Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A New Lineup Twist

Now that the offense has one of its little spurts going, let's take the time to look forward a bit. Most folks associated with Braves' Nation in any way have decided that the top of the lineup is the right spot for (my Twitter designation #LeadoffMonster) Jason Heyward. While I don't disagree with that, has the time potentially arrived that the organization should consider potentially upping his value by making him a full time CF??? The reason I raise the question is that I think it could lengthen the lineup assuming B. J. Upton can't eventually cure the terrible contact issues he's experienced since he was signed.

We're all well aware that J-Hey doesn't profile as your prototypical leadoff guy - his power has always looked as if it would play better in an RBI spot lower in the lineup. That said, he's really taken a liking to his current role as "the straw that stirs the drink". He's on pace to be the first Brave with 30+ SBs in years, and his approach seems to improve for longer stretches when he's not asked to be a power source. Heyward really reminds me of a super-size version of Rickey Henderson - a superb corner OF defender with the tools to be a perennial 20+ HR 30+ SB guy perched atop the lineup. He's the best baserunner on the team (and it really isn't particularly close), and his power tends to show up more often when he's trying to drive balls into the gaps for doubles rather than trying to lift anything at all.

The main reason B. J. Upton was signed (instead of a prototypical CF/leadoff type) is that the organization had seen glimpses of Heyward being this type of leadoff threat. The funny thing is, B. J.'s not shown himself to be an even slightly better defender in CF than Jason has when he's played there. Unfortunately his lack of contact offsets just about any benefit you'd hope to gain from reducing the additional wear and tear you're trying to keep Jason from having to deal with when having the larger area to patrol. While Justin Upton's far from a bad defensive OF regardless of which corner he's on, my eyes keep telling me that he's more confident (and happier) when he's playing RF - not to mention he was a Gold Glove winner there in the past.

The question I keep circling back around to is - "Could this team potentially be MUCH better if you moved Heyward to CF and Justin to RF with a much higher OBP type in LF?" Much like last season when Gonzalez was trying to get Evan Gattis' bat in the lineup as often as possible, you could generally shade Heyward a little towards LF defensively to minimize the ground a less talented defender there would have to cover. While it's admittedly a small sample size (87 plate appearances), Jason's numbers in CF last season were strong - .278/.402/.458/.861, 3 HRs, 10 RBIs, with a 15/16 BB/K ratio. That was good for a 122 tOPS+ and 136 sOPS+.

This is simply an exercise in the same "what if" discussions fans of every team love to get into on message boards all over the vast internet, but I do think whether some of the offense's prolonged cold streaks would be shortened by such a move is a legitimate question. Fill the two biggest swing-and-miss holes in the order with Joey Terdoslavich (a switch-hitter with a little pop and a 5 year career minor league line of .287/.343/.468/.811 and not much left to prove down there) replacing B. J. and Tommy La Stella (a LH bat with a 4 year career minor league line of .322/.407/.473/.879) - suddenly the lineup becomes L-R-L-R-S-R-L-R balanced and you eliminate any opposing manager's opportunity to bring in one reliever to pitch to 2-3 hitters late in close games. Even if you don't find a taker for the remainder of B. J. or Dan Uggla's contracts, Joey-T and La Stella will be inexpensive until they're off the Braves' books.

Count me as the one who would love to see a lineup that looks like...

CF- Heyward
RF- J-Up
1B- Freeman
C- Gattis
LF- Terdoslavich
3B- Johnson
2B- La Stella
SS- Simmons

every day. I sure think I'd scream at the TV a little less!!!

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