Ranking the Boston Red Sox's 5 Most Likely 2013 Batting Orders

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 16, 2013

Ranking the Boston Red Sox's 5 Most Likely 2013 Batting Orders

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    The 2013 Boston Red Sox are nearly fully assembled. The only big puzzle piece still missing is Mike Napoli, and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com says he could finally sign next week.

    Once Napoli is signed, the question regarding Boston's offense won't be what it will look like. It will be how the pieces are going to line up.

    New Red Sox manager John Farrell is going to have options, but there won't be nearly as much turnover as there was in 2012 if everyone stays healthy (fingers crossed). He's going to have pieces at his disposal to put together several different lineups that he could use on a day-to-day basis.

    Five possible batting orders spring immediately to mind. Here's how they stack up.

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

5. Mike Napoli at Cleanup

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    1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (L)

    2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (R)

    3. David Ortiz, DH (L)

    4. Mike Napoli, 1B (R)

    5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B (R)

    6. Shane Victorino, RF (S)

    7. Stephen Drew, SS (L)

    8. Jonny Gomes, LF (R)

    9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (S)

    Mike Napoli doesn't have a ton of experience as a cleanup hitter, but he does own an .824 OPS in 20 games in the No. 4 spot that comes complete with a .525 slugging percentage and five home runs.

    If Napoli were to revert back to the form he showed in 2011, when he had a 1.046 OPS, he could do a lot better than that as Boston's cleanup man. He also owns a 1.107 career OPS at Fenway Park.

    The cast of characters in front of Napoli would be strong. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are a classic speed/contact one-two duo, and David Ortiz has been a No. 3 hitter for the bulk of his career. He has a .980 career OPS as a No. 3 hitter.

    Behind Napoli, the Red Sox would have another right-handed power source in Will Middlebrooks, and then what would essentially be a second one-two punch in Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew. Then would come a high-power, high on-base guy in Jonny Gomes who could do some damage with them on the bases.

    Jarrod Saltalamacchia wouldn't be a classic "turn the lineup over" No. 9 hitter, but that's the spot where he'll do the least damage. This is assuming that he remains a high-strikeout, low on-base guy, which is as sure a bet as any.

    My only gripe with this lineup is that Napoli is also a high-strikeout guy, and he's a little too all-or-nothing to be a cleanup hitter. Instead of him, the Red Sox could try someone else.

4. Will Middlebrooks at Cleanup

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    1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (L)

    2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (R)

    3. David Ortiz, DH (L)

    4. Will Middlebrooks, 3B (R)

    5. Mike Napoli, 1B (R)

    6. Shane Victorino, RF (S)

    7. Stephen Drew, SS (L)

    8. Jonny Gomes, LF (R)

    9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (S)

    Will Middlebrooks has only played in 75 major league games, but Red Sox fans shouldn't let the small sample size stop them from having high hopes for his future. 

    Middlebrooks showed in his rookie season in 2012 that he has legit All-Star potential, posting an .835 OPS and hitting 15 home runs. He needs to work on his patience and discipline, but that's not a lot to ask seeing as how he's only 24 years old.

    Middlebrooks' 24.5 percent strikeout rate in his rookie year (see FanGraphs) was about the same as Napoli's career strikeout rate of 25.4. The advantage Napoli has is that he's better at taking his walks.

    The advantage Middlebrooks has is that he's proven to be a high-BABIP guy during his professional career. BABIP is certainly a finicky thing, but Middlebrooks has a track record of posting .330-plus BABIPs dating back to his first year in the minors in 2008.

    This may make him a more reliable cleanup man than Napoli, whose immense power and strikeout tendency fit better in the No. 5 spot in the lineup anyway.

    If the Red Sox would rather not charge Middlebrooks with such a big responsibility so early in his career, they could always turn to their heart and soul to handle the cleanup spot.

3. Dustin Pedroia at Cleanup

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    1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (L)

    2. Shane Victorino, RF (S)

    3. David Ortiz, DH (L)

    4. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (R)

    5. Mike Napoli, 1B (R)

    6. Will Middlebrooks, 3B (R)

    7. Stephen Drew, SS (L)

    8. Jonny Gomes, LF (R)

    9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (S)

    Hey, why not?

