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Jason Heyward: MLB’s best No. 6 hitter

Mar 31, 2011, 4:10 PM EDT

Braves' Heyward hits a home run against the Nationals during the second inning of their MLB National League baseball game in Washington Reuters

For the second straight Opening Day, Jason Heyward homered in his first at-bat Thursday, drilling a Livan Hernandez offering barely over the wall in right field in the second inning.

As it turned out, it was the Braves’ second and final run of the day.  Heyward received just two more plate appearances, walking in one of them.  Fortunately, Derek Lowe was sharp and the bullpen was stellar, so Atlanta won 2-0 anyway.

But as we’ve been wondering all spring, what exactly is Jason Heyward doing batting sixth?

New Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez made it clear over the winter that he wanted to stick Heyward there as long as Chipper Jones was healthy enough to occupy the third spot.  And Heyward hitting a ridiculous .356/.508/.511 in 45 at-bats this spring didn’t change his mind.

The 21-year-old Heyward is well on his way to becoming one of baseball’s best hitters.  He may get there this year.  He hit .297/.393/.456 as a rookie.  Only three National Leaguers had higher on-base percentages (Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder).

Of the 15 National Leaguers to get on base at least 37 percent of the time last year, Heyward is the only one currently hitting below the cleanup spot in the lineup.  They’re the cream of the crop.  So likely is Heyward.  However, Gonzalez apparently would prefer Heyward get one fewer at-bat than Nate McLouth every other game.

And that’s just crazy.  Sure, one wants Heyward to drive in runs, too, but it’s not like he wouldn’t have chances batting second behind Martin Prado.   And putting him there would result in more RBI chances for Jones and Brian McCann.   Three of Chipper’s four at-bats today came with none on and two outs.  That probably wouldn’t have been the case had Heyward been batting in front of him.

  1. uuddlrlrbastart - Mar 31, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    I’m reminded of Willie Randolph’s decision to stick David Wright in the 7th spot to start the 2005 season, routinely batting after Doug Mientkiewicz, Marlon Anderson, and other such luminaries. These young players have to earn their dues apparently.

  2. fishfan46 - Mar 31, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Atlanta will soon find out what Marlins fans did, Fredi isn’t as smart as most people think he is.

    • Old Gator - Mar 31, 2011 at 5:45 PM

      I don’t recall most people thinking he was smart at all. I dare say that only sportswriters – who most people don’t think are particularly smart either – thought Fat Fredi was smart. Most Feesh fans thought he was clueless by a quarter of the way into his first season as manager. We’d read passing remarks in sports columns and blogs remarking on how Fat Fredi was getting more out of his team than they should reasonably have been able to give, while we – and, incidentally, even Scrooge McLoria, despite what a “good deal” Freddi was – thought he was getting a lot less out of them. Well, maybe Scrooge thought it was OK to trade Uggla to Atlanta because since they already had Fredi, one neutralized the other.

  3. monsieurbear - Mar 31, 2011 at 6:19 PM

    My understanding is that batting order is worth about three wins per season between the best and worst orders. Heyward batting sixth would not qualify as the worst order (ordered by ascending OBP), so the difference between the current order and the hypothetical best order will be less than three wins.

  4. txrangers90 - Mar 31, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Nelson Cruz might have something to say about that as he is also batting 6th for w/e reason

  5. visnovsky - Mar 31, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    I don’t believe most MLB managers were ever accused of intelligently constructing lineups. Just look at Gardenhire.

  6. juade - Mar 31, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    So I guess that McClouth should be moved to sixth? What about Freeman at eighth? The lineup is loaded with potential all the way down, so I fail to see all the hubbub. It’s only one game in, and besides, as our dear Mr Pouliot typed, “That probably wouldn’t have been the case had Heyward been batting in front of him.” Probably…or probably not.

  7. amhendrick - Mar 31, 2011 at 10:18 PM

    Gonzalez isn’t likely to move team leader Chipper from the 3rd spot, or the leader heir-apparent, McCann, out of the cleanup spot. If McClouth gets back to hitting like 2008, then the lineup won’t matter as much. If McClouth doesn’t hit, Heyward probably moves up to 2nd.

  8. bobulated - Apr 1, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    I agree Heyward should be switched with McLouth but part of the reason he was dropped to 6 was to preserve R/L alternating all the way down the lineup. The Braves are lefty heavy right now so anything they can do to stay away from situational lefties is probably not a terrible idea. No worries, McLouth will drop soon and the cream will rise just like last year.

    • bobulated - Apr 8, 2011 at 4:16 PM

      I think all the thumbs are misinterpreting what I meant; Heyward will eventually return to the 2 hole as McLouth’s hot spring start gets further and further away.

  9. genuinejake - Apr 1, 2011 at 6:49 AM

    Shane Victorino, now batting 6th, has been one of the most dependable hitters in the Phils lineup. Heyward, while incredibly promising, has a lot left to prove to be considered the MLB’s best #6 hitter, regardless of how boneheaded Fredi Gonzalez is with his lineup.

    Remove your rose-colored (or should I say tomahawk-infused) glasses, Matt!

    • Kevin S. - Apr 1, 2011 at 9:11 AM

      While Shane Victorino is a quality player, he has never in his career had a season at the plate that was as good as Heyward posted before he could drink.

  10. crash1582 - Apr 1, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    With most lineups constructed in this league to where you may only have to worry about 4 hitters, most of whom you would guarantee to only see in the first inning and maybe the 1st part of the 2nd inning… With JaY Hay batting 6th, its a guaranteed worry to have him come up to bat late in the 2nd or early 3rd inning. Having weapons like him in all parts of your lineup is critical to the success of a team. Go Fredi!

  11. Walk - Apr 1, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    That braves lineup really had me scratching my head. Mclouth in the two hole is asking for trouble. His big plan for a comeback season appears to be swinging at the first three pitches. Then freeman is in the eight spot. Eight is a bit more important than you might initially think, do i expand the strike zone maybe get a runner in or an extra base hit, do i take the walk turn the line up over. Freeman has the makings of a great hitter but he is a rookie and that is a lot of pressure. I know bmac is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball but batting him clean up is a bit of an issue for me too. He is going to catch right around a 100 games this year, so now your clean up hitter is going to miss a third of the games, guess we can count on not having any stability in the line up this year.

    • Kevin S. - Apr 2, 2011 at 8:02 AM

      Brian McCann games played, last four years: 143, 138, 145, 139. I’m not so sure your claim is justified.

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