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
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.