Boston Red Sox: Projecting the 2012 Batting Order

Peter WardellCorrespondent IFebruary 4, 2012

Boston Red Sox: Projecting the 2012 Batting Order

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    Adding Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford last winter was expected to make the Boston Red Sox one of the greatest teams in MLB history. For a while, it looked like they very well might be.

    Entering September with the American League’s best overall record, the Sox dropped 20 of their final 27 contests, falling out of the postseason on the season’s final day.

    Despite the collapse, the Red Sox still managed to lead the league offensively, scoring 5.4 runs per game. With seven of the nine starters left, it’s safe to expect big things to come out of Boston yet again in 2012. Only this time, it’s win or bust.

    As spring training looms, a few questions have yet to be answered:

    • How much will new manager Bobby Valentine impact the lineup?
    • Who starts at shortstop: the veteran Mike Aviles, the long-time backup Nick Punto or wunderkind Jose Iglesias?
    • Where will Carl Crawford end up batting?

    With all that in mind, here’s a look at how the Red Sox lineup should look this season: 

1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury

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    After an MVP-caliber season out of the top spot last season, Jacoby Ellsbury is a lock for leadoff duties in 2012.

    Last season, the 28-year-old Ellsbury was simply incredible, posting a .321 average, 119 runs, 39 stolen bases and, out of nowhere, 32 home runs. His consistent ability to set the table for Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez became a real weapon for the Sox and a huge reason why the offense was so dynamic.

2. 2B Dustin Pedroia

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    Following Ellsbury, is one of the game’s top No. 2 hitters, second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Last season, Pedroia, 28, had an MVP-caliber season of his own, finishing with a .307 batting average, 102 runs and career highs in RBI (91), home runs (21) and stolen bases (26).

    What separates Pedroia from other top hitters around the league is his natural ability to be both a table setter or run converter, depending on situation. Confirming the point, as compared to his overall season rates, Pedroia was actually even better with either runners in scoring position (.316 AVG, .408 OBP) or bases empty (.310 AVG, .383 OBP).

    While he did excel out of the cleanup slot for a stint last season, Pedroia fits best atop the lineup, giving pitchers a right-handed look between lefties Ellsbury and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

3. 1B Adrian Gonzalez

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    Last winter, the signings of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez were expected to return the Boston Red Sox to championship glory. While Crawford faded to the back, Gonzalez rose to the challenge, quickly finding success on baseball’s biggest stage.

    Last season, the 29-year-old Gonzalez had one of the best seasons of his career, finishing with a .338 batting average and 117 RBI, both of which led the team. Gonzalez quickly took over the No. 3 slot in the lineup early in the season, and served as a model of consistency in an otherwise up-and-down season for the organization.

    Entering 2012, it’s safe to expect much of the same from the left-handed slugger.

4. DH David Ortiz

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    Following a successful, bounce-back campaign in 2010, 36-year-old designated hitter David Ortiz showed he has even more left in the tank, looking great at the plate last season.

    Finishing with a .309 batting average, 29 homers and 96 RBI, Ortiz didn’t miss a beat in 2011, giving the Sox a second reliable RBI man to Gonzalez.

    Most impressive about his 2011 campaign, Ortiz reduced his strikeout rate to a career-low 13.7 percent, without sacrificing his impressive walk rate (12.9 percent) or power. If Ortiz can produce similar totals, he will be a tremendous asset for the Sox in the middle of the order in 2012.

5. 3B Kevin Youkilis

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    Throughout his managerial career, Bobby Valentine has had a history of switching up left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters as often as possible.

    As he explained to the Boston Herald:

    The lineup is the lineup, but it’s only the lineup for the first inning and then the second inning has another lineup and the third inning has another lineup. So, the 8-9-1 combination should work as well as the 1-2-3 combination and the 5-6-7. You only have nine chances to score, and every inning you’re going to have a different combination coming up.

    Following a pair of lefties in Gonzalez and Ortiz, third baseman Kevin Youkilis gives Valentine his right-handed bat out of the fifth spot.

    For the third straight season, Youkilis, 32, failed to make it through 2011 injury-free, sustaining a lower back injury in August. While as a whole it was a down season for the veteran, Youkilis still managed to post solid numbers, driving in 80 runs and posting his usual 13.2 percent walk rate, despite a spike in his strikeout rate and ground-ball percentage.

