Predicting What the Boston Red Sox's Lineup Will Look Like Next Year
The Boston Red Sox have been one of the worst teams in baseball in 2014, and their offensive ineptitude is a big part of the reason why.
It’s been a dramatic turnaround for a team that ranked as baseball’s best offense in 2013. The Sox are 27th in runs with 483. They’re tied in fifth from last with just 94 homers. They’ve hit just .243/.316/.367 as a team, and their lack of extra-base pop is rivaled only by their lack of creativity on the basepaths.
Fortunately, with good health, a step forward from some young players and fast adjustments by new acquisitions, 2015 could bring just as dramatic a chance for the good.
Forecasting the Red Sox’s 2015 lineup at this point is a tall task. It’s unclear exactly who will be on the roster next year, and we’re not sure of any offseason targets the Sox may be eyeing. In fact, the Sox could sign Rusney Castillo in the next few days, according to MLB Trade Rumors, which would dramatically change the composition of the lineup from the get-go.
But if we assume the Sox will focus on pitching this offseason and leave their lineup relatively intact, we can start to estimate which players will see the most time at specific slots in the batting order. More useful than simply identifying where each starter will be on Opening Day is predicting who will spend the most time at each lineup position throughout the 2015 season.
With that in mind and restricting ourselves to players currently in the Red Sox organization, let’s take a look at how 2015’s lineup could stack up.
1. Mookie Betts, CF
The first spot in Boston’s 2015 lineup is the one that’s probably least settled right now. With left field, center field and third base for next year all somewhat up in the air, it’s difficult to predict exactly who’ll see the most bats leading off next year.
Dustin Pedroia is certainly one possibility, and he’s perhaps most likely to start 2015 in this role. Brock Holt’s magic is fading, but if he’s starting at third base on Opening Day next season, he could find his name atop the lineup, as it’s been for most of 2014.
Daniel Nava is also a possibility to hit leadoff against right-handers. He lacks the speed generally associated with leadoff men, but he’s hit .324/.395/.387 since being recalled to the majors in early June. And Rusney Castillo is another option should the Cuban outfielder sign with the Red Sox in the coming days.
But right now, the smart money is on Betts seeing the most at-bats in the leadoff spot for the Sox in 2015. Even if he starts the year in the minors in deference to Shane Victorino, Victorino’s health means Betts will be back up before long. And Betts’ on-base ability and plus speed make him a prototypical choice for this position.
The Sox could be hesitant to place a player who essentially amounts to a rookie in the leadoff spot initially, but if Betts hits like he can, his production should outweigh his relative inexperience.
If Betts is still a part of the organization next year, you can expect to see him atop Boston’s lineup by June.
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
There’s a fairly decent chance Pedroia starts the year as Boston’s leadoff hitter if none of Boston’s younger players emerge as a viable option later this season or next spring. But overall, I’d expect him to see most of his starts come in the No. 2 spot, where he’s batted for much of his career.
Much has been made about Pedroia’s lack of power this season, and it’s true that his days of hitting 15-plus homers are likely behind him. But Pedroia is still a well above-average hitter, putting up a .283/.343/.376 line at a time when average production for a second baseman is .251/.309/.363.
Add in Pedroia’s high contact rate, low strikeout rate (12.2 percent) and 4.08 pitches per plate appearance, per ESPN, and it’s clear he can still be an effective hitter in the two-hole, even if he’s not the all-world offensive talent he was three years ago.
It’s hard to imagine Pedroia falling any lower than this, but Nava is another option here against right-handed pitching if he doesn’t lead off, and Victorino could hit second if he’s healthy too.
3. David Ortiz, DH
There are many possible lineup configurations to play with when it comes to the 2015 Sox and some unsettled positional battles that will help determine who hits where. But this was the easiest spot to fill by far. Unless the Red Sox trade for Giancarlo Stanton, Ortiz will be hitting third for Boston once again next year.
The ageless designated hitter is hitting .253/.355/.525 this year, already having 30 homers and 93 RBI. Ortiz is hitting for a worse average than we’re accustomed to seeing, thanks in part to a .252 BABIP, but he’s still among the game’s elite hitters and is a reliable source of power at a time when power is down across the game.
Boston’s offensive futility this year is perhaps best represented by the fact that Ortiz has 30 homers but has scored just 49 times. But with a trio of solid hitters slated to hit directly behind him next season, scoring runs shouldn’t be an issue for Ortiz in 2015.
Health is the only real question mark here, as Ortiz will be 39 next year and has a skill set that generally doesn’t age well. But if Ortiz is healthy, expect him to mash in the middle of the Boston lineup once more.
4. Yoenis Cespedes, RF
It’s been quite a while since the Red Sox have been able to boast one of the game’s better right-handed power hitters on their roster. That’s what they have now with Cespedes, though, and everyone should be excited to see what type of numbers he can put up with a full season in Fenway Park.
Cespedes is hitting just .252/.294/.456 this year, it’s true, and his 20 homers belie the type of massive raw power he possesses. And while it would be nice to see Cespedes take a walk once in a while, he’s posting the lowest strikeout rate of his career, has already crushed 28 doubles and has been slightly victimized by a low BABIP. These are all signs that big things could be in store for 2015.
As part of a truly great offense, Cespedes might hit fifth or sixth, as he doesn’t have the on-base skills you’d like to see from a middle-of-the-order guy. But batting him in between Ortiz and Mike Napoli gives the Sox a fearsome collection of power hitters nonetheless, and I’d be shocked to see the Sox finish in the bottom 10 in the league in homers again in 2015.
