Offseason: Lineup analysis

Perhaps the number one complaint from Red Sox fans this season was the lack of offense and comeback victories. It’s true, there were times when the offense struggled a lot, but we still made out pretty darn good. We ranked 3rd in the AL and 4th among all teams with 867 runs scored in the regular season. And as the postseason proved, we can plate a lot of runs when everyone gets going.

Here’s a first look at the batting order for 2008:

Locked in

1. Dustin Pedroia, 2B. [R]
This year’s AL Rookie of the Year (I’m projecting here) really broke through for the Red Sox. As he has his whole baseball career, he’s outplayed his size and others’ expectations. In his first full season for Boston, he hit .317/.380/.442 despite a woeful .182/.308/.236 April start, and managed a .393 OBP from the leadoff slot, no easy task. Pedey is a pretty good fastball hitter, and hit .343/.403/.500 against “power” pitching. He saw 3.80 pitches per plate appearance, which is not bad, but not ideal for what the Sox would like in their leadoff man. His aggressive approach would be more suitable in the 7th or 8th slot in the order, but for now he’ll be working on plate discipline a little more in 2008. I’d expect something of a sophomore slump for him, but not by much. Pedroia hit extremely well at Fenway this season (.351/.410/.502).

2. Kevin Youkilis, 1B. [R]
One of the most flexible hitters in the game, Youkilis can and has hit all over the Red Sox lineup. He hit .305/.414/.492 in the two hole this season in 256 AB. He showed this postseason that he’s learning how to drive plate-in pitches out of the park, so I see his power numbers increasing next season. If Jacoby Ellsbury picks up where he left off in 2007, I could see Youk moving down to 5th or 6th in the order, depending on who’s manning 3rd base in 2008. Known for his plate discipline and long at-bats, Youkilis saw 4.27 pitches per plate appearance in 2007 (though that’s his lowest mark in the bigs by far). Youk has shown a tendency to be a first-half player, but it’s only been two seasons, so I wouldn’t pigeonhole him just yet. We can say he’s a little streaky.

3. David Ortiz, DH. [L]
You just can not say enough about Big Papi. You think he had a down year? This 31-year old led the AL in extra base hits (XBH) with 88, the same number as he had in 2005. And that’s with a bum knee and every team using the overshift against him. Ortiz is still crafting his art, proven by his astounding increase in OBP and equivalent average year by year. He’s also seeing more pitches than ever before with Boston, with 4.10 per plate appearance in 2007. He hits everyone and in every situation. Against lefties? .308/.390/.462. With men on base? .367/.479/.664. The third time he faces any pitcher in a game, he’s hitting a downright frightening .377/.454/.728. His career numbers in 189 postseason AB: .317/.418/.587. His numbers will be back next season: 40 HR, 130 RBI.

4. Manny Ramirez, LF. [R]
This season was a disappointment by Manny standards, but the 35-year old Ramirez still hit .296/.388/.493 with 20 HR and 88 RBI. Because he only played in 133 games, Ramirez missed 100 RBI for the first time since 1997, with Cleveland. This marks the second straight season in which he’s had to miss about a month at the end of the season due to some nagging injuries. He’s getting up there in years, and we may have to just accept that he’ll be limited to perhaps 130-140 games per season from now on. But as he demonstrated in the postseason, Ramirez is still one of the best pure hitters in the game today.

It’s nice to have the whole top four slots sewn up. Why do I have Pedroia batting leadoff when Jacoby Ellsbury looks like he could start next season? Because of the way Terry Francona works. The guy is methodical and conservative almost to a fault, and he will not ask Ellsbury to lead it off from the get go, not when this setup worked so well this season.

In flux

5. Mike Lowell, 3B [R] (if re-signed). Possibly J.D. Drew, RF [L] or an offseason acquisition.
Lowell had a phenomenal season in batting average and RBI, but otherwise was not as impressive statistically. He’s a smart player who has learned to use Fenway Park’s Green Monster to his full advantage, as he hit .373/.418/.575 at home and only .276/.339/.428 on the road. A good percentage of his HRs this year were Monster shots, which could be flyball outs in another park, so he’s really a doubles hitter at this point in his career. He looked at 3.80 pitches per plate appearance, which is pretty good patience for a five man. However, his GB/FB ratio has risen in the past two years, and he’s hit into a lot of double plays, 22 in 2006 and 19 in 2007.

6. J.D. Drew, RF [L].
For all the complaining of Red Sox Nation, Drew was actually an above-average bat for the Red Sox in 2007, with an OPS+ of 105. After the All-Star Break, he hit .286/.379/.462, which is more indicative of his career stats. Drew played in 140 games this year, which was a major concern upon signing him, and actually did a pretty decent job in the five hole, hitting .291/.398/.454 in 337 AB. He will have to improve against lefties, after hitting just .224/.285/.353 off of them this season, or else he’s an EXTREMELY expensive platoon player. He also hits a lot of ground balls, and hit into 12 double plays this season.

7. Jason Varitek, C [S].
The Captain’s swing is visibly slowing down, yet he was still able to post a .255/.367/.421 line this season, slightly above average for a catcher. Tek had quite a few key base hits, and manged to play 131 games at age 35, though his second half was pretty miserable, at .225/.366/.398. It’s getting tougher for the aging catcher to grind out a whole season, and the Sox need to be training an eventual successor next season. He saw 4.12 pitches per PA this year, showing excellent patience, a hallmark of this ballclub.

8. Julio Lugo, SS [R].
Lugo is coming off of the worst season of his career, so it can only improve from here. Even with the bad year, he showed his ability to drag bunt several times this season, and his speed is an asset to the club in avoiding double plays and putting pressure on the basepaths. I was also impressed that he did not pout over being dropped in the order for a rookie. Lugo hit pretty well at Fenway this year (.286/.350/.395), but looked like a minor leaguer everywhere else (.190/.241/.306).

9. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF [L] or Coco Crisp, CF [S].
I wouldn’t say that anything is written in stone yet, but Coco’s tradeable contract is about to be traded. The Sox could use a veteran pitcher to bolster the rotation, or a veteran for the bullpen. Ellsbury has given every indication that he is ready to take over in 2008, though I wouldn’t expect him to repeat that .353/.394/.509 line.

Given Manny’s decline in production and Tek’s age, the Sox would do well to either re-sign Lowell or pick up a power bat (preferably right-handed) for the middle of this lineup. I don’t advocate spending $30M/year on A-Rod, especially since Scott Boras wants a team that will sign him into his 40s. He’s not worth that much now, why would you want to pay him that much when he’s declining? If they end up having to move Youk back to third, I could see the Sox taking a chance on a player like Kansas City’s Ryan Shealy, whom Theo has targeted in the past.


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