Johnson doesn't mind remaining in eighth spot
MIAMI -- Chris Johnson understands he is one of the few players who have compiled a team-high batting average while also collecting a team-high plate appearances in the eighth spot of the lineup more than halfway through a season. But the Braves third baseman is not complaining.
"I don't mind at all, not one bit," Johnson said. "I would never tell the skipper what to do or to be asked to be moved up because the numbers say I deserve to be hitting higher. We've got a lot of good ballplayers on our team, and we're in first place. If we were in last place, maybe you could start shuffling things around."
As Johnson prepared to make his 25th start of the season in the eighth spot of Atlanta's lineup on Tuesday night, he was hitting .332 with a .374 on-base percentage and a .482 slugging percentage. His batting average ranked fourth among all National Leaguers with at least 250 plate appearances.
This kind of production usually earns a player a chance to move up to the middle of the lineup. But Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez sees some value in having Johnson in this spot where he can consistently aid in the attempt to turn the lineup over and increase the number of sacrifice opportunities pitchers get in the ninth spot.
"I think the eight-hole comes up big a lot during the course of a game, whether it's when there are people on base or when you make the other manager decide whether to face that guy or walk him," Gonzalez said. "When you've got Chris Johnson sitting in that hole, it makes it a little more difficult."
Looking purely at the numbers, it would seemingly make sense for Gonzalez to fill the eighth spot of his lineup with B.J. Upton, who entered Tuesday ranked last in the Majors with a .173 batting average -- 30 points lower than any other qualified player -- and sixth to last with a .266 on-base percentage.
Upton batted eighth in 16 of the 17 games he started from May 17-June 10. But after he showed some signs of encouragement early last month, Gonzalez moved Upton up a couple of spots in attempt to create more stolen base opportunities for the athletic outfielder.
It appeared Gonzalez's theory would prove beneficial when Upton recorded three of his seven stolen bases during a six-game stretch from June 14-18. But there have been few opportunities to run, as Upton has hit .191 with a .286 on-base percentage in the 15 games that have followed.