Lineup construction is one element of baseball that can usually stir up controversy, and sometimes it can even define a manager. Some do not believe it matters much, while many others analyze it closely.
Let it first be said that the Atlanta Braves are off to an outstanding start. But it doesn’t discount the bizarre batting orders we have seen from manager Fredi Gonzalez early in the season.
Gonzalez has used a different lineup (not counting pitchers) for each of the 11 games played this season. He has called it “fun” and said he likes having the ability to “mix and match” in using his personnel.
Frankly, it’s ridiculous. There are a variety of reasons why this is not going to work for the long-term. If it does, maybe Gonzalez will be labeled a genius, but it’s doubtful.
There has been no rhyme or reason to Gonzalez’s lineup construction so far. It has not been based on platoons, as players who you think would hit more often against left-handers have also been in against right-handers. And there are players who you could argue should be in a platoon.
For example, the right-handed hitting Chris Johnson hit .395 against left-handed pitchers last season but only .231 against right-handed pitchers. If you wanted to platoon Johnson based on that, it would make sense.
But in the first 11 games, the Braves have had a left-hander start against them only once. Gonzalez has started Johnson in half of the 10 games started by a right-hander. So why not just play Johnson every day? If it was a strict platoon, obviously Johnson would not be playing a lot. But for a player making $6 million this season and who has $22.5 million left on his contract through 2017, shouldn’t Johnson be given a chance to at least prove he’s an every-day player?
Right now, Johnson plays one of the four positions that are being used in a “mix and match” system of constructing a lineup. Another spot is second base, where we thought left-handed hitting rookie Jace Peterson was going to be given a chance to start regularly.
But Peterson has not started three of the 10 games against right-handed pitchers. And worse than that, Gonzalez has bounced Peterson all over the lineup. It looked in March like Peterson would be given a shot at being the No. 2 hitter, but Peterson has hit second in four of his seven starts. He led off one game and then hit seventh in the order in another, and Peterson hit eighth Friday night in Toronto.
How can Peterson show whether or not he’s capable of being the long-term second baseman if he’s not starting against all right-handed pitchers and if he’s being moved in the lineup? Wouldn’t it be better to leave him in the two hole to see what Peterson can do?
Some have wondered if Peterson was just going to hold down second base until top prospect Jose Peraza is ready to take over later this season or in 2016. But if Peterson (who turns 25 in three weeks) showed promise that he could be an every-day player, the Braves could perhaps take advantage of that depth and either move Peraza to another position or even use him in a trade.
This past week there was a rumor the New York Yankees were scouting Peraza in Triple-A Gwinnett. New York needs help in the middle infield, so it was logical for them to see Peraza as a potential candidate. The Braves quickly downplayed the rumor and said they were not interested in moving Peraza, but wouldn’t it be easier to even entertain the possibility if Peterson was showing whether or not he could be the long-term answer at the position?
How about Eric Young Jr.? I thought the Braves were going to give Young a chance to show if he can be an every-day leadoff man. Instead, the switch-hitting Young is being occasionally replaced by right-handed hitting Cameron Maybin.
Gonzalez even has had rookie catcher Christian Bethancourt, never known for his offense, bat cleanup once this season and hit him fifth in the order twice. Five different players have hit fifth, protecting Freddie Freeman as the cleanup man, while four different players have hit second.
Well, the Braves are scoring runs, more per game so far than they did last year. That wouldn’t have taken much. But you have to wonder how long this “mix and match” strategy will work. Consistency matters in lineup construction, but Gonzalez has gotten away with whatever he is trying to do so far.
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