Nation Station: The lineup shuffle

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Nation Station: The lineup shuffle

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

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?

PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
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?

G IP ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SOBB BA OPS
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:

G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP
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.

Batting PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
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.

Ortiz G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
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.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.