While Justine DeCotis will be providing more detail on the Opening Day lineup in today’s Game Thread, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment the lineup’s interesting omission. As reported by Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, here is the batting order Terry Francona will be sending out today.
Have you figured out who’s missing from the lineup? If you guessed J.D. Drew, you’re absolutely correct.
Before the irrational Drew haters put on their party hats and start dancing in the streets (the embarrassing “white-man overbite” and all), I need to point out two things. One, while Opening Day lineups have meaning to some people; in the grand scheme of things, they’re no more meaningful than the lineups for Game 2, Game 3, etc. Managers design lineups with the intent to put his team in the best possible position to win today, which helps in baseball spreads. In the case of today’s game, he feels playing Cameron, not Drew, puts the Red Sox in that position. (More on that in a second.) Furthermore, we shouldn’t view this as the Red Sox declaring Cameron as their starting right fielder. I’m sure some will try to put some sort of spin on the situation by claiming there’s a “controversy,” but nothing could be further from the truth. J.D. is their every day right fielder. End of story.
Secondly, Francona appears to have made this decision purely based on matchups. With the Rangers sending LHP C.J. Wilson to the hill this afternoon, Francona decided to use the platoon advantage in his favor by starting the right-handed Cameron over the lefty Drew. Additionally, as noted in Abraham’s piece, Drew hasn’t had much success against Wilson during his career. Considering the platoon advantage Cameron provides and Drew’s historical struggles against Wilson, the decision seems pretty cut and dry. Right?
Peter Abraham thinks so. Here are his thoughts on the situation.
“That’s a proactive Opening Day lineup by Terry Francona as J.D. Drew sits against C.J. Wilson. Drew is 1 for 6 against Wilson. Cameron is 0 for 3 but at least is righthanded. Lefties hit .144 with a .400 OPS (yes, .400) against Wilson last season.”
With all due respect to Abraham, I don’t see how Drew’s 1 for 6 record against Wilson should have any bearing on whether or not he should hit in today’s lineup. You can’t determine a hitter’s future performance against a particular pitcher based on just six at bats. The sample size is way too small.
Still, since we’re on the subject small sample sizes and pitcher/batter matchups, I should probably share that David Ortiz is 0 for 10 with six strikeouts against Wilson. While Ortiz’s showing is equally as meaningless as Drew’s, isn’t Ortiz’s performance decided worse? At least Drew has recorded a hit against Wilson, which is something Ortiz has not done. If we’re going to make the assumption that Francona made his decision, at least in part, based on pitcher/batter matchup stats, wouldn’t it make more sense to sit Ortiz?
Furthermore, as I mentioned in my first piece for Fire Brand, Ortiz has proven time and again that he can’t hit lefties. This isn’t an opinion. It’s not up for debate. It’s a fact. As a reminder, here’s how Ortiz performed against lefties and righties over the past three seasons.
————— —– PA wOBA wRAA BB K LD% GB% FB%
2008 v LHP 121 .321 -0.7 14 19 17.2 36.8 46.0
2008 v RHP 370 .388 18.3 56 55 19.4 36.4 44.2
2009 v LHP 188 .310 -2.9 19 44 10.6 43.9 45.4
2009 v RHP 439 .356 9.9 55 90 20.3 27.1 52.6
2010 v LHP 200 .268 -8.5 13 57 18.0 46.1 35.9
2010 v RHP 406 .439 38.4 69 88 17.0 33.6 49.4
Obviously, Ortiz hits significantly better against righties; his performance against lefties has gone from marginally acceptable in 2008 to an abomination in 2010. In a perfect world, he’d be platoon player.
And what about Drew?
————— PA wOBA wRAA BB K LD% GB% FB%
2008 v LHP 74 .402 5.8 18 25 20.0 52.0 24.0
2008 v RHP 294 .398 20.8 61 55 18.1 39.9 42.0
2009 v LHP 113 .382 5.9 19 36 21.8 43.6 34.6
2009 v RHP 338 .398 23.3 63 73 19.2 38.0 42.9
2010 v LHP 149 .280 -5.6 19 44 15.1 45.3 39.6
2010 v RHP 329 .376 16.6 41 60 17.0 44.1 38.9
In 2008 and 2009, Drew hit beautifully against lefties, posting .402 and .382 wOBAs respectively. While I’d caution against taking too much stock in those sample sizes, these statistics clearly show that over the past three seasons, Drew has had far more against like handed pitching than Ortiz. Even if we were to look at last season when both players performed poorly against LHP, Drew was slightly better.
So why does Drew fall victim to the platoon and not Ortiz? As Charlie and I have both previously discussed, Ortiz’s long-term contributions to the Red Sox outweigh that of J.D. Drew. Sure, Drew provided a few clutch hits during the 2007 and 2008 playoffs (as well as his irreplaceable performance in June 2008 while Ortiz was hurt), but David Ortiz is “Mr. Clutch.” He’s a Boston sports hero—an institution, if you will. The general rule of thumb is that you don’t bench living legends while they’re still productive. Based on his 2010 season stats, he still looks like a productive hitter—even though we know he couldn’t hit lefties if his life depended on it. This is especially true on Opening Day. As a result, even though Drew’s not only out-performed Ortiz against LHP, but also out-produced him by a healthy 11.4 to 6.1 WAR margin over the past three seasons, he will be the one to sit against C.J. Wilson.
As an addendum to this story, Mike Vega of the Boston Globe asked Drew for his opinion about riding the bench on Opening Day.
“I talked to Tito and he asked my feelings on it,” he said. “Listen, I’ve played long enough and I understand that Opening Day is a great day, a lot of fun, the festitivities and a chance for everybody to work into a new season. But, ultimately, it’s a very magnified day in the scheme of a long, long season and that’s what I kind of reflected on when I talked to him about it.
“I told him, `In my opinion, I’m one of the pieces that fit as part of this team and you’re the guy who has to put it all on the field, so whatever you want to do, I’m OK.’ He said, `If C.J. weren’t throwing, I wouldn’t normally buy you a day,’ but I said, `Hey, if that’s the case, we got some good guys. Cam’s going to able to fit right in there. I’ll be ready at some point during the game to chip in and if not, I’ll be ready to go the next day.’
“I just put the ball in his park and let him know that I wasn’t the kind of guy who was going to blow up and look at it as a slight, by no means.”
Not surprisingly, Drew showed a great deal of grace and class in his response. Rather than complain about a less than optimal situation (*cough* Michael Young *cough*), he’s taking it in stride. That’s called leading by example.
*”baseball spread” link was compensated for.