The human heart is essential for life. It pumps blood through our system and without it, a person can’t live.
The same applies to the heart of a baseball order and a team’s success. A team could have a flailing heart that could lead to a dead offense, much like the Miami Marlins had last year with no-namers like Derek Dietrich, Marcell Ozuna, and Justin Ruggiano hitting in the heart of the order during parts of the year.
Or they could be like the Boston Red Sox who will once again have a heart that’s as potent as a decathlete’s. No cardiac arrest here. It’s a heart that is unrivaled in the AL East and it will fuel the team to another year of offensive success and a deep postseason run.
The Red Sox bring back their 3-4-5 combination from last year. Dustin Pedroia hit third in 147 games last season and he has settled in nicely in that spot after spending much of his early career hitting in the No. 2 spot. Pedroia has consistently put up solid contact numbers as he got a piece of 87.2 percent of the pitches he faced last season – 7th best in the AL. He also hit a respectable .296 last season from the three spot and those kind of numbers set things up perfectly for clean-up hitter David Ortiz.
Ortiz spent 121 of his 135 total games in 2013 from the clean up spot and to put it simply, he raked. He was the beat of the heart as evidenced by his phenomenal World Series performance when he hit .688 with two home runs. Ortiz proved once again that he has plenty left in the tank and his presence in the heart of the lineup gives the Red Sox a valuable edge over other teams.
Finally, Mike Napoli rounds out the heart with an extremely patient and disciplined approach to the plate that worked wonders for the Red Sox last season. Napoli hit in the No. 5 spot 84 times last season – most on the team – but he actually wasn’t that impressive from that spot. In fact, he hit better from the cleanup spot with a .942 OPS – over a 100 points better than his OPS from the five spot.
Napoli’s value comes in terms of taking pitches. He took 4.57 pitches per plate appearance last season – 0.28 pitches per plate appearance more than the next guy on the list, Adam Dunn.
Dunn took 0.28 pitches per plate appearance more than Ryan Zimmerman. However, there are also 32 other guys separating Dunn from Zimmerman. Napoli is at another stratosphere in terms of taking pitches and that patience pays off because it raises the pitch count for starting pitchers.
If the Red Sox took an EKG, it would show that they had healthy and boisterous heart. The combination of contact, power, and patience in the Red Sox heart of the order sets the tone for the rest of the lineup, but they have some competition in the AL East.
The New York Yankees are looking at a projected heart of the order featuring Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Alfonso Soriano. All three of these guys have hit clean up numerous times at one point of their careers and they will provide nightmares for pitchers throughout 2014.
However, it’s an aging heart. The Yankees’ heart is like a marathon runner who is in incredible shape, but let’s face it – he’s 55 years old and his body isn’t what it used to be. It breaks down more often. He doesn’t recover as quickly. He’s just old.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles have more punch in the middle of the order with Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Nelson Cruz. It’s young, powerful, and scary. The trio combined for 94 home runs last season and they will rival the Red Sox for the best 3-4-5 punch in the AL East.
Both of these hearts are significantly better than the Tampa Bay Rays, who are projected to have Evan Longoria, Wil Myers, and Matt Joyce hitting from the 3-4-5 spots. It’s a heart that can have some bursts, but it gets tired quickly. These three players have pop as they combined for 62 home runs last season, but none of them hit over .260.
Finally, the Toronto Blue Jays will sport Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and perhaps a platoon between Brett Lawrie, Melky Cabrera, and Adam Lind. Bautista and Encarnacion combined for 65 home runs last year and they should be able to provide more pop this year. However, the lack of an established No. 5 guy this year means that the Jays will do plenty of experimenting.
At the end of the day, the Red Sox have the most balanced heart of the order in the AL East. The Yankees are old, the Jays have question marks, and the Rays are fledgling. The Orioles will be extremely interesting but their success hedges on whether or not Davis can repeat his masterful performance from last season when he hit 42 home runs.