As you know, Jacoby Ellsbury has vacated the spot when he signed earlier this offseason with the New York Yankees. Although Ellsbury’s replacement in center field, Jackie Bradley Jr., is going to be more prepared his second time on the Opening Day roster, asking him to hit leadoff is a bit too much pressure to put on the kid.
Why not the wunderkind Xander Bogaerts? Same reason, at least to start the year anyway. Bogaerts is never going to be the classic base stealer, but his hitting eye is good enough that he will learn to take a walk to start a game and will mature into a smart base runner.
Remember, the most important job of a leadoff hitter once he reaches base is to score. By the time we hit the meat of the season, Red Sox Manager John Farrell may feel comfortable enough to expose Bogaerts or Bradley Jr. five or six times a game, but they are going to have to show they can handle it.
Nava would be a solid choice. His slash line of .303/.385/.445 and OPS+ of 128 last year fits the bill for starting an inning, but he is absolutely no threat to steal a base. In the two times Nava was sent to swipe a bag, he was thrown out.
Those of us that remember the days of Dwight Evans and Wade Boggs leading off for the Sox scoff at stolen bases. Then again, we miss watching Cheers and eating Planters Cheez Balls too. In any event, having a virtual statue leading off is not a great idea.
Enter Victorino and his magnetic forearms. He certainly can swipe a bag when needed, stealing an impressive 21 out of 24 in 2013. His slash line of .294/.351/.451 and lack of ability to draw walks, however, leaves him a better option remaining in the two-hole in the lineup. Coming off of thumb surgery, Victroino would probably like to have a bit of added protection until he feels fully recovered.
That leaves Pedroia.
Yes, Pedroia is also coming off thumb surgery and yes, the Sox are going to need to protect David Ortiz in the order, but Pedroia’s numbers fit the leadoff spot.
The slash line of .301/.372./.415 of 2013 is perfect. Only Ortiz and Nava had a higher on-base percentage of the Red Sox regulars. For the record, Ellsbury’s .355 OBP was fifth on the team.
Pedroia draws an equal amount of walks and strikeouts. Walking 73 and fanning 75 times last season, and only trailed Ellsbury with runs scored. Ellsbury scored 92, Pedroia 91. Pedroia can steal bases as needed, going 17 of 22 in 2013, and can provide some leadoff pop, 53 extra-base hits in the last campaign.
Pedroia would walk through a plate-glass window swinging a bat if he was asked to. With 724 plate appearances last year, the extra time or two at the plate is not going to throw him off.
It may not be permanent, but do not be surprised if Pedroia is the first to dig in the batter’s box come March 31 in Baltimore.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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