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What will the Red Sox’ lineup look like?

Jan 24, 2011, 11:04 AM EST

Pedroia fist pump

There’s nothing going on news-wise today, as every national sports writer is trying to figure out how to make a heroic “triumph over adversity” narrative out of Ben Roethlisberger.  Tall order, but I’m sure they can find a way to do it. Jason Whitlock will probably go there first. It ought to be fun to read.

In the absence of breaking news, Buster Olney’s musings on various team’s lineups today is worth a look.  He concentrates on four teams — the Phillies, Cardinals, Red Sox and Rays — who have some open questions about how to best structure the lineup heading into the season.  I find the Red Sox the most interesting because it reminds me most of playing 1980s-era computer simulation games in which you can totally stack your roster (I was always partial to the Lance Hafner simulations). Here’s Buster:

There is no definitive word on how the Red Sox are going to structure what should be a very deep lineup, but generally, a lot of the speculation has had Jacoby Ellsbury hitting leadoff, followed by Dustin PedroiaCarl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez. Given that Crawford has never liked leading off and would prefer to hit No. 2 or No. 3 — as he did with the Rays — it’s a natural thought to place Ellsbury in the leadoff spot.

I find lineup optimization to be a somewhat boring topic because no lineup tends to last much beyond the first week of the season. Guys get hurt. Others slump. Some managers can’t help but tinker.  But still: who is advocating for Ellsbury to bat leadoff?

Buster thinks — and I wholeheartedly agree — that Terry Francona should put Pedroia in the leadoff spot followed by Crawford, Youkilis, Gonzalez and Ortiz in some order or another.  Pedroia gets on base at a way, way better clip than Ellsbury, he’s coming off an injury that is way less likely to have messed with his hitting ability than Ellsbury’s and even if they’re both healthy and at their peak ability, it’s not like the Sox are going to be stealing tons of bases with the kind of firepower they have batting in the 2-5 slots.

Are Buster and I out to lunch here? Are there really a lot of people advocating for Ellsbury to lead off?  If so, why?

  1. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    I can’t imagine this all won’t be completely vetted out by the end of March. Either way you cut it, this line-up must be pretty tasty for Red Sox fans.

  2. phukyouk - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    “What will the Red Sox’ lineup look like?”

    a bunch of douchebags if you ask me.

    • Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:14 AM

      That was funny.

    • marshmallowsnake - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:44 AM

      He was not asking about the Yankees line-up.

      • phukyouk - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:01 PM

        WOW! I know you are but what am I comeback? well you are a poopy head.

      • BC - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:09 PM

        Perhaps he was talking about the Mets in general….

      • Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:29 PM

        YOUR FACE IS A POOPY HEAD.

  3. aburns77 - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    I have to agree with Craig, as much as Ellsbury profiles better as a leadoff hitter based on his skills, the guy doesn’t get on base enough to justify him hitting that high. the only problem with that lineup configuration is aside from leadoff there’s really not a great spot in the lineup that ellsbury would slide into; you put him in the 7th or 8th spot his speed is wasted, so really the only other logical spot is the nine hole where he can be a sort of second leadoff guy I guess.

    • JBerardi - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:52 AM

      “you put him in the 7th or 8th spot his speed is wasted,”

      What the hell kind of sense does that make? When’s a steal more valuable, when you’ve got Marco Scutaro trying to knock you in, or Adrian Gonzalez?

      This myth about needing to put fast guys at the top of the order needs to go away. It’s complete nonsense.

      • greggbo - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:07 PM

        JBerardi has it exactly right. The stolen base is most valuable
        a) when there are two outs
        b) when you have a hitter at bat with limited power

        Leadoff is the LEAST productive spot in the order for a base stealer. 7, 8 or 9 is leverages their skills much better.

        I like the lineup; I’d have it Pedroia, Crawford, Ortiz, Youk, Gonzalez. The third spot is the LEAST critical (again, contrary to baseball tradition).

