Monday, May 18, 2009

The optimal Red Sox lineup?

David Ortiz is likely to return to the Red Sox lineup on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Where he hits in the lineup, though, is still up in the air.

"I don't know," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I want to talk to him. I haven't talked to him yet because I want to give him some room."

Jacoby Ellsbury is going to hit leadoff. Dustin Pedroia is going to hit second. Beyond that, though, nothing is set in stone. Things will get even more muddled when Kevin Youkilis returns from the disabled list on Wednesday.

J.D. Drew hit third on Friday and Saturday in place of Ortiz; with a lefty pitching on Sunday, Drew was bumped down to fifth behind Jason Bay and Mike Lowell. When Youkilis returns, the Red Sox won't lack for quality hitters in their lineup -- but how will Francona sort it all out?

A couple of considerations:

1. Lefty-righty matchups
Francona has said on multiple occasions that he wants to avoid hitting three or four of his righthanded hitters all in a row simply to avoid giving an opposing team a chance to bring a shut-down righthanded reliever who can mow them all down. Bay, Lowell, Pedroia and Youkilis all hit righthanded; Ortiz and Drew are the only middle-of-the-order lefties Francona has at his disposal.

2. On-base percentages and slugging percentages
While many traditional lineup designations have gone out the window -- the idea of the light-hitting No. 2 hitter who does nothing but lay down sacrifice bunts has been all but scrapped in the last decade, for example -- the job descriptions of No. 3 hitters and No. 4 hitters hasn't changed much. You generally want your best all-around hitter -- a guy who can get on base and hit for power -- in the No. 3 spot so he'll be up in the first inning every game. You want your best power hitter in the No. 4 spot so he'll usually be up with men on base.

With those two things in mind, it seems like an optimal Red Sox lineup probably should look something like this:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (OBP'ing .375 since May 2)
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (still on pace for almost 50 doubles)
3. Kevin Youkilis, 1B (leads the major leagues with 1.224 OPS)
4. Jason Bay, LF (slugging .854 with runners in scoring position)
5. J.D. Drew, RF (almost a second leadoff hitter behind Bay)
6. Mike Lowell, 3B (slugging just .420 since first Yankee series)
7. David Ortiz, DH (right-left-right protects from specialists)
8. Julio Lugo, SS (line-drive percentage is best on the team)
9. Jason Varitek, C (OPS of .881 in April; .627 in May)

But that's just one theory. Care to test out your own in the comments?

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