COMMENTARY | For 20 years, the Atlanta Braves were able to use permanent ink to write Chipper Jones' name into the three-hole of the batting order. This season, there have been more eraser marks on the Atlanta lineup card than a "Hello My Name Is" sticker at a Schizophrenia convention. Justin Upton has managed to remain the Braves' No. 3 hitter for much of the season, but, his recent struggles suggest the team may be better off with manager Fredi Gonzalez writing him in somewhere else in the order -- preferably in pencil.
Since May 18, Upton has produced exactly one RBI and zero home runs. But his lackluster resume for hitting third goes far beyond his current slump. For the season, Upton is hitting just .167 with runners in scoring position. For that matter, he is hitting just .155 when there are runners on any base.
Of his 14 home runs, 11 of them have been solo shots. When Upton is on the pond by himself, he is hitting .304, but, as soon as the opposing pitcher goes to the stretch, the Braves' slugger is a completely different hitter. Of the entire Atlanta roster, only B.J. Upton has worse numbers when hitting with runners on base. These troubling stats seem to indicate that neither Upton has the mental makeup of a true No. 3 hitter.
Aside from the raw numbers of his slump, Upton's confidence appears to be shaken. With two on and no outs in a game during their weekend series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Upton elected to drop down a sacrifice bunt to move runners into scoring position for Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann. The job of the three-hole hitter is not to move runners along; it is to drive them home. If manager Fredi Gonzalez no longer has the belief that Upton can come through in these run-producing situations, the 25-year-old left fielder needs to be hitting somewhere else in the order.
Who should the Braves use as a three-hole replacement for Upton? Freddie Freeman would be a logical choice, but his 43 runs drive in from the cleanup spot makes him hard to move from No. 4 in the order. Brian McCann has hit third before, however, back-to-back left-handed hitters could make the middle of the order easier to deal with for opposing teams late in games.
By the numbers, Chris Johnson should be batting No. 3 in the Atlanta order. Aside from Freeman, Johnson's .265 is the next best average on the club when hitting with runners in scoring position. Johnson has already produced the same number of RBIs as Upton has in this scenario (13), despite the fact that he is generally protected in the order by B.J. Upton or Dan Uggla -- not exactly a lot of reason for pitchers to throw Johnson many dead-red fastballs.
Johnson has the highest batting average on the team (.323), and his 51 hits are only three fewer than Justin Upton -- even though Johnson has been to the plate 61 times less than Atlanta's current No. 3 hitter. Some may argue that the Braves will give up too much power by hitting Johnson third, but, as Upton's zero home runs in the last 22 games suggests, they already are giving up power in the three-hole.
No one is suggesting this as a permanent change. When Upton is right, there may be no more dangerous hitter on the Braves' roster. However, he has not been right for a long time now. Until Upton proves he is back in April form, the Atlanta offense will benefit from a hitter who has proven he can come through in run-producing situations.
Atlanta Braves Optimized Batting Order
2. Jason Heyward, RF
3. Chris Johnson, 3B
4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
5. Justin Upton, LF
6. Brian McCann, C
7. Dan Uggla, 2B
8. B.J. Upton, CF
9. Pitcher's Spot
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Justin Upton
- Atlanta Braves