I will be the first to admit that Jose Constanza is a feel good story for the Atlanta Braves. He is a 27 year old rookie that has finally had a chance to make the majors due to injuries, untimely slumps of everyday players, good hitting in AAA, and the Braves’ infatuation with speed on the basepaths. What baffles me, though, is that Constanza is now playing over Jason Heyward, and Eric Hinske for that matter.
Don’t get me wrong. Constanza is an exciting player. Watching him last night against the Washington Nationals’ John Lannan, was a joy. He is the type of player that is a pest. He is nothing more than a contact hitter. He will put the ball in play, most of the time, and he has the speed to get to first base and beat out some infield singles.
He has been solid thus far for the Braves. He has gone 8-20 for a .400/.400/.450 line. He has scored 3 runs and has collected 2 RBIs in the brief time that he has been with the team.
Constanza is one of the prototypical “AAAA” players. These players are described as being good enough players to do well in AAA, but not be good enough to play in the majors. Constanza, however, is not showing this at this point.
This is what he did in the International League for the Braves:
He hit .312/.361/.351 with 47 RS and 23 SB out of 31 attempts.
Constanza has never had less than a .334 OBP in the minors in his career. For a Braves team that has struggled to get runners on base all year, his presence is welcomed. The Braves has the fourth worst OBP in the National League this year of .310.
Constanza and Michael Bourn could positively affect the OBP of the Braves’ team.
The issue, though, is that Constanza has seemingly transplanted Jason Heyward from the lineup. I am not supportive of the Braves not playing Heyward regularly. Here is why:
1. Remember Jeff Francoeur? How long did the Braves stick with his inept bat in right field at the demise of OBP, RBIs, power, anything? The Braves were much more loyal to Frenchy than they have been with Heyward. It all eventually came to a head, but geez. Heyward is 21 and he was your best player last year. In some ways, I feel like they should go ahead and demote him to let him play everyday to get out of the mental slump that he is in.
2. It becomes increasingly difficult to get your timing, confidence and work out of a slump if you get bumped down the lineup and onto the bench for the majority of games. Heyward has struggled against lefties this year. So has almost every Brave. You don’t see Dan Uggla, Alex Gonzalez or any other Brave hitter sitting on the bench.
3. Instead of dropping Heyward to 7th or 8th in the batting order, why not put him in the 2 or 3 hole for a while? With the way that Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla are hitting, Heyward hitting in front of them should be rewarded with tons of good pitches to hit. Heyward is hitting .233/.304/.420 out of the 2 hole compared to .136/.296/.136 out of the 7 hole.
4. Despite his offensive struggles, Heyward is still has the 6th best WAR on the team, from positional players stats. He is the 4th best every day player.
For whatever reason, it seems like Heyward is not going to be given the chance to get out of the slump this year. Rumors of the Braves trading for a right-handed hitter to platoon with Heyward seems to have not been too far-fetched.
With the Braves’ current struggles, they cannot afford to continue to sit one of their best players. They need all of the punch they can get in their lineup. Getting Heyward right should be the first concern.