First Glimpse at an Opening Day Lineup

Freddie Freeman swinging a bat.

First Glimpse at an Opening Day Lineup

Today’s game against the Nationals, the first “home” game of the spring, has an interesting lineup for the Braves. It’s pretty similar to what Braves fans’ began to expect from last year’s team and probably represents something close to what we will see when the season opens. Here’s a deeper look.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF

Coming off his best offensive campaign (.328 wOBA), Inciarte will stay in the leadoff role for the foreseeable future. There is an argument to be made that he’s not an ideal leadoff hitter because he is so batting average dependent (6.3 BB% during his career), but you’re going to have a tough time convincing many people he’s not a good fit at the top of the Braves’ lineup. For what it’s worth, he finished ninth in the league in OBP out of the leadoff spot last season (min. 300 PA). He can handle the responsibility even if he will never be particularly elite at it.

2. Ozzie Albies, 2B

We have seen Albies leadoff early this spring, but those lineups didn’t have Inciarte in them. This is another case of “if it ain’t broke” for Brian Snitker. After a brief run lower in the lineup last year, Albies moved up to second and continued to perform extremely well behind Inciarte. With his improving plate discipline and pop, this seems like a good spot for Albies. I’m partial to him switching with Inciarte if only because Inciarte is a bigger bat control guy who can take advantage of the hole created by holding the runner. Albies is a pull hitter who is going to hit the ball to the left side 40%+ of the time. Like I said, it’s not broke so we can’t expect Snitker to change it.

3. Freddie Freeman, 1B

While the sabermetric-inclined among us will continue to push for Freeman to hit second, he’ll stick in the traditional third spot in the lineup. We’ll talk more about “protection” moving forward, but I see his actual protection as Inciarte and Albies. Both are capable of .350ish OBP ahead of Freeman which is going to lead to a lot of opportunities to drive in runs.

4. Tyler Flowers, C

Can Flowers do it again? Well, I’m not sure he wants to get hit 20 more times, but I don’t see much reason to believe Flowers can’t continue to produce at a solid rate. He hits the ball extremely hard and is a much more selective hitter than he was during his White Sox days. His level swing will limit the long ball numbers but provided the BABIP demons don’t get him, Flowers should be good for a .340ish wOBA or better.

Kurt Suzuki will be here a bunch as well and – to me – he’s a much bigger question. That said, he was one of the guys who has benefitted from the Launch Angle revolution in baseball. He went from a high 30’s flyball rate to 47%. His case is similar to another former A – Yonder Alonso. Basically, go down and try to gulf the ball to your pull side with authority. It’ll lead to a lot of weak contact (third-worst Soft% of his career), but it’ll also lead to a lot of screamers. Will Suzuki keep rolling with it in 2018? I hope so.

5. Nick Markakis, RF

There’s no real “good” spot for Markakis in this lineup. With his on-base skills, you’d be tempted to try to bat him higher, but you have just as good of options with more speed in Inciarte and Albies. Conversely, Markakis doesn’t hit for much pop so he’s not an ideal fit for the heart of the lineup. He does seem to put up bigger numbers in higher leverage situations, however. My theory is that because Markakis has good bat control, he can take advantage of holes that open up when fielders are holding runners. This is a bonus for a guy who will hit the ball on the ground a lot. I’m not his biggest fan, but I can find some reason to believe he might be a good option here with the top four getting on base in front of him.

6. Johan Camargo, 3B

I have my reservations, but I definitely believe those looking at his pre-2017 stats and expecting severe regression are a slave to what the stats say. I know it’s weird for a “stats guy” or “nerd” to say that, but anyone who has watched Camargo over the last couple of seasons has seen him grow from a lean, no-bat defensive replacement guy into a much bigger player with pop. His days of being a slick-fielding shortstop are behind him in my view, but I really like what he brings to third base. I fully expect him to outplay his projections by a good margin. Will he be an All-Star? Doubt it. But can he be a better-fielding David Freese? You betcha.

7. Ronald Acuna, LF

While Acuna could finish the year closer to the top-of-the-order, I imagine this could be where he begins his major league journey when he gets called up. Albies did the same thing last year after all. While some are expecting bust because of a “long swing,” I think Acuna will be fine. Feel free to tell Chris O’Leary if you believe the same. Oh, hi Chris. 🙂

8. Kurt Suzuki, DH

Skip.

