Thoughts on the Opening Day Lineup

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.

Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Carl Crawford LF
Kevin Youkilis 3B
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
David Ortiz DH
Mike Cameron RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Marco Scutaro SS

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.

Categories: Boston Red Sox David Ortiz J.D. Drew

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

8 Responses to “Thoughts on the Opening Day Lineup” Subscribe

  1. jvwalt April 1, 2011 at 7:53 AM #

    When asked about the decision, Francona said, "I just thought J.D. could use a day off."

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    (As for Michael Young, his situation really isn't comparable. He's been through multiple permanent position shifts, played his best, and continued to be a productive hitter. His reward: a demotion to supersub and an offseason of trade rumors. I think I'd be a little unhappy, too.)

    • Troy Patterson April 1, 2011 at 8:19 AM #

      Well I just wrote a whole response to this, but the spam filter ate it.

      Anyway. Young is really, really bad on defense. In 2004-2007 only Manny Ramirez was worse in total UZR.

      Even at 3B he has been one of the worst 20 defenders in total UZR.

      His career WAR is only 25.6, but if he had been a neutral/average defender his WAR would be over 77 making him a HoF candidate. (I didn't account for position adjustment if he stayed at SS either meaning it would be near 80)

    • Chip Buck April 1, 2011 at 8:30 AM #

      @jvwalt – LOL at the Drew comment. I love Drew, but it still made me laugh.

      As for Michael Young, I wholeheartedly agree with Troy. The reason Young has been through multiple position changes is because he's proven time and again that he's unfit to play defense at even a league average level. Furthermore, he's not so much of a supersub as he is the Rangers starting DH.

      As for the trade rumors, it is what it is. Players deal with trade rumors all of the time without throwing public temper tantrums like MY. My biggest problem with MY is that he's considered to be a team leader, yet he's exhibited decidedly non-leader qualities on numerous occasions. Real leaders realize that you not only keep personal frustrations in house, but also do whatever it takes to make the team better. If that includes changing positions and/or getting few PAs, then so be it. Instead, Young has taken a "me first" attitude on multiple occasions.

      Despite what MY might think, he's not an elite level player anymore–in fact, it's debatable that he ever really was (factoring in defense). In three out of the past four seasons, wRAA has shown Young to be slightly above average offensively (per raw wRAA). After adjusting those numbers for park and league factors, he was actually a below average offensive threat in 2008, and very slightly above average in 2007 and 2010.

      Considering his recent performance (2009 not withstanding), Young should be grateful he has $48M he has coming to him over the next three years. Quite frankly, he probably only deserves 60% of that.

  2. Troy Patterson April 1, 2011 at 7:56 AM #

    I also heard somewhere that Tito mentioned this might be something he tries to do against hard throwing lefties. Not sure what data he has for that reasoning, but could reason why Drew sits against Wilson.

    I would honestly think about sitting Drew and Ortiz today. Get Cameron and Lowrie in the game and then you can bring in Ortiz or Drew as soon as Wilson is out if needed.

    Lowrie has killed LHP so far in his small major league sample, but I'm sure this would cause unbelievable pouting from Ortiz, so we know it won't happen.

    • Chip Buck April 1, 2011 at 8:21 AM #

      @Troy – I wouldn't have any problem with both sitting today. My issue is that lefty/lefty rule isn't being applied consistently. While I'm not convinced Drew can't hit lefties anymore, I wouldn't have any problem with Lowrie starting.

    • Charlie Saponara April 1, 2011 at 9:28 AM #

      I completely agree with you Troy. Putting both Cameron and Lowrie in there makes perfect sense. However, I don't think there was any way the Tito was going to sit Ortiz on opening day due to his stature with the team and fans.

      It'll be interesting to see how it plays out tonight.

      • Darryl Johnston April 1, 2011 at 9:34 AM #

        Ortiz – 1-3 HR, RBI, BB, 2 SO

        :)

  3. Gerry April 2, 2011 at 8:39 AM #

    Well neither Cam nor Big Papi made a difference in this one. It was all about the pitching … and I imagine someone on some blog somewhere wants to trade Lester and Bard, and Crawford. Wasn't Napoli a subject of trade to the Sox? Wasn't Nellie Cruz under-rated again? Aren't these wrenches the constants that will always mess up the machinations of projections?