Red Sox could move Mookie Betts in the order

May 18, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Mookie Betts (50) at bat against the Kansas City Royals during the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
May 18, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Mookie Betts (50) at bat against the Kansas City Royals during the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports /

With the burgeoning power we’ve seen from the bat of Mookie Betts this season, is he still ideally suited to lead off for the Boston Red Sox?

Is it time for the Boston Red Sox to move Mookie Betts in the lineup?

That’s the question that manager John Farrell is asking himself as he witnesses the emergence of the 23-year old’s power. Betts has already blown by his career high in home runs, blasting his 23rd of the season Friday night in Los Angeles. That gives him more home runs than any other lead-off hitter in baseball, while trailing only David Ortiz on the Red Sox roster. The 59 extra-base hits that Betts has tallied also trails only Ortiz among all major league hitters.

Betts has already bashed six home runs to lead off a game for the Red Sox this season. While it’s always exciting to get the game started with a bang, it’d be nice to have a few guys on base ahead of him when he launches one over the fence. Of the 46 home runs he has hit in his career, 32 of them have come with the bases empty.

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The evidence supporting the notion that Betts should be moved toward the middle of the order extends beyond home run totals. He’s hitting .376 and slugging .694 over 85 at-bats this season with runners in scoring position, both of which lead the Red Sox among hitters with at least 30 at-bats in that scenario. There are five regulars in the Red Sox lineup with over 100 at-bats with runners in scoring position this season, which doesn’t even account for the 97 at-bats from the 40-year old Ortiz, who has sat out a few more games than his younger teammates.

Hitting at the top of the order guarantees at least one of his plate appearances will come without any runners on base. Even in a lineup as loaded as Boston’s it’s less likely that the hitters at the bottom of the order will get on base ahead of him compared to the rate of those in the top half of the lineup.

The 74 runs that Betts has driven in ties him for 7th in the league, but that RBI total is even more amazing when you consider how many more plate appearances his competition receives with runners on base. If Betts were hitting in the No. 3 spot in the lineup instead of leading off, a case can be made that he could lead the league in that category.

Putting Betts in a position where he’d come to the plate more often with runners on base would make him more productive, while potentially making the Red Sox lineup more productive overall.

"“With one small adjustment can we be that much more productive?,” Farrell mused to reporters over the weekend, according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “And there’s the side of it that says Pedey sees a lot of pitches, gets on base at a good rate. Sometimes the first at-bat for Mookie, if he’s not hitting the ball out of the ballpark… Last night he hits the ball up the middle but there are times his second, third and fourth at-bats are so much more productive. That’s debatable. Still, I look at those scenarios and see if there’s a combination that could be even more productive.”"

Farrell makes reference to Dustin Pedroia‘s penchant for getting on base while seeing a lot of pitches, both of which are valuable attributes for a lead-off hitter. Pedroia hit .346 with an .884 OPS in 25 plate appearances as a lead-off hitter last season and is a career .279 hitter with a .753 OPS when being placed at the top of the order. He’s clearly capable of handling that role, but historically he hasn’t particularly liked hitting lead-off.

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At this stage of his career Pedroia doesn’t have the speed of the typical lead-off hitter or the power to hit in the middle of the lineup, so why move him? Pedroia is as trustworthy as anyone in the lineup to make contact, as he has struck out only 59 times in 479 plate appearances this season. He should be left in the No. 2 hole where his high contact rate enables the Red Sox to hit-and-run when the lead-off hitter gets on base ahead of him.

If Farrell were to entertain the idea of shuffling the top of the order, swapping him with Xander Bogaerts would be the best option. The primary goal of the lead-off hitter is to get on base, which Bogaerts does as well as almost anyone with a .371 OBP. Among Red Sox hitters with at least 120 plate appearances this season, Bogaerts’ on-base percentage trails only Ortiz – who naturally isn’t moving to the top of the order.

Not that there is anything wrong with the .352 OBP that Betts carries, but it ranks outside the top-20 in the league while Bogaerts is seventh. His bat has been slumping through the team’s recent west coast trip, but we know Bogaerts is capable of competing for a batting title and he also draws walks at a higher rate than Betts does.

The top of the order is often associated with speed, which is why it has seems like a natural fit for Betts. However, Bogaerts is no sloth on the base paths, having swiped 13 bags of his own this year in 16 attempts. Stick him at the top of the order and he may be enticed to run more often. Hitting in front of Ortiz often makes him more hesitant to run, as he doesn’t want to run into an out with Big Papi at the plate or entice opposing pitchers to walk him with first base open. Xander isn’t on the same level as Mookie in terms of speed, but he has plenty to make his base running an asset.

Looking down the line at future seasons, Andrew Benintendi could become an option at the top of the lineup. He projects as a high average hitter with a knack for getting on base and has the desired speed for the role. While his career is off to a promising start, it’s only been five games. Let’s let the kid settle in a bit more at the bottom of the lineup before adding the pressure of hitting at the top of the order.

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The Red Sox are already the highest scoring team in the majors by a comfortable margin, but the bats cooled off a bit during their trip out west and they find themselves in the bottom half of the league in runs scored this month. If Farrell is looking to shake things up to get them out of this recent funk, perhaps moving Mookie is worth exploring. We know what this offense is capable of with their current alignment at the top, but with a slight adjustment they could become even more dangerous.