty, the overall impression of Sims being in the majors is a good one. The right-handed fireballer had taken a big step forward this year and earned his right to join Sean Newcomb in the rotation. Atlanta needs to figure out what they have in these guys at some point and with the Braves effectively admitting the season is over, it’s time to look toward 2018. Guys like Sims, Newcomb, and Albies will hopefully all be in the mix for that team.

And speaking of Albies, he went hitless in his debut, though he did walk in three trips to the plate. Surprisingly, before last night, the only two Braves to make their big league debut this season for a team very much in a youth movement were Johan Camargo and Newcomb. That total was doubled last night and the smart money suggests others are on their way.

The choice of Albies – at this moment – was a bit of a head scratcher, but let’s put this into perspective. The Braves did not deal Brandon Phillips at the trading deadline. That’s not to say they won’t trade him this month as his contract will certainly pass through waivers, but as of right now, Phillips remains a Brave. That speaks to a shallow market for sure, but could it speak to something else? Could the Braves have had a deal on the table for Phillips that would send him elsewhere only for the second baseman to use his partial no-trade clause to block it?

The most likely answer is the one that Brian Snitker provided – “We got Brandon and he’s been really, really good. But it’s time to see the kid.”

What does this mean for Phillips moving forward? Well, he’ll be given a chance to play third base should he choose to do so, but the bigger impression is this – his time with the Braves is limited. Atlanta could go with Phillips at second and Albies at shortstop while shifting Camargo to third (more on that in a sec), but that doesn’t seem something they are currently interested in. Right now, it’s Albies at second and that’s going to be a regular thing.

Which is good. Like Swanson before him, if Albies is in the majors, he should be in the lineup. For now, it looks like he’ll share the middle of the diamond with Camargo. In an almost funny way, the Braves have never kept Albies and Swanson together for very long. Despite being the expected double play combo for the next decade, the duo hasn’t spent a lot of time together outside of a month-and-a-half last season in Mississippi before Swanson was called up to the majors.

As I said, for the moment, Camargo is at shortstop, but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be joined by Freddie Freeman on the left side of the infield. Instead, Freeman will be shifted to first base – which is weird simply because Freeman actually hasn’t been that bad at third base. Instead of Freeman at third, it looks like Sean Rodriguez and Danny Santana will share the position for the time being. When rosters expand, we’ll probably see more lineups with Rio Ruiz returning and Swanson likely pushing Camargo to third base more.

Where does that leave Matt Adams? In left field – at least until Matt Kemp returns. He got the start last night but left the game after just five innings due to dizziness. What that means to the future of Adams playing left field is unknown. What is very confusing about this move is that Freeman is a better third baseman than Adams is a left fielder, yet the Braves went in this direction. Some have suggested that Adams playing left field is better for his trade value. I don’t know how to respond to that without laughing.

Whatever the motivation for benching Phillips and sending Adams to left might be – and I’m betting it’s simply that they didn’t find any real takers at the deadline – the Braves seem content with their decisions from last night provided Adams doesn’t suffer any more dizziness issues. So, that leaves us with Sims and Albies taking up new important roles with the team, potentially the Matt Adams Plays Left Field Experience and a mix of Rodriguez and Santana at third base. Defensively, this is not ideal and this is was not a very good defense to begin with.

For Braves fans, as confusing as the last 24 hours have been, one thing is for certain – having Albies and Sims begin another youth movement makes the Braves more fun and exciting to watch. Considering they are 3-12 since getting to .500, that’s at least something.

5 Comments

Thanks, Ben! We try to provide a different voice than you may see elsewhere. With the additions of Ryan and Stephen, I think the blog is really taking off. Thanks for your continued support.

You think the idea of Adams in left is based somewhat off of the thought: "Eh…we had Matt Kemp out there until now. How much worse can Adams be?"

I jest, but only somewhat. Afterall, we are generally the same team that threw Evan Gattis a first baseman's mitt and likely lived out the scene from Moneyball where Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, tells Scott Hatteberg that it's "not that hard" to play first base, receiving a quick and decisive "it's incredibly hard" from Ron Washington.

Just for discussion's sake, as I'm totally not on board with Adams in left field longterm. At this point, I ask, what is there to lose from an organizational standpoint having Adams play left field? You've employed arguably (maybe statistically) the worst left fielder in 2017 prior to this point. Despite Freddie's averageness at third, you shift him back to his more natural/comfortable position at first base. While the Braves didn't employ it this way…it opens the door to a better defensive infield on certain nights with proper defensive alignments. And if Adams dizzies himself into a career-ending faceplant in the outfield grass, well….at least it wasn't Freeman tearing his ACL or something trying to make a barehanded pick and throw to first as third baseman, eh?

Looking beyond immediate benefits. We've seen Matt Kemp wear down a lot as the season progressed and eventually succumb to leg issues. While I hope the Braves' front office did not pass up legitimate trade offers while he was hot and healthy early in the season, the likely truth is that there was minimal interest in Kemp early on (even if the team ate his contract) and there was zilch headed towards the deadline as he was neither healthy or effective at the plate. The Braves know they're likely stuck with Kemp for at least 2018…and everything that comes with owning his services like his fragile physical nature and the holy-awful crappy defense. They know to succeed next year they'll need to keep him healthy….and hitting. So perhaps sending Adams out to left isn't so much about seeing what he's got with more time and experience at the position, but simply as a ploy to generally acquaint Adams to the position in preparation, perhaps to rest Kemp while not sacrificing much offense in 2018? Not so much a platoon, so to speak, but a part-time caddy designed to take some 400-500 innings off Kemp's workload?

Flawed as that theory may be, could that be what the organization is after?

Otherwise, as I've mentioned to you via PM and elsewhere, I'm very excited for Lucas Sims…just as excited as I was to see Sean Newcomb. Felt he was on the cusp of figuring his ish out and anxious to see if I was even remotely right about that. As the last holdover from the Wren regime, I've always (and still) fear Sims is being showcased for a trade…but hopefully this audition lasts the rest of the season and it goes well to the point of him cementing a role going forward.

Good writeup, Thomas. Keep up the great work.

There's some truth to what you're saying. I mean, can things be any worse than watch a man with no knees hobble around the outfield? But jeez, you'd think you'd want to improve your team, not make lateral moves. Still, I imagine the thought crossed the minds of the powers-that-be in Atlanta.

Agree fully on Sims. The step he's taken this year is remarkable and I hope to continue to see him progress.

Thanks for your comment, Bryce.

Bryce's comments about Matt Kemp's legs and Matt Adams circling balls in left field reminds me of the early Atlanta years when Orlando Cepeda and Rico Carty played the outfield for us with two good legs between them.

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