MLB Preview 2011: Projecting the Boston Red Sox Starting Lineup for 2011
When it comes to his lineup, Boston Red Sox Manager Terry Francona has a lot of difficult decisions to make. He was handed some of the best puzzle pieces around and was told to “Tetris” them together to the best of his ability.
Francona better invest in those extra big pencil erasers that you used to buy in elementary school. You know, the ones that fit onto the end of the writing utensil over the small eraser that’s already attached to the pencil. I think Tito will be going through quite a few of those.
Not only will he spend this Spring Training figuring out the Red Sox best lineup, but he must also figure out secondary lineups for certain pitchers (lefties or righties) and certain ballparks. In addition he will need to run scenarios in his head to see what he would switch around if, say Jacoby Ellsbury gets in a slump or Youkilis were to become injured. What would his back-up lineups look like?
What if they would need to call some players up? Who would be the most likely minor leaguer to make the trip to Fenway and where would they best be suited in this batting order? There is a lot on Tito’s plate right now, but I don’t think he would want it any other way.
It's my job to figure out the best way for Francona to set the 2011 Boston Red Sox starting lineup and your job to tell me where I went wrong or right (I'll always take positive reinforcement) in the comment section.
A Computer Wins Jeopardy and Now They Think They Know More Than Tito, Really?
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Baseball Musings has a great lineup analysis feature that comes in handy when you have decided that you’re a better armchair manager than the actual MLB skipper you’re second-guessing. It’s plug and play folks. Just hop on over to baseball-reference.com grab the necessary statistics for your players and enter them into the analyzer.
I had some fun with this tool. I plugged in the Red Sox starting nine, as listed on their MLB site’s depth chart, to see what lineup they’d spit out. I plugged in the numbers with Marco Scutaro and then ran it again with Jed Lowrie. Personally, I think Lowrie will be starting the season at shortstop. If not then he’ll be the starter shortly there after.
I ran this program using the career averages for OBP and slugging numbers for a 162 game season, and then I ran it again using the OBP and slugging numbers from only the last full year that each player was on the field.
For example I used 2009 for Jacoby Ellsbury since he was injured for most of 2010. In addition, since full year numbers do not exist for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jed Lowrie, I used their career averages over a 162 game season again.
Lineup Projections Using the Career Averages of Each Player
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I received some very interesting results that I will share with you folks. Please keep in mind that these projections only take into account the on-base percentage and slugging percentage and do not incorporate speed, base-stealing potential at the top of the order, base on balls stats etc…
Using the players' career averages we get this best projected lineup (with Jed Lowrie at shortstop instead of Scutaro). It scores 5.760 runs per game and looks a little something like this:
Here's the Lineup Using the Percentages from Each Players Last Full Season
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If you were to just use the OBP and slugging numbers from the last full year in which each player participated (exceptions being Lowrie and Salty) then you get this lineup:
This lineup knocks in 5.861 runs per game and is the best overall lineup projection that they could come up with. It seems that Baseball Musings agrees with me that Lowrie would produce more offensive firepower than Marco Scutaro.
With Scut in the lineup the runs scored per game came out to 5.718, when using career averages and 5.817, when using averages from the last full year played. Both are below the 5.861 runs scored per game projected with Lowrie at SS.
Youk's Bat Should Not Be Wasted
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Do we all agree with that lineup projection though? It has one of Boston’s best sluggers, Kevin Youkilis, leading off. Really? Doesn’t that seem like the Red Sox are wasting a bunch of potential RBIs by slotting Youk at the one spot?
Plus there is the argument that speed at the top of the order is the way to keep the opposing pitchers on edge, worrying about a stolen base. A man on the bag could potentially cause their pitch count to grow more quickly and their arm to tire faster.
In addition, more runners would get into scoring position for the big bats like Youk. So, essentially, this lineup analysis seems to be laughing in the face of real life baseball minds.
Ortiz Cleaning Up? Hmmm?
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Along those same lines, batting Adrian Gonzalez at the two spot seems to present the same issues that batting Youk at the one does. It again seems like such a waste of a big boy bat.
Baseball Musing’s projections don’t seem to bring the speed into the lineup until Dustin Pedroia comes to the plate at the three slot. Then it’s back to snail like slowness when David Ortiz bats clean up. This move makes a lot of sense when you jump into the Hot Tub Time Machine and ride it back to 2007, but not now. Not with Gonzo and Youk being so potent when standing sixty feet six inches from the rubber.
Crawford or Ellsbury, Who Is Faster?
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Listed next is speed demon Carl Crawford. He’s not used to batting below third in the order and here they have him sitting at number five. We have few statistics to show how well Craw-daddy bats when that low in the order. It seems that he's most potent at the lead off position or sitting third.
The Red Sox, however, usually lead off with Jacoby Ellsbury who spent the entire 2010 season with a set of fractured ribs. I guess Spring Training will be the place where all of Red Sox Nation will find out if Ellsbury is back to lead off form or if Crawford will usurp him. If he does, that will push Ellsbury a very long way down the lineup list. He could quite possibly fall to last like he’s listed here.
This Pic Has Nothing to Do with the Slide I Just Like Mike Lowell
Next is J.D. Drew. Jed Lowrie, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ellsbury follow him.
I have no problem with the bottom four spots of this order, as long as Crawford proves that he deserves the lead off spot ahead of Ellsbury. If Crawford leads off then to me you could shuffle these last four spots however you wish and it wouldn’t matter much. Though to be honest I would put Ellsbury in the ninth spot if Crawford beats him out of his old home.
Am I onto Something or Am I Very Wrong? What's Your Lineup?
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I used no mathematical formula when coming up with my Red Sox 2011 lineup. I can’t tell you if mine is the right one as far as projected runs per game is concerned, but here’s what I would do.
If Ellsbury proves less efficient at the lead off spot than Crawford than I see it as this:
Dropping Ellsbury to the ninth spot would presumably give Francona a couple fast runners on base as the order wraps around into the later innings of a game. That can only help with the bats of Pedey, Youk and Gonzo due at the plate. It will be interesting to see what Tito comes up with.
Remember This Guy: Unfrozen Caveman Outfielder
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It will be interesting to see how close this lineup comes to some of the best ever. Will the Red Sox have themselves a Murderer's Row?
Keep in mind that my projection does factor in the intangibles like base stealing ability at the top of the order and the number of bases on balls that patient batters tend to draw etc… The computerized projections do not. It is still very interesting to play around with them however.
In finding a solid “base-line” starting lineup I personally don’t see that as a very difficult job for Francona. To me, Crawford and Gonzo plug in nicely at the three and four spots. Youk is therefore bumped to fifth, Ortiz to sixth and on down the line. It’s simple plug and play and it will equal a winning 2011 season for Beantown.
What do you guys see? Let me know your lineup projections and why?