Carl Crawford would be a much better leadoff hitter for the 2011 Red Sox than Jacoby Ellsbury.
In fact, the argument is not even close, in my view.
First, Ellsbury has not yet proven himself at leadoff. He's been average at best. He's had one good year as a hitter in the big leagues. Even in that year, I'd argue, he lacked the specific skills you want in at the top of your lineup.
Your leadoff man should be an outstanding "contact hitter" and should draw some walks - period. Ellsbury does neither very well. Many top-of-the-rotation pitchers can find ways to get Ellsbury out quite easily. While he hits fastballs fairly well, Ellsbury gets fooled a lot by breaking pitches. Ellsbury still lacks patience at the plate. He does not keep his eye on the ball all the way to his bat.
Crawford, on the other hand, has displayed more versatile hitting skills for a longer time. He's shown he can hit in most situations and against most pitchers. He's comparable to Johnny Damon was at leadoff. The only serious argument I've heard against Crawford batting leadoff is that it's not his preference, but, apparently, he also said he'd hit in whatever spot he is assigned. The decision is Terry Francona's call.
So, why am I even dwelling on who bats leadoff? Because it makes NO sense to have Ellsbury, with his glaring limitations as a hitter, to cause a drop-off in the entire top of the Sox lineup—particularly with the two new star hitters acquired last winter. The order of the Sox lineup seems as important as ever for 2011.
If Ellsbury stays at No. 1, it will force Crawford to bat third, and force either Kevin Youkils or Adrian Gonzalez to bat as far down as fifth for the 2011 Red Sox. (Dustin Pedroia should stay in the second spot. He "fits" there because he makes good contact and will get on base constantly). Both Youkilis and Gonzalez hit too well to bat fifth in this particular Sox lineup. There will be a sizaeable drop-off from the No. 5 hitter to David Ortiz, at No. 6, who is likely in his last year in Boston. Then, you have J.D. Drew, Jarrod Saltalammachia and Marco Scutaro to plug in toward the bottom.
The Red Sox should want Youkilis and Gonzalez to get as many at-bats as possible and the best way to do that is to put Crawford at leadoff. Youkilis has been the team's best hitter in the past few years. He hits for contact and power. Gonzo obviously is a "stud" power hitter who you also want to get as many at-bats as possible.
Beyond all this, Crawford can provide the same speed at leadoff that Ellsbury has in the past. Ellsbury can make a contribution from the ninth spot. If things don't work out for Crawford at No. 1 and Jacoby starts belting the ball, Francona can, of course, switch the order. But, right now, how can any objective baseball observer argue that it's more important for Ellsbury to get a maximum number of at-bats than Crawford, Youkilis or Gonzalez?
The Red Sox spent millions and millions to get Crawford and Gonzalez. Now, they should want them at the plate as many times as possible—without Ellsbury, unnecessarily, in their way.