DENVER – Jordan Schafer has hit .220 with a .271 on-base percentage in his past 40 games, and Alex Gonzalez has the second-lowest on-base percent (.259) and fourth-lowest OPS (.601) in the National League.
But when manager Fredi Gonzalez looks at them, he sees not those ugly numbers, but two players he believes have played big roles in helping the Braves compile the second-best record in the National League at 57-39.
On Monday I asked Fredi about both players. Asked him about Schafer and whether he believes Schafer has contributed more than his mostly lackluster-to-bad stats indicate.
“I looked at it today,” he said a few hours before the Braves’ series-opening win against Colorado. “I’m not a big numbers guy, but I looked at [Jason] Heyward, Schafer and [Nate] McLouth’s numbers.
“They’re all about the same [statistically]. But you feel like Schafer’s done so much more. Maybe it’s just us looking, or maybe it’s what he does on the basepaths, the defense, but you feel like – and I’m not putting the other guys down – but you feel like Schafer’s one-base percentage is higher. It’s [actually] lower than McLouth’s.
“They’re [all] hitting three or four points different. But you feel like he’s done something. I don’t know if it’s the stolen-base threat that’s there.”
Schafer has hit .230 with a .311 OBP and 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts in 46 games since arriving from Triple-A to replace then-injured McLouth. Certainly that’s a bad OBP for a leadoff hitter, or for any hitter, really. He has 10 extra-base hits, including three triples and one homer, and seven RBIs.
McLouth has hit .227 with a .341 OBP in 71 games, with 17 extra-base hits (four homers), 14 RBIs, and three steals in five attempts. His walks and OBP climbed considerably since he was dropped from leadoff, where he struggled, to the eight-hole.
Heyward has hit .224 with a .319 OBP and 22 extra-base hits (nine homers) in 72 games, with 23 RBIs and five steals in seven attempts. His numbers pale next to his robust across-the-board production as a rookie in 2010.
I didn’t mention McLouth or Heyward when I asked Fredi about Schafer. He brought them into the discussion, for sake of comparison and to make a point. I thought it telling that he mentioned them.
The manager relayed an incident from earlier in the day in Denver.
“I posed that question to the coaching staff,” he said. “ I said, has anybody looked at the stat pack” [The lenghthy statistical report that’s distributed to coaches daily] “No? OK, then who’s got the better on-base percentage of those three?”
He said the response from coaches was, “Oh, Schafer does, hands-down.”
To which he replied: “Oh, really?”
Then he told the coaches that Schafer’s was actually the lowest.
“It’s crazy, this game,” he said.
So, getting back to my question about Schafer, I asked, “So you believe he’s done a lot to help you win?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Fredi said. “Whether it’s defense, running the bases, maybe disrupting, if there’s a stat for that – can you quantify disrupting the pitcher?
“It’s something. Whether it’s his energy … or just perception.”
He cited the perfect bunt that Schafer laid down on Sunday. Someone else noted that Schafer’s speed also created the two-error play by Nationals first baseman Michael Morse to start Friday’s game, to which Fredi concurred.
Also, he had this to say about Eric Hinske starting in LF Monday instead of McLouth, since Hinske had good career numbers against Rockies starter Jason Hammel.
“I told him, I’m going to play Hinske, but you’ve got the rest of the series,” Fredi said. “It’s a good matchup [Hinske vs. Hammel], and you try to play your bench, let him get three or four at-bats, but [he told McLouth] be ready to play defensively.
“But he [McLouth] has done OK. You wish [for] more? You wish for more from anybody.”
Folks, here’s what I’m reading into this situation. And maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but this is how I’m interpreting:
If nothing changes, if the Braves don’t make a trade, when Chipper Jones returns to third base next week and Martin Prado moves back to left field, I think Nate McLouth is going to be out of an every-day job and Schafer will remain the primary center fielder.
Of course, if I’m wrong it wouldn’t be the first time, either.
♣ As for Gonzo: Do you realize that Dan Uggla’s 10-game hitting streak has raised his on-base percentage enough that he not only doesn’t have the lowest OBP in the league, he doesn’t even have the lowest on the team.
Of course, Alex Gonzalez’ extended slump also has played a role in that. The shortstop’s batting average is down to .228, and Gonzalez has a .259 OBP that’s the second-lowest among NL qualifiers, ahead of only Milwaukee’s Yuniesky Betancourt (.257).
Gonzalez is one spot ahead of Uggla (.263).
Yes, the Braves’ lineup now have two of the three lowest OBPs in the league. Which says a lot about the level of their pitching, defense and the work of several other hitters, doesn’t it?
(By the way, Brian McCann’s .380 OBP ranks 10th in the league, right behind Carlos Beltran’s .381.)
Gonzalez has hit just .213 with three homers and 15 RBIs in his past 56 games, and has eight walks and 60 strikeouts in 221 at-bats in that period, along with a .243 OBP and .290 slugging percentage.
He’s 10-for-77 (.130) in his past 19 games with two extra-base hits, one walk and 20 strikeouts.
