photo © 2008 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)While adding the two best hitters this offseason the Red Sox also entered the season with an abundance of left handed hitters. This could cause problems in 2011 if not handled properly and so far I don’t think it has been. First I’m going to look at setting the best lineup and then the best “platoons” to get the most out of our options.
While we have some of the best lefties in baseball in the lineup we also bring a big weakness. While most right handers hit lefties better they need to hit right handers well enough since that is what they mainly face. Left handers just need to be best against the right handed pitchers. In 2010 the league splits looked like this in tOPS*:
RHB vs RHP: 95
RHB vs LHB: 106
LHB vs RHP: 104
LHB vs LHP: 88
*tOPS is the split relative to the players actual OPS. So right handers hit lefties 11 percent better than they did against right handers.
This shows that left handers on average in 2010 would hit 16 percent worse against lefties than righties. This is a large difference compared to the split seen by righties. This shows us that counting on five left handers regularly against left handed starters is not the best idea.
First I ran the Lineup Analyzer at Baseball Musings and found based on the Oliver projections for OBP and SLG the best lineup is as follows:
This lineup would total around 5.685 runs per game or 920 runs in a full season. That is a long way from the lineup we have or will ever see the 2011 Boston Red Sox send out on to the field. We can be pretty sure the lineup will stick as it is or something close to it. Even the worst lineup the analyzer could calculate would score 5.419 runs per game or 877 runs for the season. Not a huge change and the current lineup would be in there somewhere between the two.
Regardless of the lineup we will have at least five lefties in the lineup most night and based on Tito’s choice on opening day they will switch only one lefty out against left handed pitching. Is this the best way and who should sit the most? I’m not going to leave any lefty out of this although I know it’s unlikely the big money guys sit more than a few games to stay rested.
Here is the tOPS splits for each of the left handed hitters based on career OPS:
Name vs Lefty vs Righty
Crawford 108 79
Gonzalez 110 80
Drew 108 77
Ortiz 111 73 (174/36 in 2010!)
Ellsbury 98 103
I had to look at this a few times, but Ellsbury has been better against lefties so far in his career although in only 418 plate appearances. There is no reason right now to look at Ellsbury as a player to sit against lefties.
The rest of the lineup looks like a fairly large, but similar split except Ortiz. In his career he has been 38 percent better against righties, but that has gotten worse in the past few years and 2010 was amazing. He hit 138 percent worse against left handers. This was in 200 PA, so probably exaggerated, but still concerning. Something to remember here is even though these hitters look worse against lefties this is compared to their own average. In 2006 Ortiz had a tOPS split of 107/87, but his 87 tOPS was still a solid OPS of .988.
Based on his 2010 I would say it’s time to sit Ortiz against lefties. I know this is a tough topic especially after hitting a home run off of a lefty on opening day, but Ortiz combined with a solid righty platoon in 2010 would have combined to be on of the best stat lines in the AL. The choice to bat for Ortiz for me is Jed Lowrie.
In his oft injured and hampered career Lowrie has killed lefty pitching in 197 PA. His tOPS split is 76/147 with an OPS of .907 against left handed pitchers. This has flexibility as well as Lowrie could take any infield position and allow that player to take a day at DH.
Based on tOPS I don’t see an obvious player to “platoon”, but looking at career OPS Gonzalez and Drew have been solid against lefties with .783 and .793 respectively. While not atrocious Crawford has the lowest OPS against left handers at .695.
While this roster based on projections should score 5.4-5.6 runs a game we should be putting the best team out there each chance we can. Unless they see something that Ortiz has found his bat against left handers I would think the best lineup uses Lowrie and Cameron in place of Ortiz and Crawford.
Let’s be honest though. The team will not do this as Ortiz can be touchy when it comes to playing time and the team(mainly ownership) considers him a hero who will get what he requests. At the same time Crawford cost the Red Sox a lot of money and fans will surely be raising a lot of questions if he starts sitting against left handers each time.
Tito took the easy way in game one and three by sitting the fan goat in J.D. Drew. There won’t be a lot of question or complaints from most fans when it comes to this move. Cameron for Drew does make the lineup stronger, but I think we can say for sure it’s not the best lineup we could create.