Nation Station: The lineup shuffle


Nation Station: The lineup shuffle

By Bill Chuck
Special to

If you got all the stuffAnd you can't get enough Then line up-- Aerosmith

So far, nobody on the 6-11 Sox has had it easy, including manager Terry Francona. In this young season, Francona has now used 15 different starting lineups in the first 17 games which puts him on the type of pace he had last year as he patchworked through injuries. Lets not even think of what might happen if some players actually do get injured.

Take a quick glance at the number of different lineups used by Francona over the years:

Year of Lineups
2004 141
2005 104
2006 116
2007 109
2008 131
2009 113
2010 143
2011 15

Why has it been so difficult to have a set lineup this season?

What would your Sox lineup look like?

Here are some factors to consider:

The 0-6 start had everyone pressing and while panicking would be too strong a word, Theos pep talk when the team returned home from the first road trip was meant to say take a deep breath, do what you do and focus.

Big stars, big contracts, big expectations. Some players do really well after they have signed a big new contract. They feel relaxed and are able to exceed beyond the high expectations that are the unwritten clauses in their contracts. Others feel the need to over-perform and feel even greater pressure. We have not yet seen the best of Carl Crawford, hitting .149 with two steals or Adrian Gonzalez who is hitting .277 but with just one homer and eight RBI.

Lefties. If there is a fly in the ointment of this team it is the predominance of left-hand batters: Crawford, Gonzalez, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Opposing managers know that as well as the Sox have faced nine lefty starters this season, including seven in their last nine games.

How have the Sox fared so far against lefties?

vs LHP as RHB 167 146 20 39 6 0 8 20 20 31 .267 .359 .473 .832 .290
vs LHP as LHB 136 121 13 27 3 1 2 13 12 31 .223 .309 .314 .623 .284
vs LHP 303 267 33 66 9 1 10 33 32 62 .247 .337 .401 .737 .287
as RHB 274 236 32 57 13 0 9 32 34 49 .242 .344 .411 .755 .270
as LHB 369 326 40 77 11 3 8 39 36 69 .236 .321 .362 .683 .276

From the chart above you can see that the lefty batters are only hitting .223 with two homers and 13 RBI against lefty pitchers. Overall, all the lefties on the team, and that includes the switch-hitting catching duo of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek, is hitting just .236 with eight homers and 39 RBI.

Since we just brought up the catching, how is the two-headed SaltaTek doing? Actually not particularly well. Combined they are hitting .143 with no homers and five RBI. Salty is up to .194, but the Captain has started the season 1-for-20 and is hitting .050.

But catchers are not paid just to hit (certainly not on this squad). The Sox catchers are the on-field pitching coaches and one of the primary reasons for the rocky Sox start has been inconsistent pitching.

So how are the pitchers doing with each catcher, you ask?

Saltalam. 12 92.0 7.14 420 368 75 106 31 5 19 14 6 45 68 1.51 .288 .925
Varitek 8 54.0 2.50 212 191 15 36 3 0 4 6 2 16 46 2.88 .188 .536
Start by looking at the ERA of each catcher for their pitchers and you can see that Saltalamacchia and his pitchers are going through an adjustment period. Its confirmed by the fact that batters are hitting a hundred points less when 'Tek is behind the plate. Unless something changes, catching is going to be an on-going lineup issue for Tito.

The leadoff slot. While there are those who argue that leadoff batter really matters just once a game, I beg to differ. Take an overall look at each slot in the Sox lineup:

Batting PA BA OBP
1st 78 .178 .231
2nd 77 .313 .429
3rd 76 .212 .316
4th 73 .281 .438
5th 72 .305 .417
6th 70 .262 .304
7th 69 .254 .309
8th 65 .200 .262
9th 63 .145 .254

You can see that leadoff batters come to the plate more frequently than other batters and while the differential may not seem huge now, remember we are approximately just one-tenth of the way through the season, so by the time the season ends the leadoff batter has approximately 150 more plate appearances than the number nine hitter.

Heres a deeper look at the leadoff batters:

J.D. Drew 2 2 9 8 2 3 0 1 1 1 0 0 1 2 .375 .444
J. Lowrie 2 2 9 9 2 3 0 0 1 2 0 1 0 2 .333 .333
J. Ellsbury 6 6 27 24 3 4 1 0 1 3 1 0 3 7 .167 .259
C. Crawford 7 7 33 32 2 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 4 .094 .121
D. McDonald 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Team Total 18 17 78 73 9 13 2 1 3 6 1 2 4 15 .178 .231
Carl Crawfords former manager, Joe Maddon of the Rays, would frequently tell inquiring reporters that Crawford is simply not comfortable in the leadoff spot and you can see that Francona is probably ready to attest to that. Tito has used Drew leading off the past couple of games and I suspect that will continue as an option for time being.

Power droughts. Take a look at the middle of the batting order and you are not seeing a lot of homers. Jed Lowrie, homered yesterday hitting fifth, the first homer from that slot in the batting order this season. There are still none from a number three or a number seven hitter.

1st 78 73 9 13 2 1 3 6 4 15 .178 .231 .356 .587
2nd 77 64 11 20 4 0 2 6 13 9 .313 .429 .469 .897
3rd 76 66 7 14 2 1 0 3 8 17 .212 .316 .273 .589
4th 73 57 14 16 6 0 4 10 14 15 .281 .438 .596 1.035
5th 72 59 7 18 5 1 1 11 12 5 .305 .417 .475 .891
6th 70 65 10 17 0 0 3 13 3 15 .262 .304 .400 .704
7th 69 63 4 16 3 0 0 5 5 18 .254 .309 .302 .610
8th 65 60 5 12 1 0 2 8 4 13 .200 .262 .317 .578
9th 63 55 5 8 1 0 2 9 7 11 .145 .254 .273 .527

David Ortiz. There are many people who are breathing a sigh of relief over Big Papis performance this April. Ortiz hit one homer the last two Aprils combined and has hit two already with nine games left this month. After the last couple of years, I understand their relief, but on the other hand this season Francona has already started to protect Ortiz against lefties, something that hasnt really happened before on a regular basis.

Ortiz is a lifetime .290 hitter against righties and has hit .259 against lefties. And the irony is that so far Ortiz is performing better against lefties, than righties.

vs RHP 13 37 30 6 1 1 1 6 6 3 .200 .324 .400 .724
vs LHP 10 27 22 8 1 0 1 3 5 2 .364 .481 .545 1.027

My problem is that with Ortiz you have no flexibility to place him anywhere on the field. If he isnt your DH, hes not playing. Youkilis can play first and third, Lowrie plays any infield position, but Ortiz is either a DH or a PH or a fan.

Okay, you now have some of the tools that Terry Francona has to make his lineup decisions, so what would you do?
Where would you place Jacoby Ellsbury, who is hitting .182 and has more homers (4) than steals (3)?
Whos your catcher?
Whos your shortstop, Jed Lowrie .462 with three homers and 11 RBI, or Marco Scutaro hitting .222?
Whos your leadoff batter?
If Kevin Youkilis is your cleanup batter? And if so, who protects him in the fifth spot? You'll want Youk to see better pitchesso that he wont lead the team with 15 walks and 17 whiffs . . .

What would you do?

Ill be looking in the comments section to see your answers as the Sox prepare face the Angels and their starters: Tyler Chatwood, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Matt Palmer all righties.

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night


Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which David Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.