Oct 26, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Daniel Nava (29) hits into a fielders choice scoring Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (not pictured) against the St. Louis Cardinals during the eighth inning of game three of the MLB baseball World Series at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
With the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury as the lead-off man for the Boston Red Sox, the top of the order will be significantly different than in years past. The Red Sox will no longer have a solid on-base option that can also steal 50+ bases, but that does not mean they will not have a solid option at the top of the order.
Now, it should be noted that I stand somewhere between a fan of sabermetrics and an old-school baseball mind, but either way, a good on-base is a must when a manager pencils in a lead-off man, which is why Daniel Nava should be that man for the Red Sox against right-handed pitchers this season.
Nava is properly part of a platoon, he is a switch hitter but is significantly better from the left side, and he can really hit right-handed pitching, his career average against righties is .292 with an OBP of .390. Nava will never steal many bags, he has a total of four in his whole career, but on a team that ranked second in all of baseball in 2013 in batting average, stealing bags are not a requirement to score runs. In fact, the two teams immediately behind the Red Sox in runs scored in 2013, the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals (also the final two opponents on Boston’s road to the World Series title), stole the fewest and second fewest bases in all of baseball respectively.
Those top three teams in runs scored also just happen to be the top three teams in on-base percentage. So, put Nava and his near .400 OBP at the top of the order when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound, and runs will be scored. This will also help remove the unfair comparison of Ellsbury to new center fielder, Jackie Bradley Jr., as they are two very different players. The one thing JBJ brings to the lineup that is similar to Ellsbury should be a high OBP, but he is not much of a base stealer, and never will be.
When there is a lefty on the hill, Nava will likely not be in the lineup, instead he will often be replaced by Jonny Gomes as part of the platoon. Those games Shane Victorino should bat lead-off, as he can put up both a good OBP and steal some bags. Hey, just because I said a lead-off guy doesn’t need to steal many bags doesn’t mean you can’t still have a guy up there that can.