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The Red Sox Lineup Vs. LHP

Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald recently wrote about the Red Sox dilemma regarding their lefty dominated lineup.

Two lefty Red Sox hitters in particular have had a tough time against LHP. New acquisition Carl Crawford has posted a wOBA 80 points lower against lefties than righties over the past 3 years. He’s also reached base at a much lower clip against southpaws (.304 vs. 368 OBP). Similarly, David Ortiz’s .296 wOBA versus lefties since 2008 (102 points lower than versus RHP) is concerning.

As for the rest of the hitters likely to see some significant playing time:

Red Sox Batters vs. LHP since 2008
Kevin Youkilis.332.447.628.461
Mike Cameron.289.418.560.424
Jed Lowrie.316.398.525.403
Darnell McDonald.312.364.473.374
Dustin Pedroia.285.370.452.370
Jason Varitek.250.346.483.363
Adrian Gonzalez.258.347.436.350
J.D. Drew.247.357.414.348
Marco Scutaro.275.357.410.348
Jacoby Ellsbury.303.349.389.337
Carl Crawford.254.304.366.302
David Ortiz.213.290.373.296
Jarrod Saltalamacchia.199.261.315.260

More than likely, David Ortiz will see very little starting time at DH against any left-handed starters. Similarly, Francona will probably attempt to rest Saltalamacchia versus lefties, starting Varitek (a better hitter from the right side) in his place. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lowrie occasionally starting at shortstop versus LHP in place of Scutaro, who has hit lefties only slightly better than righties in his career. Francona could even deploy Lowrie at third against LHP, allowing Youkilis a half day off at DH.

Silverman mentioned that Jacoby Ellsbury has hit left-handed pitching better than right-handed pitching in his career, and is thus a better option to leadoff versus lefties. However, his numbers versus RHP aren’t exactly eye-popping to begin with (.277/.329/.400). As good a stolen base threat that Ellsbury is, the old saying “you can’t steal first base” says it all. He’s a better bet to be anchoring a Red Sox lineup that contains far better hitters.

Obviously, Francona won’t bench Carl Crawford whenever the Red Sox face a left-handed starter, although he’s likely to get his days off against one from time to time. Given Mike Cameron’s great success versus LHP, it makes more sense to deploy a Crawford-Cameron-Drew/McDonald OF, with Pedroia the best option to lead-off. And should we see Lowrie getting a spot start against a lefty, don’t be surprised to see him leading off, with Pedroia, Youkilis, Gonzalez, and Cameron rounding out the top half of the lineup.

Has Matt Holliday helped Albert Pujols?

Matt Holliday’s offer to defer some of his salary in order to help secure Albert Pujols’ future in St. Louis shouldn’t come as a shock. A player widely considered the best right handed hitter in the history of baseball, Pujols’ presence in that lineup is monumental. And for Holliday, batting behind Albert in the Cardinals otherwise average lineup has been beneficial.

Holliday joined the Cardinals midway through the 2009 season via trade with the Oakland A’s. Since that date, his offensive production has seen a moderate bump.

Matt Holliday
4/1/2008 - 7/23/2009102336.309.397.508.399
7/24/2009 - Present95842.326.399.557.416

Considering he spent his 2008 season in Colorado, the increase in his production after joining the Cards, however slight, is impressive. Yes, the first half of his 2009 season was played in Oakland, a ballpark not friendly to hitters. However, his 2008 and post-trade 2009 numbers are about equal (.417 to .416 wOBA respectively).

While Holliday has benefited from hitting behind Pujols, the latter can’t say the same.
Albert Pujols
4/1/2008 - 7/23/2009105271.347.459.678.482
7/24/2009 - Present98955.318.419.595.438

The drop is even more striking when you consider that Pujols posted a .727 SLG and .494 wOBA in 2009 before the trade, and a .580 SLG and .442 wOBA after it. Perhaps there is no correlation; Pujols’ numbers after the trade are outstanding for any hitter. But it is interesting how they seem to suggest he hasn’t gained any noticeable benefit from having Holliday hit behind him, at least not to this point.

Loney on a Line

James Loney avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $4.875 million contract on Friday.  Loney's salary is kept low by his lack of power.  What he does do extremely well is put the ball in play on a line.  In 2010 James but the 12th most balls into play as line drives.

Most lines drives, 2010
Hitter Line Drives WOBA
Placido Polanco 126 0.657
Robinson Cano 124 0.739
Ichiro Suzuki 123 0.667
Carlos Gonzalez 120 0.802
Austin Jackson 119 0.739
Adrian Beltre 117 0.752
Joe Mauer 115 0.721
Michael Young 115 0.717
Vladimir Guerrero 111 0.742
Chone Figgins 110 0.641
Jose Lopez 110 0.696
James Loney 109 0.745
Daric Barton 108 0.738
Miguel Tejada 108 0.683
Raul Ibanez 107 0.730
Shane Victorino 106 0.725
Marco Scutaro 105 0.735
Jhonny Peralta 105 0.665
Albert Pujols 105 0.880
Aubrey Huff 104 0.763
Adrian Gonzalez 103 0.748
Matt Holliday 102 0.854
Denard Span 101 0.665
Billy Butler 100 0.844


Note that James wOBA on line drives ranks eighth among these players, which puts him on the dividing line between the true power hitters (Pujols, Butler, the Adrians) and the singles hitters (Figgins, Young Suzuki).  Loney's high line drive rates are a constant, as at least 22% of his balls in play went for liners in each of the last three seasons.

Part of that comes from pitchers preferring Loney line drives to home runs.  He hits line drives on the outside half of the plate:

James Loney line drives, 2008-2010He hits home runs on the inside half of the plate, and even off the inside corner:

James Loney home runs, 2008-2010So opponents pitch to his line drive strength, not his home run strength:

James Loney, all pitches, 2008-2010Is it worth it?  James's isolated power stands at .343 on fly balls, .245 on liners.  He collects many more hits on the liners, but they do less damage.  Given his very poor hitting on ground balls (.211 BA, .223 slugging), limiting his power by giving up more line drives appears to be a great tradeoff.