- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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In our continuing discussion of lineups, let's move over to the American League and the division with the deepest group of lineups in the majors.
Key question: Who replaces Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot? The Red Sox scored 56 more runs than the Tigers to easily lead the majors in runs scored. With Ellsbury having a solid season, the Red Sox ranked fourth in leadoff on-base percentage. Who fills his shoes? For now, manager John Farrell has indicated Daniel Nava will lead off against right-handers (.390 career OBP versus righties) and Shane Victorino versus left-handers (.373 career OBP versus lefties).
Jonny Gomes is back to platoon with Nava in left field, and David Ross forms a perfect platoon partner for Pierzynski at catcher. Bogaerts has the ability to move up in the order if he shows the same patience and discipline he displayed in the playoffs. Don't be surprised if he's hitting second at some point in the season.
Suggestion: The switch-hitting Victorino has always been better from the right side. Last year, he was forced to hit exclusively from the right side down the stretch due to hamstring and back issues. And guess what? He hit .300/.386/.510 in 115 plate appearances hitting right-on-right. His grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS came against a right-hander. His three-run double in Game 6 of the World Series came off righty Michael Wacha. Yes, it's only 100 at-bats, but it's much better than what Victorino has done from the left side in his career. He says he won't get away from switch-hitting, but maybe he should.
Key question: Where does Wil Myers hit? Joe Maddon moved his prized rookie all around the lineup in 2013 -- 25 times in the cleanup spot, 20 times in the fifth spot, 21 times batting sixth, plus 19 times batting second or third. In the postseason, he hit second, third and fourth. So your guess is as good as mine. Considering Maddon used 147 different lineups last year, we can probably expect a lot of moving around again.
I suspect the only guarantees here are that Zobrist, Longoria and Myers will fill three of the first four spots. DeJesus could lead off against right-handers, with Jennings or Zobrist moving up to the leadoff spot when DeJesus is benched against lefties. Hanigan and Jose Molina will share time behind the plate, but both hit right-handed, so it won't be a strict platoon (although Hanigan has a career .393 OBP against left-handers).
Suggestion: I don't think Maddon needs any suggestions.
Key question: Who takes over the leadoff spot? Nate McLouth started there 108 times last year, but he left as a free agent. Nick Markakis seems to be the likely choice, but that points to some issues with the Baltimore lineup: Only Chris Davis had an OBP higher than .335 last season and McLouth (30 steals) and Adam Jones (14) were the only two with double-digit stolen base totals.
The Orioles hit home runs -- 212 of them last year, 24 more than any other team. But they ranked just 10th in the AL in OBP and were thus fourth in the league in runs scored. Davis actually spent most of last season hitting fifth (101 starts there) before Buck Showalter finally realized you shouldn't have your best hitter batting fifth. He and Jones will hit third and fourth in some order (they could switch back and forth depending on the starting pitcher). The big problem is the fifth spot, as neither Wieters (.287 OBP) nor Hardy (.306 OBP) get on base much.
Suggestion: Take a few pitches. The Orioles were 14th in walks last season. Maybe that's not a surprise considering hitting coach Jim Presley wasn't exactly known for his patient approach at the plate during his big league days. Jones and Machado each drew fewer than 30 walks in 700 plate appearances, ranking third and ninth in lowest walk percentage among regulars. Jones is probably what he’s going to be at this point, but at least Machado is young enough to improve.
Key question: How many more runs can this lineup be expected to score? The Yankees scored 650 runs last year -- their lowest total since scoring 603 in 1990 (where have you gone, Oscar Azocar?). Baseball Prospectus projects the Yankees to score 716 runs, a total that would have ranked eighth in the AL in 2013.
That looks a lot better than Lyle Overbay, Chris Stewart and Vernon Wells. But they're also missing one of the best hitters in the league with the departure of Robinson Cano. I suspect we'll see Gardner hitting first or second quite often -- when Ellsbury or Jeter gets a day, when Ellsbury gets hurt or if Jeter struggles. You'll see Beltran getting time at DH with Soriano playing a little outfield. With so many old guys and injury risks, the bench -- Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez, Ichiro Suzuki -- will get plenty of playing time.
Suggestion: Jeter was great in 2012 -- he lead the league with 216 hits -- but in 2011 and 2010 he was pretty worthless against right-handed pitchers, hitting .261/.322/.326. Joe Giradi needs to manage the player and not the legend. If Jeter hits like that again -- and that's a more likely result than the .294/.346/.377 he put up against righties in 2012 -- Girardi shouldn't hesitate to move Jeter down against right-handers and move up Gardner or Beltran to the 2-hole.
Key question: Will they stay healthy? Only three guys played at least 120 games last year: Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia. Thankfully, Arencibia and his .227 OBP are gone (it was the second-lowest OBP since 1901 for a player with at least 475 plate appearances). With better health, you can expect the Jays to score more than 712 runs.
It will be interesting to see what John Gibbons does with the second slot. Cabrera started there last year but was moved down when he didn't hit. For most of May through late July, he hit Bautista second and Encarnacion third. Even though Lind was having a good year, Gibbons later went back to hitting those three guys 3-4-5 (at least until Bautista went down for the year in late August) and sort of punting the No. 2 spot.
Suggestion: If Cabrera doesn't hit closer to what he did in 2011 and 2012, how about Rasmus for the second spot? Yes, he strikes out a lot, but his .276/.338/.501 line would be nice higher up in the order.
In our continuing discussion of lineups, let's move over to the American League and the division with the deepest group of lineups in the majors.Boston Red SoxKey question: Who replaces Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot?