BOSTON -- Figuring out the Red Sox batting order for 2011 would be so much easier if Carl Crawford liked leading off.
“I just thought I sucked at it, to be honest with you,” Crawford told Gary Shelton of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. “Lou [Piniella] put me second. Maybe I could have gotten better at it, but I just wasn’t comfortable. It didn’t have anything to do with stats. I just don’t think I’m a good leadoff hitter.”
Crawford has not batted leadoff since the first week of the 2007 season. In all, he served as leadoff hitter in 367 games, and batted .288/.323/.421/.744. Since then, he has primarily hit out of the 2-hole, although on Aug. 9 last season, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon installed him in the No. 3 spot and left him there. He went .323/.364/.526.890, with 7 home runs and 32 RBIs.
Very nice numbers, but the Sox also just acquired one of the game's top sluggers in Adrian Gonzalez, who had a .904 OPS last season, mostly spent in the No. 3 hole. Manager Bud Black, his team starved for runs, hit Gonzalez in the cleanup spot for the last month of the season, behind Ryan Ludwick, and Gonzalez's numbers dipped.
And the No. 2 spot in the Sox order has been occupied by Dustin Pedroia, who won an MVP award batting out of that spot in 2008. He doesn't like batting leadoff, either, and his speed doesn't compare to Crawford's or that of Jacoby Ellsbury, the incumbent Sox leadoff hitter.
So, if you're manager Terry Francona, how do you construct your lineup? Maybe it's time to revive an idea that Pedroia joked about in spring training -- batting him in the fifth hole. He may not look like a prototype No. 5 hitter, but his numbers fit the profile.
Last season, only three teams in the AL had an .OPS of over .800 in the No. 5 hole: Texas (.948), New York (.935) and Boston (.868). Pedroia was limited to 75 games by injury last season, but his .OPS was .860, just below the .869 OPS he posted in his MVP season. The same three teams were the only ones that slugged better than .500 out of the No. 5 hole: Texas (.558), New York (.556) and Boston (.508). Pedroia slugged .493 in 2010, matching the .493 he slugged in his MVP season.
Few people projected Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano as a prototypical No. 5 hitter, and he had the best season of his career, posting a .914 .OPS, hitting 29 home runs and finishing third in the MVP voting.
And don't forget what Pedroia did when Francona batted him in the cleanup spot (due to Red Sox injuries) in a span of four out of five games in August, 2008: Pedroia batted .647 (11 for 17), with 2 home runs and 6 RBIs.
What would a lineup with Pedroia in the 5-hole look like?
L, Ellsbury, CF
L, Crawford, LF
L, Gonzalez, 1B
R Youkilis, 3B
R, Pedroia, 2B
L, Ortiz DH
L, Drew RF
S, Varitek C
R, Scutaro 2B
The hit-and-run and stolen-base possibilities with Ellsbury and Crawford at the top of the order are mind-boggling. But this lineup is hardly ideal from a left-right standpoint, leaving the club vulnerable to matchup relievers late in games. That could be mitigated by flip-flopping Ortiz and Pedroia, which is OK if Ortiz's production doesn't slide. Hard to imagine a hitter like Pedroia batting as low as the sixth spot, but it may warrant consideration.
Interestingly, Crawford hit in the 5-hole in the postseason for Tampa Bay in 2008. In Game 4 of the ALCS against the Sox, he went 5-for-5, with two doubles and a triple, spearheading a 13-4 win.
It's a great problem for Francona to have, and no doubt he'll tinker with a number of combinations.
Do you have a lineup that you like? Send it along, explaining in 100 words or less why it's Tito's best options, and we'll run the best ones.