How will Cox set the lineup?

With Mark Kotsay now on the roster, what will Braves' Manager Bobby Cox do with the lineup? The Braves Show's Bill Shanks takes a look at the possibilities.

Last year Kelly Johnson started off as the Braves' leadoff man. Then later in the year he split the duties with rookie infielder Yunel Escobar, who was platooning at times with Johnson at second base and also filling in for the injured Edgar Renteria.

With the veteran Renteria now traded to Detroit, the Braves not only have to decide who will hit first in the batting order but also second, right in front of Chipper Jones and Mark Teixeira.

Monday's acquisition of Mark Kotsay also throws him into the mix, as he has mainly hit first and second in his career. Braves' Manager Bobby Cox will now have three options for the top two spots in the order, with the third player probably hitting seventh after Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur.

Let's first look at some of the numbers of the three players involved in the discussion:

Yunel Escobar (2007 season)
Batting 1st : .351 BA – 2 HR – 16 RBI – (53 H-151 AB) – 3 SB - .400 OBP
Batting 2-9 : .304 – 3 – 12 - (51-168) – 2
Batting 2nd : .279 – 1 – 5 – (19-68) – 0 - .329
Batting 8th : .338 – 2 – 5 – (24-71) – 1 - .407

Summary: Escobar obviously thrived when he was placed into the leadoff role. You have to wonder if Cox will have that in his mind going into the season and leave Escobar there. Escobar hit well in the 8th spot as well, but expect him to be in the top two.

Kelly Johnson (2007 season)
Batting 1st : .268 BA – 9 HR – 40 RBI – (82 H-306 AB) – 5 SB - .372 OBP
Batting 2-9 : .288 – 7 – 28 – (62-215) – 4
Batting 2nd : .244 – 2 – 07 – (21-86) – 2 - .350
Batting 7th : .377 – 3 – 15 – (23-61) – 1 - .457

Summary: Johnson's numbers in the top two spots were solid, especially the on base percentage, but you can't ignore the tremendous production in his 61 at bats in the seventh hole. Could the Braves have a little power in the linuep if Johnson hit seventh?

Mark Kotsay (Last five seasons)
2007:
Batting 1st: .357 BA – 1 HR – 2 RBI – (5 H-14 AB) - .471 OBP
Batting 2nd: .233 – 0 – 10 – (17-73) - .278
Batting 6-8:.185 – 0 – 8 – (22-119)

2006:
Batting 1st: .261 – 3 – 18 – (42-161) - .328
Batting 2nd: .276 – 2 – 26 – (58-210) - .336

2005:
Batting 1st: .262 – 2 – 23 – (60-229) - .320
Batting 2nd: .291 – 11 – 39 – (73-251) - .332

2004:
Batting 1st: .311 – 12 – 54 – (162-521) - .366

2003:
Batting 1st: .226 – 2 – 12 – (21-93) - .287
Batting 2nd : .281 – 2 – 12 – (55-196) - .368

Totals (2003-2007)
Batting 1st: .285 - 20 - 109 - (290-1018)
Batting 2nd: .278 - 15 - 87 - (203-730)

Summary: Kotsay's totals in the first and second spots in the order are pretty similar. He did not do well when he was dropped into the final three spots in the order last season.

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Obviously Kotsay's experience gives us more numbers to look at compared to Johnson, who just had his first full season last year, and Escobar, who was brought up in May.

Do the Braves look at Johnson's power and wonder how much better he would do if dropped down in the order? It's obvious he did well there last year hitting seventh. Would that give the Braves better production, or should they focus on his on base skills and hit him second behind Escobar, leaving Kotsay for seventh?

Johnson took a lot of walks (49) as the leadoff man, but his average was clearly impressive hitting lower in the order. If the combination of Matt Diaz and Brandon Jones hit in the eighth spot, would that be enough to give Johnson some protection in the lineup? And would his patience be better suited there, if pitchers did want to pitch around him to get to the eighth spot?

Would Cox perhaps split the leadoff duties between Johnson and Escobar, using Johnson at leadoff against right-handed pitchers and then dropping him down to seventh against lefties? Well, Johnson hit only six points higher (.278 to .272) against right-handers than lefties last season, while Escobar did do better (.355) against southpaws compared to right-handers (.302).

Knowing how Cox uses veteran players, it would seem he would keep Kotsay in one of the top two spots. And since his numbers in the second spot in the order the last five seasons are not much different that Kotsay's numbers as the leadoff man, you'd want to think Cox would prefer him hitting second with the younger, quicker Escobar hitting first in the lineup.

We should also mention Matt Diaz, who will probably hit eighth in the lineup with Kotsay now on board. It really hasn't mattered much where Diaz has hit in the lineup the last two seasons in Atlanta. He's hit whether he's hit sixth, seventh, or eighth. Here are his numbers from the past two seasons:

2007:
Batting 6th : .342 – 1 – 8 – (26-76) - .383
Batting 7th : .338 – 4 – 8 – (26-77) - .366
Batting 8th : .333 – 1 – 6 – (21-63) - .358

2006:
Batting 7th : .351 – 2 – 9 – (26-74) - .395
Batting 8th : .413 – 1 – 6 – (26-63) - .479

Those numbers are obviously impressive, but if Diaz is in a platoon with rookie Brandon Jones it's unlikely that combination would hit higher in the lineup, leaving Johnson (or Kotsay) for the seventh spot.

So what would you do with the Atlanta lineup? And what do you think Bobby Cox will do with the lineup this season? Click here to talk about this topic on the premium message board to give us your feedback.


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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