When the Red Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford before the 2011 season there were wide ranging debates as to what the batting order should be. Many thought that Crawford was brought in to be your No.3 hitter with Gonzalez as your cleanup bat. My how things can change in one year.
Crawford had an underwhelming 2011 season, and while his numbers were great, you can make the case that Gonzalez fell a bit short as well.
However, one star shined brighter than the rest: Jacoby Ellsbury.
He has solidified himself as an All-Star and was the runner-up in the 2011 AL MVP race. Ellsbury has proven his capabilities to get on base as well as hit for power with a daunting .552 slugging percentage out of the leadoff spot. The question is, has Ellsbury played himself out of the leadoff spot?
Think about this for a second: Crawford cut his teeth as a table setter, not a No. 3, 5 or 6 hitter. Sure, his OBP was down (.289) in 2011; however, if the Sox decided to move Ellsbury out of the leadoff spot, Crawford could return to a position in the batting order that he is more familiar and comfortable with.
In 978 games of his career he has hit from the leadoff or No.2 spot in the lineup. Placing him back at the top of the order in theory should boost his production on the basepaths and, at the very least, not having to get on base after slower batters like Gonzalez, Ortiz or Youkilis.
Imagine Crawford batting leadoff. Then you could make the argument for Ellsbury or Pedroia batting second and third, respectively. Ellsbury's power and speed cannot be discounted. He could easily slide into the third spot while making Gonzalez the cleanup hitter.
The hitch is, Ellsbury would need to bat either second or third. Placing him behind Gonzalez would create the same issues Crawford faced: clogged base paths limiting his stolen base potential.
If you're dead set on Ellsbury remaining the leadoff hitter, then imagine Crawford in the No. 2 spot—the position he's batted from the most in his Major League career (604 times). The team would have the most dangerous baserunners at the top of the order with the possibility of double steals occurring quite frequently.
The bottom line is this: Ellsbury has proved himself to be the most valuable asset on the Red Sox. His versatility and capabilities are just beginning to show their full potential. It will be absolutely exciting to see how manager Bobby Valentine puts this lineup together in 2012.
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