Year after year, the Red Sox are among the league leaders in just about every offensive category. Mainly due to Fenway Park, which plays a huge role in their offensive prowess, it has actually become a rarity when a Red Sox player does not win the American League batting title. While in the previous years (pre Theo Epstein), the Sox would rely solely on their offense to win games, this year it will simply be another piece to the puzzle. Their defense and pitching will be stellar, so not as much pressure will be placed on the offense to constantly outslug the other team. With that being said, the Red Sox will still boast one of the most potent offenses in all of baseball. This article will focus on the projected batting order for the 2009 season.
The first three hitters in the loaded Red Sox lineup will most likely be Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz. After splitting time last year with Coco Crisp, Jacoby Ellsbury, in his second full Major League season has been handed the reigns as Boston’s everyday center fielder. Last year, in his first full season, Ellsbury showed a little bit of pop with nine homeruns, but he only had a .335 on base percentage (OBP). In order to maintain his spot at the top of the lineup, which the Red Sox would love for him to do, he must improve his OBP. The Sox brass would like to see closer to a .370 OBP out of their lead off man. With a higher on base percentage, Ellsbury would also be able to improve on his already astounding speed numbers. Last year, Ellsbury had fifty steals with under two-hundred combined hits and walks. Now that he is completely healthy and he has become a bit more comfortable with the pitchers that he will see, expect Ellsbury to raise his average from .273 last year to closer to .300 this year, hit around 10-15 homeruns, score 100 runs, and increase his OBP significantly. Dustin Pedroia, who will most likely occupy the coveted two hole in the Red Sox lineup, will most likely continue to improve on his amazing numbers from the last two years.
Last year, Pedroia had one of the best offensive seasons ever for a Red Sox second baseman. He ended the season with a .326 average, 213 hits, 17 homeruns, 83 RBI, 118 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases. One of the most amazing stats was that he actually accumulated more doubles (54) than strikeouts (52). Pedroia’s OBP was a stellar .376, and was approaching a .500 slugging percentage (.493). Pedroia did all of this in only his second season in the Major Leagues, and barring an injury, he should continue to improve on those numbers this year. This year, the fiery and passionate 5’9″ second baseman should maintain an average right around .330, and his power numbers should remain consistent with last year’s, but look for something closer to 100 RBI and an OBP right around .400. The Silver Slugger award winner is probably the most important piece this dominant lineup.
David Ortiz will once again occupy the third spot in the Red Sox lineup as he has for the last six years. Ortiz has a lot to prove this year, as he could surely hear the whispers that he is past his prime, and his big body may finally be catching up to him. Last season was one marred by injuries, as Ortiz just never could get into any real flow. His average and on base percentage dropped nearly seventy points from 2007, and his homerun total dropped over twenty from two years ago. Ortiz comes into 2009 seemingly healthy and ready to prove all the doubters and naysayers wrong. Look for a bounce back season in ’09, in which he should once again approach a .300 average, have over a .400 OBP, and hit about 30-35 homeruns. In 2009, David Ortiz will once again become one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball.
Spots four through six in the Sox lineup will likely consist of Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis, and J.D. Drew. Jason Bay, who will be in his first full season with the Red Sox, fit in nicely last year when he came over at the trade deadline. In forty-nine games with the Red Sox, Bay hit a respectable .293 with 9 homeruns and 37 RBI. For the season, Bay hit 31 homeruns and accumulated 101 RBI and 110 runs scored. Astonishingly, his RBI and runs scored should actually improve this year, as he spent most of last year batting in a horrific Pittsburgh Pirates lineup. The poorly constructed lineup of the Pirates allowed pitchers to pitch around Bay, which lead to him rarely seeing a great pitch to hit. Now that he is firmly supplanted in the Red Sox lineup, he should see a ton of good pitches as he will most likely be bookended by Ortiz and Drew.
