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Building The Red Sox Lineup: Jacoby Leads Off

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Over The Monster has spoken, and they agree with Terry Francona: The Red Sox run best when Jacoby Ellsbury has the first at bat of the game. Ellsbury ran away with it, really, outpacing Carl Crawford by over 600 votes.

The source for Ellsbury's appeal as a leadoff batter is obvious: the guy is incredibly fast, and is a sure contender to lead the league in stolen bases year in and year out. The criticism, however, is just as obvious, as even Jacoby's career-high (crazy 2007 excluded) .355 OBP isn't really impressive for a #1 batter. Still, if Ellsbury can improve as a player his age should, many of his critics would be happy to be silenced.

I'll have my take after the jump, but for now, we move on. Who should bat second in the Red Sox lineup vs. RHP?

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, L

To repeat, some clarifications:

  1. I'll include both Scoot and Lowrie. After one has been chosen, the other will stop being an option. Ditto for Varitek and Salty.
  2. Darnell McDonald will also be included, while Ryan Kalish will not. Consider that my guess at the 25-man.
  3. Put it together the way you want it, not the way you think it will be.

My take:  Carl Crawford

I've deleted two different explanations explaining why first Jacoby Ellsbury, and then Jed Lowrie were my top choices for this spot. It was, to say the least, a pretty difficult choice.

Really, the ideal leadoff hitter for me is Dustin Pedroia. Imagine having to face this guy fouling off a thousand pitches to start the game? But unfortunately, it just hasn't worked out there in recent years, so we'll give Pedroia a pass. While Crawford has voiced his reluctance to bat first in the past, we haven't actually seen him do it in significant time since 2005, when he was pretty much the same batter he was hitting elsewhere (albeit with a 35 point BABIP dip), so I have no reason to think he can't perform just as well leading off.

Before Crawford, I had gone with Lowrie, with the idea being that Carl Crawford was just too good to bat first. The guy hit .332/.379/.552 against righties in 2010, after all. But two things stopped me. The first was just that Lowrie is too uncertain a commodity. Last year, his .250/.353/.470 against RHP was respectable, and spoke of BABIP issues that suggest it will get even better. But in 2008, his numbers were ugly. Broken wrist? Yes. But still enough to worry me a little.

The second thing was that I realized that Carl Crawford deserves more at bats, at least against righties. Consider that, if Lowrie is in the top spot, that probably pushes one of Ortiz, Youkilis, Crawford, or Gonzalez down to sixth in the lineup. That's an OPS over .900 batting sixth, to say nothing of Drew. I'd rather have the more uncertain Jed Lowrie batting around that spot.

Add to that all the speed that everyone loves at the top of the order, and I just have to go Crawford.

As for Ellsbury, he seems like the safe fallback option. If Lowrie can't get it going against righties, or if Crawford doesn't want to lead off. But why play it safe from the get-go?