Since the recent acquisitions of studs Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, there has been much chatter regarding which batting order would best suit the 2011 Boston Red Sox. If the season started today, the Sox boast arguably the deepest lineup in the A.L., maybe even the majors. At the very least it should have very little trouble competing with a Yankee lineup that has earned the same accolade numerous times.
This collection of talent is arguably the greatest that most Sox fans have seen in their lifetimes, but if not used the right way it very well may not bring the best possible results. Sox fans shouldn’t have too much to worry about though; manager Terry Francona is extremely adept at putting the best nine on the score card every night.
While the hitters we currently have in Boston can be strung together in a variety of ways (each as imposing as the next), it is important to maximize talent. It should also be noted that Francona will likely throw out multiple lineups with some movement depending on who is on the bump against the Sox, as he does every season. But there will be a base lineup, likely the one we will see in Texas to start the season on April 1st.
The following lineup provides the most bang for the proverbial (and literal) buck, and it benefits everybody in the starting nine:
- LF Carl Crawford
- 2B Dustin Pedroia
- 1B Adrian Gonzalez
- DH David Ortiz
- 3B Kevin Youkilis
- RF J.D. Drew
- C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
- SS Marco Scutaro
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
Many fans have suggested clustering Crawford with fellow speedster Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the Sox lineup to provide a potent top three that also includes 2B Dustin Pedroia. However, the popular phrase “quality over quantity” applies here. It would behoove the Sox to spread this speed out and put Jacoby at the bottom of the lineup where he will see better pitches to hit. This will allow him to get on base in front of Crawford, Pedroia and Gonzalez.
It has also been stated that placing Ellsbury in the No. 9-hole would be a waste of his speed. Quite the contrary, in fact. All Ellsbury should be expected to do is either hit a single or take a walk. Anything extra like a double or triple is gravy. If he can simply manage to get on base, we all know how he can turn a single into a double with a stolen base. He’ll be encouraged to steal, in fact. Doing so will set the table for the boppers that follow.
Crawford has no qualms about batting leadoff. He said so in his press conference. Whether or not that was truthful, of course, can’t be known. But he doesn’t lose anything by hitting there. Yes, he did bat third in Tampa, but that also resulted in a rise in his strikeout numbers.
Boston doesn’t need his power in the No. 3-hole, the rest of the lineup can provide that. It is important for Crawford, like Ellsbury, to get on base so that his speed can be utilized. Striking out doesn’t allow for that. He will see better pitches to hit at the top of the lineup than he would batting third; he can leave the RBI to A-Gon, Ortiz and Youk. Tampa may have needed Carl to hit third, but the lineup that Boston currently boasts does not.
Common knowledge among those who have grown up playing baseball is that the team’s best all-around hitter bats third. This lineup has just that, with Adrian Gonzalez in this slot. The trade to Boston immediately makes him the Sox’ best hitter, although the same argument could be made for Youkilis. But for the purpose of serving the all-around team needs, the lineup is better with Gonzalez here.
The numbers A-Gon could produce playing at Fenway 81 times a year are jaw-dropping. Much like Ortiz has learned to do, Gonzalez will be able to use the Monster as a safety blanket, as he is the league’s most feared opposite field hitter. He could seemingly put one off the wall for a double at will. His ability to get on base on top of hitting 30 jacks and driving in 100 is what makes him the perfect No. 3 hitter. He has the ability to create runs almost at will, and the skills to set up runs just as easily.
Many have also stated that they wish to see the same duo I have listed at No. 4 and No. 5, only flip flopped. However I still think it makes sense to leave Ortiz as the cleanup hitter because of the power he demonstrated that he still has last year.
Again, most who have played the game know that the No. 4-hole is reserved for the player with the rawest power and who serves as the team’s bopper. He doesn’t necessarily need to hit for average or have a high OBP. Ortiz can still be that, if only for one more year.
The new additions allow Ortiz to focus more on driving in runs and less on getting base hits to set up the offense. As he has declined in age and somewhat in skills, his ability to get on base at will has diminished. If he is able to hit doubles and homers, and can take the walks he is given, he should be fine as the cleanup hitter.
Kevin Youkilis is another man who should be drooling just thinking about the opportunities he will get this year. With Crawford, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Ortiz and possibly Ellsbury on base in front of him, Youk very well may lead the team in RBI. His annual .300 average only insinuates that Youk will be the beneficiary of such great talent in front of him.
If he can continue to get on base at such a clip, with the possibility of who will be on base ahead of him, he may have an RBI opportunity a majority of his ABs. And if not, Youk has shown that he has enough power to create runs on his own. When a player as talented as Youkilis is on a team that can afford to slot him in the No. 5 spot, it is nothing but scary. In fact the thought is almost terrorizing and I don’t have the duty of trying to shut this lineup down.
The bottom of the lineup isn’t as talented, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. J.D. Drew should hold down the No. 6 spot, and it may just result in an increase in his RBI as well. If he can stay healthy, he won’t be asked to do too much, and that may just be exactly what he needs.
Drew is in a contract year and if he can produce in this lineup, his stock in the free-agent market should rise. If he can get the average up past .250 and provide some pop, he could also be dangerous. Many pitchers will certainly overlook him after having to deal with the onslaught at the top of the lineup.
Although it doesn’t really matter which order Saltalamacchia (and Varitek for that matter) and Scutaro bat, I prefer Salty to hit after Drew with Scutaro batting ahead of Ellsbury. Saltalamacchia should be put in the best situation of his career to fulfill his oft mentioned potential. Who wouldn’t be benefited by hitting in such a lineup? But if Salty can get his average and slugging up, he should have some RBI opportunities as well.
In what might be his first full year as the Sox starter, what better way to take the pressure off of him than putting him in a position to succeed hitting after talented hitters like Youkilis and Drew who can get on base and set the table for him? Salty has a career slugging percentage of .386. An increase in this number would go a long way helping the bottom of the order produce runs. While this is not vital, you can never score enough runs.
Scutaro, along with Ellsbury, just needs to worry about getting on base to set up the top of the lineup. Walks are fine, but Scutaro should get his fair share of fastballs to hit. His .333 OBP in 2010 was great, and if he can repeat that he should see a steady increase in the amount of runs he scores in 2011.
Thinking about the possibilities this Red Sox lineup could create in 2011 is a tremendous thought for a Sox fan. While there are already talks of this team advancing to the World Series and facing the super rotation of the Philadelphia Phillies, this is of course annoyingly premature. But it is admittedly fun to think about. Hell, the season can’t come fast enough. Pitchers and catchers report February 14th.
This article can also be seen on SportsHaze.com.