Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Putting together the Red Sox lineup

(For real this time.)

The acquisition of Adrian Beltre almost certainly closes the book on changes to the Red Sox starting lineup on Opening Day. The issue now is figuring out how Terry Francona will slot everyone in.

It's not a random process. Francona has a method to what he does, and he's not unaware of the statistics that make some players better fits at certain spots in the lineup than others.

Below are some of those considerations:

1. J.D. Drew and David Ortiz will not hit back-to-back.
More than a few lineup projections have David Ortiz hitting fifth in the Red Sox lineup and J.D. Drew hitting sixth. Francona, however, has a strict aversion to making opposing managers' jobs easy -- and if Drew and Ortiz are hitting back-to-back, a trained monkey would know enough to bring in a lefty to face both of them in a key spot in the late innings.

Drew and Ortiz played in 137 and 150 games, respectively, last season.

Any guesses how many times they hit back-to-back in the Red Sox lineup?

Seven. All season.

Most of the time they did so, it came in a game in which Jason Bay -- the natural buffer between the two -- was taking a day off. Francona wasn't going to put Rocco Baldelli or Josh Reddick any higher than seventh in the Red Sox lineup when they were playing on such a limited basis.

When Ortiz hit third, Drew hit fifth. When Ortiz hit fifth, Drew hit seventh. In all of those games down the stretch when Drew hit eighth, both Bay and Mike Lowell buffered him from Ortiz.

It might happen once in a while -- it did a year ago -- but there's no chance Drew and Ortiz are going to hit back-to-back on a regular basis next season.

2. Dustin Pedroia is a perfect No. 2 hitter
It's not that anyone is proposing moving Pedroia out of his home between Jacoby Ellsbury and Victor Martinez. He draws walks and hits line drives but doesn't hit the home runs that would make him a No. 3 or No. 4 hitter in a World Series-caliber lineup.

Drew and his inclination to take pitches and get on base likewise would be a better fit at the top of the batting order than in the middle. Some will criticize -- and have criticized -- Drew because he's a $14 million player who can't hit higher than No. 7 or No. 7 in the batting order.

If not for Pedroia, though, Drew would be where he belongs.

3. Mike Cameron is a more productive hitter than Adrian Beltre
It's tough to project the way Beltre will hit next season upon having been liberated from Safeco Field. Just using road splits, however, tell a story by themselves:

Beltre: .279/.324/.393 (.717 OPS)
Cameron: .257/.355/.432 (.787 OPS)

Beltre: .292/.349/.512 (.862 OPS)
Cameron: .258/.346/.548 (.895 OPS)

Beltre: .288/.320/.538 (.858 OPS)
Cameron: .254/.341/.449 (.789 OPS)

On top of that, Cameron is a far better fit for the grind-it-out approach the Red Sox cherish in their hitters. A handful of other numbers:

Pitches per plate appearance (2009)
Beltre: 3.56
Cameron: 3.96

Pitches per plate appearance (career)
Beltre: 3.77
Cameron: 4.05

Pitches swung at out of the strike zone (2009)
Beltre: 36.8 percent
Cameron: 17.4 percent

Pitches swung at out of the strike zone (career)
Beltre: 30.1 percent
Cameron: 16.9 percent

Beltre is a tremendous defensive third baseman and certainly will benefit from being able to pull the ball at the Green Monster.

He's not, however, someone who should be hitting ahead of Drew or Ortiz -- or Cameron -- in the Red Sox lineup.

4. Marco Scutaro is a second leadoff hitter
In the same way some experts have endorsed the idea of National League teams hitting their pitchers eighth in their lineups, it makes sense for the Red Sox to put the least productive hitter in their lineup -- Beltre, most likely -- in the No. 8 spot rather than in the No. 9 spot.

One way to approach lineup construction is to put the No. 6, 7, 8 and 9 hitters in descending order of quality. In a close game in the late innings, after all, it makes sense for a team to have its best hitters in line from best to worst.

The difference between the No. 8 spot and the No. 9 spot in the lineup for the Red Sox a year ago, though, was 19 plate appearances. In exchange for those 19 at-bats, the thinking has it, a team is better off getting a quality on-base guy in front of its productive hitters at the top of the lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia both are line-drive hitters who are fully capable of driving in runners on base -- and Scutaro is going to get on base at a rate 50 points higher than Beltre will.


With all of that said, here's how the Opening Day lineup comes together:

1. Ellsbury, LF
2. Pedroia, 2B
3. Martinez, C
4. Youkilis, 1B
5. Ortiz, DH
6. Cameron, CF
7. Drew, RF
8. Beltre, 3B
9. Scutaro, SS


Nick Valvo said...

I wonder if Martinez in the three hole makes sense, considering how much catching he's expected to do this year. I would move him down to give him a couple fewer at bats, in view of keeping him fresh late into the season. I propose Drew as the new 3 hitter, unless Ortíz shows a bigger recovery season than I am allowing myself to expect. Martinez and Drew are comparable as hitters (around a 900 OPS), with 20-ish HR power, so there's not really any expected drop-off, except that JD will strike out about 20 additional times in a season than Victor.

My lineup:

Ellsbury (L)
Pedroia (R)
Drew (L)
Youkilis (R)
Ortíz (L)
Martinez (S)
Cameron (R)
Beltre (R)
Scutaro (R)

The top six is fantastic, but this lineup is still too right-handed at the bottom, which might argue for moving Martinez still another spot down, or moving Ortíz to the seven hole.

Gweg said...

You need to try this as it works for me better:

1. Ellsbury, LF
2. Pedroia, 2B
3. Martinez, C
4. Youkilis, 1B
5. Ortiz, DH
6. Cameron, CF
7. Drew, RF
8. Scutaro, SS
9.Beltre, 3B

When you switch Scutaro before Beltre you put a lead off type with enough speed to actually have a power hitter warranted behind him at the bottom of the order..

That will produce 3-4 runs a month if Beltre dings a wall ball after a steal or a hit n run... with this years defense first that will add a couple wins more IMO to make it to the 96 wins mark of the sure in playoffs.