Constructing the best lineup to get to October

Boston Red Sox Adrian Beltre follows through on a grand slam against the Cleveland Indians during the fourth inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts August 5, 2010.  REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The Red Sox ended up splitting their four-game series in the Bronx Monday with a 2-1 win. While it was pitching that won the game, it was a small change in lineup construction that could pay dividends over the last two months, should it stick. However, along with hitting Ellsbury ninth, there are other ways to re-work the Red Sox lineup and maximize their run scoring potential

Marco Scutaro has done a fine job filling in as the leadoff hitter for the majority of the season and Dustin Pedroia may be back next week. Once Pedroia returns, his best fit would be at leadoff as he is second on the the Sox in OBP (just under Adrian Beltre, who’s OBP is mostly due to his AVG) and pitches per plate appearance (which comes into play later). Pedroia and Scutaro at the top of the order provide plenty of contact and good OBP. That, hopefully more often than not, sets the stage for Adrian Beltre–hitting third–to take the same approach he has all season and David Ortiz to swing for the fences in the cleanup spot.

Beltre has been the Red Sox best hitter this season and needs to be moved up in the lineup.

Ortiz has very much become a “Three True Outcomes” hitter. He seemingly either draws a walk, strikes out or hits a home run. Victor Martinez continues to hit in the middle of the order despite having lost significant power from a thumb injury. While Martinez has been a great hitter over his career, he’s simply not that hitter right now. Ortiz in the four-hole gives the Sox a premium power threat at to support the team’s best hitter, Adrian Beltre.

With Beltre and Ortiz hitting three and four the Sox essentially have two shots in a row to drive in the runners on base in front of them via an extra base hit. Beltre leads the team in SLG among regulars while Ortiz is second. Victor Martinez fits in well as the five-hole hitter as his approach is very contact oriented should the two sluggers fail to come through.

J.D. Drew is then a perfect fit in the six-hole. He can still drive the ball (.184 ISO) and get on base via the walk. Either way, there is a good chance that he has a productive at-bat. Should Drew not be in an RBI situation, he has at least an average chance to get on base, allowing the eventual seven-hole platoon of Carlos Delgado and Mike Lowell to simply do their thing at the plate without the day-to-day pressure of being a middle-of-the-order hitter.

At this point, the Sox would have solid OBP at the top, with Scutaro’s great contact skills in the two-hole, and two legitimate sources of extra base hits in the three and four spots. Victor Martinez and J.D. Drew both represent the upside to drive in runs, but also have a good chance to get on base in front of the Delgado/Lowell platoon.

The eight-hole then becomes the right spot to let Ryan Kalish settle in. His career minor league .372 OBP should start to translate, at least a little, once he gets comfortable as a big league regular. Even if he struggles he should provide good contact and speed that will serve as a prelude to Jacoby Ellsbury hitting ninth.

Ellsbury hasn’t quite settled in yet at the plate. While that’s understandable given his injury and lack of at-bats this season, we don’t know for sure that the .328/.355/.415 hitter we saw last season will indeed return. The truth is, Ellsbury needs some time to adjust and all the while hope that his rib injury doesn’t flare up again. The Sox can afford to deal with his ups and downs in the nine-hole, but not hitting leadoff.

In the nine-hole, Ellsbury won’t have the pressure of hitting leadoff, but after the first inning, he’ll have the opportunity to affect the game as a leadoff type.

If his four stolen bases Monday against the Yankees are any indication, Ellsbury should be a threat to run every time on base. This bodes well if he reaches base in front of Dustin Pedroia, who has seen an average of 4.33 pitches per at-bat this season, second on the Red Sox to Ortiz.

The way I see it, this proposed lineup would feature good OBP and contact at the top, the team’s best hitter in the three-hole, the team’s biggest home run threat in the four-hole, solid contact skills with home run/gap power potential at five and six, veteran (albiet rather old) run producers platooning in the seven-spot, a rookie with decent contact skills and good speed in the non-pressure eight-hole and an elite speed threat hitting ninth coming off of a fairly major injury.

The Proposed Lineup
Dustin Pedroia
Marco Scutaro
Adrian Beltre
David Ortiz
Victor Martinez
J.D. Drew
Carlos Delgado/Mike Lowell
Ryan Kalish
Jacoby Ellsbury

Until Pedroia comes back, continue to use Scutaro at leadoff and use Jed Lowrie in the two-hole and Drew there when Lowire is on the bench.

In my mind, this lineup maximizes the pieces the Red Sox have in order to create runs as they fight for a playoff birth these final two months.