“That’s him, he’s a streaky guy,” Fredi Gonzalez said.
For the guy making out the lineup card, it doesn’t matter that the other Gonzalez isn’t doing much most nights at the plate.
His defense has been so strong this year, Fredi said he isn’t concerned about his offense.
“To tell you the truth, I could give a [bleep] what the batting average is or how many home runs,” he said. “Because what he gives you defensively… He stops rallies — they’re dead in their tracks if the ball’s hit to him. The routine outs are outs, and then he’ll come up with something spectacular.”
So, I asked, that’s a position where you can live without much offense?
“Oh, I can live without it,” he said. “I don’t even worry about it from [that position].”
♣ Beachy on bump tonight: Tonight will be Brandon Beachy’s first experience pitching at Coors Field, and if you think he’s intimidated, then you don’t know the Braves rookie.
“That’s definitely not happening,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and go at them with everything I’ve got.”
He’s heard from pitchers that sinkers don’t sink as much and sliders don’t slide as much in the thin, mile-high air of Denver. He said he’ll find out for himself. No worries.
“If there is something that isn’t quite working, that’s something I deal with all the time, start to start,” he said. “There’s usually one pitch that’s not quite as good as it normally is and I just rely on the other stuff. Nothing I’m not accustomed to dealing with.”
Did we mention that Beachy’s toughness and aggressiveness has served him well?
He’s been a bit overshadowed by rookie teammates Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman, but Beachy is also compiling a resume that could be worthy of rookie-award consideration by season’s end.
He’s 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 12 starts, with 78 strikeouts and 15 walks in 67-1/3 innings. That includes 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five road starts.
In his past nine starts, Beachy is 3-0 with a stingy 2.52 ERA and .216 opponents’ average, while piling up 61 strikeouts with eight walks in 50 innings.
And after spending nearly six weeks on the DL for an oblique strain, Beachy came back in splendid fashion, going 2-0 with a 2.74 ERA in four starts since his return. Here’s what’s startling about that stretch: He has 32 strikeouts with three walks in 22 innings.
“I feel good,” he said. “ I feel fresh. I feel really good.”
His arm feels a bit rejuvenated after the time off, and he continues to approach every new challenge without hesitation. Coors Field a pitcher’s nightmare? Pfft.
“I live by that mentality — I’m not really intimidated by anything or anybody,” Beachy said. And he said it without arrogance or cockiness. Just matter-of-factly.
♣ Ubaldo again: Beachy faces the Rockies for the first time, while the Braves will face Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez tonight for the second time in 16 days.
Jimenez gave up three runs (two earned) and six hits in 5-1/3 innings of a 4-1 Braves win on July 4. He is 2-3 with a 2.97 ERA in his past six starts against the Braves, including a no-hitter last season.
The righty is 5-3 with a 2.56 ERA in nine June-July starts, after going 0-5 with a 5.86 ERA in nine April-May starts.
Freddie Freeman is 1-for-2 with a homer against him, Brian McCann is 5-for-19, and Nate McLouth is 3-for-19 with a homer and six strikeouts against Jimenez.
Etc. The Braves have a league-leading 44-24 mark since May 1, which is 3-1/2 games better than Phillies over that same stretch….
Freddie Freeman has hit .316 with 10 homers, 36 RBIs, .375 OBP and .547 slugging over his past 49 games. This after hitting .227 with four homers, 14 RBIs and .319/.355 in his first 43 games….
Eric Hinske has hit .395 (15-for-38) in 18 games against the Rockies with four doubles, two homers, 10 RBI and .468 OBP and .658 slugging percentage. And he’s actually hit better against them in 10 games outside Denver than in eight at Coors….
Brian McCann has hit .350 (28-for-80) with seven homers, 16 RBIs, a .416 OBP and .625 slugging in his past 21 games. He’s hit .331 with 14 homers in his past 45 games.
♣ Let’s close with some classic Philly soul from The Intruders, which came up on my Ipod shuffle this morning and which you can hear by clicking here.
“COWBOYS TO GIRLS” by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff
Cowboys to girls
I remember when I used to play shoot em up
(Shoot em up, bang, bang baby)
I remember when I chased the girls and beat em up
But I was young and didn’t understand
But now I’m a grown up man
I know girls are made for kissing
Never knew what I was missing
Now my life is not the same
My whole world has been rearranged
I went from (cowboys to girls)
Oh yes I did
(Cowboys to girls)
I remember when I used to see you jumping rope
(Jumping rope up and down baby)
And I remember when you got your first baby coat
But you were young and didn’t understand
Now you want me that I’m a man
And it’s me that you’re kissing
Ain’t it fun reminiscing
Now our lives are not the same
Our whole world has been rearranged
You went from (Pretty dolls to boys)
Oh yes you did
And I went from (cowboys to girls)
Oh yes I did
Still it’s me that you’re kissing
Ain’t it fun reminiscing
Cause our life is not the same
This whole world has been rearranged
I went for (cowboys to girls)
Oh yes I did
You went from (pretty dolls to boys)
-- David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog