Thursday, February 18, 2010

A logjam at the top of the order

It's almost a foregone conclusion that Marco Scutaro will hit ninth in the Red Sox lineup to create a "second leadoff hitter" effect. By hitting behind Adrian Beltre and his presumably low on-base percentage, Scutaro would become something of a table-setter for Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia as they, in turn, set the table for Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkilis.

(As an aside: There are those who expect Ellsbury to steal 75 or 80 bases this season. Consider, though, how often Nick Green or Alex Gonzalez got on base in front of him last season -- and compare that to how often Scutaro will get on base in front of him this season, taking away some of his opportunities.)

The best way to score runs -- short of hitting home runs, of course -- is to get guys on base, one after the other. From Scutaro straight through until Youkilis and then even David Ortiz, the Red Sox have a chance to put men on base in rapid succession and, naturally, to drive them in. Consider the CHONE projected on-base percentages for the group:

9. Scutaro, .360
1. Ellsbury, .360
2. Pedroia, .379
3. Martinez, .366
4. Youkilis, .384
5. Ortiz, .355

A natural question arises: Why wait?

Why leave Scutaro at the bottom of the batting order? Why not hit Scutaro up near the top, where his on-base percentage will be well above average even if he regresses, and get him on base as often as possible in front of Martinez and Youkilis?

Ellsbury would still hit at the top of the order. He sees himself as a leadoff hitter. Manager Terry Francona said over and over last year that the Red Sox lineup is at its best when Ellsbury is its leadoff hitter.

But Scutaro is a natural leadoff hitter himself. He hit leadoff in all 144 of his starts with the Blue Jays last season. His ability to get on base and his ability to work counts -- he saw a career-best 4.06 pitches per plate appearance last season -- makes him a better candidate for the top of the lineup than the bottom.

The natural move would be to insert Scutaro between Ellsbury and Pedroia and bump everyone down from there, creating something of a logjam of high on-base percentages at the top. It would, as Francona would say, lengthen the lineup, make it deeper and tougher and more of a challenge for opposing pitchers.

It also would be a little bit unconventional:

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

Martinez and Youkilis could flip-flop. There's not a huge difference between them. Youkilis does have slightly better on-base and power numbers, so it makes sense in some ways to hit him ahead of Martinez.

Drew and Ortiz could flip-flop, too, though it makes sense to get the power bat of Ortiz into the middle of the lineup where it can do the most damage if and when it catches fire. Even Drew and Beltre could flip-flop, turning Drew into yet another leadoff hitter in the No. 9 spot, though it would incite of the "J.D. Drew is overrated" camp.

Drew, for what it's worth, could fit into that No. 2 spot ahead of Pedroia just as easily as Scutaro, if not more so. Drew is projected to compile an on-base percentage of .372, a number that would look awfully good in front of Pedroia, Youkilis and Martinez.

That would leave you with this:

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

Either way, that's an unconventional lineup.

Pedroia isn't a prototypical No. 3 hitter, though it's worth pointing out he spent a week hitting cleanup two seasons ago. He OPS'ed .819 last season -- which would be above average among No. 3 hitters in the American League (.805). He's not a home run hitter, but his doubles power would be good enough with the speed on the bases in front of him.

The Red Sox have put together a lineup with six or seven hitters who could hit in the top half of the lineup. Leaving both Drew and Scutaro in the bottom third of the order doesn't seem like the best way to score runs.

1 comment:

Ross said...

It's a problem..... but it's not a problem.....