Sox Switch? A Batting Order Change That Just Makes Sense
Photo Credit: Gabe Lacques/USA Today Sports
Numerous outlets reported earlier this offseason that Red Sox manager Alex Cora intends to move reigning American League Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts out of the leadoff spot and into the two hole, while its former occupant Andrew Benintendi takes over leadoff duties.
Coming off a franchise-record win total, an MVP-winning campaign, and a World Series championship, why would the Sox skipper even consider changing the batting order up?
The answer? Creating even more opportunities to produce for the most vital bat in the defending champions lineup.
In the modern game, your best hitter, who is capable of power, should bat second. The idea of “hitting cleanup” is antiquated despite its place in the game’s history, with countless legends batting fourth.
Though leading off allowed Betts to set the tone and maximize his plate appearances the last few seasons, it does limit your ability to produce runs simply because the players at the bottom of the order are there for a reason. They just do not reach base as much as the top of the order.
The Sox used twelve different players in the nine-hole last season, with Gold Glove-winning Centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. appearing in that spot a team-high eighty times. The reason pundits always preface JBJ with a notation about his defensive abilities is that despite some postseason heroics, he had a paltry .314 on-base percentage a year ago, and only a .317 mark for his career.
The next most appearances at the bottom of the order were made by the catching platoon of Sandy Leon and Christian Vasquez. These were 44 games where the pair of backstops, who finished the season with .232 and .257 on-base percentages respectively, batted before the league MVP.
Andrew Benintendi had a .366 on-base percentage in 2018, and sports a .359 mark for his career. Not to mention his superior baserunning compared to the 44 games where Leon or Vasquez was asked to advance on the base hits of Betts.
This change at the top of the order will also facilitate more opportunities for the heart of the Sox lineup, with the speedy Betts aboard for the thunderous bat of J.D. Martinez. Call it a trickle-down offense, maximizing opportunities for the best hitters, the most possible times with Benintendi-Betts-Martinez-Bogaerts batting one to four every time the lineup turns over.
Giving Betts a more capable on-base player will certainly lead to more runs scored, and though the RBI is a dated statistic in the analytics-driven MLB of today, players still count them with pride. Appeasing a star is nothing new in sports, and this strategy should do more than just help the back of his baseball card look more effective. It helps win games.
Winning now is important for this Red Sox team, with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado having set the market for what this generation of stars will be looking for at the negotiating table. Betts is waiting his turn to receive a “mega-deal” which the 10.9 WAR player is more than deserving of.
Every contending team in baseball will be after his services when he hits free agency when his arbitration-eligible seasons conclude at the end of 2020. The Sox will have to pay to keep their star, and appealing to what he wants in the lineup now can create goodwill when that time comes.