Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson are the two top candidates to man the Braves third base position this season. Most likely in some sort of platoon situation, although the Braves have hopes that one or the other can step up and play well enough to win the full-time job.
But could there be a dark horse candidate that will play a fair amount at third base, and perhaps even win the position?
In looking at the Francisco/Johnson platoon at third, there is one problem. Neither one hits left-handed pitching very well.
In his career, Johnson has hit .255 against left-handed pitching, with a .294 on-base-percentage, and .372 slugging percentage. Against right-handed pitching, Johnson has hit.283, with a .323 on-base-percentage, and .452 slugging percentage.
Francisco has also hit well against right-handed pitching, sporting a career .272 average, with a .320 on-base-percentage, and .487 slugging percentage. Against left-handed pitching, Francisco has been startlingly inept, hitting only .190, with a .224 on-base-percentage, and .222 slugging percentage.
In other words, both third base options are a long ways away from being plus players against left-handed pitching. So could there be another option at third? Is there another player on the Braves roster who has hit well against left-handed pitching in his career, and can do a credible job playing third base?
My first thought was that perhaps Tyler Pastornicky could be an option. He has good speed, so a line-up that could potentially use a speed guy at the top, would welcome a guy like Pastornicky. But checking Pastornicky’s splits last season against lefties, the right-handed Pastornicky hit much better against right-handed pitching, than lefties. He hit only .196, with a .250 on-base-percentage, and .286 slugging percentage, last season against lefties. He also has never played third in the minors or majors. So scratch Pastornicky.
Another potential candidate is Ramiro Pena, who the Braves signed in the off-season as a free agent. Pena is a switch-hitter, but when you look at his splits, switch-hitter is a term used loosely. Yes, Pena bats both right-handed and left-handed. But he barely hits left-handed pitching, hitting only .127 against lefties, with a .160 on-base-percentage, and .127 slugging percentage. No doubles, no triples, and no homers against left-handed pitching in 71 at bats. Scratch Ramiro Pena.
Paul Janish, who will probably be out until May while he rehabs a shoulder injury, is the other infielder on the roster who could play third. Without detailing the numbers, let me just say that Janish doesn’t have what it takes to platoon at third against left-handed pitching, either. Scratch Janish.
So it looks like Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco will get plenty of opportunities this season to improve on their career numbers against left-handed pitching. There is no other potential option on the current roster. Although, I still have a hunch that GM Frank Wren has one more move left up his sleeve, and will bring in a speed guy at third that can hit at the top of the order, and he’ll do it at some point during the season.