How will the lineup shake out in 2009?

What do you think Bobby Cox will do with the Braves lineup? Here are some possibilities.

With the Grapefruit League action starting Wednesday it will be interesting to see how Braves manager Bobby Cox forms his lineup. The Braves have several options now that Garrett Anderson is joining the team.

Let's look at each of the top eight spots in the lineup and see who may be the best candidate for the position.


LEADOFF MAN

This could depend on who wins the center field job. With Josh Anderson the leading candidate, let's look at what the speedy left-handed hitter could provide if given the job as the leadoff man.

First, Anderson had 101 at bats as the Atlanta leadoff man last season. He hit .297 with eight stolen bases and a .343 on base percentage. In Richmond Anderson hit .314 as the leadoff man with four home runs, 40 RBI, and 42 stolen bases. So those combined numbers in the top spot between Atlanta and Richmond: .311 batting average, seven home runs, 50 RBI, and 50 stolen bases.

In 2007 with Houston, Anderson had 59 at bats from the top spot in the order and hit .322 with eight RBI and one stolen bases. At Triple-A Round Rock Anderson hit .263 with 28 stolen bases.

So in Anderson's big league career, he's hit .306 from the leadoff spot with three home runs, 18 RBI, and nine stolen bases.

Most wonder if Anderson can hit enough in the big leagues. But this kid has a .315 batting average in his 203 big league at bats, along with a .294 career batting average in his minor league career. And statheads, Anderson's major league OBP is .364, while his minor league OBP is .344.

If Anderson wins the center field job, chances are he'll be the leadoff man. But if Jordan Schafer wins the job in spring training he could get the chance to lead off. Schafer had 12 stolen bases last season in Double-A, but most of his at bats came from lower in the order.

Schafer had only one game in Mississippi where he lead off. He was 1-4 with two strikeouts. Most of Schafer's at bats came from the fifth spot in the order (158 at bats), while he had 94 at bats hitting third.

In 2007 in Myrtle Beach Schafer mostly hit out of the top spot in the order, getting 431 at bats and hitting .295 with 19 stolen bases and a .355 OBP.

Of the returning players, Yunel Escobar got the most at bats as the leadoff man last season with 158. Escobar hit .285 with four home runs, 18 RBI, no stolen bases, and a .358 on base percentage as the leadoff man.

Kelly Johnson started the 2008 season as the leadoff man, only to be replaced by Escobar. Johnson hit .263 out of the top spot, with a .328 OBP, three home runs, and 11 RBI. Johnson's biggest success came lower in the order, as he hit .303 in the seventh spot and .405 in the eighth spot in the order. The lefty hitter also batted .328 in the third spot in the order.


BATTING SECOND

Most of Escobar's at bats last season came as the number two hitter, where he hit .289 with a .365 OBP, three home runs, and 34 RBI. Johnson struggled a bit in the number two hole, hitting only .259 with a .322 OBP.

Another possibility here is first baseman Casey Kotchman, who had 80 at bats as the number two hitter for the Angels before his trade to Atlanta. Kotchman hit .288 but had a .298 on base percentage. The Braves never tried Kotchman in the number two spot in the order.

Escobar is the leading candidate here. He's a slap hitter who can put the ball in play, especially if the leadoff man gets on base.


BATTING THIRD

Obviously, Chipper Jones is the main option in the third spot. It's where he's comfortable, and it's where he's spent most of his time in his career. Last season Jones hit .360 in the third spot on his way to a National League batting title.

But the wrinkle could be if the Braves decide to move Jones to the cleanup role. He's the most dangerous hitter on the team, and they may feel they could put Kelly Johnson in the three hole and then have Chipper behind him hitting fourth.

Again, Johnson hit .328 in the third spot in the order last season in 67 at bats with a .370 on base percentage. He could show some power from this spot, so if the Braves do choose to put Chipper in the cleanup role, Johnson could be the leading candidate here.


CLEANUP HITTER

It's clear that Chipper's preference is to not hit cleanup and remain in the third spot in the order, and more than likely that's what will happen. But the Braves could feel confident about moving Jones to this spot knowing his desire to help the team when needed. And there's little doubt that Jones could be effective in the spot.

If the Braves want Kelly Johnson in the third spot in the order, they'll have little choice but to put Jones in the cleanup spot. It's either that or drop Johnson down lower in the order.

If Jones is not the cleanup hitter, chances are catcher Brian McCann will get that responsibility. McCann hit .309 as a cleanup hitter last season with six home runs and 33 RBI in 162 at bats. McCann could definitely handle that role.

Last season Garrett Anderson had 145 at bats for the Angels in the cleanup spot and hit .283 with a .302 OBP and three home runs. Casey Kotchman had 52 at bats between the Angels and Braves in the four spot and he did not have a home run, so it's unlikely he'd be a candidate here.

