May 03, 2013

Fredi, Take the Top Two Spots in the Order Seriously

It’s time to end the Schafer-Simmons-at-the-top-of-the-order experiment. I like Jordan Schafer more than most. He’s displayed some tools in the past and he’s at an age in which he should play his best baseball. However he’s still fundamentally a part-time player. His value is that he plays good enough defensively to play all three outfield positions and he can hit adequately enough. He should not hit at the top of the order. So far he’s been great and we’re thankful for that but we probably should not expect that kind of performance going forward.

I probably don’t like Andrelton Simmons’ offense as much as others like his offense. He has the potential to develop more power and he’s going to put the ball in play, so I like him to hit for a high average especially as he develops power and a more experienced major league approach. But fundamentally, at this point in his career, I think he’s a bottom-of-the-order player who provides tremendous value because of his defense.

The Braves should shake up their batting order. I’m a fan of numbers-driven, odds-driven batting order optimization. The Braves have a nice lineup to experiment with an anti-traditional, sabermetric-friendly batting order. They are loaded with good hitters and many of their hitters don’t profile as traditional top-of-the-order guys. Justin Upton is probably the only hitter who is an absolute offensive force but they have plenty of solid hitters. Fredi Gonzalez could fill out a sabermetric-friendly batting order without too much head-scratching, outrage and mainstream media attention, since he doesn’t have that prototypical speedy leadoff guy and high-contact, move-the-runner-over-at-the-expensive-of-OBP number two hitter.

Once Heyward and McCann are back, it would be rather easy for Fredi to fill out a deep lineup in which he could rationalize arranging 1-5 any way he pleases. My preference:

Justin Upton
B.J. Upton

This is probably not even a perfectly ideal sabermetric batting order. The data suggests you want your best all-around hitters (in terms of on-base and power) at the #2 and #4 spots in the order. Uggla doesn’t really fit that mold in the cleanup spot, but this arrangement allows for alternating left-handed and right-handed hitters and it gets the more talented hitters (Heyward, Justin, McCann) to the plate more often than all other hitters.

One minor complication of having so many solid hitters but only one absolute offensive stud (Justin), in terms of making out a lineup card, is that the Braves have to rely on those solid-but-not-outstanding hitters to create the RBI opportunities for Justin Upton, if they go with a more traditional approach and put Justin in the middle of the order. With Justin Upton hitting second, they could have Heyward’s on-base skills in front of him, Justin could give all the good hitters behind him RBI opportunities if he merely gets on base or he can advance Heyward with one swing (rather than the more traditional, counterproductive approach of using up outs from the #2 spot to advance the leadoff hitter).

Think about the traditional idea of the batting order. In the first inning, if everything goes well, the speedy leadoff guy gets on base. The #2 hitter then will either bunt him over, will hit a single to the right side, possibly in the way of a hit-and-run, to get him over or will get him over with some sort of contact. But why not, if the leadoff hitter gets on, go for broke by putting your best hitter second. Your best hitter has a good shot to get on base, the leadoff hitter advances and you have two runners on with no outs. Best-case scenario your best hitter, because he’s not only a good on-base guy but a good slugger, hits a two-run homer or gives you an extra-base hit. So your leadoff hitter has already scored and you have a runner in scoring position with no outs, with at least three more solid hitters due up.

The traditional approach of a high-contact, relatively weak hitter batting second is clearly counterproductive. Instead the number two hitter should give you both offensive opportunity (with on-base skills) and offensive advancement (with slugging skills). Having two hitters batting in the first two spots, like Schafer and Simmons, who likely don’t have the skills to produce high on-base percentages or high slugging percentages relatively to the rest of the hitters on the team isn’t the ideal way for the Braves to make out a batting order. Hopefully when Schafer is forced back to the bench with the return of Heyward and the lineup adds more depth with the return of McCann, Fredi Gonzalez will start to make out better batting orders, if not an optimal one.



2 Responses to “Fredi, Take the Top Two Spots in the Order Seriously”

  1. 1
    David from Athens, AL Says:

    Agree with your take!!!!

  2. 2
    Shaun Says:

    Thanks, David. The good news is there are plenty of good options for a batting order and no conceivable order is likely to harm this team a great deal with as many great hitters as it has.

    But I sure would like to see Simmons lower so that the best hitters on the team are high in the order and come up more often. No knock against Simmons. I just think there are better options for the top of the order.

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