The Boston Red Sox intend to mix up their outfield alignment in 2016, using Jackie Bradley, Jr. as their center fielder
Last season ended with the Boston Red Sox mixing and matching different outfield combinations. Heading into 2016 it appears they have a plan for the alignment they intend to feature.
Manager John Farrell joined WEEI’s Hot Stove Show Tuesday night, at which time he revealed that the team will use Jackie Bradley, Jr. in center field, with Mookie Betts shifting to right and Rusney Castillo taking over in left.
Betts patrolled center field for 133 of his 144 appearances last season. The converted infielder did a fantastic job in his first full season at the position, ranking 18th among all major league outfielders with 10 defensive runs saved. This change isn’t about Betts being unable to handle the position. He’s a great defensive player, but Bradley is something special.
"“I think if you were to just prioritize the defense, Jackie is the best defensive outfielder we have. That’s clear,” said Farrell. “Whether it’s the naked eye, or whether it’s to any kind of measurement you want to put to it, Jackie is the best defender we have. So you could say an alignment would have Jackie in center, Mookie in right and Rusney in left.”"
Farrell went on to say that the key for Bradley will be whether or not he can hit well enough to remain in the lineup, pointing to his scorching performance at the plate in August as proof of what he’s capable of. Prior to that breakout month, Bradley had always struggled to reach the Mendoza Line in his earlier stints in the big leagues. Finally something clicked and he started tearing the cover off the ball, forcing the Red Sox to reconsider his future. As long as he keeps hitting, there’s a spot for him as the everyday center fielder on this team.
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With Bradley stealing his spot up the middle, Betts will move over to right field, where he logged 11 appearances last season and a dozen more in 2014. He has never played left field at Fenway Park before, which may have played a part in the decision to put him in right.
Castillo saw time at all three outfield positions this year, recording 15 defensive runs saved, which ranked 7th among outfielders. While the majority of those appearances came in right, he has played 24 games in left already. Playing in the shadow of the Green Monster won’t be completely foreign to the Cuban-born outfielder, which is more than we could say for Hanley Ramirez entering this season. That ill-fated decision turned out to be a disaster, but the Red Sox will at least be comforted heading into spring training knowing they have a left fielder capable of manning the position.
Boston essentially has three center fielders that they can deploy in virtually any alignment. Teams always strive to be strongest defensively up the middle, so using Bradley in center field makes the most sense. This arrangement not only is the team’s best defensive alignment, it gives the Red Sox one of the best defensive outfields in the league.
Those free agent pitchers wondering who will be chasing down fly balls while they are on the mound might want to take note.