Thoughts about the leadoff spot, CF and Peraza
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez laughed on April 13 when I playfully asked if he would ever repeat a lineup’s construction for any of this season’s 162 games. Twenty-six games into season, Gonzalez stands as the only Major League manager that has not yet repeated the construction of the non-pitching elements of a lineup.
This should not be seen as a problem for those who have a strong feel for Atlanta’s roster makeup and the benefits of utilizing a platoon at least three different positions (third base, left field and center field). But given the data he has collected through this season’s first month, Gonzalez should not feel the need to do as much mixing and matching with the center field position and leadoff spot.
In other words, Eric Young Jr. should no longer be viewed as an option to bat leadoff or play center field, except on those days when Gonzalez chooses to sit Cameron Maybin against a starting pitcher that is tough on right-handed pitchers.
Including Monday night’s matchup against Aaron Harang, Maybin has served as Atlanta’s starting center fielder in three straight games against right-handed pitchers. Though this trend is in its infancy expect it to continue as the Braves have become disillusioned with Young, who has slashed .169/.239/.292 through this season’s first 72 plate appearances.
Jayson Werth (.426) and Marlon Byrd (.529) are the only National League outfielders (minimum 70 plate appearances) who have compiled a worse OPS than Young (.532) thus far.
Maybin has not necessarily set the world on fire as he entered Monday having slashed .222/.340/.489 through 54 plate appearances. He has three hits, including two homers, in 14 plate plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. Though he has recorded five hits, including a homer, in his past seven at-bats against right-handers, Maybin has slashed .206/.325/.382 in 40 plate appearances against them this year.
These are not overwhelming numbers, but as the Braves evaluate what the future might hold for Young, Maybin serves as the best option.
Evaluating how Markakis has fared in the leadoff spot reintroduces us to the lunacy of placing any relevance on statistics compiled with a small sample size. He has hit .200 with a .317 on-base percentage through his first seven games as Atlanta’s leadoff hitter. Those of you discouraged by these numbers probably would have been encouraged had I written on Friday afternoon that he had batted .304 with a .448 OBP through his first six games as Atlanta’s leadoff hitter.
Right now, it’s too early to deduce whether it would be wise to keep Markakis in the leadoff spot over the remainder of the season. But until Jose Peraza or Mallex Smith arrives, he stands as the best option.
Peraza has long been considered Atlanta’s leadoff hitter of the future. But as he has been positioned in the second spot of Triple-A Gwinnett’s lineup since the start of this season, the Braves are providing some indication that they are preparing him for the role that he might have once Smith begins his reign as Atlanta’s center fielder — something that likely will not occur until at least next season.
Over his past 14 games with Gwinnett, Peraza has slashed .385/.421/.385 and proven successful with six of his seven stolen base attempts. It still seems like the Braves will allow the highly-regarded prospect at least another month to develop before bringing him to Atlanta to serve as their starting second baseman.
Jace Peterson has performed effectively since being given the chance to play second base on a daily basis again last week. But Peterson’s long-term role with Atlanta will likely be to serve as a utility player or a third baseman, until Rio Ruiz is deemed Major League ready.