The Red Sox have accumulated so much talent this offseason that they have a problem. OK, so it’s a good, nay, GREAT problem to have. How does Terry Francona fill out his opening day lineup card and keep things balanced? The Sox have five left-handed hitting starters of their nine lineup spots.
A healthy Jacoby Ellsbury should get a chance to hit lead-off (since Crawford, who is the better fit there, doesn’t want to lead-off) and he would likely be followed up by the left-handed hitting Crawford. While Crawford has had a bit less success in his career against left-handed pitching, Ellsbury has fared much better. In 403 career at-bats against left-handed pitching, Ellsbury has compiled a .307 AVG, a .359 OBP and a very good 19.3 percent line drive rate. That’s even better than what he has done against right-handed pitching (.285 AVG, .339 OBP and 18.5 percent line drive rate).
Because Ellsbury has no big issues against lefties, hitting him and Crawford one and two won’t be an issue, even late in games against a LOOGY.
In a perfect world, Adrian Gonzalez would be the number three hitter, but there are two problems with that. First, where else would Dustin Pedroia hit? He’s not a prototypical four or five hitter and, besides, those spots are much better fits for Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. The second problem is that Adrian Gonzalez has had some splits against left-handed pitching for the most part in his career. A-Gone did hit .335 against lefties in 2010, but it was the first season (of over 100 at-bats) in which Gonzalez had hit over .300 against lefties. If A-Gone regresses a bit against lefties in 2011, the Sox would be a bit susceptible to the good left-handed starters and LOOGY’s of the league with Crawford and Gonzalez hitting back-to-back.
Pedroia needs to hit third, which pushes A-Gone to fourth. In this scenario, the Sox lineup would feature three left-handed hitters in the first four lineup spots.
Youkilis, in this scenario, fits nicely into the five hole followed by David Ortiz. Who hits after Ortiz? The first name that comes to mind is J.D. Drew, but his decline against lefties last season is a definite worry heading into 2011. If Drew can’t bounce-back against left-handed pitching, he’d be part two of back-to-back lefties with split issues. It has been three years since Big Papi has had much success against lefties, hitting .212 in 2009 and .222 last season with only eight home runs combined. I think it’s safe to say that if Drew continues to struggle against lefties, Mike Cameron, say hello to playing time.
The bottom line is that while the Sox are a bit left-handed heavy, it shouldn’t be a problem in a short series. Over the long-haul of a baseball season, teams will face more righties than lefties. It’s more of a playoff scenario (a short series with everything on the line) in which their left-handed heaviness would come into question. As stated earlier, the fact that Ellsbury is a career .307/.359 hitter against lefties makes this lineup work. By the time the Sox make the playoffs (it would be a disastrous season if this didn’t happen) they’ll have addressed the Drew/Cameron split. Plus, if all else fails between those two, they have the outfielders in the minors who could realistically fill in seamlessly.
Go ahead Tito, stack those lefties up! Just do it as described above…please 🙂