Posted: 9:55 am Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
By Mark Bradley
To recap: B.J. Upton batted leadoff for the Atlanta Braves in Houston on Tuesday and didn’t go 0-for-4 but got an actual hit, and not just any hit but the go-ahead home run. (Although the homer wasn’t struck when Upton led off an inning, just for the record.) The Braves won 3-2. For one night, everybody was happy. Does this mean B.J. Upton should remain in the No. 1 slot?
No. No. No. And, just for effect, I say again: No.
The primary job of a leadoff man is to get on base. Upton’s on-base percentage is .272. The average OBP for all major-league hitters is .316. There’s your reason why Tuesday’s lineup should be a one-off.
I understand Fredi Gonzalez’s rationale. (Don’t agree with it, but I understand.) The experiment of having the rookie Tommy La Stella bat leadoff didn’t work. La Stella was hitting lower in the order but stopped when moved to No. 1. Gonzalez was afraid that might happen; indeed, it’s the reason he didn’t try it sooner.
So Fredi G. now wanted TLS to hit second, which meant somebody else had to hit first. As noted, the Braves don’t have a surfeit of candidates. Fredi G. also doesn’t like bunching his left-handed-hitting starters, of which he has only three, so that meant he preferred a righty batting ahead of lefties La Stella and Freddie Freeman. That meant, almost by default but not quite, B.J. Upton.
The Brave most suited to batting leadoff is still Jason Heyward (OBP of .341), but he’s a lefty, too, and you can’t really have all three lefties at the top of the order. I struggled with this a few weeks back before deciding I’d rather have Heyward bat first — with La Stella No. 2 — and bump Freeman to No. 5, but that’s just me and what do I know?
This part I do know: Having the owner of a .272 OBP leading off will not work in the long or short term. This is, as also noted, a flawed lineup. But there are better alternatives than B.J.