Man in the Stands

Braves have a leading question

In last Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward caught a Jonathon Niese fastball to the face, fracturing his jaw in two places.

Heyward underwent surgery to stabilize his jaw on Thursday in Atlanta. Doctors inserted two metal plates into each jaw during the procedure, but didn’t have to wire his mouth shut. That’s the good news. The bad news for the team and its fans: the Braves leadoff man is out for at least four weeks, and possibly six, leaving questions about how Manager Fredi Gonzalez was going to handle the top line-up spot.

Since moving into the leadoff role, Heyward has had a complete turn-around. He’s hitting for a .341 average, which is 103 points higher than his average at the third spot. The lefty has scored 24 runs, hit five of his 13 home runs, and driven in 15 of his 37 RBIs in the number one slot.

Jordan Schafer replaced Heyward in the outfield and in the leadoff spot on Wednesday, as well as taking the first pitch of the game on Thursday in St. Louis.

Schafer is a viable candidate for taking the reins of the top of the line-up card. In the position already this season, he’s hitting for a solid .280 average with two home runs and five doubles. Also, Schafer has tallied five stolen bases when batting leadoff, tying shortstop Andrelton Simmons who batted in the spot for most of the season.

Schafer has been a role player for the team this season, mostly as a pinch runner or playing the outfield to give players a rest. He picked up most of his playing time this season when outfielders Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, and Heyward all ended up getting hurt, but soon the injury bug, too, caught up to him.

Simmons is also a good option to move back to the spot. When he was there previously, he was batting 61-for-275 with six home runs. Fans will have reservations about this move, however, because Simmons is hitting 60 points higher in his average out of the leadoff spot.

B.J. Upton has hit his best this season out of the number one spot, but has only had 55-at-bats there. Two of his eight home runs came when he was hitting at the top of the line-up. He has 11 stolen bases on the year with three as the leadoff batter.

My personal pick to be the next test at number one is Chris Johnson.

Johnson is the National League leading hitter with a .330 average. It would be the first time this season that Johnson would be hitting from the leadoff spot and he does lack the speed of a typical leadoff hitter. To me, the positives out-weigh the negatives of this move.

Typically, the leadoff batter is going to see fastballs and few breaking balls. With Johnson’s average, it makes him a perfect candidate. You want your leadoff man on base for your second and third hitters. In the Braves case, they have Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman hitting in those spots with power and great contact as well.

As a contact hitter with the power to hit home runs, Johnson would also do well in making teams pay for making mistakes to the pitcher’s spot.

I understand the speed aspect of the leadoff hitter, but I’d love to see CJ get a chance at it.

If you were Fredi Gonzalez, whose name would you pencil in at the top of the line-up card?

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