Tony Massarotti

With Regard to 2015 Red Sox Lineup, Right is Wrong


When you are 66-87, as the Red Sox currently are, the list of problems is often comprehensive. And so as we near the end of the 2014 baseball season, let us all acknowledge that the Red Sox need a lot more than pitching if they are to return to championship form.

At the moment, the lineup isn’t fixed yet, either.

When Rusney Castillo stepped on the field Wednesday night, the projected starting lineup next season took on a look that was decidedly slanted. Admittedly, we all have different ideas about who should start where, but the bottom line is the 2015 Red Sox, as presently constituted, are far, far too right-handed.

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Take a look:

(R) Mookie Betts, RF
(R) Dustin Pedroia, 2B
(L) David Ortiz, DH
(R) Yoenis Cespedes, LF
(R) Mike Napoli, 1B
(R) Xander Bogaerts, SS
(R) Rusney Castillo, CF
(R) Will Middlebrooks, 3B
(R) Javier Vazquez, C

Before we start quibbling over the particulars, there are obvious variables here. Brock Holt and Daniel Nava are both left-handed hitters, and Holt could certainly replace someone like Middlebrooks at third base. (Finding a spot for the switch-hitting Daniel Nava, who is better from the left side, is a little more complicated.) But Allen Craig and Shane Victorino are right-handed hitters, which does nothing to solve the imbalance on the Boston roster.

And if you think the imbalance doesn’t matter, you wouldn’t be more wrong.

Without turning this into a dizzying avalanche of numbers, here is the simplest truth: from an offensive perspective, the most desirable matchups in baseball are, in order, a right-handed batter vs. a left-handed pitcher and a left-handed batter vs. a right-handed pitcher. Given that essentially 70 percent of all pitching is right-handed, one could easily argue that the second matchup (again, left-handed batter vs. right-handed pitcher) is the most important in the game.

Last year, when the Red Sox led the American League in runs scored and won the World Series, the left-handed batters in their lineup hit a combined .304 with an .883 OPS against right-handed pitching. Those are insanely good numbers. This year, the numbers dropped to .250 and .699, which is probably the biggest reason the Red Sox have dropped to dead last in the league in runs.

So what happened? For one reason or another, the Sox effectively lost the left-handed contributions of Nava, Stephen Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury, who posted respective OPSs of .894, .876, .873 and .863 against right-handed pitching. Some of those players were swapped out. Others underperformed.

This year, the only Red Sox regular with an OPS of .800 or better against right-handed pitching has been David Ortiz (.839). And even though this has been a year in which pitching has dominated throughout the game, there is no wonder as to why the Red Sox offense has suffered.

Against right-handers – that’s 70 percent of the time – they have lacked the necessary skill.

Maybe you believe in this sort of logic. Maybe you don’t. But what matters is that the Red Sox do. Following the 2011 collapse, when Red Sox owner John Henry acknowledged that he argued against the Carl Crawford signing, Henry’s first explanation was that the Red Sox already had enough left-handed hitters. (He was right, by the way.) At the time, Boston’s lineup included Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Ellsbury, Saltalamacchia and J.D. Drew. And though the Red Sox collapsed down the stretch when their pitching went belly-up, they still won 90 games and led the league in runs scored.

That team had six left-handed batters on a regular basis.

The 2015 Sox currently project to have one.

Of course, the 2015 Red Sox don’t need six left-handed hitters. But they do need three, ideally four or five. IN today’s Boston Herald, John Tomase suggests the Red Sox could be interested in Pedro Alvarez, the left-handed-hitting third baseman of the Pittsburgh Pirates. What Alvarez does better than anything else is hit right-handed pitchers, against whom he has a career OPS of .792. (His career OPS against lefties, by contrast, is a pathetic .588.) Given the Red Sox’ relative dearth of left-handed hitters, he’s as good a solution as any.

Would someone like Alvarez alone be enough? Depending on how the Sox work in Nava and Holt, maybe yes, maybe no. But it’s at least a start. Tomase, for his part, recently suggested Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who has a career .855 OPS against right-handed pitching, as another candidate. Maybe the solution is to get Alvarez (first base?) and Sandoval at the expense of Middlebrooks and Mike Napoli – effectively injecting two lefty bats into a lineup that desperately needs them.

A left-handed-hitting outfielder certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.

Back in July, when the Red Sox traded both John Lackey and Jon Lester, improving their offense was an obvious priority. Much of the dialogue has since been focused on starting pitching, which is an obvious need, but the issues still run deeper. And at the moment, the biggest concern on offense is that the 2015 Red Sox look like the preferred choice of the Tea Party.

Way, way to the right.

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