      • The Baseball Idiot - Jan 24, 2011 at 1:24 PM

        Uh, thats not correct. Speed at the top of the order is important. If a leaderoff hitter gets on base (which he is supposed to do regardless of stolen base ability), and he has speed, he advances to third on singles and scores on doubles. A guy with no speed stops at second on singles and third on doubles.

        Don’t confuse speed with stolen bases. They are two different things entirely. Speed at the top of the order is very important.

        Having a guy who can steal bases in the lineup is important also, but he should hit where his steals would be maximized, not just at the top of the order if his OBP isn’t good enough.

        But speed it always important. Stolen bases aren’t.

  4. thinman61 - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    Ellsbury has 1229 career plate appearances in the leadoff slot, based no doubt on the promise of his speed. Pedroia has only 354 career PAs batting leadoff, and in that small sample size his OBP drops to .318 — below Jacoby’s. Pedroia’s highest OBP comes when he bats 2nd, where most of his plate appearances have been and the slot that he clearly prefers.

    • Lukehart80 - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:45 AM

      You pointed out yourself that Pedroia’s lead-off numbers come from “only 354 PAs,” isn’t that too small a sample size to draw any real conclusions from?

      • thinman61 - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:59 AM

        Absolutely. But in conjunction with Tito’s stated preference for having Ellsbury lead off, I’d say it puts the odds of Pedroia batting 1st on other than an occasional basis as somewhere between “slim” and “none”.

      • Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:16 PM

        Before I posted you clarified what you meant, and I wholly agree with you.

    • Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:06 PM

      I’m not sure 354 PAs stretching across several different seasons is that predictive. Heck, some of that was ’06, when he came up for a cup of coffee, and more still in ’07, where he still didn’t establish himself until May.

      If you’re going to take a sabermetric perspective, you’re probably going to conclude that Pedroia’s a better leadoff option than Ellsbury.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:15 PM

      Pedroia’s OBP from the cleanup spot is .652, so that is obviously where he should bat. In fact he is a .650/.652/1.150 hitter in the 4 hole, so he is clearly the best cleanup hitter on the team.

      23 PA’s is totally enough to get a sense of his true ability there. ;-P

      • Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:17 PM

        Love your SN.

  5. hermitfool - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    Willie Wilson was a similar player to Ellsbury. His best production came from batting in the 9th spot. Lead-off guys are guaranteed leading off an inning exactly once per game. A no-power guy who doesn’t walk much, but can steal bases always deserves a look in the 9th spot.

  6. BC - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    Seems simple enough to me:
    Ellsbury
    Crawford
    Pedroia
    Gonzalez
    Youkilis
    Ortiz
    Drew/Cameron
    (insert catcher here)
    Scutaro

  7. Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    I would go:
    1. Crawford
    2. Pedroia
    3. Gonzalez
    4. Youklis
    5. Ortiz
    6. Scutaro
    7. Drew
    8. Ellsbury
    9. Catcher Position

    I know Crawford didn’t like hitting lead-off but now that he has 100+ guaranteed he may be able to shrug the old shoulders and give it the college try. I understand why he felt that way before the contract (Lead-off hitters don’t usually bring in great RBI totals which can mean lots of $$$) but he got paid and is making a set amount of money for the next few years.

    • Mark - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:20 PM

      My lineup is very similar, but I’d probably flip Drew/Scutaro because I’d expect Drew to be a bit more productive. Either way, the best Red Sox lineup has CC/Pedroia/Gonzalez/Youk as the top 4 hitters.

  8. Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    It is a tough order, and fun to think about. I’d expect them to go with something like this:

    1. Ellsbury L
    2. Pedroia R
    3. Crawford L
    4. Youkilis R
    5. Gonzalez L
    7. Ortiz L
    6. Scutaro R
    8. Saltalamacchia S
    9. Drew L

    This fulfills the traditional “fast guy leads off” thing, keeps Crawford happy, and keeps the lefties mostly apart. Of course, Ellsbury “should” bat farther down, considering he’s really not that great at the plate, even if his baserunning makes up for it somewhat. And you could rearrange it to separate the lefties farther apart, but then you somewhat bury Ortiz.

    • Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:43 AM

      … except with the numbers in order.

