FORT MYERS, Fla. - The days of one set lineup have been gone, for the most part in baseball, for some time.
The set lineup will not reappear in Boston for the 2012 season.
Bobby Valentine has interesting thoughts about lineup composition, and if you read between the lines, it’s clear that Red Sox players will have no idea where they’re batting from one day to the next.
Valentine admitted this phenomenon will require patience and some getting used to by the players, but what he doesn’t want to do is throw the same lineup out there every day. He’d like to tailor the lineup to the starting pitcher, the bullpen, the opposing manager, whatever it takes for him to have the competitive advantage.
Some early lineup compositions have featured Dustin Pedroia in the leadoff spot and Jacoby Ellsbury second. That’s because Valentine prefers a righthanded hitter in front of a lefthanded hitter.
“I would think if you polled 100 guys,’’ he said, “and they wanted a guy leading off the inning and have the second batter batting, most of them would want a lefthanded [hitter] batting if the first guy got on. If he hits a double, it’s a lot easier for him to advance him to third; if he hits a single, he hits with a hole [on the right side].’’
Valentine doesn’t appear to be as adamant about alternating lefty and righty hitters, which Terry Francona seemed to be obsessed with.
“It’s a thought,’’ he said. “We don’t do that with righthanders and say, ‘God forbid I ever have two righthanders in a row.’ So it’s not necessarily a reason. Now, if there’s a platoon differential - and a lot of times there is, more so on the left side because there’s some lefthanded specialists - you don’t like to give the other [manager] an advantage in thinking.
“It’s not necessarily an advantage in strategy; it’s just one less thought he has to make.’’
Valentine didn’t always think this way. In fact, if you look back at some of his Rangers and Mets lineups, they were always pretty set. Something changed his thinking.
“I think [my thinking] has evolved,’’ he said. “It was a combination of things. One, I would start getting more information, where I would realize that some lineups probably work better against some pitchers. Some lineups probably work better against different bullpens. Some lineups cannot be together all year and the last thing you ever want a pitcher to think when he goes out on the mound is that he’s pitching with something less than the best lineup behind him. That’s all part of team-building, I think.
“Knowing that a lineup is going to change 100 times in a season, if the only time a team thinks it’s going to win is when their lineup’s out on the field, then there’s going to be a lot of games they’re going to take the field where they think they don’t have to win. It creates a bad mentality, I think, to think that you have one lineup and that lineup is the one that wins. I think it’s a Little League mentality that should not exist at the highest level of baseball.’’
Valentine said that in regard to set lineups, “I don’t think it’s part and parcel to [success in the major leagues]. It’s a wonderful talk-show topic, the lineup. Then you go through the St. Louis Cardinals’ run to the World Series and you see in the playoffs and the World Series, they might have used the same lineup twice.’’
Valentine doesn’t seem to get too frazzled by the possibility the players could resist the constant lineup changes.
“I had Mike Piazza, who said, ‘I only hit third. It’s the only way I can be successful.’ So he’s going to the Hall of Fame because of what he did with the Mets hitting fourth. So I get all that stuff. I think that’s a work in progress. Some guys have said, ‘Hit me anywhere, I don’t care.’ Then when I walk out, I see that their fingers were crossed.’’
He also indicated that while some players - such as Adrian Gonzalez - may want to play every day, Valentine doesn’t believe that will be the case. Which is why he’s been playing David Ortiz at first base.
Valentine admitted that he doesn’t yet know what he might do with his lineup.
“I don’t have a good feel for it [yet],’’ he said. “I think it’s such a talented team that it seems like they can score a lot of runs a lot of ways. The only thing I think about a lineup is that I want to have a chance to score every inning and make it close to an equal chance.’’
So what should he do?
One lineup could be Pedroia leading off, followed by Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Ortiz, Cody Ross, Carl Crawford, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Mike Aviles.
You could go Ellsbury, Crawford, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz, Ross, Aviles, and Saltalamacchia.
What will be interesting is whether Valentine will placate Crawford’s wishes to hit at the top of the order. Crawford told managers in Tampa Bay he doesn’t like to lead off. Youkilis always said he’d hit anywhere except leadoff.
It’s not that Valentine doesn’t care what players think or where they do or do not feel comfortable. He’s basically saying it’s his job to make them feel comfortable, but he also said, “It’s also my job to make sure they’re not too comfortable.’’
American League teams use a lot of lineup combinations because of the designated hitter, resting players, interleague play, etc. The Mariners used 153 batting orders last season (according to Baseball-Reference.com), which was the most in the AL, followed by the Twins with 152. The fewest were the 89 used by the Royals, followed by the 96 of the Yankees. The Red Sox used 124 lineups.
Most players have wanted to know where they’re hitting.
This topic seemed to be one of the things that messed up Crawford last season. Used primarily in the No. 2 spot before joining the Red Sox, Crawford, who hit a career-low .255, took a tour around the lineup last season, and never seemed comfortable. Francona started him in the No. 3 hole, then moved him lower to take pressure off, but Crawford didn’t seem to respond to an unfamiliar spot.
Do you pay a player $20 million to hit seventh?
This surely will be an ongoing issue.
Does it matter how much a player earns in regard to where he hits? Well, you never would buy a $20 million a year player to bat seventh, but who in the top of the order do you supplant to make room for Crawford?
These are decisions Valentine will have to make when Crawford returns. If he’s to miss the start of the season, then Valentine simply will have to decide where to bat Ross or Ryan Sweeney.
Suffice it to say, lineup composition never will be so well thought out as it will be under Valentine.