Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Lineup Dilemna?

The return of Chipper Jones to the Braves leaves Bobby Cox with something of a dilemma . Chipper spent that majority of his career hitting 3rd. He likes hitting third. And, his numbers hitting third are nothing short of terrific. The previous few seasons he hit fourth (a strategic error in my opinion – I will note again I don't manage a baseball team and never will). He didn't like hitting fourth. His numbers hitting fourth suffered – though his playing LF also contributed (probably more so). Rumor has it he sulked some hitting fourth, but you didn't see it publicly. Larry's a gamer.

The Braves have been terrific going Furcal-Kelly Johnson – Giles – Junes – LaRoche/Franco. Why mess with a good thing? Well, Cox didn't – Larry hit fifth each of the previous two nights. I suspect it won't last.

Kelly Johnson appears to be a middle of the order guy – one day/. He's got a pretty sharp batting eye, he's worked counts at times, and that propensity to get on base made him a good #2 option. However, he's slumping badly. It happens. He's a 23 year old rookie. His once outstanding BB/K ratio, where he had more walks than strikeouts is heading steadily in the wrong direction. He's 6-37 by my count since the Brewers series, with 0 BBs versus 13 Ks (putting his previously outstanding season ratio at 25/41). This was preceded by a hot streak where his Ks had been rising steadily (he was still drawing walks). Lately it seems all he does is strike out (he sure just missed an opposite field home run two nights ago, though). Major league pitching seems to have caught up with Kelly Johnson, at least somewhat. If the Braves are right – it's just a hiccup at the start of a young player's career. He'll adjust back. I think his future is bright. He had significant strikeout totals in the minors -110 at low A. But he had 70-something walks that year, and always seemed to draw a decent amount. He rose quickly through the system – generally playing at or below the average age for most levels.

Bobby, as Rafael Furcal will attest, will stick with you. How long he can stick with KJ remains to be seen. If he has to move KJ down, Giles logically goes back to hitting second. And then what? He could just put Chipper back into the third spot. That probably makes the most sense.

However, here I'm not so sure it may not be better to hit Chipper cleanup and let Andruw hit third. When Sheffield was in town, hitting Chipper behind Shef was silly. Sheffield doesn't need protection and won't benefit from it, really. He draws a lot of walks because of a very keen eye. Yes, you can “pitch around” him, but if the rest of the lineup is doing it's job that's going to be a disaster when he hits fourth. More importantly, I don't think Sheffield benefited hitting in front of chipper.. Chipper, OTOH, has a good batting eye. But not as good as Sheffields. I actually think he'd have benefited – and his statistics would have reflected it. We'll never know.

I think Andruw might be better off in front of Chipper than vice versa. And, I think Chipper will be happier hitting cleanup this time. He's back playing 3B, for one. Two, this team looks like too much fun to play with – how could you not enjoy yourself? I think the lineup might benefit more overall in this scenario.

But it may not come to pass. KJ may hit (and walk, hopefully) his way out of this slump. I'll be curious to see how it plays out.

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