      And I forgot to add that Lowrie’s a switch-hitter, and if he plays over Scutaro, you could slot him in 9th instead of 7th and thus avoid having the 9 and 1 hitters both being lefties.

    • BC - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:57 AM

      I probably would flip Scutaro and Drew, but I could live with that lineup.

    • Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:20 PM

      The Baseball Musings lineup tool says this is the most optimized lineup:

      1. Kevin Youkilis
      2. Adrian Gonzalez
      3. J.D. Drew
      4. David Ortiz
      5. Dustin Pedroia
      6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
      7. Carl Crawford
      8. Marco Scutaro
      9. Jacoby Ellsbury

      Obviously that has no chance of happening. And perhaps rightly.

      Plenty of lineups not far below that in run expectancy have Pedroia leading off, which most likely (but not definitely) means he’s the second best option to lead off.

      The worst possible lineup loses you a third of a run a game over the best, but that does lead to about 50 fewer runs over the course of the season, which is quite a lot.

      The lineup I listed above as the most probable lineup is about 13 runs worse over the course of the season than that extremely unlikely optimal lineup, which adds up to (I think) about 2.5 wins worse.

      • Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:26 PM

        One more thing (maybe). The worst possible lineups have Adrian Gonzalez batting third, which is directly against our traditional understanding but is intuitive if you think about it. The third spot in the batting order actually has very little leverage the first time through the batting order. The reason is that the third spot comes up rarely with two men on and never with three. Most likely, it’s either two men out and no one on (the least leverage possible) or one man on and one out, which is still not that much leverage. And the third spot never leads off an inning the first time through the order.

        Contrast that with the cleanup spot, which often either leads off an inning or comes up with multiple men on base. And, at least the first time through, never comes up with two men out and no one on.

  9. dalvo4 - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    “But still: who is advocating for Ellsbury to bat leadoff?”

    Hmm really Craig? I don’t know how about the manager of the team? Francona has consistently advocated for Ellsbury to lead off; Look at these comments as recent as 12/10/10 http://www.enterprisenews.com/sports/pros/x457322039/RED-SOX-NOTEBOOK-Healthy-Ellsbury-still-Francona-s-leadoff-hitter:

    About the last thing Red Sox manager Terry Francona ever wants to do is reveal a lineup, even a day prior to a game, so doing so four months prior to opening day is probably out of the question.

    But you can take one thing to the bank – if Jacoby Ellsbury is healthy, he’ll be the leadoff hitter of the Red Sox.

    “I think I’ve been pretty consistent all along,” said Francona at Fenway Park on Saturday. “Our best team is when Jacoby is hitting first. Is that Opening Day? Is it May 1st? Whatever is probably in his best interest ends up being in our best interest.

    “He missed pretty much the full year (2010). If he’s ready to do that, that’s great. If not, we can give him a little bit of a break and hit him down in the order a little bit. We’ve done that in the past and we can do it again. But I still think our best lineup is when he leads off.”

    I don’t know if I agree that the best lineup is with Ellsbury at the top but when the manager is advocating for it is is definatley a possibility/reality. i know Francona has made consistent comments along those lines throughout the past few years….

  10. dalvo4 - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    My guess is he doesn’t start the season at leadoff; but will eventually get moved there or have plenty oppurtunities to lead off.

    Francona loves lefty right lefty righty so I imagine that will continue.
    Crawford
    Pedroia
    Gonzo
    Youk
    Ortiz
    Dreq
    Scut
    Catcher
    Ellsbury

    Back in 2008 or 2009 Ellsbury batted 9th a bunch before moving to leadoff if I recall correctly.

