I have two suggestions for Bobby Cox in addition to my points in yesterday’s post. 1. Don’t be stupid with the batting order. Even though studies have shown the impact of using the optimal batting order to be minimal (using something like descending OBP, when compared to a traditional one), you don’t want to be placing out machines at the top of the lineup. So, what’s the problem? Cox has been doing just that, leading off with Pete Orr since the Renteria injury. Orr would be hard-pressed to repeat last year’s .300 average, in my opinion, and JC’s projections think he’s the Braves’ worst hitter of the players they had last year. His batting average is basically empty, since he hits for no power and doesn’t walk a whole lot. Here’s my suggestion for the lineup to use without Chipper or Renteria around:
Order Player Bats AVG OBP SLG OPS
1 M Giles R 0.212 0.369 0.346 0.715
2 R Langerhans L 0.349 0.451 0.628 1.079
3 A Jones R 0.296 0.355 0.630 0.985
4 W Betemit S 0.313 0.405 0.531 0.936
5 A LaRoche L 0.224 0.296 0.510 0.806
6 B McCann L 0.244 0.289 0.537 0.826
7 J Francoeur R 0.211 0.220 0.386 0.606
8 P Orr L 0.222 0.222 0.333 0.555
It’s really not all that different from the current lineup, except Orr is at the bottom, Betemit is higher up, and Francoeur moves down. I’d hit Andruw 2nd or 3rd in any Braves lineup to get him as many ABs as possible. 2. Next, make some changes to the pitching staff. There may not be anyone ready to step in for some of the faltering Braves hurlers (except Macay McBride fairly soon), but the organization of the staff could use a bit of work. First, move Sosa to the bullpen. At best, he was a master of working out of jams last year, if you buy that he bore down with runners on base. If you don’t, then he was extremely lucky. His 4.33 FIP suggests that he should have been 70% worse than his 2.55 ERA showed. The truth is probably somewhere in between, and even with a fair amount of off-season improvement, I wouldn’t have predicted him to be much better than a 4.00-ERA pitcher.
Fast forward to this season. Sosa has fallen apart so far this year, and I suggest that he should be moved to the bullpen. He seems like a pitcher who would be more effective in small doses, and if there’s any truth to him being good at getting out of jams, he would be an excellent ace reliever. Next, replace Sosa in the rotation with Chuck James. I think James will give up too many homers in the big leagues and top out as a middle-of-the-rotation guy, but there’s no sense in not giving him a shot now. The starters have been awful, and Sosa has been the worst of the bunch. James has been effective over multiple innings in his relief appearances so far, and it’s time for him to take the next step into the rotation. James might be the team’s third-best pitcher right now (behind Smoltz and Thomson). Hudson is not the pitcher he once was, and so far this year, he hasn’t even been Hudson 2005. Ramirez is average on his best days and downright awful otherwise. The Braves clearly aren’t adding anyone else, and only Anthony Lerew is anywhere close to the majors among the team’s better pitching prospects (and he’s probably not going to be any better than James in the long run himself). So again, it’s time for James to step in.
If I were Bobby Cox, here’s how I would use what I have: Rotation: Smoltz, Hudson, Thomson, Davies, James Bullpen (from best to worst, with the best used in highest-P situations rather than the traditional closer and setup roles): Reitsma (not used on back-to-back days unless absolutely necessary), Sosa, McBride (when healthy), Villareal, Cormier, Ray, Ramirez Note that I also replaced Moylan with McBride, which I expect to happen once McBride returns. Also, I agree with Cox’s conservative use of the so-far-so-good Ken Ray. Ramirez should get the long-relief mop-up-type innings. Those are my current thoughts. Hopefully I don’t seem too radical based on the rough going so far. 6-8 isn’t where I expected the Braves to be at this point, but it’s not the end of the world.