By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
It’s pretty well known that I was previously one of the harshest critics of former Red Sox manager John Farrell. It’s such a relief to use the word FORMER when talking about Farrell. Since his firing, may of us have followed the coverage of new manager Alex Cora very intently, and hopefully as open minded as possible. Some of his statements in regards to how he plans on managing this team are very encouraging. However, some are very concerning. Here are three of them…
Mookie Betts hitting lead off:
The current Red Sox lineup is very lefty heavy. In fact, on opening day there could be as many as SIX lefties in the starting lineup. After narrowly getting edged out for the 2016 AL MVP award, it became very clear that Mookie was the best right handed hitter on the roster. It would be common to expect a player of his capability would be a middle of the order batter, right?
Typically a lead off hitter is someone who hits for contact, and/or reaches base very often. If Mookie leads off, the second time through the order he will be tasked with trying to drive home the seven, eight, and nine hitters. Jackie Bradley is only a career .239 hitter, and it is hard to imagine Christian Vazquez is going to hit .320 again for most of the season. If neither of those two are getting on base with enough frequency, Mookie will not be driving in many runs.
Xander Bogaerts is the most ideal candidate for lead off. He tends to hit very well in the first half of the season, though mostly for contact. He also has a healthy career .340 OBP. I am highly skeptical that Dustin Pedroia will be able to remain healthy for a long enough period of time. However, if I am wrong, the long time second baseman would make a solid candidate to hit at the top of the order.
Finally, if the Red Sox seriously are not concerned about exceeding the luxury tax threshold as they earlier eluded to, then why not sign Eduardo Nunez? He provides a lot of flexibility in terms of where he can play, as well as great contact hitter. Nunez hit well above .300 for most of 2017. Most importantly of all, we know he can play in a market like Boston.
Ideally Mookie would hit third in the order. Andrew Benintendi would hit from the two hole, with Devers hitting from the four hole (assuming we don’t sign Martinez). This would provide the Red Sox with maximum scoring opportunities rather than Mookie wasting away at the top of the order. For a player who refuses to negotiate an extension, why would he be okay hitting in a spot which will hurt his value before free agency?
Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Joey Votto, and Paul Goldschmidt never hit from the one spot. Neither should Mookie.
Hanley Ramirez hitting in the middle of the order:
He is perhaps one of the goofiest players on the Red Sox roster. Or possibly even the history of the franchise. His tenure in Boston has been immensely frustrating. Two of my own biggest complaints are that he lacks focus, and is never really clutch when it matters the most. It’s as if his mind goes straight to Jupiter the moment he steps into the batter’s box.
The last thing we Red Sox fans want is for Hanley to be stranding Mookie and Benintendi on base in a moment they need a clutch hit. It’s rather agonizing to watch after being so used to David Ortiz being so incredibly clutch and reliable for well over a decade.
The magic number for number of at bats which will trigger his vesting option is 497. So it remains to be seen how often Hanley will be utilized, or whether it’ll be at DH or first base. Assuming he will be on the bench for several games, wouldn’t it be wise to find a permanent solution for a middle of the order power bat? Even if that candidate is an internal one?
I can tolerate Hanley hitting anywhere from sixth to eighth in the order. At that point 20 home runs and 80 RBI’s is a bonus. I cannot tolerate him anymore in the middle of the order. That’s a chapter of this decade I simply want to close, and never open again.
Ever since this philosophy has become more prominent, it seems as though it could have many flaws. Basically, analytic departments and hitting coaches around the league are instructing their players to focus more on lifting the ball. The upside is that more home runs are getting hit. The downside is that it has lead to a lot of fly ball outs, as well as strikeouts.
Under Chili Davis, the Red Sox were the #1 offense in major league baseball in 2013 & 2016. I am not advocating that Davis should have been kept on staff, but I’m definitely advocating allowing players to hit to their natural abilities. After all, this is how they reached the major league level. There is the saying: “Chicks dig the long ball.” My preference is good hitting, plate discipline, and working the counts.
Once Boston embraces this philosophy, all nine starters in the lineup will all have similar mechanics to one another. I have no doubt that at least a couple of them will compile some impressive stats over the course of the year. But eventually they will run into the wrong pitching staff who will know exactly how to shut them down. Chances are it will happen in October. For instance, Aaron Judge struck out 15 times in the Houston series.
Another nightmare scenario is that the Red Sox lineup simply doesn’t successfully adapt to this style. The team could sink in the standings, and find themselves in a hole by mid May, at which point they would have to painstakingly readjust back to their old mechanics.
It’s like that line from the movie Moneyball: “Nobody reinvents baseball.”
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