February 10, 2012 at 2:53 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
The Braves have a few options for the days that Chipper will inevitably need off this season. At his age, keeping him healthy with regular rest is necessary, and the chance that he is put on the disabled list at some point is obviously much higher than it is for the average player. The Braves have had to have contingency plans for Chipper for the past number of years, and they will have one in place this year as well. Let’s examine their options.
Platoon in Left
Moving in Martin Prado is the instinctual choice, as his best defensive position is probably third base. Prado would move into third, instantly making the infield defense substantially better. With Prado in the infield, the Braves could opt to go with a platoon of Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz in left field.
The platoon between the two has the potential to be decent offensively, with Hinske maintaining a career 108 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers and Diaz with a 129 career wRC+ against left-handers. Both struggled last year, but in spurts they have the ability to be decent offensively against pitchers of opposite handedness.
One problem with this would be the defense. The upgrade defensively the Braves get at third may be at least slightly mitigated by the defense they lose in left by losing Prado and subbing in their heavier bench outfielders. Diaz has decent career marks defensively in left, but his four year totals are a bit worse (-4 DRS, -4 UZR in 1,142 innings — less than a player would receive with 150 nine inning games). Hinske has been close to league average for his carer in left and right field, but playing at age 34 for most of the season probably will not help Hinske get to many balls in the outfield.
This is one of the better solutions, as the Braves offense would be hurt the least in this format.
Play Jack Wilson
Wilson has only appeared in 21 innings at third base in his Major League career, all of which came last year. However, the fact that he has been as good as he has been at shortstop for the length of his career gives confidence in him being an above average defender at the position. Wilson’s range is his strong suit and his arm will be tested more at third than in the middle infield positions, but he is a defense first player who will should perform well when asked to play the hot corner.
His bat will obviously be the big negative. Wilson’s wRC+ has declined from 98-73-71-61-55 over the past five years, leading one to assume that the bat is probably gone forever. Anything he does offensively would be a plus, and the only time that it would make sense to start Wilson at third in Chipper’s absence is when a ground ball pitcher like Tim Hudson is starting.
Go With Conztanza
It appears as though Jose Constanza will be the primary backup centerfielder. Jose hit well enough last year, with a wRC+ of 101 in 42 games, to have a good case to make the roster. While he takes odd reads in the outfield and has questionable routes, his speed allows him to be a pretty solid defender, especially in the corners. The Braves would again move Prado to third base in this scenario, which would improve the infield defense and likely keep the outfield defense at a similar level.
This sounds similar to the Jack Wilson scenario, but Conztanza is the better offensive player. While Conztanza’z offense is better, it is likely a far cry from what a platoon of Diaz and Hinske would provide in tandem. The option to platoon Conztanza and Diaz is there as well, though Conztanza actually hit better against southpaws in his tiny sample last season. He may end up having standard platoon splits, but we do not know that for certain just yet.
I think the optimal decision depends on who is starting. With Hudson on the mound, moving Prado in and using the platoon of Diaz and Hinske in left is probably the best option. Since the rest of the starters are not ground ball pitchers, Conztanza is probably the best choice to maintain solid value in Chipper’s absences. There are arguments for all of the options, and a lot also rides on how well Wilson performs at third defensively. If he plays the position better than Prado, giving him some starts against left-handers might not be the worst thing in the world.
I expect Fredi to use a combination of the options, applying his faithful “hot hand” theory to make the decisions in part. Whatever the decision, it will obviously be a significant downgrade from what Chipper can do for the team. If he can play upwards of 130 games this year, the daily decisions on who to start in his place would have less meaning and less impact, which is certainly a good thing.