It'll come down to Chipper or McCann for the cleanup spot in the order, with much of the decision also based on where Kelly Johnson will be in the lineup. If Johnson hits third, then Chipper will hit fourth and McCann fifth. But if Johnson is dropped down lower in the order, Chipper will hit third and McCann fourth.

With McCann likely to get a day off every five starts, or at the least once a week, the lineup would have to be adjusted. Is it tougher to rearrange the lineup when your cleanup hitter has to take a day off? Well, Bobby Cox changes his lineup around so much anyway it probably won't matter. When McCann is out, Garrett Anderson will probably move into the spot if McCann is the regular cleanup man. Or the Braves could move Chipper down and put Johnson in the three hole.


BATTING FIFTH

This could be the most interesting spot in the entire lineup. Again, if Chipper hits fourth, this will be occupied by Brian McCann. But if that doesn't happen, there are several candidates.

If the Braves feel Jeff Francoeur has bounced back, they may be tempted to have him hit here, if for no other reason than to break up the heavy presence of left-handed hitters. With McCann, Anderson, Johnson, and Kotchman all hitting from the left side, Francoeur is the only right-handed hitter.

Statistically McCann has done better than anyone in the five hole, and that's only with a .275 average. McCann was much more effective in the cleanup role (.309). But the others just struggled in the five spot. Anderson hit .175 (only 7-for-40), Kotchman hit .203 (14-69) between the Angels and Braves in the five hole, while Francoeur (30-120) and Johnson (4-16) both hit .250 as the number five hitter.

When the 2008 season started, McCann had this role, with Mark Teixeira firmly entrenched as the cleanup hitter. McCann then moved up to the four hole for the final two months of the season, and the number five spot in the order became a revolving door.

With the other players not doing well here, it does make you wonder if this could clinch McCann being in this role, with Johnson hitting third and Jones fourth. But again, Francoeur is the wildcard here.


BATTING SIXTH

Both Casey Kotchman and Garrett Anderson had their best production out of the number six hole. Kotchman was the Angels primary number six hitter before his trade to Atlanta, and then Anderson took over in Los Angeles for the final two months of the season.

Kotchman hit .293 in 181 at bats in the six hole for the Angels, with six home runs (the most for him in any spot in the order) and 23 RBI with a .344 on base percentage. Then with Atlanta, most of his at bats were also in the six spot. He hit .333 with a home run, 12 RBI, and a .446 OBP. That was where Kotchman was most productive for both teams.

Anderson had 175 at bats as the number six hitter in the Angels' lineup. He hit .337 with nine home runs, 37 RBI, and a .366 on base percentage.

So which one gets the nod here? Well, it could depend on if the Braves want Anderson higher in the order, with his history of run production. Or this could be where they split up the lefty hitters with Francoeur, who had most of his at bats last season in this spot in the order.

Francoeur hit .240 in the six hole, with six home runs and 37 RBI in 275 at bats. If the Braves are skeptical about putting Francoeur in the five hole until he proves he has bounced back, this could be a happy medium and almost a compromise to break up the lefty hitters.

Johnson has 60 at bats hitting sixth and hit .283 with a home run and eight RBI. McCann actually had his best production hitting sixth, batting .356 in 87 at bats with five home runs and 16 RBI, along with a .434 on base percentage.



BATTING SEVENTH
BATTING EIGHTH

These two spots are somewhat tied together, so we'll couple them in this discussion.

Surprisingly, the player with the best numbers out of the seven hole in 2008 was Kelly Johnson. He hit .303 in 76 at bats with two home runs, 10 RBI, and a .357 OBP. Francoeur hit only .221 in 149 at bats hitting seventh, with a home run and 13 RBI.

Kotchman had only 34 at bats in Los Angeles as the number seven hitter and hit .353 with a .421 on base percentage. He got only 16 at bats in the seventh spot with the Braves and had four hits. Kotchman is the one who might slide down to the seventh hole if Anderson hits sixth. It's doubtful the Braves would want Anderson down this low in the order.

If Garrett Anderson hits fifth (which would mean Chipper is third and McCann fourth), then the mystery will surround Kelly Johnson. How far down do the Braves drop Johnson in the lineup? If they want Francoeur to break up the lefty hitters, then Johnson would hit seventh, pushing Kotchman down to eighth.

Do the Braves put Francoeur down this low? Well, they will if his 2008 struggles carry over into this season. But it's unlikely the Braves would go with that many lefty hitters in a row. So Francoeur will probably be in the six spot, or seventh at the lowest.

If Matt Diaz gets some playing time against lefties, he could be in one of these two spots. Then the Braves would have Francoeur maybe hitting sixth and Diaz eighth, definitely splitting up the lefty dominance in the lineup.

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So what would you do? What's the best lineup for this Braves team? Talk about it on The Braves Show's Premium Message Board..

Bill Shanks hosts The Braves Show Talk Show. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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