Kevin Youkilis, who will start in the fifth spot, but will likely see time in many other spots in the lineup, is probably the most consistent hitter for the Red Sox over the last few years. Last year, in his best year yet which netted him a four year contract extension, he batted a career .312 with a career best 29 homeruns and 115 RBI. His average and OBP (.390) were to be expected by the man nicknamed “The Greek God of Walks” (even though he is not Greek), but the power numbers were a pleasant surprise. Nobody expected Youkilis to approach 30 homeruns, but last season he seemed to come into his own as the most reliable hitter on the team. It is hard to predict what Youk will do this season in terms of power, but you should expect his average and OBP to continue to climb, while still maintaining at least 20 homeruns and close to 100 RBI.
The oft-injured J.D. Drew will occupy the sixth spot in the lineup, and while this seems to be said before every season, if he can stay healthy, this could be his most productive season yet. In the only two seasons that he was healthy throughout, 2004 and 2006, J.D. Drew hit 31 and 20 homeruns, respectively, and had 93 and 100 RBI, respectively. Last year, Drew looked as if he was going to have one of those special seasons, when he hit 12 homeruns in June when he won American League Player of the Month. Then the injuries came, and Drew ended a disappointing campaign with only 19 homeruns and 64 RBI. When the Red Sox signed him to seventy million dollar contract, they were expecting a consistent .300 hitter with significant power numbers. In two seasons, they have yet to see those expectations come to fruition, but this may be the year. Unfortunately, Drew is already complaining of back soreness in the preseason, but luckily the Sox signed Rocco Baldelli, who could easily step in and play a significant role for Boston if Drew does succumb to more injuries.
The last three spots in the lineup will probably be occupied by Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, and Jed Lowrie. Mike Lowell, who will bat seventh for the Sox, is also coming back from an injury. The player who was the throw-in in the Beckett trade, and who ended up capturing the World Series MVP in 2007, wants to prove that he still has something left in the tank. Lowell displayed a tremendous amount of courage and toughness last year when he attempted to play through a torn labrum in his hip, but it was clear that he was lacking the movement and strength that he normally possesses. Now healed, Lowell is looking to have a comeback season in which his numbers resemble those of 2007, when he batted .324 and had 120 RBI. I would look for somewhere around a .290 average and about 100 RBI. These numbers, out of a number seven hitter, would be pretty spectacular.
Batting eighth will be the captain, Jason Varitek. The heart and soul of the Boston Red Sox will stay in the spot that he occupied for most of last season. After the worst offensive season of his career in 2008, which led many to question whether or not the Red Sox should bring him back in 2009, Varitek did indeed sign a one year contract to remain with the Sox for this season, and during Spring Training, he is showing signs of the old Varitek returning. Last season, Varitek batted an abysmal .220 with only 13 homeruns and 43 RBI (only 15 of which came after the all star break). Nobody knows for sure if the many years behind the plate have finally taken their toll on Jason, but one would expect at least some improvement over last year’s numbers. Look for around a .250 average, 15 homeruns and about 60 RBI in the 2009 season.
The second leadoff or number nine hitter for the 2009 version of the Boston Red Sox will be Jed Lowrie. Lowrie went into Spring Training in a battle with Julio Lugo for the starting shortstop position, but after Lugo injured his knee, which required surgery, Lowrie was handed the job. Last season, Jed provided a spark to a crumbling offense when he came up from AAA right after the all star break. In 81 games, Lowrie had 25 doubles and 46 RBI. His average was .260, but it dropped significantly when he hurt his wrist with about a month or two to go in the season. This also diminished his power numbers, which should, with a full season, approach 15-20 homeruns and close to 80 RBI. A solid defender and smart offensive player, Lowrie should, if his minor league career holds true, see his average jump significantly in his second season in the Majors. Look for around a .280 average and close to .360 OBP.
The Red Sox will once again have a lineup that other teams fear. One through nine will be dangerous, and when you have player who two years ago was the batting champion batting seventh, you have to be pretty happy with the potential for this group of players. They have an important mix of youth and experience, and youth with experience, and this will help them tremendously when the dog days of summer come around. With a much improved bench, the Red Sox will be able to give their starters rest, and not lose much with their replacements. This should be a successful season, one in which the Red Sox will reclaim their post as the best team in the AL East Division. With the pitching, defense, and offense that the Red Sox will run out there game in and game out, it is difficult to find a team that matches up with them.
Prediction: 103-59 – First Place in the American League East
Source: All stats were taken from Yahoo Sports.