Suddenly rejuvenated offense returns home

While mixing Mucinex, Zyrtec  and a couple of cough drops this week, I could have sworn that I saw the Braves go into Milwaukee and score 28 runs over the course of just three games. 

Had I also seen Jo-Jo Reyes come off the disabled list to earn one of those three wins over the Brewers,  I would have certainly been moved to immediately check myself into the nearest hospital.  

With their first road sweep of the season, the Braves may have saved hitting coach Terry Pendleton’s job and given us reason to believe they are capable of scoring at least one earned run against Jamie Moyer at some point this season.  

Had Pendleton been chosen to be the fall guy, there likely wouldn’t have been a significant public backlash.   When a preseason contender hits .232 and compiles a .337 slugging percentage through the season’s first 31 games, you find yourself nearing a point where change seems imminent.  

Fortunately for Pendleton, the Braves did what they were supposed to do against Doug Davis on Monday night and then gladly put Jason Heyward back in their lineup for the final two games in Milwaukee.  

Instead of saying Heyward is a difference maker for the umpteenth time this year, I’ll point out that despite totaling just three at-bats while battling a sore right groin over a six-game stretch last week, he still enters tonight’s series opener against the D-backs with more RBIs (28) than the combined totals of Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar.  

Looking at one of the new-age stats, Heyward’s 2.70 WPA (win probability added) ranks second in the Majors only to the 2.88 mark posted by Miguel Cabrera, the early favorite to win the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award.  

FanGraphs.com defines WPA as the difference in win expectancy (WE) between the start of the play and the end of the play. That difference is then credited/debited to the batter and the pitcher. Over the course of the season, each players’ WPA for individual plays is added up to get his season total WPA.

If this stat still seems confusing, just ignore it and accept the fact that your eyes haven’t deceived you.  It certainly doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that the Braves lineup is severely weakened whenever it doesn’t possess Heyward’s presence.  

Now with Chipper Jones expected to return tonight and  Yunel Esobar likely coming off the disabled list in time to start Saturday’s game, where should Heyward sit in the lineup over the course of the next couple weeks or months?

Given that Chipper Jones has hit .231 with 12 homers and a .736 OPS over the course of his past 123 games, there is certainly reason to wonder if the Braves would benefit from replacing him in the third spot of the lineup with Heyward.  

But this isn’t something that is going to happen immediately and when you look at the recent results maybe it is time to believe Jones’ contention that he feels good at the plate and is seeing the ball much better than he did during the second half of the 2009 season.  

Jones has hit .350 (7-for-20) with three doubles in his past seven games.   When he first felt some discomfort in his hip on April 23, he was hitting .295 with a .959 OPS.  Over the years, the veteran third baseman has drawn criticism because of the amount of time that he has spent out of the lineup.  

But the numbers certainly provide reason to believe that his current statistics are a product of the fact that he chose to play through some pain because the team was enduring a rough stretch (the nine-game losing streak).  

From April 24-May 2, Jones recorded just one hit in 24 at-bats.  Take away that eight-game stretch and he would currently be hitting .313, which is right in line with the .307 career batting average that he carried into this season.   

If Jones continues to hit third, the Braves could put Heyward in the second spot and move Martin Prado into the leadoff spot.   Bobby Cox loves all the skills that Prado provides in the second spot.  But there isn’t much need to have the  ability to hit the ball to the right side of the infield or consistently advance runners when the guys (leadoff hitters)hitting in front of you have compiled an NL-worst .253 on-base percentage.  

Nor should it matter that Prado isn’t much of a threat to steal a base.  The Jimmy Rollins-less Phillies and Cubs are the only National League clubs with fewer stolen base attempts than the Braves this year.

The Braves simply need to supply a table setter for Heyward, Jones, McCann, and the suddenly red-hot Troy Glaus.  To give Escobar a chance to continue being the solid run producer that he was last year, I think the best choice is to at least try Prado in that leadoff role for a week or two.  

If it doesn’t work, they could flip-flop him with Escobar, who has .307 with a .370 on-base percentage in his career as a leadoff hitter.  During his first plate appearance in  the 78 games he has started a game as the leadoff hitter, he has hit .395 with a .410 on-base percentage.  

Escobar will make a rehab appearance for Triple-A Gwinnett tonight.   Reyes is scheduled to start for Gwinnett, which will also likely welcome Jordan Schafer to its roster at some point this weekend.  Schafer has hit .294 with three doubles in the nine rehab games he has played for Class A Rome and Double-A Mississippi this year.

27 Comments

So, what you are saying is, if J-Hey continues to produce at this pace and this team finds a way into the playoffs, we could be looking at Heyward being named the NL ROY and MVP…….. Clearly, this team will go as he goes. That’s the definition of MVP right?

