Boston Red Sox must move Pablo Sandoval in the lineup


Get Pablo Sandoval out of the two-hole!

The Boston Red Sox have been plugging the Panda into the second spot in the lineup in every game he’s started since August 20, but the results have been a predictable disaster. Sandoval is hitting only .167/.207/.259 in 54 at-bats from that spot in the lineup this season, with a lower OPS than what he has produced from any other spot in the batting order in which he has recorded at least 15 at-bats in.

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The role of the hitters near the top of the lineup is to get on base, but Sandoval hasn’t been doing that all season. His .296 OBP is ahead of only Hanley Ramirez among Red Sox hitters with at least 100 at-bats this season, making those two arguably the worst choices to hit in one of the top-two spots in the order.

The No. 2 hitter should be willing to take pitches if the lead-off hitter ahead of them is on base, allowing them a chance to swipe a bag. Sandoval has only seen 29 three-ball counts all season and sees 3 pitches or less in 56 percent of his at-bats. Overall he averages 3.68 pitches per plate appearance, which ranks 105th in the majors and ahead of only Rusney Castillo (3.60 P/PA) among Red Sox regulars. Patience isn’t exactly Sandoval’s specialty.

Hitters in the two-hole need to be able to make contact, which allows the manager to get creative with hit-and-run plays that can help move along runners ahead of the big bats in the middle of the order. Sandoval’s 14.6 K% is better than league average, but his strikeout rate jumps to 20.3 percent when he’s batting second. Instead of being in the top third of the league in that category, he drops to the bottom third when he’s moved to that spot in the lineup.

The Red Sox have even stubbornly kept Sandoval in the two-spot against lefties, despite that left-handed pitchers have owned him to the tune of a .201 average and .480 OPS. Ideally he wouldn’t even be in the lineup against most lefties, let alone near the top of it.

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You want your best hitters to bat in the top half of the lineup in order to maximize their plate appearances. Sandoval has been one of the worst hitters on the team, so it makes no sense to give him more trips to the plate. Meanwhile, Blake Swihart and Jackie Bradley have been two of the team’s hottest hitters since the break, yet they remain buried at the bottom of the lineup. The Red Sox may argue that they don’t want to mess with a good thing by taking either young player out of their comfort zone. That’s fine, but by that logic, shouldn’t that enforce the reasons for taking Sandoval out of the two-hole?

Perhaps interim manager Torey Lovullo believed moving Sandoval up in the order would give him the spark he needed to get his bat going. That plan has clearly backfired, so it’s time to make another change. Sandoval’s contract essentially prohibits Lovullo from benching the underachieving third baseman, but there is nothing preventing him from dropping him in the order.

Sandoval seems much more comfortable hitting in the bottom half of the lineup anyway. The majority of his at-bats this season have come when he’s hitting 6th in the order, where he owns a .271 average. In the 186 at-bats that he has combined from the 6-9 spots in the order, Sandoval is hitting a respectable .274.

Luckily the impending return of Dustin Pedroia should resolve this for us, as it won’t take long for the veteran second baseman to reclaim his preferred spot in the order. We’ll have to wait and see how Lovullo reshuffles the lineup to incorporate Pedroia, but we can assume that Sandoval will no longer be near the top. That can only be seen as a benefit for this Red Sox offense.

All the evidence we have suggests that Sandoval is a poor fit for the second spot in the order. Regardless of who else is in the lineup on any given day, the Red Sox can find a better spot to use Sandoval.