9. Dansby Swanson, SS

Enough has been written about Swanson. He’ll move up without the DH to eighth, of course. How far he moves up will depend on how well he deals with the slider in 2018. There’s no question his swing came out of whack last year. Of note, the slider was especially difficult on the right-handed hitter. There’s reason to be concerned, but let’s give the 24-year-old with about a full season’s worth of minor league games – stretched over three years – a bit of a break. If it were me, by the way, he would stick in the nine spot and the pitcher would hit 8th, but that’s unlikely to happen.

So, what do you think of this lineup? Does it give you more confidence than the lineups the Braves have routinely had over the last couple of years? What would your ideal lineup look like? Let me know below.

15 Comments

Having Acuna hit 7th, would be A WASTE of his speed. I know that Inciarte had a good year leading off on a BAD Braves team. However, if The Braves are going to be A LEGIT playoff team….Inciarte’s limited offensive abilities hitting leadoff….WILL NOT further that goal!

1. Albies…..2nd
2. Acuna…..RF
3. Freeman…1st
4. Flowers/Suzuki…C
5. Markakis……RF
6. Inciarte…..CF
7. Carmago…3rd
8. Swanson…SS

Several notes: If Lane Adams gets off to a decent start playing left while Acuna service clock issues gets settled…..I’d like to see Snitker PLATOON Adams with Markaks (Lane is better against lefties than Markakis).

Also, just give the 3rd base job FULLTIME to Carmago. Ruiz is A BUM! Dude cannot hit a fastball down the middle to SAVE HIS LIFE. The 1st two games I watched online on Friday/Saturday…he looked AWFUL! It was like ‘here dude, try and hit it’…and Ruiz was like “i’m trying, but I cant it it when you throw it down the middle, dude…can you please throw it underhanded next time, real slow?”.

While the above lineup is far from ‘playoff worthy’…it has promise. If anything, the lack of quality power in the #4-#5 spots…will let our GM, AA, know WTF he needs to do during The 2018 Free Agent Offseason!

2019 Projected Lineup:

1. Albies…..2nd……$550k
2. Acuna……RF……..$550k
3. Freeman….1st…..$21 mil
4.
5.
6. Flowers/Suzuki…C…..$7 mil (combined)
7. Inciarte…..CF…..$5 mil
8. Swanson….SS….$550k

Look at that lineup! Speed, youth, good OBP, good power…with Freddie having the opportunity to lead ALL of MLB in RBIs. Top 3 is set.

The Bottom 3 are HELLA SOLID. Flowers/Suzuki provide good offense/more than adequate defense. Inciarte hitting 7th would be A PLUS. Swanson has the ability to develop into one HECK of a #8 hitter (which has value…because the MOST IMPORTANT asset of a #8 hitter..is to get on base to CLEAR the pitcher’s spot of the order, so Albies can lead off the next inning INSTEAD coming up to the plate with one out). Swanson can foul off a lot of pitches, draw walks, get the dink hit, etc.

If Swanson can hit with a little power (basically put the 2017 Season behind him), then The Braves could have the makings of a LEGIT #1-#8 order…..IF (and I mean a SERIOUS IF) AA does what it take to SERIOUSLY UPGRADE the #3-#4 spots of the order (left field and 3rd base). All the other parts in the lineup are in place! Most teams think that if they get ‘more power’ all their offensive problems would be solved. However, their lineup construction would still be SERIOUSLY LACKING!

The only long term ‘question mark’..would be at catcher. While the hope is that Alex Jackson is the answer……I would have NO PROBLEM with still going with Flowers/Suzuki for the next couple of years (both platoon well together…..saves each to be more effective later in the season).

Having Albies and Acuna hitting in front of Freeman throughout 2018….wow, lol! Just do it Snitker! Grow a freaking pair!

I get that batting Acuna that low in the order would be a waste…when he’s ready to contribute at a high level. I have no problem keeping the pressure off him at first and putting him in the seven-hole when he comes up. Seems counterproductive to developing a player to put more pressure on him. Maybe by midseason, the Braves will have a decision to make. Frankly, I’d be open to an Albies/Inciarte/Acuna/Freeman front four if Acuna is rolling.

