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Fredi Gonzalez, Erick Aybar and lineup construction

Sometimes, things just don't make sense.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Opening Day, the Atlanta Braves fell victim to the Washington Nationals and Erick Aybar made the final out from the number two hole in the lineup. That is why lineup construction matters.

Yes, that is an incredible simplification of why putting together a batting order in an optimal way can matter a great deal, but it happens to be the perfect example for the 2016 Atlanta Braves. Lineup construction, as a whole, can be overrated by many folks and, in the end, it may only impact a handful of games throughout the season in a positive or negative way. However, there isn't anything particularly difficult about avoiding obvious pitfalls in this area of managing and, well, this isn't something that Fredi Gonzalez excels in doing.

In the first two games of the 2016 season (and the final few games of Spring Training), Gonzalez has deployed the following lineup:

  1. Ender Inciarte
  2. Erick Aybar
  3. Freddie Freeman
  4. Adonis Garcia
  5. Nick Markakis
  6. Hector Olivera
  7. A.J. Pierzynski
  8. Jace Peterson

Now, let's break this down a bit.

The Good

In an effort to keep things balanced, there are some good things about this lineup. Freddie Freeman is, unquestionably, the team's best hitter, and getting him to the plate as often as possible as a player hitting within the top three spots is a good thing. Gonzalez also does a good job of alternating left-handed and right-handed hitters in the middle of the batting order, and a player like Jace Peterson should be hitting 8th in the lineup and that is exactly where he dwells right now.

The Questionable

There are a few things that I would change but aren't patently outrageous. For me, Hector Olivera is a better hitter than Adonis Garcia or, at the very least, it is highly reasonable to project that as a likely outcome. As such, flipping those two right-handed bats in the lineup would do some good. Also, Ender Inciarte is arguably the team's best leadoff option against right-handed pitching (career 113 OPS+), but all indications are that Fredi will utilize him at the top against left-handers as well, and that might be disastrous considering Inciarte's struggles (66 OPS+) in that platoon split.

The Ugly

We've arrived at the problem.

As referenced above, the biggest concern I have with the lineup as a whole is the notion that Erick Aybar would be a good choice to hit second. Though he isn't a flat-out disaster at the plate, Aybar's greatly resembles a player that should be hitting 7th or 8th in any lineup than one that a team should be looking to send to the dish as often as possible.

The 32-year-old shortstop hasn't posted even a .325 OBP since 2009, he has a career (!) OBP of .315 and while his batting average (career .276) might be enticing to Gonzalez, Aybar simply isn't a very good hitter at this stage of his career. Moreover, the bigger concern is that this deployment seems to be a hat-tip to days gone by, where managers would simply place their plucky middle infielders in the second spot of the lineup and hope for the best.

Our pals at Beyond the Box Score put together an interesting breakdown of each spot in the batting lineup a few years ago, and I agree with the great majority of their logic. In short, any team would be wise to use its best hitters at the top of the lineup, and getting on-base should be the central goal for those players asked to hit in the first two spots. As referenced above, I have no outrage with Inciarte in the top spot against right-handed pitching, but he certainly shouldn't be up there against lefties, and Erick Aybar shouldn't ever be in top two spots barring a complete roster overhaul.

What would be a better option? Say hello to Nick Markakis.

Markakis is miscast in the number five spot, as his primary offensive value comes in getting on base consistently. The 32-year-old posted a .370 OBP last season, and even if that might be a tad on the high side moving forward, Markakis profiles beautifully as a number two (or even leadoff) hitter for this team. Using three consecutive left-handers (bookended by Inciarte and Freeman) at the top might be something Gonzalez wants to avoid, but moving Inciarte down in the lineup would be a better option than keeping Markakis out of the top spots.

My Lineup

Let me say this. There isn't a "perfect' lineup with this group. When voicing concerns, mainly on Twitter, about Fredi Gonzalez's choices, much of the blow-back has consisted of "these guys aren't any good anyway, so what is he supposed to do?". Yes, I realize that this isn't the best lineup imaginable but, again, there is still a better way.

Disclaimer: Freddie Freeman should (!) be this team's number two hitter, but let's not get crazy. We know Fredi isn't doing that under any circumstance.

  1. Ender Inciarte
  2. Nick Markakis
  3. Freddie Freeman
  4. Hector Olivera
  5. Adonis Garcia
  6. A.J. Pierzynski
  7. Erick Aybar
  8. Jace Peterson

It may not be full-proof, but it's an option.

In the end, the chief concern centers around the fact that it isn't apparent that Fredi Gonzalez knows how to optimize a lineup. The pieces are likely going to change throughout the season, either by trade or injury, and that will give us further insight in Gonzalez's thinking. Still, his track record over multiple seasons would appear to indicate an unwillingness to adapt and maximize the team's options, and that would qualify as a problem.

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