    A healthy Youkilis gives the Red Sox a potent right-handed complement to Gonzo and Ortiz. Regardless, even if he declines again, Youkilis' 2011 performance shows that he can still be an integral part of this offense.

6. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

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    Once a top prospect in the Atlanta Braves system, Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally got his chance at full-time catching duties in 2011, overtaking Jason Varitek for the starting job in Boston. With Varitek out of town and Kelly Shoppach coming off a subpar season in Tampa Bay, Saltalamacchia enters camp as the odds-on favorite for starting catcher duties again in 2012.

    Offensively, Saltalamacchia’s game is one of raw power. The switch-hitting 26-year-old crushed 16 homers last season in just 358 at-bats, and rates as one of the team’s top power hitters.

    Surprisingly, much of Salty’s success came batting with runners on base last season. As compared to his .235/.288/.450 slash line on the season, Saltalamacchia posted a much improved .283/.322/.518 line over 177 plate appearances with men on.

    Batting him higher in the lineup gives the Sox a cleanup of sorts behind Ortiz and Youkilis, while giving him more opportunities to drive in runners.

7. RF Cody Ross

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    Last season, the Boston Red Sox ran a three-man rotation in right field, beginning the year with J.D. Drew and ending with a Darnell McDonald/Josh Reddick platoon. With the addition of former-San Francisco Giant Cody Ross last month, right field shouldn’t be a concern in 2012.

    For one, Ross, 31, makes for a perfect platoon-mate alongside recently acquired Ryan Sweeney. On his career, the right-handed Ross has batted nearly 30 points higher against left-handed pitchers (.282 vs. .253), while the lefty Sweeney is even better against right-handers.

    Even on his own, Ross gives the Red Sox a quality outfield option—especially important with the recent news that Carl Crawford could be questionable for Opening Day.

8. SS Mike Aviles

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    After coming over to the Red Sox last July from Kansas City, 30-year-old Mike Aviles became a super utility man of sorts filling in at shortstop, third base, second base and even outfield. With the departures of middle infielders Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie this offseason, Aviles finds himself entering camp as a starter for the first time in his career.

    Neither great with the glove nor bat, Aviles is a slightly below-average shortstop flashing occasional pop and an apparent fondness for Fenway Park. Last season, Aviles batted .348 with seven extra-base hits over 69 at-bats in Boston as compared to his .215 average at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. 

9. LF Carl Crawford

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    Yes, I’m serious. Hear me out.

    While having a 30-year-old, four-time All-Star making $19.5 million in 2012 bat ninth is highly unlikely, doing so actually makes a lot of sense.

    Without question, Crawford struggled in 2011, finishing the year with career-lows in batting average (.255), home runs (11) and stolen bases (18). However, his down season is not the reason I’d bat him ninth.

    Crawford is a dynamic athlete, capable of 40-plus stolen base seasons. Part of the reason he stole so little in 2011 is certainly due to his struggles at the plate, but also because he was stuck batting behind base-cloggers like DH David Ortiz and 3B Kevin Youkilis. Moving him down to the bottom of the order behind Aviles and Ross gives him the opportunity to run more often and utilize the athleticism that the Sox drooled over just 13 months ago.

    In addition, as a fan of three-spot combinations, manager Bobby Valentine would love to throw Crawford in the ninth spot, batting just ahead of Ellsbury, Pedroia and Gonzalez. Except for the first inning, Crawford would essentially be the team’s leadoff hitter, allowing Ellsbury and Pedroia to further utilize their RBI potentials. At the very least, leading off for that trio is sure to get him more pitches to hit than batting ahead of someone like Ross or Saltalamacchia. 

Bench

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    C Kelly Shoppach

    A 31-year old journeyman who dominates left-handed pitchers and struggles mightily versus righties.

    IF Nick Punto

    Mike Aviles’ glove-first competition for starting shortstop duties.

    OF Ryan Sweeney

    The aforementioned platoon-mate of Cody Ross crushes right-handers and provides quality defense.

    OF Darnell McDonald

    Speedy outfielder makes team because no need for three catchers and Punto/Aviles cover every other position.

     

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