Tommy….with Freddie Freeman hitting third..if anything, having Acuna hitting IN FRONT OF Freddie, would give him BETTER pitches to hit! No pitcher would want to risk walking Acuna..and having BOTH his speed AND Freddie’s bat to deal with..with runners on base! I dont see Acuna as being the kind of ‘if you put pressure on me in the beginning, I’m going to crack’ kind of player!

If the people BEHIND Freddie arent doing their job…..then that will PUT THE PRESSURE on Management to GET POWER HITTERS to who can DO THEIR FUCKING JOBS, lol! Acuna is THE LAST player I’m worried about. If he’s the player we all think he is…then I want his ASS hitting #2 (behind Albies/in front of Freddie), lol. That would be a LETHAL top of the order…..putting pressure on AA to ‘do his fucking job’ and get some protection for Freddie, lol!

I laid out ‘THE GAME PLAN’….all AA has to do is “FOLLOW IT”, lol! NUFF SAID!!!!!!

No f-bombs, please.

Also, I don’t see the point. Bring him in slow and let him earn a higher spot in the order. Honestly, that seems like the easiest approach. I’m not saying leave him down there indefinitely, but until he forces you to make a move, I just don’t see why you would. But to each his own.

Tommy….the whole let him ‘earn’ his way up to the #2 spot of the order, is so OUTDATED! If Acuana has the talent/skill set to hit #2 upon getting promoted to The Majors…LET HIM HIT #2! With Freddie providing protection for him….I dont see the kid (who has LOADS of confidence) being ‘at risk’ of falling on his face due to ‘the limelight’, lol!

The real issue in play here…is how Inciarte is affected by being dropped in the order. Dude LOVES hitting leadoff (he gets the most at-bats in a game/enjoys the limelight that comes from hitting leadoff). Next to Freddie, he’s probably perceived as being our ‘2nd best’ hitter the past couple of seasons. However, when compared to Albies and Acuna….Inciarte simply cant compete as a hitter. His lack of power dictates that you either keep him as our leadoff hitter OR you drop him in the order (Inciarte simply lacks the power to hit #2-#5 in the order).

If Inciarte is kept as the leadoff hitter, then assuming that Freddie is kept in the #3 slot (he’s our best hitter all around….that is where you want your best hitter, PERIOD)..that would mean that either Albies or Acuna is kept out of the top of our order (a big WASTE, given the speed of both). With Acuna having more power, then he gets dropped.

Tommy, Acuna is a special talent. Wasting him in the #7 slot of the order for half the season (just to stick to the TIRESOME ‘let him earn his way up the batting order’…to me REEKS of ‘let’s not offend Inciarte/let’s stick to TRADITION’)…..would not help The Braves win more games. I feel that giving Albies and Acuna as many 2018 games as possible to get acclimated to hitting in front of Freddie in the batting order….will 1. help The Braves prepare for The 2019 Season..2. make it CRYSTAL CLEAR to Braves Management that the #4-#5 spots of the order need SERIOUS UPGRADES (Flowers/Suzuki are better suited to hitting #6…NOT #4….Inciarte needs to be hitting #7 as well).

Tommy

It won’t. But it makes sense. How about:

Albies/Freeman/Inciarte/……../Acuna?

Then you have speedster Acuna in front of three best bats. And you have pitch honestly to Freeman, because Inciarte can put wood on the ball.

No lineup will make sense until the Braves get a power hitting (30+ HRs) 3B or LF. Best to put Moustakas behind Freeman. Then Flowzuki and Markakis. I agree that Acuna can’t be placed high in the order until he acclimates and we know what his profile will be at the MLB level. Look at Trout’s first year results – those are the profile of a 7/8 hitter. Machado started out at 6/7 (2012) and has since been moved to 1/2/3. You have to bat players at their current level of performance not their expected level. Dansby should eventually be a #2 hitter assuming he lives up to his potential. If Acuna’s power profile matures then he will bat 4/5. Seems to me scouts are talking about him being more of a power hitter than a speed hitter. Some folks here think of Freddy as slow and lumbering but I’m not sure that’s truly the case. Seems to me he’s been proven to be a plus baserunner not just for speed but for skill. Seems to me that Markakis would be a better 8/9 guy with his high OBA. Maybe hitting Dansby 7th and Markakis 8th wouldn’t be so bad. Even when he was going bad Dansby was better in clutch situations. Markakis is a former lead-off hitter so batting him 8/9 makes sense in turning the order over. After all, Inciarte led the team in Total Bases and his OBA was about the same as Albies (.350 is nothing to sneeze). Acuna’s OBA may not be as high, especially initially, as he’s going to strikeout more to begin with. It always seems like people are coveting the grass on the other side of the fence. If you go by straight performance then Inciarte needs to leadoff or bat 2nd. When someone surpasses his performance then we can have a discussion about changing the lineup.

