There's been lots of discussion about why Fredi Gonzalez has chosen to bat Jason Heyward 6th in the Braves lineup instead of 2nd in the lineup including a very interesting discussion here on Talking Chop yesterday that included links to media outlets that have questioned Fredi's lineup decisions. But I think there's a bigger issue with Fredi's lineup decision-making that needs to be addressed. Fredi seems to be overly concerned with arranging the Braves lineup in such a way that creates match-up problems for the other team's manager in late inning situations. The question to be asked is Fredi doing this at the expense of putting together a lineup that is designed to beat the other team's starting pitcher on any given night?
More after the jump.
In this day and age of specialization of relief pitchers, some managers seem to be obsessed with always bringing in the right reliever to face a particular batter late in games so much so than some have rightly developed a reputation as "Johnny Manager". The problem with this approach is that inevitably the bullpen is gonna wear down by the middle of the June and your best pitchers (usually your starters) are not being fully maximized. I have to give Fredi Gonzalez credit for going as long as he can each night with his starting pitcher and not running the same guys out there each night in the 6th and 7th innings to supposedly create better match-ups. So far in his young Braves managerial career he has shown a tendency to allow his starters to pitch deep into games and keep his bullpen fresh. This is going to pay off down the road when guys like Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters, and Peter Moylan are still relatively fresh going into August and September.
I wished Fredi would apply the same principle to his lineup cards. He seems to be in a straight jacket when it comes to filling out his lineup and ensuring he keeps a righty-lefty arrangement down through the whole lineup. He does this apparently to create tough bullpen decisions for the other team's manager late in games. But, isn't it more important to design a lineup that is built to beat the other team's starting pitcher? After all, on most nights, your lineup is going to face the other team's starter at least 3 times while probably only facing their bullpen once. Why sacrifice putting together a lineup that is tough for a starter to navigate because you are overly concerned about bullpen match-ups? With that in mind, I believe the more pressing issue for Fredi Gonzalez is not where Jason Heyward hits but rather putting together a lineup each night to make it tough on the other team's starter. For example, would a 3-7 of Chipper, McCann, Heyward, Uggla, and Freeman be more difficult for a RH starting pitcher to navigate than the current arrangement of Chipper, McCann, Uggla, Heyward, and AGonzalez? I think it would be. With the current lineup that Fredi is using, it makes it easier for a starter to pitch around one guy to get to the next guy who you know is a RH batter. But with Chipper, Mac, and Heyward back-to-back-to-back you don't have that luxury. Fredi's current lineup would be better suited to face a LH starting pitcher.
In closing, I will not argue for Jason Heyward hitting second in the Braves lineup. I will argue for Jason Heyward hitting somewhere in the Braves lineup each night that gives the Braves the best chance to pound another team's starting pitcher. Sometimes that might mean 5th in the lineup, sometimes 6th, or eventually it will mean he settles in at one spot in the lineup (3rd or 4th) because that is where he needs to be every game and other guys in the lineup can be moved around depending on the starting pitcher for the other team. I just wished Fredi would remove the straight jacket and tinker with the lineup a little and not be so obsessed with late inning bullpen situations. In my opinion, he is taking the "Johnny Manager" approach with his lineup decisions and he is not maximizing the Braves offensive resources to defeat a particular starting pitcher.