Dustin Pedroia Leadoff Experiment Worth A Shot For Struggling Red Sox

BOSTON — The Red Sox have entered the trial-and-error phase of the 2015 season.

Red Sox manager John Farrell shuffled his starting lineup for Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park, with the most notable change located atop the order, where Dustin Pedroia batted leadoff in place of Mookie Betts. The move could be short-lived, but Farrell didn’t completely shut the door on Pedroia staying in the leadoff spot beyond the middle game of the teams’ three-game set.

“We’ll see how it unfolds,” Farrell said. “Hopefully (Saturday) is a day where we handle (Angels starter C.J.) Wilson, who is off to a decent start. We’ve got another left-handed starter (Sunday in Hector Santiago). Depending on who’s available tomorrow to be in the lineup, we’ll address that at that time.”

Clearly, the Red Sox’s starting lineup no longer is etched in stone. It’s very much a fluid situation, especially with Rusney Castillo joining the mix and forcing some sort of outfield rotation involving him, Betts and Shane Victorino. And to be honest, it’s a welcome development for a unit that had grown stale.

But rather than focusing on whether Pedroia will remain in the leadoff spot even when Betts returns to the starting lineup — Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington stressed Saturday he believes Betts is in a good position to succeed with Boston — let’s focus on whether Pedroia should remain in the leadoff spot.

Obviously, the decision — like every other lineup decision — should be results-driven. If Pedroia succeeds atop the order in the next day or two, there’s no harm in proceeding with him batting leadoff and Betts/Victorino batting second until it no longer works. Farrell expressed a willingness Saturday to ride the hot hand — it explains Xander Bogaerts moving up in the order — and keeping Pedroia in the leadoff spot certainly would fall into that category if it ends up being more than a one-game experiment.

Betts has hits in four straight games. He also sizzled some balls against the Texas Rangers that resulted in outs based on defensive positioning, straight-up good defense, etc. The 22-year-old looks primed for a turnaround after enduring some hiccups during the Red Sox’s recent road trip, and the ideal Boston lineup features a productive Betts batting leadoff. His skill set is perfectly suited for the role.

But let’s not ignore the totality of the situation. Betts entered Saturday hitting .232 with a .290 on-base percentage. Of the 16 players in Major League Baseball with at least 125 plate appearances out of the leadoff spot, Betts ranks 14th — ahead of only Adam Eaton and Billy Hamilton — in both offensive categories. It’s not like he has set the world on fire to this point, especially against left-handers (.171 average, .222 on-base percentage in 45 plate appearances), so moving him down a spot might actually benefit the young outfielder and the Red Sox in the short-term.

Still, the whole idea of Pedroia batting leadoff — aside from potentially being a temporary thing based on Betts’ absence Saturday — should center on the second baseman’s production. The 31-year-old traditionally hasn’t performed well batting first, but this season already is shaping up to be unique. He’s hitting .175 (7-for-40) with eight strikeouts and a .439 OPS with runners in scoring position, yet he’s hitting a far more respectable .295 (28-for-95) with an .865 OPS with the bases empty.

It’s not like Pedroia is totally incapable of driving in runs. The whole team is struggling with men on base. But with change becoming a necessity for the Red Sox, it’s worth seeing if a minor lineup tweak could alleviate some of the pressure placed on Pedroia. There have been times when his offensive approach, particularly with men on base, has looked different than in years past, much to his detriment.

Welcome to 2015, when thinking outside the box is a requirement as it pertains to the Red Sox’s offense.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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