Schafer, Escobar, AND Jo Jo, all together? Brundy will have his hands full. There are so many lines from the Movie “Airplane” that could be inserted here.

Good assessment Mark. We need a couple more weeks to see if Chipper continues to hit better. I agree about trying Prado at leadoff for awhile although that has been a death trap for everyone so far. Escobar might be a candidate if he goes back to hitting the way he did when he came up. But from what I have seen of him this year and late last year, he is pull happy trying to hit homers and no longer tries to drive the ball oppo. As a result he hits a lot of grounders to the left side. McCann may be coming around. Not sure yet. I’d like to see Infante and Hinske stay in the lineup for a couple weeks also and leave McLouth, Melky, and Diaz on the bench.

Agreed, it is just so hard to sit the hot guys to get the “better” guys enough ABs to make them “better” again. Bobby doesn’t get paid the big bucks for nothing. These are the days when he earns every one of them. Just me glad it isn’t Ozzie Guillen sitting in the dugout.

If McLouth and Melky keep struggling, how long do you think it will be until we see Schafer back in CF? What would we do we Melky? Keep him on the bench? They can’t send him to the minors, can they?

A dedicated and productive Schafer could get to Atlanta very quickly given how things are going in Atlanta right now. If his bat speed is back, there really weren’t any other physical issues that kept him out of the majors. Defensively he is vastly superior to even McLouth and his gold glove. Given all he has been through, Schafer should be ready to take on the world singlehandedly. That type of aggressive energy would be welcomed right now.

But who goes to Gwinnett when he gets to Atlanta? Or do we see a DFA on the horizon?

Yeah it’s tough.. Schafer in ATL would give us Schafer, Melky, Diaz, McLouth, Hinske, and Heyward. Only Hinske to my knowledge can play anything besides OF. The only option would be to either send Conrad back to the minors and go with all of them while seeing how Schafer works out.. or to DFA Melky. In that case, I really hope that Vizcaino ends up being a quality starter, or we basically gave Vazquez away.

A division title with Heyward sitting around .300 with 35 HR and 120 RBI would almost guarantee the Fred Lynn daily double of ROY and MVP. It is a long time until October, but that would be really special. Of course, if Eithier continues to put up Triple Crown numbers, then it will all be academic at that point.

Wow, everyone is a schafer fan, now. It’s nice to see you guys come around. The problem is exactly how viva states it. Frank Wren would have to eat a HUGE helping of crow in order to let either Melky or McLouth go. Diaz would likely be the only one with any trade value, but what a crime it would be to let him go. Mark that new age WPA stat should be renamed STO(state the obvious). If anyone was deluded enough to wonder what kind of impact that Heyward has had on this team and how that could be reduced to a statistic, I guess the stat works. Personally I think he’s the only reason that the Braves aren’t out of the race already. His situational hitting has been nothing short of amazing. I still oppose putting Prado at leadoff but given our complete lack of other options, I am willing to concede that it may be the only solution to our dilemma. I just hope it doesn’t backfire. He is an aggressive hitter and hits to contact. If he tries to modify that in order to be a classic leadoff guy, i think we have literally “killed two birds with one stone”

instead of dfa melky why not trade him for some bench help or bullpen help.

I like the line-up. Maybe KK can get on base and allow JH to drive in some runs. Hinske may have earned a starting platoon spot. His defense can’t be worse than GA last year and his offense and aggresiveness is far better.

1.Prado-2B
2.Heyward-RF
3.Jones-3B
4.McCann-C
5.Glaus-1B
6.Hinske-LF
7.Infante-SS
8.McLouth-CF
9.Kawakami-P

trade diaz and melky to kc for podesnik and bloomquist or kila ka’aihue.

Kawakami is awful. I don’t care if someone has a sabetmetric stat that says he’s a decent 5th starter… the point is, he’s not. The Braves have a winning record since he joined the team, which means his 7-17 is even that much more distressing.

NCBrave I think we trade YOU to the Yankees for that Yankeepowerhouse guy and trade him to Phillies for the Philly Fanatic. Then we trade Jason Heyward for a weak hitting utility infielder and Chipper Jones for Adrian Gonzalez. The we trade Mclouth for someone who can hit the baseball anywhere and we trade Terry Pendleton for Tony LaRussa. Then we trade Kenshin Kawakami for Tim Lincecum and Derek Lowe for Roy Halladay. Please get over the mythical trade game. It ain’t happening, you don’t have a clue so let it rest.

I don’t blame Heyward for trying to steal 3rd. This team is, fundamentally, the worst team I have ever seen. Chipper can’t hit anymore, so you know he’s not going to get him to 3rd. McBlind can’t see, hit, or field right now…

Lol billreef. I wanted to say it, but I was gonna see how long it took for someone to mention how absolutely stupid his trade suggestions are. “Lets trade Jo Jo Reyes, Barbaro Canizares, and Melky for Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Jesus.”

