With the expected and awaited appearance of Nick Markakis in the Atlanta starting lineup Monday, we now have a glimpse of what the lineup might be for the 2015 season.
Well, we at least know what’s going to happen at the front half of the lineup. The bottom half is still a mystery.
Eric Young, Jr., who turns 30 in late May, is expected to lead off. He’s a speedster, with 138 career swipes in parts of six seasons in the big leagues. Last season, in only 316 plate appearances, Young stole 30 bases and had a .229 batting average with a .299 on base percentage.
This spring Young has done a great job of getting on base. He’s got a .377 on base percentage to compliment his .283 batting average. Young’s stats include five stolen bases in his 46 at bats.
As a leadoff hitter, Young has hit .254 with a .321 OBP in his career, with 109 stolen bases in 1340 plate appearances. Young has only had 249 at bats outside of the leadoff spot, so he will do what he’s mainly done in his career.
Jace Peterson will likely follow Young in the lineup as the second place hitter. Peterson is still a rookie, as the 58 plate appearances he had last season keep him short of the requirement. He did not hit second last season in San Diego.
In the minor leagues, Peterson had three straight seasons of impressive stolen base totals. He had 39 steals in 333 plate appearances in rookie ball in 2011. Then in 2012, Peterson had 51 steals in 521 plate appearances. Two years ago in High-A, Peterson had 42 steals in 496 plate appearances.
Peterson has two steals in his 43 plate appearances this spring with a .351 batting average and a .442 OBP.
Markakis hit third in the lineup Monday, and that is likely where he will hit when the season starts in two weeks. Markakis is a very consistent hitter. He has a .290 career batting average with a .358 on base percentage. The left-handed hitter has hit .291 against right-handed hitters and .288 against southpaws in his career.
Most of Markakis’ career at bats have come as a number three hitter. He has hit .278 in the three hole with 70 home runs and 328 RBI in 2818 plate appearances. Markakis’ on base percentage as the number three hitter is .352. He’s actually been a bit more successful as the number two hitter (.313 BA, .384 OBP) and has done just a tad better as a leadoff man (.294 BA, .353 OBP).
So how will Freddie Freeman do as the cleanup man? Well, the lifetime .286 hitter with a career .366 OBP has done very well hitting fourth. Freeman has hit .298 in his 530 plate appearances as the cleanup man with a .372 on base percentage. Compared to the other two spots in the order where he has hit a lot, third and fifth, those are his best numbers. Freeman has hit .289 hitting third (with a .373 OBP) and has hit .265 hitting fifth (with a .352 OBP).
Those four spots look solid, but what happens in the fifth through eighth positions? Is Chris Johnson going to protect Freeman from the five hole?
Johnson’s best numbers in his career come from the sixth and seventh spots in the order. He’s hit .280 as a sixth-place hitter (with a .316 OBP) and a .315 hitter in the seventh spot (with a .346 OBP). As the fifth place hitter, Johnson has hit only .252 with a .292 on base percentage.
Of course, Johnson could be a platoon candidate if he does not do better against right-handed pitchers. Johnson has hit a career .273 versus right-handers and .312 against left-handers. Last season, Johnson hit only .231 against right-handers and .395 against southpaws. If those numbers continue, someone else might get playing time at third base.
In Jonny Gomes’ career, the right-handed hitter has been much better against southpaws (.277 BA, .376 OBP), compared to his numbers against right-handers (.222 BA, .307 OBP). Most of Gomes’ plate appearances have come as a fifth-place hitter, where he’s batted .242 with a .337 OBP. His numbers as a sixth-place hitter are about the same (.242 BA, .324 OBP).
Gomes’ on base percentage has actually been best from the three hole in the lineup, as he has a .367 stat there. As a number two hitter, his OBP is .362, while as a cleanup hitter Gomes has a .360 on base percentage.
Regardless of any offensive struggles, Andrelton Simmons’ defense will bail him out of any troubling conversation about where he should hit in the lineup. For some reason, Simmons has hit best as the number two hitter in the lineup (.285 BA, .325 OBP). In the bottom of the order, his best work has come as the number seven hitter (.259 BA, .313 OBP), and that’s probably where Simmons will be in the lineup.
Christian Bethancourt is likely to hit eighth. He’s the rookie and there is enough concern already about his offense that it’s unlikely the Braves would put more pressure on Bethancourt by hitting him higher in the order. We need to remember Bethancourt won’t turn 23 until September 2, so he’s still very young.
Expect the lineup to be Young, Peterson, Markakis, Freeman, Johnson, Gomes, Simmons and Bethancourt.
Can that lineup create enough runs? It will be a challenge, but there’s little doubt it will be different than the lineup the Braves put on the field a year ago. There will be ABC baseball – get them on, get them over and then get them in. The second half of the lineup could determine how successful the Braves offense will be this season.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Braves lineup taking shape
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