The Atlanta Braves play 162 games in a season…
Duh, right? Also duh is that 162 games is a lot of frickin’ baseball. At the least, in 2018 it was 1425.1 innings of pitching last year, and at the most it was 1476.1 (yes, the Chicago Cubs pitching staff had to throw nearly 6 full games more than the Detroit Tigers last year). So, in the grand scheme, when every team has over 5,000 PAs per season, lineup construction doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot…but it could matter a lot on a game to game basis. The rule for lineup construction is quite simple and Tommy harps on this quite regularly. Brace yourselves, folks. This is some real deep crap that analysts have studied for years and finally have come to a deeply thought-out conclusion :
“A team’s best players should receive the most at-bats”
Mind blown? Me too. However, there is a way to order a team’s best hitters that actually maximize production, but the Braves are in an interesting situation. While they have 3 guys in Ronald Acuna, Josh Donaldson, and Freddie Freeman that will likely be penciled in somewhere in the team’s top 4 (likely 3), there are circumstances that need to be considered when looking at the rest of the lineup and that is the handedness of the pitcher should determine who bats where and, encapsulated in this thought process, the idea of a “regular lineup” should not be something Brian Snitker considers.
My Go-to Resource, Beyond the Boxscore
It’s been 10 years since BtB put out the original article that’s been bookmarked on my computers and it’s a wonderful resource! But most importantly, you as a fan need to know that optimizing a lineup really doesn’t matter all that much and in reality, it might only add 1-2 wins a year. However, with the division rivals receiving huge boosts this offseason, it could be 1-2 wins that separate any team from the trailers. With that in mind, let’s look at what the lineups of the Atlanta Braves 2019 might look like, fully optimized against RHP & LHP.
*Quotes below, courtesy of BtB*
Leadoff– “The Book says OBP is king. The lead-off hitter comes to bat only 36% of the time with a runner on base, versus 44% of the time for the next lowest spot in the lineup, so why waste homeruns? The lead-off hitter also comes to the plate the most times per game, so why give away outs?”
The Two Hole- “The Books says the #2 hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the #3 hitter, but more often. That means the #2 hitter should be better than the #3 guy, and one of the best three hitters overall.”
The Third Spot- (IMO, this is the most controversial opinion that Braves fans will likely take offense…but it makes sense) “The Book says the #3 hitter comes to the plate with, on average, fewer runners on base than the #4 or #5 hitters. So why focus on putting a guy who can knock in runs in the #3 spot, when the two spots after him can benefit from it more? Surprisingly, because he comes to bat so often with two outs and no runners on base, the #3 hitter isn’t nearly as important as we think.”
Cleanup- “The Book says the #4 hitter comes to bat in the most important situations out of all nine spots, but is equal in importance to the #2 hole once you consider the #2 guy receives more plate appearances. The cleanup hitter is the best hitter on the team with power.”
The Number 5 Guy– “The Book says the #5 guy can provide more value than the #3 guy with singles, doubles, triples, and walks, and avoiding outs, although the #3 guy holds an advantage with homeruns.
Spots 6-8- “The old-school book says the rest of the lineup should be written in based on decreasing talent. The Book basically agrees, with a caveat. Stolen bases are most valuable ahead of high-contact singles hitters, who are more likely to hit at the bottom of the lineup.”
Atlanta Braves Optimized Lineup against RHP
- Nick Markakis– Aside from Freddie, best OBP on the team against RHP in 2018.
- Josh Donaldson- If healthy, it’s a close call, but Donaldson’s the best hitter on the team.
- Freddie Freeman- A beast that can put team on board with 1 swing or extend the inning for the kid.
- Ronald Acuna- The penultimate run producer.
- Brian McCann– still hits RHP very well.
- Ender Inciarte– the speed in front of the power.
- Ozzie Albies– the power that just so happens to have speed.
- Dansby Swanson– the lesser talented hitter that will likely surprise us all in 2019.
Breakdown: As Braves fans, we know this isn’t going to happen. Ronald Acuna is going to bat leadoff and that’s the right call. In this idea, I think there’s one thing that BtB leaves out, and it’s because it literally cannot truly be tested as it’s part of human emotion rather than statistical analysis, and that is the impact of scoring that first run in a game. Having Acuna, Donaldson, and Freeman 1-3 gives the Braves the best chance to score in the 1st inning which likely has a psychological effect on the entire team, including the pitcher.
Atlanta Braves Optimized Lineup against LHP
- Ronald Acuna- OBP machine against LHP
- Josh Donaldson- crusher against LHP
- Freddie Freeman
- Ozzie Albies- Destroys LHP
- Johan Camargo– see Albies
- Dansby Swanson- speed in front of the power
- Tyler Flowers– The power
- Ender Inciarte
Breakdown: I’m absolutely in love with this team’s lineup against LHP. Camargo, Albies, and Flowers have a real chance to make this team a dominant force when facing top lefties (unfortunately, there’s just not a ton of them).
The most important thing that we as fans have to walk away with when it comes to lineup construction is, quite simply, the best hitters should be seeing the most plate appearances. While Ender Inciarte seems like a traditional leadoff hitter for some, he carries a 3 year OBP that is less than Acuna, Freddie, Donaldson, Flowers, Camargo, and Markakis. He and Dansby, while great defenders, should be locked into 2 of those 6-8 spots.
Also, I think this team is in need of another left-handed hitter, preferably a real impact left-handed hitter (like Bryce Harper, but I’d settle for Marwin Gonzalez) that could spell Albies or Swanson should they struggle. That hitter might already be on the team in the form of Johan Camargo, but a left-handed beast to accompany Freddie Freeman sure would be fun.
Hope you enjoyed the piece!