Wow, McHoleinHisSwing hit a 3 R dinger. His second hit of the year with a RISP. Go figure, I guess even a blind squirrel finds a nut…..

Martin is the man. Leadoff or 2 hole he just keeps on raking. The Diamondbacks can have KJ, Martin is MY man.

Escobar 2 for 3 tonight at Gwinnett, should be ready to go tomorrow. Schafer will be in Gwinnett tomorrow.

My prediction for the line up –
Prado
Heyward
Jones
McCann
Glaus
Escobar
Hinske
McClouth (Infante?)
Hanson.

Infante was 3 for 3 with a sac in the 9th. Betcha he rides the pine tomorrow against the righty. Having Prado in front of Heyward is brilliant. Prado might hit 400. J Hey might drive in 130.

Can’t say enough about the way Infante has filled in for Escobar. He played this well last year too. We need to find a place for him to play.

Why do you bring in Wagner to face Johnson, Jackson, and Upton? A lefty who is hitting better against lefties, followed by two righties, on a team well-known for being fastball mashers. How does that make any sense?

Good comeback, boys. Good win.

I can’t wait till Schafer gets up here… I’ve always been a huge fan of him and I know he can reach his potential one day. Soon as he gets his bat speed up, I can see him easily as a 25/25 player.
Lineups
1.Schafer-CF
2.Prado-2B
3.Chipper-3B
4.Mac-C
5.Glaus-1B
6.J-Hey-RF
7.Esco-SS
8.McLouth-LF
9.Pitcher

If Schafer can be the type of player he is, he defiantly have a #1 hitter. This lineup is a real contender’s lineup.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of finding Infante AB’s even with the return of Esco.

Easiest place would be in LF along with Hinske and CF in tandem with McLouth.

If Bobby is going to play Hinske and Infante quite a bit it creates a need for another utility infielder that can play SS.

Also makes Diaz quite expendable. Matty would be better served with a AL team anyway.

For arguments sake let’s say that 7 of the 8 position spots are locked down and LF is some type of platoon with Hinske and Infante getting the lion’s share of the AB’s.

Bench then needs to be constructed as follows

Ross
Conrad
Cabrera
Hinske/Infante
Utility Infielder

When Schafer gets some more daily playing time under his belt and is deemed ready, then he comes up and either McLouth or Cabrera departs.

With Hanson and Huddy going in the next two games, I really like our chances for another sweep. What’s said, is that if we would have gone something like and modest 4-5 during that 9 game losing streak, we would be tied for first place. Great win last night!
Mt two cents on the lineup – I still hate Heyward in the number 2 slot. I understand that we have a black hole at leadoff and putting our our best hitter (Prado) there makes since right now… but I would rather have 2-3 runners on base for Heyward, not just 1. If last night’s blast somehow ignites McClouth’s bat, I say put him back at leadoff. If not, I say put Infante in Centerfield and bat him leadoff. I may take a lot of flak for this, but my lineup when Escy returns is this:
Infante (CF)
Prado
Chipper (I don’t like him batting third… but he’ll never leave it)
Glaus
Heyward
McCann
Escobar
Hinske
If a left handed pitcher is going, flip-flop Glaus and Heyward for a righty-lefty-righty-lefty-righty heart of the order. Heyward batting 4th or 5th makes the most sense to me.

Take is easy on KK everyone. He is an overpaid 4 or 5 starter that has not had much luck. Keep in mind, over the past two years he has been significantly better than D Lowe. They need KK and Lowe to perform with JJ out and hopefully Medlen can give some quality innings in JJs absense. I think people have forgotten how bad a 5th starter can be. Does anyone remember how bad Jo Jo was? They are not going to trade J Hey or F Freeman to get Cliff Lee, nor should they.

Things are looking better than two weeks ago. They still need Chipper to get a big hit once in a while. He seemed to just miss a pitch at the end of the game and hit a deep fly ball to center. They need Heyward hitting 3rd or 4th, not second. Chipper draws a lot of walks and wouldn;t you like to see heyward have the opporutnity to bat 4th and drive him in? He will definitley have less RBI opportunities batting second (but I guess may he score more runs)

I want to preface this comment by saying that I believe that J-Hey should hit third. Since it isn’t likely to happen, I want to give you a couple of reasons why it is a good thing for him to bat second.

1. More at bats. He will get at least one more AB per game.
2. He draws a lot of walks, and is one of the few threats on the Braves team to steal a base. This sets up Chipper, Mac and Glaus.
3. When the bottom of the order gets on base, and the pitcher sacrifices, you have Prado (if he remains the lead-off hitter) then Heyward to get them home. They can’t pitch around Prado. In essence he becomes the clean up hitter for the bottom of the order.
4. Prado – then Heyward maximizes the at bats for the two best hitters on the team.

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