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Atlanta Braves: Analyzing the Battle for 3rd Base

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Atlanta Braves: Analyzing the Battle for 3rd Base
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Manager Fredi Gonzalez no longer has the simple task of penciling in Chipper Jones at the third-base position.

The assumption throughout this offseason was that Martin Prado would spend the majority of his time at the position.

General manager Frank Wren threw a wrench into that plan after shipping Prado to Arizona in the Justin Upton trade.

Now, the two likely candidates for the position are Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson. Francisco spent last year in Atlanta but played sparingly and was mainly used in pinch-hitting situations. Johnson is coming from Arizona, where he had a solid season but hasn't played on a contending team.

Here's a look at what both players bring to the table in their competition for third base.

 

Offense

Let's start with Johnson, who had a good season in 2012, posting a .281 average with 15 home runs and 76 RBIs.

More impressive was his .777 OPS, which was higher than those of Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Francisco and just behind Justin Upton's .785 OPS.

Did he just benefit from hitting in a ballpark friendly to right-handed hitters in Houston and Arizona? His splits throughout his career have actually been better on the road than at home.

With the pop in his bat comes a bunch of strikeouts. He struck out 132 times in 2012 for a 25 percent strikeout rate in comparison to just a 5.9 percent walk rate.

Speaking of strikeouts, Francisco will do that as well, as his strikeout rate in 2012 was an astounding 34.1 percent.

In his defense, he wasn't getting regular playing time to find some comfort at the plate.

Francisco brings more sheer power, as evidenced by his home run every 21 at-bats, (Johnson 32.5) and also another left-handed bat.

Neither guy will bring anything on the basepaths, as they combined for just six steals between them in 2012 (Johnson 5, Francisco 1).

Both have similar styles at the plate but come from different sides of the plate.

Edge: Johnson

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

 

Defense

Braves fans should not expect many web gems from the hot corner in 2013.

Johnson committed the third most errors (19) in the National League last season, despite playing in just 127 games.

Francisco wasn't much better, as he made six errors in just 49 games and his .935 fielding percentage was actually worse than Johnson's.

Advanced fielding statistics give Francisco a clear edge over Johnson with a better UZR and RngR.

Francisco also probably has the better arm, although Baseball America labeled Johnson's as the best arm in the Astros system in 2008.

The eyeball test says these two guys are similar. The sabermetrics geeks believe Francisco has a clear edge.

I'll trust the people who are way smarter than me.

Edge: Francisco

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Intangibles

Each player has an intangible factor working in his favor. Johnson has much more experience at the MLB level as an everyday third baseman.

He has played in twice as many games and has nearly 1,000 more plate appearances than Francisco.

However, Francisco has been in the Braves system for a year, and Gonzalez knows him much better.

Francisco has also impressed the Braves organization with his work ethic and had great success at the plate this offseason in the Winter League.

Edge: Even

 

Both players have similar games on offense, defense and the basepaths.

This competition will likely come down to whoever performs better this spring training.

Ultimately, I predict Johnson will be named the starter and see more playing time than Francisco. He is a better overall hitter and not significantly worse on defense.

Either way, both players will see significant time at third base this season, as neither is head and shoulders above the other.

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