Cespedes isn’t perfect, but he lengthens the lineup like few other available players in the game could have. Watching him try to put a ball through the Green Monster next season will be fun for all.
5. Mike Napoli, 1B
If you prorate Napoli’s 2014 stats out to a full season’s worth of PA, he’d actually be having a better season than he had in 2013. That seems odd given Boston’s overall putrid offensive performance, but it’s important to keep in mind for next season, as Napoli will occupy a hugely important part in the offense once again.
Napoli is hitting .266/.385/.446 this season as opposed to the .259/.360/.482 line he posted a year ago. Sacrificing a bit of power for a bit more OBP seems to have been a conscious decision on Napoli’s part, as he’s dramatically altered his two-strike approach and has cut his strikeout rate by more than six percentage points.
Of course, Napolis’ greatest skill may be his ability to work the count, and the right-handed slugger once again leads all of baseball with 4.52 pitches per plate appearance. Napoli makes pitchers work hard, and he makes them pay for mistakes with majestic moon shots.
You can argue that Napoli should bat ahead of Cespedes, but the guess here is that the Sox will use the same configuration next year that they’ve used since they acquired Cespedes at the deadline.
6. Allen Craig/Daniel Nava, LF
It may be fairly easy to predict spots two through five in Boston’s 2015 lineup, but the process becomes tricky again once we get down to No. 6. That’s because if we assume that every player on the Red Sox roster will be healthy to start next year, they have too many players for too few positions.
In left field, both the newly acquired Allen Craig and the newly resurgent Daniel Nava deserve to play pretty much every day. The Sox could go with a platoon here, batting Craig against left-handers and Nava against righties, but they’ll probably want Craig to see more PA than he’d receive as the short side of a platoon.
It’s possible that Craig could see some time at first base and DH in an attempt to occasionally spell Napoli or Ortiz. But if he’s healthy, one would imagine the Sox will find a spot for him, and this seems as good as any in Boston’s lengthened lineup.
Of course, if Shane Victorino is healthy too, this becomes a logical landing spot for him, perhaps as he plays center field in Betts’ stead. The odds that Victorino, Craig, Ortiz and Napoli will all stay healthy for a full season are next to zero, though, so playing time might be easier to come across than it initially seems.
The safe bet is for Craig to see about two-thirds of the playing time in the No. 6 spot, with Nava receiving the bulk of PA otherwise.
7. Xander Bogaerts, SS
There are a myriad of disappointing aspects to Boston’s 2015 season. Bogaerts’ offensive performance may top the list when you consider what was expected of him before the year began.
Praised as the best prospect the Sox have had in many years, Bogaerts was expected to serve as a key right-handed power bat in Boston’s lineup, and many predicted he’d be hitting second or fifth by the middle of the season. Such prognostications proved to be correct in May, when Bogaerts moved up to the No. 2 spot for a short time.
Unfortunately, the 21-year-old has completely fallen apart since June 1, hitting .158/.202/.250 since then and looking absolutely flabbergasted after a majority of his PA. Most expected Bogaerts to struggle at some point this season, but few expected him to look so utterly defeated.
Despite his uninspiring performance, the Sox will likely head into 2015 with Bogaerts as their starting shortstop, and it’s important to remember that he’s still their most promising future piece. But even with a great spring there’s no reason to bat him any higher than this, and if you want to argue he should be one slot lower, that makes sense too.
8. Brock Holt/Will Middlebrooks, 3B
This is probably the most surprising prediction I’m making for Boston’s 2015 lineup, as Holt has served as one of the lone bright spots on the 2014 team. But if you look at Holt’s recent performance and not just his overall stats, it’s clear his magic is beginning to run out.
On June 15, Holt was hitting .340/.378/.465, using a combination of consistent hard contact and some BABIP luck to reach base all the time. Since then, however, Holt is hitting .266/.323/.361 in 266 PA, and that’s probably more representative of his true talent level.
Holt certainly deserves to be on the roster next year, and I think he’ll see his fair share of playing time. But he’s a down-the-order hitter on a good team, and if Boston doesn’t fix its third base problem through a trade or free agency, this is where Holt should bat in 2015.
Unless Middlebrooks turns his season around in the next five weeks, I don’t expect him to be on the roster next year. If he does, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play third base against left-handers, and this is a good spot in the lineup for him as well.
9. Christian Vazquez, C
Last but not least, Vazquez figures to man the No. 9 spot in Boston’s lineup for a majority of the 2015 season. An incredibly impressive defensive player who’s not totally useless with the bat, Vazquez nonetheless lacks the upside to bat above any of the players we’ve already discussed.
There’s not much pop here, but Vazquez did hit .279/.336/.385 in Pawtucket this season, showing a willingness to take a walk and the ability to make consistent contact. He won’t hit that well at the majors, most likely, but he won’t need to to be an above-average catcher.
Right now, the average triple slash line for MLB backstops is .246/.311/.383. Vazquez has just 98 PA at the MLB level, but he’s hitting .250/.313/.310. And when you couple that line with his elite defense, it’s easy to see why the Sox would want him in the lineup as often as possible.
With Blake Swihart likely to stay in the minors until late 2015 or early 2016, expect the Red Sox to acquire a veteran caddy for Vazquez. But unless the rookie backstop struggles mightily in his sophomore campaign, he should see around 70 percent of Boston’s PA in the No. 9 spot next season.