(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien)
Well it’s been a pretty quiet week after Christmas so far, as you might expect with much of the world, including the baseball one, still enjoying time away from the daily grind.
If you’re like me, you’re still eating Christmas leftovers and too many sweets, enjoying the last few days before resolution time when we’ve got to start whipping back into shape.
This is about when players start ramping up their workouts, both throwing and hitting. January is when a lot of them start rolling down to Turner Field a few days a week, to hit with the coaches and then late in the month and into early February, pitchers will start throwing with Roger McDowell in the pre-spring training pitcher’s camp, or whatever we’re calling it these days.
(Just got off the phone with rookie reliever Craig Kimbrel who was on his way to throw today for the first time this winter. I’m posting a separate blog on that so check it out in a bit.)
As we contemplate 2011, knowing that much of the Braves roster is set, (while we wait on a Dan Uggla contract extension to be finalized, which could come in the next week or so), I figured why not have a look at the projected 2011 lineup and toss that around a little bit.
Projected lineup for 2011
When it comes to new manager Fredi Gonzalez and his lineups, there are quite a few unknowns. We don’t know yet what his tendencies will be, if he’ll be like Bobby Cox and hesitant to change much, and even more hesitant to divulge why or why not.
So far, Gonzalez seems pretty open and willing to discuss his lineups. Based on conversations with him and what he said over the winter meetings, we have a pretty good idea of what the Braves lineup would be if the season were to start tomorrow and everybody is back healthy. Here it is:
1. Martin Prado LF
2. Nate McLouth CF
3. Chipper Jones 3B
4. Brian McCann C
5. Dan Uggla 2B
6. Jason Heyward RF
7. Alex Gonzalez SS
8. Freddie Freeman 1B
9. Pitcher du Jour
If I know you guys, the first thing that jumps off the page is seeing McLouth batting second, coming off a .190 year. When I saw this, I was curious too. I figured he might be batting somewhere down in rookie Freeman territory.
But then you put yourself in Gonzalez’s head and think about what he’s trying to accomplish here. For one, maybe he’s trying to build up McLouth’s confidence. If you’re McLouth and you’re expecting to be in the hinterlands of the lineup and you see your name penciled in high, it’s got to give you a boost.
It gives you added protection of Chipper Jones hitting behind you, more strikes in your future, and a better chance to get off to a good start. Hitting high, maybe you’re less likely to swing for the fences and just work the ball up the middle, trying to advance Prado, so you stay within yourself. Or maybe Gonzalez’s primary thinking is simply based on McLouth’s speed and trying to get one of the few real base-stealing threats high in the order.
OK, Chipper Jones hitting third. We don’t know how his knee will do. Jones has even been one to suggest, the way he’s hit at times in the last couple of years, he might not hit himself third. But as a new manager on a new team, this is not your first move, to drop the 16-year veteran out of his usual hole.
If the knee doesn’t hold, that’s another story, and Gonzalez has said he could see McCann, Uggla or Heyward hitting third, and even McLouth, if he were at his Pittsburgh levels.
Cleanup: OK, if you’re like me, maybe you thought Uggla would be batting fourth, taking some of the pressure off McCann. You’d put your new 30-homer guy in the most obvious power hole in the order. But then you find out how comfortable Uggla is in the No. 5 spot. How he’s hit there for most of the last three seasons, including last year when he had 304 at-bats in the fifth spot and 273 in the cleanup spot.
For his career, Uggla has hit 48 home runs and 163 RBIs in the fifth spot compared to 19 home runs and 57 RBIs in the fourth spot. But he’s hit for higher average .292 (83-for-284) in the fourth spot vs. only .251 (250-for-997) in the fifth spot. Gonzalez has said he could switch McCann and Uggla back and forth here. Makes sense to me.
McCann, for his career, actually has more at-bats in the cleanup spot now than any other, with 1004. (He has 927 at-bats hitting fifth.) Knowing McCann’s personality, he really doesn’t care where he’s hitting, and he won’t change his approach either way, so Fredi can leave him there if he thinks Uggla is better suited to fifth.
What about Heyward hitting sixth? Would most of you want him back at No. 2, where he hit most of last season? Pick your poison with him: table setter, speed guy, or run producer? I do know with this lineup as is, you get lefty-righty-lefty from McCann, to Uggla, to Heyward, to Alex Gonzalez, Freeman against righties. And against lefties, with Chipper hitting right-handed, it goes righty-lefty-righty all the way down the lineup, top to bottom. That’s a thing of mathematical beauty, eh? Maybe it’s as simple as that.
But wait, a little more over-thinking….
Heyward actually hit for better average in the six hole than second last year, albeit in way fewer at-bats. He hit .359 (14-for-39) with a .469 on-base percentage, six homers and 11 RBIs in the No. 6 hole, compared to .281 (109-for-388) with a .393 on-base percentage, nine homers and 39 RBIs in the No. 2 spot.
Hey, it’s December, and we all know this thing is going to change a bunch of times, starting in spring training. But for the sake of discussion, I’m throwing it out. What’s your lineup? What do you make of Fredi’s philosophies based on this one?
At the end of the season in our discussions with GM Frank Wren in October, he mentioned that Kris Medlen had to have an MRI on his hip. It doesn’t appear to be a big issue, so I didn’t mention it in my story about his rehab from “Tommy John” surgery, but I can update you here.
Medlen felt a twinge in his hip back on June 3 in LA rounding first base after getting a base hit vs. Hiroki Kuroda the Dodgers and just played through it until he injured his elbow in early August.
“I was watching the ball instead of watching the base,” Medlen said recently. “I came up right to the base and hit it and had to turn real quick. It has a small, little tear in it. It still clicks every once in a while. But for the most part it’s gone. But it’s hard to tell when I haven’t done anything athletically.”
He was diagnosed as a slight tear in his labrum and was told it just needed rest.
And just for kicks, it sounds like Medlen did not have the greatest experience in the MRI tube for this one.
“I was supposed to make it through 40 minutes, I made it through 32,” Medlen said. “They give you an emergency button. I got claustrophobic, my chest felt like it was caving in, I was drenched in sweat.”
He said the MRI for his elbow wasn’t as bad because he was already tired, and laying on his abdomen, not his back.
“For this MRI it was like a funeral, this close to my face,” he said.
Hey, we write about MRIs so often it gets to be commonplace. Leave it to Medlen to put the human face on it for us. OK I’m going to post this and then post a short Kimbrel blog as well….
Hope everyone has a very happy new year!