The following are a couple of optimal lineups for the Braves, based on 2012 preseason projections from ZiPS (found here: http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/oracle/discussion/2012_zips_projections_-_atlanta_braves).
A nice summary of lineup optimization, from “The Book” by Tom Tango, Mitchell Lichtman and Andy Dolphin can be found here: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/3/17/795946/optimizing-your-lineup-by
There are two notable differences between the optimal lineups and the lineups the Braves will likely employ this season. Michael Bourn is hitting sixth in my optimal lineups. Dan Uggla is hitting third.
Traditionally managers have made sure to put their best fast hitter in the leadoff spot. Speed is nice, but it’s much more important for the leadoff man to get on base. Think about it, the leadoff man is naturally going to hit in front of the very best hitters and hitters with power. Those types of hitters will advance runners rather easily. There is no need to rely greatly on speed. A leadoff hitter is going to score on a homerun no matter how fast he is.
Speed is better utilized in front of high-contact, singles hitters. These hitters usually hit lower in the lineup. Juan Francisco really doesn’t fit this description but Prado and Diaz fit it perhaps better than any hitters on the team, although Prado has some pop. But basically it’s somewhat counterproductive to have Bourn’s speed at the top of the order where a runner with just decent speed can advance two or three bases on an extra-base hit from Chipper, Uggla, McCann or Freeman.
Please note I’m not saying Bourn is an awful choice for the leadoff spot. Bourn is a decent on-base guy and therefore is fine in the leadoff spot. But this is about lineup optimization.
The other big change I would like to see is Dan Uggla hitting third instead of Freddie Freeman, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann or Jason Heyward. The number three hitter should have some homerun power but, contrary to convention, the best hitter should not bat third. The third hitter will typically come up with fewer runners on base than fourth and fifth place hitters. The best hitters should bat leadoff, second and fourth, with the best power bats hitting lower.
I admit, there is something to be said for keeping players in spots where they are comfortable. For example, maybe Bourn would see it as a slight if he were moved to the sixth spot. And frankly the difference a decent lineup would make, in terms of runs scoring, over an optimal lineup isn’t that great, according to most batting-order studies. Also, why cause the distraction? If the Braves front office or Fredi Gonzalez decided (or any manager, for that matter) decided to go with a less traditional but more optimal order, it could cause a distraction. The media and fan base might constantly ask the managers, the players, the GM what they think they are doing. Again, frankly, it may not be worth the hassle the team would get from the media and fans who haven’t read in-depth studies on batting order optimization.