The Boston Red Sox may be making a great move or an even greater mistake by replacing Mookie Betts with Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field.
Congratulations, Mookie Betts! Your prize for being one of the most dynamic outfielders in the 2015 season is to get moved to right field. Didn’t you hear? Jackie Bradley Jr. is going to be the next center fielder for the Boston Red Sox in 2016, according to manager John Farrell. What should Red Sox Nation make of this move? What should Betts think?
Arguably, Betts deserved to be in the 2015 All-Star Game because of his level of play. However, Farrell believes that the highlight-reel catches that Betts made are not enough evidence to keep Betts in center, compared to Bradley Jr.’s defensive skills.
When looking at the defensive numbers, Betts scored a .989 fielding percentage and a 2.59 range factor in 1 157 innings compared to Bradley’s 1.000 fielding percentage and a 2.26 range factor in 224 innings in center. However, looking at Bradley’s time in right field, where he played 262 innings, he had a .985 fielding percentage. Judging just by the numbers, not the naked eye, it would seem far-fetched for Farrell to say that Bradley Jr. is much more deserving of the position than Betts, who busted his butt all season to be the Red Sox everyday center fielder.
Offensive skills are easier to prove because of the nature of the game. Offensive numbers are calculated and directly affect the scoreboard. Defensive skills are not as easy to prove to everyone, as they help tally a pitcher’s numbers and sometimes are forgotten unless they show up on YouTube videos. Whether you dive for the ball or simply trot under it, the out is still recorded the same way. The range of motion and the amount of errors versus putouts are taken into account, without a ton of fanfare.
Farrell isn’t saying that Betts shouldn’t be a starter, especially considering Betts’ bat is ridiculously better at this point than Bradley Jr.’s .249 batting average. Betts hit .291 with 18 home runs and 77 RBIs, many of the runs leading directly to team victories. Whether offensively or defensively, Betts has proven himself to be clutch in the late stages of a game.
At least in center. In right field, Betts’ bat stays the same but his glove is a completely different story. For 97 innings in right field, Betts posted a .958 fielding percentage and a mere 2.09 range factor. His range of motion seems hampered by the angle that he takes on the ball. An example would be the last game that Betts played against the Toronto Blue Jays this season in the Rogers Centre. On a well-driven ball to right, Betts approached inward before realizing that the ball was going to completely clear his head and smack the wall. He went back for it, but his glove was nowhere near where the ball was and allowed a run to score. Betts looked much less confident in that position than in center.
That’s not to say that Betts couldn’t just learn to be confident in right field; however, this outfield issue is becoming a problem more and more since the last offseason.
Why do Red Sox authority figures assume that every outfield position is easy to learn? They thought that Hanley Ramirez, originally an All-Star shortstop, would easily find his way around left field so that he wouldn’t get injured. He took 20 flyballs to left in spring training each day and figured that was enough. Eight months later and Ramirez’s frame smashing into the left-field foul wall, let alone the errors, was enough to put an end to that idea.
Now, an established starter is being asked to move to another outfield position, even though he’s better at his current one, just because of the Red Sox manager’s opinion that Bradley Jr. is better in center field. The logic? A hunch? Both men made incredible plays in center on a consistent basis. Both men don’t exactly play right field very well, yet. Yet, why are the Red Sox willing to make their better bat more uncomfortable for a player who doesn’t hit the ball nearly as well?
Is that the point? Do they figure that Betts will be able to handle the pressure while they try to make Bradley Jr. more comfortable and, thereby, making his bat feel more comfortable too? Defensively, they are both special players. Offensively, why would you want to risk Betts losing the mojo that he developed in all of 2015 by sticking him in a place that he may or may not master? The Red Sox went from possibly trading Bradley Jr. away to now making him the starting center fielder before spring training even starts. Where is the logic in that?