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Red Sox Opt For Offense in NL Park

With a right-handed pitcher on the mound for the second game of the Philadelphia Phillies-Boston Red Sox series, Terry Francona has decided to rearrange his lineup and get all his biggest bats into the game. That means he has to find two places on the field for Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz, neither of which is particularly fleet of foot, and although Gonzalez has a slick glove, it’s fair to question how he could handle the outfield. These questions will be answered today, as Francona has elected to put Gonzalez in right field to open up first for the statue that is David Ortiz.

Ortiz effectively replaces Mike Cameron in the lineup. Cameron has been a shell of his former self this year, posting a miniscule 25 wRC+, whereas Ortiz has been playing his best baseball in years, posting a 165 wRC+, a difference on the order of 90 runs over the course of a full season. The true talent difference probably isn’t quite that large, but throwing in the platoon advantage it’s not difficult to imagine an offensive gain of around half a run per game with this move.

This will be Gonzalez’s first game as a right fielder since he played eight innings there for the Rangers in 2005. The worst right fielders (think Adam Dunn and Brad Hawpe) tend to be around -30 runs over a full season, and I can’t imagine Gonzalez, very out of practice and lacking outfield range, would be much better. David Ortiz has been the butt of jokes as an American League representative at first base in All-Star Games at NL parks before, which should speak to how poor he is in the field. Think Prince Fielder, but without the practice of playing the position every day, and probably with less range. The defensive difference between Gonzalez and Cameron, two above-average defenders, as opposed to Ortiz and Gonzalez, likely two of the worst fielders in the game at their position, could approach something like 50 runs over the course of a whole season, or about a third of a run per game.

So although the difference in runs per game appears negligible, just looking at these dry statistics, I think Francona is making a great decision with this lineup. With John Lackey on the mound, the Red Sox may need to score more runs than usual regardless of the quality of their defense. Also, in one individual game, there’s a chance Gonzalez may only be forced into action at RF two or three times, and Ortiz may not even have to face any challenging plays at first. Regardless of what happens in the game, though, both the first baseman and right fielder will have to hit at least three times, and likely four or five.

The Red Sox have a flexible enough bench that they can easily go to a defensive replacement at any time in the game by inserting Cameron into right field and returning Gonzalez to first base. With the heavy-hitting run-scoring lineup on the field to begin the game, the Sox may be able to sprint out to an early lead and then revert to a defensive lineup in the later innings. Francona is employing a creative and potentially risky plan, but the flexibility of his lineup and talent of his hitters suggest that it is the right one.