The Case For Brooks Conrad Over Chipper Jones—At Least For Right Now
Admittedly, I am still heavily under the influence of the euphoria that ensued after Conrad hit an opposite-field, game-winning grand slam in a 10-9 victory over the Cincinnati Reds today, which capped an eight-run Atlanta rally Thursday.
However, it's not crazy to at least entertain the idea of putting today's ninth-inning hero in the starting lineup at the hot corner.
Of course, to start Conrad, Cox would have to bench Braves legend Chipper Jones, something that the Atlanta skipper would never even think about doing.
Cox's loyalty to No. 10 in this case is unfortunate for the Braves, seeing as Conrad now has three homers compared to Chipper's two, and nine RBI, which is two fewer than the future Hall-of-Famer's 11.
By the way, just a footnote, Conrad's stats have come in just 28 at-bats, while Jones has made 111 trips to the plate this season.
Conrad, who sports a .977 career fielding percentage (Jones: .952 at 3B), also offers Atlanta a better option defensively, seeing as Chipper's hamstring and foot problems limit his flexibility in the field.
Granted, Conrad's recent surge could just be a fluke and his .204 batting average last season isn't anything to cheer about, but this recent offensive explosion has earned him a better chance of cracking the starting lineup.
Now, strong arguments will contend that Jones has the track record and the talent to break out of his slump—heck, he knocked in two runs in Wednesday's 5-4 win over Cincinnati—but sadly, any good day he has offensively should be considered an aberration at this point.
Also, there's the issue of benching the team leader, which has the potential to demoralize his teammates who look up to said leader for motivation and inspiration.
I would respond to the latter argument with two questions:
"Has Chipper's veteran presence significantly helped the Braves so far this season?"
"Wouldn't the fact that Chipper is 'unbenchable,' no matter how much he struggles, demoralize bench players (e.g. Omar Infante, Conrad) who are fighting for at-bats?"
In baseball, it's crucial to play the hot hand, especially when doing the opposite is detrimental to a team's playoff chances.
Benching Jones in favor of Conrad could possibly serve another purpose, like lighting a fire under the 16-year veteran.
Maybe the challenge of fighting his way back into the lineup will unleash the skills that made him the National League Batting Champion in 2008 with a .364 average.
Additionally, sitting for a few games could give the veteran third baseman a chance to rest from his injuries or work out a few of the kinks in his swing.
Now, I neither intend to disrespect Chipper by my thoughts nor declare that Conrad should become the permanent starting third baseman for the Braves.
I believe Jones will eventually break out of his slump, but until then, you have to go with the better guy, who, in this case, is Conrad.
If you asked for Chipper's thoughts, he would tell you that he wants what's best for the Braves—he even offered to give up his No. 3 spot in the lineup to Jason Heyward (a great idea).
And right now, starting Conrad at third base is the best way to go for Atlanta.
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