I won't lie—it's a nice problem to have.
At a time of year when finding an outfielder, starting pitcher and rounding out the bullpen is at the fore of most teams' minds, Boston is chiefly concerned with the dilemma of what order to bat our All-Stars.
Oh, the bullpen isn't a given, and there's the matter of Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie at short. But recent additions Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks would seem to have stocked and solidified a middle relief that was plainly awful last year.
Meanwhile, Terry Francona would be smart to keep the overqualified Scutaro as a super utility man and give the starting job to Lowrie, a young but polished player who has shown patience and power at every level of competitive baseball.
So without further ado, here's my take on the Red Sox 2011 lineup:
- Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
- Dustin Pedroia (2B)
- Carl Crawford (LF)
- Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
- Kevin Youkilis (3B)
- David Ortiz (DH)
- Jed Lowrie (SS)
- J.D. Drew (RF)
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Jason Varitek (C)
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Take it easy! Yes, Youk would hit fifth. Yes, Lowrie would in front of the veteran ground-out wonder J.D. Drew.
Why? Let me explain.
1) Jacoby leads off
Big stretch there. I'd heard some speculation about him batting ninth in some versions of this fantasy lineup. It's not a bad idea, but I feel extremely reluctant to take away so many ABs over the course of the year.
If you figure the ninth man gets three or four fewer ABs than the leadoff man per week, that's 80 to 110 fewer plate appearances in a season. In his last healthy season, Ellsbury stole one base for every nine ABs, so hitting last could easily take away 10-plus SBs per year. He doesn't have the patience or power to man a spot in the middle of the lineup, so leadoff it is.
2) Dustin's the No. 2 man
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Assuming a clean bill of health, I expect Pedroia to return to form in 2011. A career OPS of .867 out of the second slot speaks for itself.
I wouldn't dream of getting cute and putting him fourth or fifth either. A high contact/low strikeout hitter is exactly what you want to complement speedsters at the top of the lineup.
3) CC in the three-hole
Here's where it may get a bit sticky for some readers. Crawford is not an exemplar of the classic No. 3 hitter—never had a 20-homer season, not a mind-blowing OBP.
However, my reasons for keeping him high in the order are the same as Ellsbury. I don't want to take away SB opportunities from him, and his strikeout rate (which is a bit high for a speedster) will not hurt as much as it would out of the leadoff spot or hitting behind Ellsbury. Keep in mind his .890 OPS out of the third spot last year in Tampa.
As well, with Pedroia in hitting front and A-Gon fourth, Carl will FEAST on fastballs.
4) A-Gon cleans house
What can I say? You don't pay a guy $22 million per year (we assume) to hit sac flies. This guy will have the most raw power on the team, has an incredible batting eye and fears no left-hander (his numbers are actually better against southpaws). With the three studs hitting in front of him...set 'em up, knock 'em down.
5) Pressure's off, Youk
Youk has been (and still is) the most disciplined hitter on the team. I myself am not absolutely crazy about hitting him fifth with his skill set. But he will experience a re-learning curve to shift over to 3B. I don't think he'll forget how to hit in the process; however, it will ease things by not also expecting him to be the run-producing machine in the three or four spots.
Additionally, Youk has average speed but is lethal with men on base in the past few years (1.067 OPS). His presence will set the table for Papi, who historically is also much better with men on base.
6) Big Papi (see Youk)
7) Lowrie is Seventh Heaven
Jed Lowrie is a very good player. "Very good" describes just about every component of his game, even if "greatness" doesn't. He is a prime specimen of Red Sox philosophy, particularly offensively.
It's a bit silly to extrapolate his 2010 numbers over a full season, but I believe a .280/21/80 season is possible, with a high OBP. His switch-hitting checks the vulnerability of batting Ortiz and Drew back-to-back, both of whom are abysmal against lefties.
I think, more than anyone else in the lineup, Lowrie will surprise.
8) Eight's Enough (for Drew)
Drew's skills are slipping. He makes WAY too much. He's gone after 2011. And...that's fine. Expecting anything more than .260/18/70 out of this guy is optimistic now. But one thing he will do well until he's old and gray is grind out ABs and draw a solid OBP. He represents, if nothing else, a bottom of the lineup slot that isn't an automatic out.
9) Catch you at No. 9
This is a perfect place to groom a young catcher. If Salty does well, then so much the better for a very potent offense. If he fizzles, we have Tek, and we weren't hitching our wagon either catcher anyway. If it is a weak point, it's our pitchers that will suffer more, not our run-scoring. But that's a conversation for another article.