Offensive keys to the season: Heyward, Chipper
Heyward is obviously pivotal. He is one of the few real question marks in the lineup. Bourn will be solid. No way Prado doesn’t rebound. McCann will be McCann, and won’t fade late. Freeman could take a step back in year 2, ala J-Hey, but I don’t see it happening. Uggla will be Uggla.
That leaves J-Hey, Chipper and the shortstop. Ergo, your two keys to the offense. If Heyward reverts to his rookie form, this lineup is solidly six deep, at least. The last few practice games have been encouraging, as he’s launched balls into the universe like he did two years ago in Florida. Despite his struggles last season, the kid is only 22. Now, he could hit .240 with 17 homers. But something along the lines of .275-.280, 25 HR, 90 RBI, .385-.400 OBP is far more likely.
J-Hey does that, and we have just two iffy lineup spots.
One of those will be shortstop. Whatever offense we get there is fine, as long as Simmons/Pastornicky/Wilson catch the ball.
The other of those spots, on certain days, will belong to the 40-year-old Mr. L.W. Jones. The last 1990s MVP still active, Chipper was productive last year in 455 at bats in 126 games. He had the second-best OPS on the team, the third best homer-per-at bat ratio, and the best RBI per at bat ratio. RBI are dependent in part on other players, of course, but still, it’s a positiive indicator. Old No. 10 led the team in slugging percentage, and was intentionally walked 10 times, second most behind McCann. (Strangely, Uggla only drew two intentional walks.) Of his 18 homers, only 3 came when the Braves were ahead or behind by more than three runs, so most of them meant something.
The bottom line: if Chipper can come reasonably close to matching last season’s production and play, say, 115 games, it will be significant. There will be his production, obviously. That would also limit the plate appearances by the likes of Diaz, Hinske and Constanza. Jorge did some nice work last year, but those guys all represent a severe drop in ability from even the 40-year-old Chipper Jones. They are simply not players you want playing too often.
We welcome your thoughts.