Red Sox Leadoff Man Not Only Question


The Boston Red Sox have an interesting dilemma: who will be the leadoff man in the batting lineup?

Sportsnet Magazine, one of the top sports publications in Canada, recently released an article by Ben Nicholson-Smith that ranks the top ten best lineups in all of Major League Baseball. Arguably, the top five batters in any lineup are the most successful and they will carry the team to victory. “Using weighted on-base average (an offensive stat that weighs the value of each type of hitting outcome more accurately than traditional stats), projected for 2015 by a forecasting system called ZIPS,” Nicholson-Smith feels that the top ten are as follows:

1) Colorado Rockies

2) Detroit Tigers

3) Toronto Blue Jays

4) Milwaukee Brewers

5) Washington Nationals

6) Los Angeles Angels

7) Cincinnati Reds

8) St. Louis Cardinals

9) Pittsburgh Pirates

10) Boston Red Sox

At first glance, you can understand why Red Sox Nation would be happy with being in the top ten, as last season was one that the hitters, let alone the pitchers, want to forget. According to ESPN, the first Red Sox hitter to make the list for best OBP is David Ortiz, the not-exactly-lightning-fast designated hitter, at number 31. He also is the only one to crack the top 40 in that category. Not exactly sounding like a potent lineup, especially concerning the leadoff spot, as a man who hits runs home for a living got on base better than anyone else on his team in 2014.

However, looking more closely at Nicholson-Smith’s findings, there is one thing very noticeable that should concern Red Sox fans: his Red Sox leadoff spot is taken by Shane Victorino. Here is the breakdown of the numbers by batting order:

Lead-off: Shane Victorino – .316

Second: Dustin Pedroia – .324

Third: David Ortiz – .375

Fourth: Hanley Ramirez – .352

Fifth: Pablo Sandoval – .339

Regardless of the weighting method that Nicholson-Smith describes, the order is very problematic, to say the least. His forecast relies on the fact that a player coming off back issues last season, in the twilight of his career, would end up being the leadoff batter.

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Judging by these numbers, Victorino is the weakest batter to hit first, other than Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton, whom is reported to have a .304 wOBA. Yet, how is that fair to Victorino or the Red Sox? Victorino rehabbed his back and says that he will be going back to switch-hitting, something he had great success with in his career but gave it up last season. These two issues could greatly impact his numbers come this April, which should factor into these findings.

Another issue is the fact that the Red Sox have made no signs of putting Victorino into the leadoff role this season. If Mookie Betts, the young center fielder from Nashville, Tennessee does not get the role, all of the Boston faithful will be shocked. NESN baseball writer Ricky Doyle reported last Friday about the current lead-off situation: “At this point, Boston’s center field “competition” seems like anything but that. It would take a major turn of events for Betts not to be the Red Sox’s Opening Day center fielder and leadoff hitter, especially with Rusney Castillo’s status up in the air because of an oblique injury.”

Feb 24, 2015; Ft. Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino (18) is seen prior to workout drills at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The fact that Victorino isn’t even whispered in the competition for the spot leaves little argument about these lineup findings.

It will be interesting to see where each man ends up hitting in the lineup. Other than the leadoff role, Nicholson-Smith’s lineup looks pretty accurate. Pedroia led the team in hits (153) and batting average (.278) last season, making him a solid second hitter, if the leadoff gets out first. Ortiz is Big Papi. Who is going to tell him that he can’t hit third, after leading the Red Sox in home runs (35), RBIs (104), and OBP (.355)? Then Ramirez’s offensive numbers and Sandoval’s three World Series rings in five years speak for themselves.

So, at the end of all of this debate, being leadoff is the least of Victorino’s concerns. He has to worry about being in the lineup at all. Likely, he will be in the seven-spot, with Mike Napoli (remember him?) also giving some power to the batting order. Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez bringing up the rear, with Bogaerts maybe in the nine-hole to give Betts someone to move around the bases.

On paper, the Red Sox could have the most potent offence from spots one to nine in all of baseball, if each ball-basher plays to his potential. Whatever the case, however, Victorino’s days of leading off, barring any major injuries, seem to be over. Even if Betts and Castillo get hurt, manager John Farrell also has Brock Holt sitting on the bench. The spark plug from last season is just one more hurdle for Victorino if that situation occurs.