Ignore Lefty-Righty When Making Braves Lineup

There has been quite a bit of consternation over the Atlanta Braves lineup recently. ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote that there was no perfect lineup for the team. A week ago AJC columnist Mark Bradley suggested a similar lineup makeover.

One of the big complaints about the Braves lineup being hard to arrange is that all their good hitters–Heywarrd, Freeman and La Stella–are left-handed, and only a crazy person would line up all their left-handers in a row. Right?

I say go crazy! Don’t worry about handedness in lineup construction, worry about who is actually hitting well.

tlastellaOne reason to feel confident about this is the success that Tommy La Stella has had against lefties in his career. Here are Bonzo’s numbers versus left-handers and right-handers the last few years in the minors:

Year: vs. Left/vs. Right
2014: .254/.350
2013: .359/.354
2012: .345/.289

In limited at-bats in the majors this year he’s handled lefties (3-for-8), and with the exception of his stint at Triple-A this year he’s handled lefties as good if not better than righties in his career. That’s good enough for me to ignore the fact that he’s left-handed.

Here are the two lineup suggestions offered by Olney and Bradley:

Olney’s lineup: La Stella, Heyward, JUpton, Freeman, Gattis, Johnson, Simmons BUpton, pitcher
Bradley’s lineup: Heyward, La Stella, JUpton, Gattis, Freeman, Johnson, Simmons, pitcher, BUpton

I like that both of them ignore handedness in putting Heyward and La Stella 1-2, but both get an F for slotting Justin Upton third. Upton strikes out too much (doesn’t matter which Upton) to bat near the top of the order. Especially when there are better, less-whiffy options.

Bradley really gets an F for putting Freeman fifth, with only Chris Johnson to protect him. I’d be fine putting Freeman third. He’s hitting better versus lefties this year (.286/.364/.571) than vs. righties (.271/.374/.442), and notice that his power is over 100 points better  against lefties. His career splits aren’t quite that generous, but they’re not terrible either.

If a team is having trouble stringing hits together consistently, then why not stack your best hitters at the top of the order?

If one must break up the lefties, then Gattis is a fine option to hit third right now. Freeman would then slot behind him in the fourth spot, followed by the rest of the whiffin’ righties–Justin, Johnson, Beej and Simba.

My batting order would go (1) Heyward, (2) La Stella, (3) Freeman, (4) Gattis, (5) JUpton, (6) Johnson, (7) BUpton, (8) Simmons. Honestly, the last three could be in just about any order, and I’m not even opposed to the pitcher batting 8th and BJ batting 9th.

The general idea is to put your best hitters first, then some power, then the “others.”

If they do nothing else, the Braves have got to get BJ out of that No. 2 spot in the order, and they can’t keep a .400-hitter with great on-base skills like La Stella at the bottom of the lineup forever.

Hitting three lefties in a row is not perfect, but the numbers say that the results will be better than keeping BJ Upton and his consistently sub-.220 average hitting second. Especially since BJ is the WORST BATTER ON THE TEAM against left-handed pitching, hitting .150 this season (.157 last season).

Any comments? Send them to me on Twitter @gondeee.

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