For over a decade, David Ortiz has been the face of the Red Sox franchise. Ortiz is the one everyone sees. He has been at the center of some of the most memorable moments in Red Sox history. While Ortiz is the face, Dustin Pedroia is the heart of the Red Sox. Therein lies the problem.
The Red Sox offense has been comatose for the better part of a month now. The team has scored the fewest runs in MLB in the month of May. The Sox have scored 49 runs in 20 games in May. The next worst is the Mets with 62 runs. If the Red Sox had a starting rotation of Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Cy Young, Lefty Grove, and Smoky Joe Wood, the Sox would still have a hard time winning if they’re averaging two runs per games, offensively.
Manager John Farrell has just now begun shuffling the lineup some in order to create a spark. Xander Bogaerts was moved up to fifth in the lineup on Friday night. Mike Napoli was dropped to sixth. Rusney Castillo was called up and started in right field on Friday. Farrell has said he will mix and match Castillo, Mookie Betts, and Shane Victorino (when, or if, healthy) between center and right field.
The elephant in the room, however, is the hole in the number two spot in the lineup. Okay, maybe it’s not an elephant. Maybe it’s just a baby calf, but it still smells and it doesn’t belong in the room.
Is it unfair to pin all the blame for the Red Sox offensive struggles on Pedroia? Of course it is. But he hits closest to the top of the lineup, so he should be addressed first. And his contract expires in 2021, so the Sox will have to deal with this problem at some point.
Here is the problem– Pedroia is not a top of the order hitter. Many teams are beginning to adopt the philosophy of penciling in their best hitters in the number two slot on the lineup card. In a 2013 USA Today article, manager Joe Maddon was quoted as saying, “The two-hole hitter is not being perceived as he was 20, 30, 40 years ago. Your’e looking for somebody to drive the ball.”
Does that sound like Pedroia right now?
Pedroia has seen his OPS dip each of the last three full seasons. Last year, it was a career low .712.
By contrast, the Angels last night had Mike Trout, the reigning AL MVP, batting second in the lineup. Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Ryan Braun have all spent significant time batting second. Which one of these isn’t like the other?
The problem may well be the Red Sox don’t have any hitters the caliber of those mentioned above. Pedroia is leading the team with a .269 average in May, but it is a punchless .269 which includes only five extra-base hits. It would be one thing if Pedroia could still swipe a bag or two, but his stolen bases have declined to the point where he is no longer a legitimate threat on the bases.
The Red Sox would be better served hitting Hanley Ramirez second. Somewhere down the road, if he ever fulfills his potential, Xander Bogaerts may be the ideal two-hole hitter. The combination of Betts and Bogaerts atop the lineup was highly productive last September (which went unnoticed since most Red Sox fans had tuned the team out by then).
The Pedroia problem has the potential to reach the levels of the Derek Jeter problem the Yankees faced last year. The Yankees were reluctant to remove Jeter from his traditional two-hole spot out of deference. The difference is the Yankees knew Jeter was retiring at the end of the year. The Red Sox can’t be deferential to Pedroia for the next seven years.