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Boston's Best Tools: Best Hitter

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At this point, the Best Tools Series has looked at specific hitting skills, covering power, contact, and plate discipline. Each one of these skills has value in itself, but a combination of all three is the mark of an elite hitter. The 2010 Red Sox finished second in the American League in runs scored; this season they add Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to that offense. There is no doubt Boston’s lineup will be stocked with elite hitters. So, who is the best?

Our starting point will be Weighted On-Base Average. This is the ideal hitting statistic because it gives ever aspect of offense proper value. It is OPS perfected to include the value of stolen bases, GIDP and other such minor events.

The top six hitters by wOBA: (after the jump)

Name

PA

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

OBP

wOBA

wRC+

Kevin Youkilis

1644

12.00%

21.60%

0.252

0.342

0.404

0.411

150

Adrian Gonzalez

2074

13.80%

20.80%

0.238

0.304

0.387

0.383

143

J.D. Drew

1541

14.30%

22.70%

0.225

0.301

0.379

0.377

128

Dustin Pedroia

1791

9.00%

8.50%

0.168

0.31

0.372

0.372

124

David Ortiz

1724

13.10%

23.90%

0.241

0.281

0.356

0.363

119

Carl Crawford

1817

7.00%

15.90%

0.156

0.33

0.349

0.358

121

If it has not become clear in the three proceeding series, it should be clear now; Kevin Youkilis is the best hitter on the Red Sox. In fact over the past three seasons, by wOBA Youk is second only to Albert Pujols. By Runs Created Plus he is third, trailing only Pujols and 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto. That is better than Miguel Cabrera and Alex Rodriquez. That is better than AL MVP Josh Hamilton, Yankees’ stars Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, and Derek Jeter… I’m sorry, I’ll stop now. It is hard to imagine another player at anytime in history being the second best hitter in baseball over a three period and getting less attention for it. Red Sox fans know he is great, of course, but I am not sure they know he is THAT great. While he will be thirty-two to start the season, Youk doesn’t look like he is slowing down at all. Before a thumb injury ended his 2010, he was playing near MVP level and all signs point to his full recovery from that setback.

The only player that really has a solid case against Youk is newly acquired slugger Adrian Gonzalez. While wOBA is pretty sophisticated, it does not consider park factors at all. RC+ does include a park adjustment and Youk still holds the lead there. However, park factors are far from perfect predictors and there is no move more extreme than from Petco to Fenway. Gonzalez has managed to put up a reasonably close ISO, RC+, and wOBA in a terrible hitting environment. Fenway may be a paradise for the new first basemen. Youk holds a significant advantage on balls in play, but Gonzalez also has a better walk rate and a lower strikeout rate. If Fenway helps Gonzalez to a better BABIP and that gives him a small bump in both OBP and ISO, he may be the mirror image of Youkilis.

J.D. Drew and Dustin Pedroia are very close by both wOBA and RC+. They provide value at the plate in very different ways, but that value is almost equal. Since Pedroia is younger and still very much in his prime, I would expect him to be the third best hitter on the team in 2011 and beyond. He has incredible contact skills and plate discipline. He is not in the same power class as Youk and A-Gon, but the Laser Show is more than a mere slap hitter. Drew, on the other hand is declining and he will need to maintain his power to keep pace with Pedey. His mastery of the strike zone is incredible, but he rakes up the K’s as well.

If the team’s health prevails, the 2011 Boston Red Sox lineup will dominant the league. With the addition of Gonzalez, the Sox will have the six of the top twenty five hitters in the American League over the past three years. They will hit for power. They will hit for average. They will draw walks. They will steal bases. They will make pitchers work hard and hit the showers early. If you are looking reasons to doubt the 2011 Red Sox, don’t look at the line up. This is a team that will scored runs.