Boston's lead-off problem
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Sometimes, you get what you pay for. Welcome to the wild world of Boston baseball, a place where Mike Napoli and John Lackey sometimes share a bunk bed and where Brock Holt has suddenly become a viable lead-off option.

John Henry, a man who has spent his wealth on everything from stock car racing to European soccer teams, could have matched the Yankees' $153 million offer to Jacoby Ellsbury. But instead, he and GM Ben Cherington took a more conservative approach, opting for the infinitely less expensive center field tandem of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore.

So how's that working out for ol' Johnny boy?

Well, not too great judging by Boston's 8-10 record. But it's not panic time yet. After all, it's not even May. Even with a sub .500 record, the Bo Sox are still just two and a half games behind the division-leading Yankees.

If Jon Lester does what he's supposed to on Tuesday, that lead could be trimmed to a game and a half. You have to figure David Ortiz (.261 AVG in April) will turn things around sooner or later. The same goes for battle- tested veteran Dustin Pedroia (no homers in 80 at bats this season).

But all the Papi and Laser Show heroics in the world won't be enough to cover up Boston's most glaring deficiency, a complete and utter lack of consistency out of the lead-off spot.

Actually, let me take that back. Red Sox lead-off hitters have been plenty consistent this season. Consistently awful, that is.

With Ellsbury wearing enemy pinstripes, the John Farrell-led Sox have experimented with five different lead-off hitters this season. That number stretches to six if you include a pinch-hitting appearance by A.J. Pierzynski on April 9. Overall, the group has accumulated a .190 average in 84 at bats, 26th out of 30 teams in Major League Baseball. No Red Sox team has hit below .260 in the lead-off spot since 2008 (.256).

Lead-off hitters are the table setters, the catalysts that can make or break an offense. Last year, Boston hit .294 out of that spot in the lineup, second best in the major leagues. Eight of the last 11 World Series champs have hit .260 or better out of the lead-off spot including the '03 Marlins, '04 and '13 Red Sox and '09 Yankees who were all over .290.

The lead-off spot has a strange way of turning good hitters into really bad ones. Pedroia, for example, has hit just .200 out of the lead-off position this season (15 at bats). In his other 65 trips to the plate, his average is .292.

The change has been even more pronounced for Grady Sizemore. The three-time All-Star is hitting a dismal .100 in his 30 lead-off at bats this season. But if you take those at bats away, Sizemore has basically been Ted Williams (.370 in 31 plate appearances).

With Farrell constantly stirring up the lineup like some kind of demented Hogwarts villain, it's been hard for players to get adjusted to their new roles. Ellsbury, who will play his first game as a Fenway visitor on Tuesday night, saw 81.2 percent of Boston's lead-off at bats in 2013. This season, no single player has accounted for more than 36 percent of the team's lead-off at bats.

The ironic thing is that Ellsbury isn't even hitting lead-off anymore. More than half of his at bats this season have come in the No. 3 spot in the order.

At least help is on the way. Shane Victorino is close to returning from a strained hamstring and should assume the lead-off position for Boston upon his return.

The only problem is that Victorino holds a .249 batting average in 911 career at bats as a lead-off hitter. That's 36 points lower than he has hit in all other spots in the order (.285 in 4,329 career at bats).

So much for an easy fix. You're on your own, Johnny boy.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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