Monday, June 1, 2009

The lineups, they are a-changing

Terry Francona's decision to drop Jacoby Ellsbury in the Red Sox batting order might not be permanent -- but it does make sense. Ellsbury is the fastest base-runner the Red Sox have, but his on-base percentage is worse than it was last season and his slugging percentage is 50 points lower than that of Nick Green.

A lineup, after all, isn't just about the first inning. It's about getting your best hitters the most at-bats possible.

But that hasn't always been the case. Remember the first time you learned about a batting order? It looked something like this, right?

A typical lineup 20 years ago
1. Your fastest guy.
2. A fast guy who can drop down a bunt.
3. Your best all-around hitter.
4. Your best power hitter.
5. Your second-best power hitter.
6. Someone else who could hit 25 home runs.
7. Someone else who could hit 20 home runs.
8. Your second baseman.
9. Your shortstop.

Not convinced?

Ten guys in 1989 stole 30 or more bases but had an on-base percentage of .350 or less. All but one consistently hit in the top third of his team's order -- and the 10th, Ozzie Guillen, primarily hit ninth but also hit leadoff 47 times. Here's a sampling:

* Brett Butler, Giants (OBP'ed .349, hit leadoff)
(Ellsbury is OBP'ing .335 right now.)
* Gerald Young, Astros (OBP'ed .326, hit leadoff)
* Lenny Dykstra, Mets/Phillies (OBP'ed .318, hit leadoff)
* Cecil Espy, Rangers (.OBP'ed .313, hit leadoff)
* Otis Nixon, Expos (OBP'ed .306, hit leadoff)
* Juan Samuel, Mets/Phillies (OBP'ed .303, hit leadoff)
* Devon White, Angels (.OBP'ed .282, hit third)

Now, contrast that to:

An optimal lineup for 2009
1. Your best on-base guy.
2. Your second-best on-base guy.
3. Your best all-around hitter. This includes being a good on-base guy.
4. Your second-best all-around hitter.
5. Your third-best all-around hitter, though if he's more of a power guy than an on-base guy, that's probably OK.
6. David Ortiz.
7. Your third-worst on-base guy.
8. Your second-worst on-base guy.
9. Your worst on-base guy -- so, your shortstop.

It's amazing how times have changed. Heck, J.D. Drew hit leadoff for the Red Sox earlier this season. Cecil Espy, he is not.

Then again: Remember who usually hit leadoff for the Red Sox in 1989 and 1990? It wasn't Jody Reed or Marty Barrett. That's right: It was Mr. Steal-One-Base-A-Year Wade Boggs, the major-league leader in OBP in 1989. Maybe Walpole Joe was ahead of his time after all.

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