Who wants to talk about lineup construction?
Now, before we get started, let me make a couple things clear. Some of you probably have some data that says lineup construction doesn’t matter. This isn’t the piece for you, probably. Just go about your day, safe in the belief that you are right about something.
I also want to make it clear that the Braves’ offense, overall, isn’t the reason they are struggling to get back to and above the .500 mark. The boys from Atlanta are third in the National League in runs per game at 4.78, first in the NL in homers at 93 and third in OPS at .744.
What this suggested lineup change is about is just throwing a spark in the mix. You can’t tell your pitchers, “Hey just pitch better, dummy,” and expect better results. You can’t force the other team to stop hitting stupid bloop singles at the worst possible times.
What you can do is try to change some things and maximize runs, particularly early in ball games.
So to create a new lineup, I looked at the Braves’ individual stats in June, just to see where everyone is, literally right now. I know this is a small sample size, but I’m looking for immediate results. Specifically, I looked at OPS, homers and strikeouts to get a quick picture of what’s going on.
After that, here’s the lineup I came up with:
- Ozzie Albies
- Abraham Almonte
- Ronald Acuña Jr.
- Freddie Freeman
- Austin Riley
- Dansby Swanson
- William Contreras
- Ender Inciarte/Guillermo Heredia
Now, there are some eyebrow-raising elements of this lineup, I’m sure, but hear me out. From the top, Ozzie is the hottest hitter on the team right now with a .957 OPS this month, but he has no homers in June. I’m not concerned about that lack of power in a small sample size, but that means his OPS is carried almost entirely by his seven doubles and a triple in 53 plate appearances. Further, he’s only striking out once for every 4.82 plate appearances. He gives a GREAT chance to start the game out the right way.
Almonte is very similar. He’s third on the team in OPS this month at .915, and he’s striking out the least of anyone with one K for every 6.17 plate appearances. He’s getting on base and making lots of contact right now, making him a very good choice for the second spot.
Now we get to perhaps the most contentious part of the shake-up: Ronald Acuña Jr. not hitting leadoff. In an ideal world, I LOVE having his electric bat right at the top of the order. His leadoff home runs are spectacular, and I would love for the team to be in a spot where he could hit there long-term. But right now, I think it would be better to give him a chance to still hit in the first inning but with “ducks on the pond,” so to speak. And the guys in front of him in this proposal are providing plenty of duck-like qualities.
Freddie batting behind Ronald just makes sense to me. Frankly, he isn’t getting on base quite enough to prioritize getting a first-inning at-bat if we’re just looking for a “right now” kind of spark. But he does lead the team with three June home runs despite an un-Freeman .764 OPS in the small sample. Bat cleanup and do cleanup things, MVFree.
From there, it’s really just sorting through some guys who aren’t hitting spectacularly at the moment. Riley is rolling at .767 but just went 3-for-3 on Sunday with a homer, three RBIs, two runs and a walk, so he’s the best of the bunch. Dansby slots at sixth because while he’s cooled off, he’s also only striking out once in every 5.11 plate appearances right now. Maybe he can keep the fun going. Contreras is seventh for me because he’s going through some things at the plate, most notably striking out at the highest rate on the team, once every 2.83 plate appearances in June.
With that going on, I’d place one of the center fielders eighth to try to give the team the best chance to clear the pitcher. I’d certainly be fine swapping that to bat the hitter eighth, but with Heredia carrying a .379 OPS this month and Ender perpetually driving the struggle bus, I don’t know how much that would help, frankly.
To reiterate, I’d love to get back to having Ronald batting leadoff. If Riley, Freddie and Dansby can get going at the same time, and/or the team can pick up another bat (I’d go Mitch Haniger), slot him right back up there and have some fun. Also, I’m fully aware that historical numbers would suggest that Almonte is going to regress, although hopefully not as hard as Heredia has. And that will certainly need to change things.
But for now, let’s see what a new lineup can do.