Third Wheel: Who should hit lead-off for the Sox? Almost everyone is a candidate.

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An interesting topic of discussion popped up on a Red Sox fan discussion board and thought I would take a shot at tackling just who should lead-off for the Red Sox.

The actual question is about the best lead-off guy in the game, and I’ll address that online with a blog.

But, for now, I am going to tackle the top of the Sox’s order.

First, if I am looking for a guy that is going to set the table for my big boppers, here is the criteria I would use, based on a weighted formula in terms of what is more important:

1. On-base percentage (.400 or above is 25 points; .375 to .399 is 24 points; .350 to .374 is 23 points; .325 to .349 is 22 points; .300 to .324 is 21 points; .299 or below is 0 points)

2. Walks (40 or above is 20 points; 30 to 39 is 19 points; 20 to 29 is 18 points; 10 to 19 is 17 points; 1 to 9 is 16 points; 0 is 0 points)

3. Strikeouts (10 or less is 15 points; 11 to 20 is 14 points; 21 to 30 is 13 points; 31 to 40 is 12 points; 41 to 50 is 11 points; 50 or more is 0 points)

4. Runs scored (50 or more is 10 points; 40 to 49 is 9 points; 30 to 39 is 8 points; 20 to 29 is 7 points; 10 to 19 is 6 points; 10 or below is 0 points)

5. Stolen bases (20 or above is 5 points; 15 to 19 is 4 points; 10 to 14 is 3 points; 5 to 9 is 2 points; 1 to 4 is 1 point; 0 is 0 points)

I have taken average out of this equation because that is the most commonly used attribute for a “good” lead-off guy.

In reality, it’s about getting on base, any way you can, for your run producers.

I will eliminate David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez as possibilities in the lead-off position because their lumber is too important in the 3 and 4 spots, respectively. Alex Cora, Wily Mo Pena, Doug Mirabelli and Eric Hinske are disregarded because they don’t have enough at-bats to be statistically significant.

Everyone else is fair game, with the stats running up to the All-Star break.

Coco Crisp (287 at-bats): .322 OBP; 24 walks; 40 strikeouts; 44 runs; 16 stolen bases. Total: 64 of 75 points.

Kevin Youkilis (293 at-bats): .419 OBP; 40 walks; 40 strikeouts; 50 runs; 2 stolen bases. Total: 68 of 75 points.

Jason Varitek (244 at-bats): .367 OBP; 37 walks; 59 strikeouts; 32 runs; 1 stolen base. Total: 51 of 75 points.

Mike Lowell (303 at-bats): .351 OBP; 26 walks; 33 strikeouts; 39 runs; 2 stolen bases. Total: 62 of 75 points.

J.D. Drew (256 at-bats): .368 OBP; 45 walks; 54 strikeouts; 47 runs; 1 stolen base. Total: 53 of 75 points.

Dustin Pedroia (242 at-bats): .400 OBP; 30 walks; 22 strikeouts; 34 runs; 1 stolen base. Total: 66 of 75 points.

Julio Lugo (299 at-bats): .270 OBP; 31 walks; 43 strikeouts; 36 runs; 22 stolen bases. Total: 43 of 75 points.

Youkilis, by this statistical formula, is the clear winner of the lead-off sweepstakes. He isn’t your prototypical speedster that flies around the bases and causes havoc. But, that doesn’t seem to win ballgames anymore. It’s about moving station to station, so the most important attribute is to get your rear-end on base. And Youkilis does that.

Some have argued that Pedroia may be the best at the top, but this is where leadership does come into play. Youkilis has been there, done that. And, in many ways, he protects Pedroia in that No. 2 spot, with the rookie possibly seeing more pitches.

The most interesting portion of this lineup may be the bottom, where it would make sense for Crisp to hit No. 7, where he could act as a third lead-off guy. As you get through your power guys (Ortiz, Ramirez, Lowell, Drew), you want someone that can start it up again, and Crisp can do that with his speed. His bat has been hot and could set the table for Varitek (36 RBIs, sixth on the team), who is a clutch player that is a bit past his prime.

And, lastly, Lugo leads the team in steals, and when he does decide to work his way on base, Youkilis could still have RBI opportunities if Lugo takes second.

This is a dangerous lineup, but some tinkering, according to the stats, is needed. Youkilis is doing Ortiz, nor Ramirez, any favors by hitting behind them. They need him on base so they see more pitches to hit, otherwise pitchers will pitch around them to get to Youkilis.

In the lead-off spot, they have no choice but to face him.

Minor tinkering, but could mean an awful lot of offensive production.

And an AL East title.

Stats don’t lie, do they?

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