Our investigation of John Farrell's management style continues with a look at his past lineups and the thinking behind them.
In Part 1 of this series, we considered the offensive tactics the Red Sox new manager John Farrell favored when he with the Toronto Blue Jays. This time around, we consider the very foundation of the offense- the lineup. Farrell's Blue Jays were not terrible at the plate, finishing fifth in the American League in runs scored in 2011 and seventh in 2012. They did have the advantage of playing in a somewhat hitter-friendly park and in the most offensively charged division in baseball, however. Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) had them at two percent below average on offense in 2011 and six percent below in 2012.
This was not a Blue Jays team stocked with productive hitters. Farrell needed to construct his lineups to get the absolute maximum impact from his two big bats, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Around them, Farrell had to find the best roles for a number of untested youngsters and declining veterans. If the difference between the runs we would have expected Toronto to score and the number the actually did score is any indication, he did a pretty commendable job.
Looking at his lineups, the first thing you notice is that Farrell liked to tinker. Most of that tinkering happened in the bottom half of the lineup, however. He used just five different players in the lead off spot in both seasons. Yunel Escobar got the call 110 times in 2011 and began the 2012 season at the top of the line up before poor performance pushed him down the card. Rookie Brett Lawrie and speedster Rajai Davis saw the majority of the lead off duties after Escobar lost the job. Lawrie runs fairly well, but he is nowhere near Davis on the base paths. In using these two players, Farrell seemed to be caught between wanting a player who could run (Davis) and a player who would get on base (Lawrie). Before picking Lawrie, Farrell had tried Kelly Johnson, another historically good on-base guy with some base running ability. The Davis experiment lasted about a month before Farrell went back to Lawrie, so it appears that he is more concerned with getting some one on to start things off than just having the fastest runner leading off.
It is much more difficult to read into Farrell's strategy for the number two spot. He used 10 different players there in both seasons and it makes for a pretty eclectic mix. It is probably fair to say that, despite his love for the hit and run, bat control- or more precisely, contact ability- is not a priority. In 2012, he used Colby Rasmus, who has struck out 23 percent of the time in his career, in the number two spot the most, slotting him there 91 times. He also used Eric Thames 71 times in 2011 and he struck out 22.3 percent of the time that year. Meanwhile, the team's best contact hitter last year(by Contact%, that is), Omar Vizquel, never batted second. The players that he batted second were similar to the players he batted leadoff. He regularly used Johnson and Escobar there went they were not leading off and tried other would-be leadoff types like Lawrie and fellow rookie Anthony Gose there as well.
The one area that Farrell never messed with was the number three spot. If healthy, Jose Bautista hit third. Period. End of story. It is actually surprising how little he messed with that part of his formula. Bautista never even hit fourth under Farrell. After Bautista was lost for the second half of the 2012 season, Farrell was just slightly more flexible, hitting Edwin Encarnacion there the vast majority of the time. Previously, Encarnacion had locked himself into the fourth spot for the 2012 season after hitting mostly fifth in 2011. Farrell had begun by trying to have a righty-lefty-righty sequence in the middle of his lineup in 2011, using Lind behind Bautista, but Encarnacion's breakout pushed Lind down the card permanently.
Beginning with the number five spot, Farrell mixed things up with abandon. 16 different players hit fifth and sixth in 2012, 18 different players hit seventh and ninth and 17 different players hit eighth. As we might expect, Farrell tended toward a lefty-righty pattern to minimize the platoon advantage for relievers. The only other consistent pattern in Farrell's last few line up spots is a preference for some speed in the ninth spot. Gose saw more time at that spot than anyone else in 2012 and both Rajai Davis and Omar Vizquel also got plenty of chances there as well. Veteran backup catcher Jeff Mathis was one of the team's worst hitters and a sloth on the bases, and he batted eighth more often than he batted ninth.
With Farrell at the helm, I would be surprised if the lineup did not begin with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli the vast majority of the time, barring injury or underperformance. If his bat bounces back, Shane Victorino could slide into the number two spot and push Pedey and the others down a spot.Either way, Farrell's desire to have his best speed/OBP combo up top and his best hitter in the three spot should keep things pretty consistent for hitters one through five. After that, I think he will mix things up based on match-ups and recent performance on a near daily basis.
While Farrell is not rigidly adhering to some lineup optimization tool, his basic thinking appears follows some of those principles. He likes a lead off man and a number two hitter who both get on base. He puts power in the middle and often buries his worst hitter in the eighth spot. He mixes some of the convention notions about speed up top and slotting his best hitter third but he has a sound approach and matches his consistency in key spots with a willingness to change things up. For a Red Sox team that has a wealth of talent on offense, he should be a great fit in this respect.