    Dustin Pedroia doesn't fit the mold of a typical cleanup hitter, but he's certainly hit like one when he's gotten a chance. He has a career 1.117 OPS as a cleanup hitter, and that includes a .675 slugging percentage. Because baseball is weird like that.

    Moving Pedroia to the cleanup spot would allow Shane Victorino to slide down to the No. 2 spot in the order. That would be a risky venture given how badly he struggled in 2012, but the Red Sox could get away with it because Victorino at least makes contact.

    Per FanGraphs, Victorino owns a solid 11.6 strikeout rate for his career, and he generally doesn't stray much higher than 12 percent. He can also be counted on for a walk rate in the 8.0-9.0 range.

    In this lineup, Mike Napoli would stay in the No. 5 spot and Middlebrooks would move down to a spot in the No. 6 hole where there'd be less pressure on him to produce. 

    If the Red Sox would rather go with their best hitter and bat Big Papi in the cleanup spot, they could always try other 3-4 combinations.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury at No. 3

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    1. Shane Victorino, RF (S)

    2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (R)

    3. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (L)

    4. David Ortiz, DH (L)

    5. Mike Napoli, 1B (R)

    6. Will Middlebrooks, 3B (R)

    7. Stephen Drew, SS (L)

    8. Jonny Gomes, LF (R)

    9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (S)

    Jacoby Ellsbury should be 100-percent healthy on Opening Day, so long as nobody lands on him or sneezes on him during a spring training bus ride.

    The last time Ellsbury was 100-percent healthy from the beginning to the end of a season, he compiled a .924 OPS, hit 32 homers, stole 39 bases and generally took baseball by storm.

    If Ellsbury reverts back to his 2011 form, the Red Sox will be wasting his abilities by keeping him in the leadoff spot. His power would be put to better use at a position where he'd come up with runners on base more often.

    The No. 3 spot would work. Victorino could take his place in the leadoff spot, in which case the Red Sox would hope that his OBP could climb back in the .350 range. Even if it stayed in the .320-.330 range, he could still give them 35-40 stolen bases and score 100 runs.

    Ellsbury and David Ortiz would form an elite middle-of-the-order duo if Ellsbury were to find his 2011 form again and Big Papi were to duplicate his 2012 success. One hang-up, however, is that Ellsbury turning the clock back to 2011 is certainly a big if. Another is that having two lefties back-to-back like that isn't the best idea.

    With that in mind, the best lineup for the Red Sox would be...

1. Dustin Pedroia at No. 3

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    1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (L)

    2. Shane Victorino, RF (S)

    3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (R)

    4. David Ortiz, DH (L)

    5. Mike Napoli, 1B (R)

    6. Will Middlebrooks, 3B (R)

    7. Stephen Drew, SS (L)

    8. Jonny Gomes, LF (R)

    9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (S)

    If the idea for a 3-4 combination is to go with your two best hitters, then a combination of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz is Boston's best option.

    Big Papi wouldn't need to adjust to batting cleanup on a regular basis, as it's something he's done before. Pedroia has never really served as a No. 3 hitter on a regular basis, but his numbers out of the No. 3 hole are strikingly similar to the numbers he's put up in his customary No. 2 spot.

    As a No. 2 hitter, Pedroia has a career slash line of .305/.374/.463. As a No. 3 hitter, he has a career slash line of .304/.356/.484. 

    Stashing Pedroia in the No. 3 hole and Ortiz in the cleanup spot would also give the Red Sox nice balance up and down their lineup. They'd have two speedsters at the top, power hitters behind Pedroia and Ortiz, and then a solid line-drive hitter in front of two power hitters at the bottom of their order.

    Also, there would only be one handedness repeat in the fifth and sixth spots, where Napoli and Middlebrooks would both take their cuts from the right side of the plate.

    This lineup wouldn't be that of the 1927 Yankees, to be sure. But with it, the Red Sox's offense could do some damage.

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