Red Sox need to stop pinch-hitting for Travis Shaw

Mar 28, 2016; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell (53) looks on prior to the game against the Baltimore Orioles at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2016; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell (53) looks on prior to the game against the Baltimore Orioles at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell continues to pinch-hit for Travis Shaw against lefties, but the plan is backfiring.

Sometimes what may seem like the right move can turn out to be the wrong move.

Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell clearly believes that pinch-hitting Chris Young for Travis Shaw against a left-handed reliever is the right move, but is it really the right decision?

Perhaps in some cases, but it can backfire if Farrell turns to that solution too early. The Red Sox signed Young because he mashes against lefties, hitting .327 with a .972 OPS against southpaws last season. It’s understandable why the manager wants to deploy this valuable asset off the bench when the opponent trots a lefty out of the bullpen.

But why does it have to come at the expense of Shaw? The second-year third baseman fared quite well against lefties last year, hitting .329 with a .975 OPS against them in 2015. He actually has shown reverse-platoon splits, as the rare left-handed batter that performs better against lefties, but unlike Young, he isn’t useless against right-handers.

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This is where the decision to pinch-hit for Shaw can get Farrell in trouble. He did so for the third time this season in Monday’s loss to the Baltimore Orioles, bringing Young into the game in the 6th inning to face lefty reliever T.J. McFarland. Young popped out to first to lead off the inning, but the fact that he didn’t come through with a hit isn’t the issue. Young is great against lefties, but is still going to fail the majority of the time. That’s baseball.

The problem is that Young was left in the game to face right-handed reliever Mychal Givens. After David Ortiz delivered a two-out double, the Orioles chose to intentionally walk Hanley Ramirez to get to Young, who promptly struck out to end the inning, stranding a pair of runners in a tie game. Wouldn’t you much rather have Shaw up in that situation? Would Baltimore have walked Ramirez, the team’s hottest hitter thus far, if Shaw were on deck instead of Young?

If putting Young in the game to face a lefty in the 6th inning was deemed to be the right move, why not use Pablo Sandoval to pinch-hit for Young in the 7th? Inserting Sandoval in the game would draw groans from the Fenway crowd, but he does own a .290 average against right-handed pitching over the last three years. If Farrell is playing the match-ups, Sandoval was the right choice in that spot.

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After the game the manager would defend that decision by pointing out that Orioles closer Zach Britton is a lefty, so he wanted Young to stay in the game in case the chance to face him arose. Except Young’s spot in the order never came up in the 9th when Britton was in the game and if the Red Sox had taken the lead in the 7th then they likely would have avoided him altogether.

If that spot in the order had come up with Britton on the mound then Sandoval could have been replaced by Rusney Castillo, who hit .318 with an .817 OPS against lefties last year. Is Castillo a better option than Young in that situation? No, but the gap between them isn’t nearly as wide as the one between Young and Sandoval against a right-handed pitcher.

Farrell is eager to use Young when a lefty enters the game and clearly feels that Shaw is the best option to be replaced. They need Brock Holt‘s versatility to allow the manager to remain flexible with his decision making as the game continues, so he moves to third base while Young takes over in left field. The Red Sox value Jackie Bradley‘s elite defense in center too much to replace him with Young and want to avoid jumbling their entire outfield alignment in order to accommodate that move. Plus, both Holt and Bradley hit over .300 against lefties last year, so there’s really no need. There isn’t with Shaw either, but if Farrell has to choose a left-handed batter to replace with Young then Shaw is the best choice in order to position themselves best defensively.

Using Young against lefties is a wise decision, but only when the timing is right. It’s a move Farrell has gone with too early and his failure to counter with a similar move based on match-ups later in the game contradicts the strategy that brought Young into the game to begin with.

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Farrell enters the season on the hot seat, so if this decision continues to backfire then the front office may be forced to make the decision to pinch-hit for the manager.