  11. marshmallowsnake - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    I say:

    1. Pedroia
    2. Crawford
    3. Gonzales
    4. Youkilis
    5. Ortiz
    6. Drew
    7. Scutaro (or Ellsbury)
    8. Ellsbury (or Scutaro)
    9. Catcher who will be out of a job by June

  12. thejman11 - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    I’d go with:

    Crawford (L)
    Pedroia (R)
    Gonzalez (L)
    Youkilis (R)
    Ortiz (L)
    Lowrie (S)
    Drew (L)
    Saltamacchia (S)
    Ellsbury (L)

    Just have Francona tell Crawford that after his first AB of the game he no longer bats ‘lead off’ anymore and just pretend he’s batting at whatever spot he feels the most comfortable at. Lowrie batting 6th is more wishful/hopeful thinking that he can be both healthy and be given a real shot at beating out Scutaro in spring training. I really want Ellsbury at the 9 spot so like Buster said give the better hitters (Crawford, Pedroia, Gonzalez and Youkilis) more opportunities for at bats each game. Plus again after the first time through the batting order it it doesn’t make a difference who’s batting 1st or 9th.

    • Joe - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:22 PM

      +1 for putting Lowrie in there. He may not be the starting SS on opening day, but I bet he will be by the end of the year.

      • thejman11 - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:36 PM

        Yeah I agree with you, I think Francona is going to give the job to Scutaro out of ST but I think if Lowrie can stay healthy he will eventually play over Scutaro. Of course a lot also depends on Jose Igelsias’ performance in the minors. If he can show enough with his bat he’ll be up at some point next season too. Either way having Lowrie or Scutaro as a back up infielder is pretty good.

  13. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jan 24, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    But who will lead off for the Cubs?

  14. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jan 24, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    “Given that Crawford has never liked leading off and would prefer to hit No. 2 or No. 3…”

    I’m going to tell my boss I want a 9-figure raise, then tell him what I do and don’t like doing at the company. Let’s see how that goes.

    Suck it up and do what the manager tells you is best for the team. In the mean time, let’s all start speculating about what kind of douchey beard Crawford will grow to fit in with the clubhouse culture…

  15. spudchukar - Jan 24, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    I’ll opt for BC’s lineup. I pondered over this when they added Crawford, they do have a bit of a conundrum. I have argued for some time that Sabermetric reliance falls pretty short when addressing lineups, particularly when speed is analyzed. It fails to factor in defense realignment, pitch selection, pitch counts, lineup rollover, and the biggest factor of all games that it effects. I spent some time this weekend working on the last category, games that it effects. Here is what I mean. How many games are their in a season? I contend only about 40. No matter who you are you will win 60 and lose 60, leaving about 40 games between those teams that have the best and worst records. When viewed thusly, I contend the manufacture of runs becomes considerably more important. I know this is heresy to Sabermetric fanatics, but the argument has merit. As Billy Beane says his theories fail when it comes to playoff time. I suggest those 40 games are the ones most like playoff games.
    In this scenario, I would go with Ellsbury leading off maximizing his speed, which is more that just basestealing. For me the harder decisions lie at 2-3 and 4-5. Crawford at 2 takes advantage of the holes in the defense Ellsbury will create and gives him a greater opportunity to use his speed. Pedroia at 3 is problematic, but he is just to complete a player to be buried later so he gets the nod. I would probably go with Gonzalez at 4. Youkilis would probably adapt to number 5 easier and you would break going R/L/R/L in the heart with Ortiz at #6. Drew/Cameron, catcher and Scutaro round out the lineup.

  16. greggbo - Jan 24, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    Baseballidiot: Yes, speed is important at the top of the lineup. Pedroia has plenty of speed. But we have a guy who is likely to lead the league in stolen bases, and batting him at the bottom of the order will leverage more value out of those stolen bases than if he leads off.

    • spudchukar - Jan 24, 2011 at 3:27 PM

      There are so many factors you choose to ignore regarding base stealing speed at the top of the order and the impact that makes on the hitters behind him. I agree that many of those factors could be duplicated by having Ellsbury bat ninth with diminishing returns for 8th or 7th. This is where the difference in the two leagues is magnified. I contend there is a psychological factor that comes in to play here. Whether it is valid or not is a discussion for another time, but it is real and I suggest it can alter strategies, even in the previous inning. With Lowrie’s presence Scutaro probably doesn’t hit often in close games in late innings, whereas Ellsbury’s speed probably keeps him in the game.
      I would flip flop both Pedroia/Crawford and Gonzalez/Youkilis vs. lefties and possible even bench or put Ortiz in the 7 hole then.

      • Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 4:10 PM

        You can contend all you want, but the psychological component is observational bullshit. The pitcher isn’t watching the baserunner anywhere near as much as the batter is, and that’s upheld by the actual results on the field, not what Fired Joe Morgan says. Batters do WORSE in situations where someone’s trying to steal.

        The best times to have your basestealer on is in front of the lightest hitting players, because the value of a stolen base is far less when the guy behind you can hit a double or a homer.

      • greggbo - Jan 24, 2011 at 4:17 PM

        Ari, well statedt. Equally important is the number of outs. A runner on first with no outs usually scores, stolen base or no. A runner on first with two outs usually doesn’t score — but if he steals second, he dramatically increases the chance of scoring. And one player who gets the most at bats with the no one out is the leadoff batter.

      • Ari Collins - Jan 24, 2011 at 4:22 PM

        Oh, good point.

      • spudchukar - Jan 24, 2011 at 5:03 PM

        First I have a feeling we are discussing different psychological components. Second, if it is affectual, it is real. As I stated having Ellsbury hit ninth mitigates much of the speed argument, because many of the same factors come into play. But the fear of a big inning in the first is magnified by Ellsbury’s presence. And the fear of scratching out a run late with his speed also surfaces. I’m a National League guy so my view point is skewed, but pitchers these days are doing a much better job holding runners on than they used to. Meaning they are paying a lot of attention to them. The notion that hitters are paying more attention to runners has me puzzled. First off if you have ever hit you would realize it is impossible watch and hit at the same time. Utterly impossible. You may be able to take a pitch, if you see a runner breaking out of the corner of your eye, but that is the only option you have. Period. Of course hitters hit worse when runners are stealing, because they take pitches giving him the opportunity to steal thereby putting themselves in disadvantageous counts. A base stealer who steals early in the count is more dangerous for that reason, something current swipers seem to have forgotten.
        The batters do WORSE, argument is basically irrelevant when discussing hitting behind base stealers when factoring in defensive placement because it isn’t factored into the original statistical equation to begin with. So you are comparing apples and oranges. When sabermetrics becomes Dogma it suffers from the same deficiencies it was created to enlighten.

  17. theseaward - Jan 24, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    Barring big injuries the Red Sox make the playoffs. Wake me in October because this is going to be another boring baseball year.

  18. jwtski - Jan 25, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    I wrote and ran this through a simulator based on the past three years stats from mlb.com, including steals. I ran ten seasons of each of the 332,880 combinations collecting % of games with 4+ runs, % of games with 5+ runs and average runs scored per game. I then took the common batting orders between the top 10,000 lineups for each and played 100 seasons with each of the 2,161 lineups. A couple of interesting results:

    Not surprisingly, the bottom of the order is pretty obvious, from 6th on it’s clearly Ortiz, Drew, Scutaro and Saltalamacchia. They appeared that way in a plurality of the top batting orders.

    Excluding them from the first five positions, I ran 1,000 seasons each of the remaining 120 lineups.

    The optimal lineup, statistically, both in terms of games with 5+ runs and average runs per game is:

    Youkilis
    Crawford
    Ellsbury
    Pedroia
    Gonzalez
    Ortiz
    Drew
    Scutaro
    Saltalamacchia.

    Just to produce 4+ runs, it’s a little different:

    Pedroia
    Youkilis
    Crawford
    Ellsbury
    Gonzalez
    Ortiz
    Drew
    Scutaro
    Saltalamacchia

    Now I think I need to find vs lefties and righties stats…

    Let me know here if you think there’s a lineup that’s statistically better.

  19. ricenumber14 - Jan 26, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    The times when Tito used Pedey as the leadoff hitter, his #s were not good. He is an excellent #2 hitter and that is where Pedey should hit. Have Ells lead off, Pedey and then Crawford. If Ells does poorly, then change it up, but at least try it. Gonzo, Youk and Ortiz should be 4, 5 and 6 hitters.

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