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Let's optimize the Red Sox lineup!

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With the Sox on a historic pace offensively, there's no real need to shake things up in the batting order. But if we wanted to, what would be the best order for Boston's typical starting nine?

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first 44 games of the season, this Red Sox lineup has been unreasonably good. With five runs yesterday, the Mariners became the second team in the American League to reach 200 runs scored on the same day the Sox reached 256! Their 128 wRC+ is the fourth best all-time, and really the third if you exclude the Maroons, who didn't play in a real league.

When things are going quite so well, it's easy to overlook small inefficiencies. Had the Red Sox been scoring three runs per game while Jackie Bradley Jr. tore up the league from the ninth spot, chances are you'd hear fans howling at the moon over his misuse. But when they're scoring six, it just doesn't feel like that much of a big deal.

In fact, the argument can be made that no change is better than seemingly positive change when everything is going quite so well. Simply put: why mess with success? This is why, at this moment, I wouldn't actually make any serious suggestions that the Red Sox mix things up. But I do think it's an interesting exercise to ask: what's the optimal order for this ridiculous lineup? Let's give that a shot.

There's two ways to go about this: by The Book, and not. The Book, in this case, refers to the one written by Tom Tango, which has some very specific ideas about lineup optimization. By looking at when batters came up to bat, they determined which positions are the most important, and what the best type of player for each role is. The results are not quite what you'd expect using conventional wisdom. For instance, the third spot in the batting order? Not all that important. Not as much, at least, as the first, second, and fourth, where a team's best hitters should be found.

Right now, for the Red Sox, those three names would be David Ortiz, Jackie Bradley Jr., and one of either Travis Shaw or Xander Bogaerts. Since this is where Shaw has ended up after a bit of a cold streak and Xander after a hot streak, let's err on the side of Shaw, since he seems more likely to be at a low point and Xander as a high point. The Book would also say to arrange them favoring OBP towards the top and SLG later on, so we put Jackie Bradley Jr. first, David Ortiz second (!) and Travis Shaw fourth.

Three and five are the other "important" slots, with sixth a bit of a throw-in aimed at a singles-hitter who can maybe steal a base. Number three should go to a high-power guy, while number five should be the best batter remaining. Xander Bogaerts should obviously take one of these spots, with the other going to one of Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Dustin Pedroia, who all sit at a .354 wOBA right now. Personally, I think we can further narrow that down to Mookie or Hanley as being the most likely guy to come away on top. Pedroia is enjoying a renaissance year at the plate, but both Mookie and Hanley just seem like bigger offensive threats, and both have their numbers after pretty cold starts to the season. Best bet, since Hanley is still riding the BABIP wave some with his power still a bit reclusive, we give Bogaerts the nod at number five, and put Mookie (with all his homers) in at number three. It follows that Hanley bats sixth, and Pedroia seventh.

That leaves Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez. About a week ago, an argument could've been made to have Vazquez batting eighth, as his batting line was getting dangerously close to respectable levels. But a 3-for-15 stretch has seen him fall off again, and while Blake Swihart still hasn't set the world on fire, he's the more projectable bat by far. Eighth to Swihart, and ninth to Vazquez.

So what's this strange bunch we end up with?

  1. Jackie Bradley Jr.
  2. David Ortiz
  3. Mookie Betts
  4. Travis Shaw
  5. Xander Bogaerts
  6. Hanley Ramirez
  7. Dustin Pedroia
  8. Blake Swihart
  9. Christian Vazquez

Well that looks...a bit odd, honestly. Especially David Ortiz batting second. And I'm not terribly surprised, either, because Tango-style lineups always end up that way. Frankly, I do wonder if some of the stranger aspects of them don't stem from the research being done on inefficient lineups. For instance, if you're studying a league where managers bat fast guys with .300 OBPs first and second, of course the number three hitter isn't going to get as many important at bats as the number four hitter, since he's the first good bat in the lineup! If, however, he has proper table-setters ahead of him, does the number three guy become as important as the number four guy? Perhaps even moreso?

Let's put The Book aside for now and just come at this with pure logic, starting with the leadoff spot.

It's sorely tempting to put Mookie Betts here, simply because the Sox have often struggled to find leadoff hitters in the past, and he's done a great job there. But the fact is that OBP hasn't proved Mookie's strong point, and even if I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up around or even above .350 when all is said and done, right now he sits at .322. With that in mind, I'd be interested to see how Xander Bogaerts plays in this spot. While the shortstop's relatively low strikeout rate would certainly be valuable later in the order, his combination of singles, walks, and doubles seems to make him a great candidate to set the table in a lineup with so many other strong hitters.

From 2-through-4, I'd like to revert to the "best hitters available" methodology, because these really are the guys you want to have coming to the plate often, and in big moments. There is one problem, though, in that all three of those guys are lefties. You don't really want to leave the heart of your order that vulnerable in the late innings to a lefty specialist. In a lesser lineup, it might be difficult to mix in a right-handed hitter who can stand up to the rest in terms of quality, perhaps to the point where we consider moving Xander out of the leadoff spot in favor of Bradley despite the latter's homers. For the Red Sox, though, it's as simple as turning to Hanley Ramirez, who has done serious damage against lefties both in his career and in 2016. He's probably best used to break up Ortiz and Shaw rather than Ortiz and Bradley--JBJ has crushed lefties just as easily as righties thus far--so let's go Bradley - Ortiz - Ramirez - Shaw.

That leaves us with Mookie leading into Pedroia, with Pedey once again simply the seventh-best bat in such a fierce competition. And from there we have Swihart into Vazquez. It's a similar bunch, but not quite the same:

  1. Xander Bogaerts
  2. Jackie Bradley Jr.
  3. David Ortiz
  4. Hanley Ramirez
  5. Travis Shaw
  6. Mookie Betts
  7. Dustin Pedroia
  8. Blake Swihart
  9. Christian Vazquez

There is a little bit of clumping in terms of lefties and righties, but not so much as to leave them truly vulnerable. Meanwhile you get the bet hitters getting them most at-bats by-and-large, without the strangeness of David Ortiz batting second. And if The Book doesn't think he's supposed to get important at bats hitting third, one expects Tango would change his tune with two guys at or near a .400 OBP hitting in front of him.

So what do you think? Am I crazy? Is Hanley Ramirez batting fourth a tragedy? Xander Bogaerts a waste in the leadoff spot? Have I disgraced myself by failing to replace someone with Red Sox Savior Josh Rutledge? Let me know in the comments, that I might stick my fingers in my ears and pretend everyone is in total agreement.