Monday, February 15, 2010

Cameron could benefit from Drew and Ortiz

Some still insist that J.D. Drew and David Ortiz will hit back-to-back in the Red Sox lineup, probably right behind Kevin Youkilis.

From one perspective, it makes sense for them to do so. After Youkilis and Victor Martinez, Drew and Ortiz ought to be the two best hitters in the Red Sox lineup. Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron were signed more for their defense than their bats, and it makes sense that they'd hit in the bottom third of the lineup.

But if Terry Francona does what he normally tries so hard to do -- that is, split up his lefties so as to make opposing managers' jobs more difficult -- he's going to hit one of the two between Drew and Ortiz in a lineup that looks something like this:

Ellsbury, LF
Pedroia, 2B
Martinez, C
Youkilis, 1B
Ortiz, DH
Cameron, CF
Drew, RF
Beltre, 3B
Scutaro, SS

A lineup like that could really benefit Cameron in the late innings.

Look at it this way: The point of inserting a buffer between Ortiz and Drew is to prevent an opposing manager from bringing in a lefty specialist to set down both in order before giving the ball back to a righty. Francona knows that. He only hit Drew and Ortiz back-to-back seven times last season. When Ortiz hit third, Drew hit fifth. When Ortiz hit fifth, Drew hit seventh. When Ortiz hit sixth, Drew hit eighth. Either Jason Bay or Mike Lowell almost always was slotted between Drew and Ortiz in the Red Sox lineup.

When the lineup rolls around to its Ortiz-Cameron-Drew-Beltre segment, an opposing manager will have two choices:
1. Employ a lefty-righty-lefty-righty strategy, thus burning a righthanded relief pitcher just to face Cameron;
2. Use the same lefty to face both Ortiz and Drew, allowing him in the process to face Cameron and maybe even Beltre.

Therein lies the beauty. Ortiz might be neutralized by tough lefties. Drew might even be neutralized by tough lefties -- though not as much as you'd think.

Cameron, though, thrives against lefties.

Consider the center fielder's splits:

vs. RHP: .244/.318/.430 (.748 OPS)
vs. LHP: .271/.420/.534 (.954 OPS)

vs. RHP: .231/.309/.452 (.761 OPS)
vs. LHP: .282/.397/.555 (.951 OPS)

vs. RHP: .245/.330/.435 (.765 OPS)
vs. LHP: .267/.370/.489 (.859 OPS)

Over the last two seasons, Cameron has seen his OPS jump about 200 points when he's facing lefthanded pitching. Over his entire career, he's still seen his OPS jump about 100 points when he's facing lefthanded pitching.

(Beltre has a career split that's not nearly as pronounced, but he too has OPS'ed 200 points higher against lefties than against righties in each of his last two seasons.)

Francona says over and over that he wants to do all he can to make the opposing manager's job difficult. By slotting Cameron between Drew and Ortiz, he's does one of two things:
* He makes the opposing manager burn through extra bullpen arms in the late innings; or
* He makes the opposing manager use a lefty to face a righty who treats lefties like punching bags.

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