Mike Aviles Could Solve Red Sox Lead Off Dilemma


Right from the outset of camp manager Bobby Valentine said he would have numerous different lineups throughout the course of the year and so far this spring he has lived up to that promise.  Then on Tuesday in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Valentine fielded what could resemble his lineup on April 5th. Leading off for the Red Sox in that game was newly crowned everyday shortstop, Mike Aviles, who Valentine can see handling the role in the number one slot, potentially ending the Sox dilemma of where to put Jacoby Ellsbury and who to bat first.

When looking at whether or not Aviles would even qualify as a lead off hitter, it is intriguing what his numbers behold.

His best season was in 2008 when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.  That year Aviles had a line of .325/.354/.480/.833 with 10 home runs and 51 RBI, all career highs.  These numbers were created by having 441 plate appearances.

The next best offensive year for Aviles was in 2010 putting up similar numbers to his rookie year: .304/.335/.413/.748 to go with 8 homers and 32 RBI.  Once again he had over 400 plate appearances, topping out at 448.

His two down years in terms of production, one with Kansas City in ’09 and the other last season that was split between the Royals and Red Sox, could point to the fact that he didn’t get the playing time in.  The 2009 season he had just 127 plate appearances, while last year he combined for 309.  Interesting to note that when he came to Boston he had 107 plate appearances and produced a .307 BA, .340 OBP and a .775 OPS.

The correlation?  More at bats for Aviles means more production.  And what better way to give him additional at bats then to hit lead off.  This spring is proving that exact fact.  Aviles has been one of the more consistent bats for the Sox this March, hitting .313, a SLG of .500 and an OPS of .813.

But that position isn’t just about getting base hits.  It’s about getting on base by any means necessary, something that Aviles needs to improve on.  His highest walk total was in 2010 and he walked just 20 times and so far this spring he has yet to take a walk. When compared to other great lead off hitters, this is one area that the 31-year old New York native will have to improve upon to become an above average lead off guy.

Jacoby Ellsbury comes to mind when thinking of exceptional, top of the order batters.  Last season he walked 52 times, 49 in 2009 and 41 in 2008.  Ichiro is another classic example of a great lead off batter and he consistently walks between 40 and 60 times in a season as does Derek Jeter, if not more. When healthy Brian Roberts is good for 80+ walks when batting first while Jimmy Rollins averages 50 free passes in a year.

So in order for Aviles to be most effective when leading off he needs to become more patient at the plate, waiting for his pitch that he can either drive or take the walk and allow the heart of the order do the damage.

Writing in the name Mike Aviles at the top of the lineup card does make sense for the Red Sox, providing Jacoby Ellsbury can produce similar power he found last season and Dustin Pedroia nestles nicely into the number two slot.

Should this scenario play out the real interesting dilemma will be when Carl Crawford returns.  If Aviles finds success at the top Crawford could find himself batting seventh in the lineup and we all know how much he needs to have confidence before he’s comfortable.  Batting in the bottom part of the lineup won’t exactly do that for CC.

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