Roger…if The Braves were already a contending team/with a recent history of established winning, then it would make total sense to have Acuna hit 7th and ‘earn’ his way up the batting order.

However The Braves are still REBUILDING! In other words, would ‘risking’ Acuna potentially ‘stinking up the place’ (like Swanson did at the beginning of The 2017 Season when he started off hitting #2) really ‘hurt’ our contending possibilities? NOPE! However, I feel that if Acuna combines with Albies to ‘live up to their potential’ hitting at the top of the batting order in front of Freddie…..then perhaps The Braves could ‘SURPRISE’ some people and EXCEED expectations!

If anything, let’s say that Acuna has to get sent back down to Triple A for a month or so to ‘regain’ his stroke/confidence. It would pretty much ensure that Acuna would not even be eligible for Super 2 status. However if Acuna shoots out the gate like he’s done throughout each of his promotions in 2017…the potential UPSIDE for The Braves could be FUEL to the likes of you (who are always ‘complaining’ about The Braves ‘throwing away another year’).

Paul, he can do that hitting 6th, too. And Swanson did not start off hitting 2nd. He hit 7th or 8th in 2016 until his stat line improved and then he was moved to 2nd (and he tanked – even in 2016). You can scream and yell all you want but Acuna will not start the year hitting 2nd.

Paul, as Roger said, wherever they bat Acuna, it doesn’t really change how they can handle him.

What it might change is his approach to hitting. If you’re asking a kid who’s not yet old enough to legally buy a beer to be a ML table setter, there’s a chance he could press. There’s been many of guys who’ve gotten themselves into trouble because they can’t relax and just play their game. That’s not to say it’ll happen to Acuna. He may be fantastic right out of the box. I hope he is. I think I’d almost rather see him bat lower in the order though while he gets his feet wet, where he’ll have less pressure. If he crushes it there, then move him up. And if he has an average-ish start to his career, he’ll blend a little more into the bottom of the order.

I’m torn here on where I’d like to see Acuna. The club’s severe lack of power really makes it hard to piece together a quality batting order. It’s not as if they’re just missing some thump in the fifth or sixth hole either. There isn’t a legitimate clean up hitter on this team!

I feel like the absolute worst thing the Braves could do to Acuna would be to bat him 4th or 5th this season. The best thing would be to hit him 7th, as suggested here, to relieve some of the pressure and let him acclimate to the Show. I can see the merit of bumping Freeman to 4th though, and going with a top half of Albies, Inciarte, Acuna and then Freeman in an effort to try to get Acuna better pitches to hit.

I still see no reason not to go out and sign Moustakas. I’d wager at this point the first competitive two year deal gets it done. And neither Ruiz, nor Riley has shown anything this spring that I’ve seen to suggest the spot needs to be held open in the immediate future. If you go with the Albies, Inciarte, Acuna, Freeman order; and then slot Moose 5th, with Flowzuki, Adams/Markakis and Swanson to follow… you’ve got a little something. Anyway…

Working with what the Braves have, I think Tommy’s order is the best the Braves can do. I think it’s going to be a struggle for this team to score runs- and if not for the Marlins, this would be a last place team. But at least all those shutouts thrown against the Braves this season will help the pace of play, and maybe keep away that stupid pitch clock idea.

King…I just dont think that Moustakis is going to be worth what he wants. Also, The Braves will have to give up our 4th round pick to sign Moustakis (we’ve also lost our 3rd round pick due to The Coppy Sanctions). Not having a 3rd AND a 4th round pick in The 2018 Draft, will put a SERIOUS CRIMP in the amount of money The Braves can sign our Draft Class!

I’d rather wait until The 2018 Free Agent Offseason…and go more ‘sure things’. Meanwhile, let’s give Carmago a chance to play 3rd full time in 2018.

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