Pressure’s on Jacoby Ellsbury Since Red Sox Now Have Other Leadoff Options

Pressure's on Jacoby Ellsbury Since Red Sox Now Have Other Leadoff OptionsEditor’s note: Each weekday starting Jan. 17, NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will offer his take on 10 different potential lineups for the 2011 Red Sox. Check back every day to see a new offensive rundown and the pros, cons and likelihood of each.

By all accounts, Jacoby Ellsbury is on track to arrive in Fort Myers, Fla., next month ready to go. What remains to be seen is how he will respond to losing almost an entire season with an injury that made almost any baseball-related activity a difficult one.

If Ellsbury is healthy but struggling to get it going, he is a candidate to be dropped in the lineup. Not only do the Red Sox have a speed guy they can bat leadoff in Carl Crawford, they also have precedent for making such a move with Ellsbury — a move that brough immediate results. In 2008, amid a slump that had dropped his average to .259, he was moved to the ninth spot and a few other places for about two weeks. Ellsbury emerged with a .272 mark and led off the rest of the way.

In 2009, while hitting a healthy .299 but drawing few walks, he found himself moved from first to eighth in the lineup. Over the next 50 days or so, Ellsbury would also hit second, fifth, sixth and seventh before returning to the top spot after having bumped his on-base percentage from .332 to .343.

For the sake of this edition of the lineup possibilities, let’s imagine that Ellsbury is struggling out of the gate — not a major stretch considering he might have some rust to shake off. Here is one configuration Terry Francona could use in taking some pressure off his center fielder:

1. Carl Crawford, LF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
5. David Ortiz, DH
6. Mike Cameron, RF
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
8. Marco Scutaro, SS
9. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF

Pros
By moving everyone up a slot Pedroia, Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz are hitting in more customary spots than they would be in the lineup that we expect to see. That can’t hurt. Plus, even a struggling Ellsbury is a pretty dangerous No. 9 hitter.

Cons
The only real negative is the fact that one of your better hitters is struggling. However, there are other issues to address. For one, Cameron is in the lineup to prevent having to bat J.D. Drew behind Ortiz, but it would be best to have Drew in a lineup if there is a right-hander on the mound. If Drew started, it might be better to have him batting seventh, one spot away from Ortiz, but then who do you bat sixth to protect the DH? That could be Ellsbury, who has no issues against left-handers like Drew and Ortiz, or perhaps Jed Lowrie in place of Scutaro. It’s also noteworthy that Crawford has said in the past that he doesn’t yearn to be a leadoff hitter. One key is keeping Saltalamacchia at least one batter away from Ellsbury or Crawford as he could be a base-clogger getting on ahead of those guys.

Likelihood we will see this lineup in 2011
As long as Ellsbury is OK, perhaps never.

Wednesday, Jan. 19: Mike Cameron, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie can fill in nicely in lineup against left-handed pitching.