The offseason brought along a lot of changes to the Boston Red Sox lineup. Now there’s one more change that the Sox would be wise to make.
When scanning the Red Sox roster you can’t help but feel like every player should have a question mark next to their name– you just don’t know what kind of a season they’re going to have in 2013. For Red Sox manager John Farrell, the surplus of enigmatic players can cause you concern if you let it, or you can embrace the freedom that comes along with the situation, as in the freedom to play who you want to play, more specifically, the freedom to play the player with the hot bat.
That’s the approach the new Red Sox manager should use when filling out his lineup card this season. It’s the best way to maximize the production you will get from this team.
Other than Ellsbury and Pedroia, nobody is spared. If David Ortiz is struggling to start the season, you sit him in favor of the flavor of the week. That could be Mauro Gomez. That could be Mike Carp. That could be whoever is playing well. And the Red Sox will be better for it. You give Ortiz a day off, then you play him the next. Tell Ortiz you want to work him in slowly because of the achilles. Nobody will ever know that you don’t want him pulling your production down.
With other less established players like Will Middlebrooks, you extend the amount of time they sit if their replacement is on fire. If Middlebrooks is hitting .200 over his last ten games and Pedro Ciriaco is .400 over his last two games, you play Ciriaco until Middlebrooks is swinging the bat well or Ciriaco is not.
And if Jonny Gomes, Mauro Gomez, Daniel Nava, Lyle Overbay, or Mike Carp aren’t hitting, you simply don’t play them until a regular needs a breather.
And you do the same thing with the fourth and fifth starter. If Felix Doubront or John Lackey is struggling, you pitch Franklin Morales or Steven Wright. You move Doubront to AAA, and you hide Lackey in the pen for a couple of weeks. If the players have a problem with that, too bad, pitch better. They simply don’t have the track record that would suggest that they will, well, get right back on track.
This team isn’t good enough to let perceived starters work out the kinks. If Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew are struggling, don’t play them. They’re not so good that Farrell should feel like he’s mandated to play them. Play Nava, play Carp.
It’s a new possibility for this ballclub that was accustomed to pandering to the big name players that it used to trot out on the field everyday. They need to take this flexibility and run with it.
There’s a reason why MLB players constantly study their swings with the vast video analysis that’s provided to them. That’s because when they’re struggling, there’s a reason for it. They’re dropping their back shoulder, they’re opening up their front shoulder, they’re getting loopy in their swing, they’re not staying inside the ball, etc. So why would you play an average player when they’re playing below average? You don’t.
They do in fact have a lot of average players: Victorino, Middlebrooks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew. Those guys will play the majority of the games at their position, but they are still average. Again, when they are playing below average, it’s time to tag somebody else in.
Of course, if Gomes and Napoli are struggling against lefthanders, then the team is in big trouble. Those guys smash lefties. If they don’t, chances are they’re wasting space and this team is losing a lot of games. If that’s the case, scratch the hot bat approach and play the young guys every day. No matter if they’re hitting well or not.
Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
Feature Photo Credit: Josué Canals via Flickr