It's generally been accepted by fans that this upcoming year's lineup will not be quite as good as last's. However, I think with a little magic, it could be.
Last season was magical, for the team and for all of us. But it's time to look forward to making this upcoming year's equally so.
One of the biggest reasons the Red Sox got rings was because of their MLB-best offense. While the losses of Jacoby Ellsbury and, to a lesser degree, Jarrod Saltalamacchia will weigh heavily on the offense, a little managerial smoke-and-mirrors could lead to a quantifiable increase in the offense's production as opposed to without said smoke-and-mirrors.
Trick 1: Take platoons to the max
I know platoons aren't a player's favorite thing in the world. However this is a team-first bunch if I've ever seen one. I think the Red Sox need to take the statistical approach a bit more seriously and focus on splits this upcoming year, where splits at catcher and left field are certain (and left-infield quite a possibility).
Evidently, David Ross and A.J. Pierzynski aren't barnburners at the plate, but they're both serviceable, and both could provide good production if matched up against a pitcher. Similarly, the three-way revolving door in left between Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, and Jonny Gomes (in very particular order) could provide either a large asset or a troublesome logjam.
Trick 2: Lineup Magic
This is what could have the most significant impact on the offense's production. What the Sox did in the World Series intrigued me, and started this spark of ideas.
Ben has said that it's likely either Nava or Shane batting leadoff. After that, it's generally pretty predictable... except I have one proposal: assuming whichever of those two isn't batting leadoff would be batting second, move them down in the lineup and shift everyone else up one.
What this would do: a HUGELY underrated part of the game to me is the mental side of a pitcher's first inning. No offense to Ellsbury, Victorino, or Pedey, but a lineup in which you have to see David Ortiz 10 minutes into the game is much more intimidating than any other you could have put out there last year. Without a true leadoff hitter, this could compensate.
Proposed starting lineup:
One thing that immediately sticks out is Victorino being moved down six spots. To me, it's much less of a demotion, and more of an angling of the lineup to put out the most intimidating lineup.
Similarly, You have your three best OBP guys as it currently stands going out there first. Not only is Nava a walk machine, but he draws stupid amounts of pitches (for a week or so stretch in the mid-late part of the year, he was averaging nine pitcher per AB. NINE. That's crazy.) Pedroia, who will be fully recovered from a thumb injury by spring training (already ahead of schedule), will get much of his pop back and we'll see more of what we saw in the postseason, only this time, preferably the ball will be to the RIGHT of the pole. That, with his good discipline and tricky strike zone, will provide another pitching issue for even the best. And of course Big Papi, who, as is fresh in our minds, is an animal. Having to see him in the first inning, guaranteed, will make pitchers shake in their boots, only so much as hoping they're in the rhythm of the game at that point.
Those three, if even playing GOOD baseball (aka not even at their peak), could draw up to 20 pitches in the first inning. That is not a good start for a pitcher, even if all three are outs.
Also: many believe that fifth is too high for Bogaerts to hit. If Napoli didn't re-sign I was ready to have him batting third. The kid grows every day and shows just stupid plate vision. He's the next Hanley.
Trick 3: Beef up the run differential to make the offense look/feel better
One part of the battery that became even more apparent in the playoffs is a strong rapport. If I were the Red Sox, I would consider taking a somewhat unique approach, keeping three catchers on the roster and having two 'starters'. Ross can catch 80 games if he can stay healthy; while a big if, the potential's there.
What I would do is let every catcher catch some of each pitcher in Fort Myers and see who works well with who, and then keep it that way. We already know that Jon Lester and David Ross work extremely well together, so why change that?
I would propose splitting your starters into two groups, one for Pierzynski and one for Ross:P Group:
In all likelihood, one of these starters will be in a different uniform at some point in the near future, but that's a discussion for another day. At the present time, I think these groups would give you the best pitcher-catcher rapports you can build, with your third catcher filling in so that the other group's catcher doesn't have to come in on a day he isn't scheduled to.
Why these groupings? Simple: Those that can handle Pierzynski and even work well with him, and those that either need some reinforcement or just work better with Ross. No doubt in my mind that Lester could handle working with Pierzynski, but him and Ross have something special.
Lackey is an intense guy, and also one that likes to call his own game. That's perfect for A.J. We know Peavy can work with him and bounce energy off eachother. Dempster is a level-headed veteran that can handle A.J. and keep Ross' workload reasonable.
We've already addressed that Lester and Ross is just a special grouping. Buchholz and Doubront, however, are guys that are both talented but could use some direction at this point in their careers. Buchholz seems a little scared out there, and Ross can help tame him and keep him calm. Doubront could similarly use a little direction. We know that Ross is defensively superior to Pierzynski and could corral some of these two's potential issues.
Moreover, this would allow each catcher to focus on a smaller number of pitchers (note I say focus, I don't want them to forgo the other pitchers completely) so they could really develop something.
This is by far the most unorthodox possible solution, but if you could get your catchers and pitchers on the same page early, you could prevent some unnecessary runs and keep the differential lower, making the offense look better, and in turn more confident.
In conclusion, I think that despite a lesser level of talent, this year's lineup has the potential to be manipulated into something more strategically efficient.
If you have any comments or anything you'd like to bounce off me, let me know!
Thanks for the read.