Hanley can’t hit righties; Bradley and Benintendi can’t hit lefties. The Boston Red Sox need to put all three in the best position to succeed.
The Boston Red Sox would be best served by putting their players in the right situations to thrive.
May has not been kind to Hanley Ramirez. So far this month he is slashing .188/.219/.348 in 73 plate appearances. This problem gets even worse against right-handers. To date, his slash line against righties in May is .132/.145/.245 through 55 plate appearances; good for a -7 wRC+. Yes, that number is negative. I didn’t even know wRC+ could be negative; it makes sense that players can be more than 100% below average. I guess I never thought about it because most big league hitters do not perform 107% below league average while holding down a spot in the middle of a lineup.
Throw in the fact that the Red Sox must either sit the red-hot Mitch Moreland or play J.D. Martinez in the field when Ramirez is in the lineup and one begins to wonder how in the world Hanley is playing almost every day.
This situation is problematic enough for winning baseball games on a daily basis, but it gets worse. With every at-bat Ramirez receives, the likelihood the Red Sox will have to pay him $22 million next season increases. If Hanley comes to the plate 314 more times this season, his vesting option will kick in and the Red Sox likely will be forced to sit on the sidelines for a historically great free agent class only to overpay a 35-year-old slugger who, again, has a negative wRC+ against right-handers this month.
Luckily for Alex Cora, there’s an easy in-house solution. While Hanley has been hysterically bad against righties, he’s still holding a fantastic .359/.405/.513 slash line against southpaws this season. On the other hand, the Red Sox have two starting outfielders that may be well served with some time off against lefthanders.
Left-fielder Andrew Benintendi has had quite the month of May; after a rough start to the season, Benintendi has hit .321/.371/.556 with four homers this month. That’s great news for the Red Sox, as a Benintendi that hits like an All-Star adds worlds of depth to this lineup.
However, there’s one area in which the 23-year-old has not improved at the plate: Benintendi has looked lost against left-handed pitching. In fact, Benintendi handedness splits are about as wide as can be. To date, he is sporting a 45 wRC+ against lefties and a 147 wRC+ against righties in 2018.
This isn’t a new problem for the young outfielder; last season he slashed .232/.336/.286 with a 71 wRC+ in lefty-lefty matchups. He’s young and he’s shown an ability to adjust so maybe he will turn it around against southpaws. However, the Red Sox cannot afford to give him the number two spot in the lineup down the stretch in these situations. Benintendi would be well served with some rest against left-handers.
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On the same token, Jackie Bradley Jr. has struggled against lefties this season. And pretty much everyone else who can throw a baseball. He has struck out 28% of the time while maintaining an ISO of .081, which is 36 points lower than that of old friend Jose Iglesias. He has a slash line of .176/.273/.260 and has not shown many signs of life.
However, these struggles have been particularly pronounced against left-handers. Bradley has an unworldly bad -35 wRC+ against lefties (again, I just realized this stat can be negative) and only a run of the mill bad 71 wRC+ against righties this season.
Cora is sticking a blackhole in the lineup when he writes in Bradley against southpaws. His defense in center is fantastic but doesn’t come close to justifying regular at-bats against left-handers. The Red Sox can’t sit both Bradley and Benintendi everytime a left-hander is on the mound; that would leave some combination of Brock Holt, Eduardo Nunez, and Martinez on the grass and the outfield defense would suffer. The best solution is a three-way platoon between Benintendi, Bradley, and Ramirez.
It’s ideal really. Benintendi and Bradley would still start the majority of the games, Ramirez’s option would have a zero percent chance of vesting, and all three would better hide their flaws and get regular rest. There’s no reason to put all three in scenarios where they are unlikely to succeed.
The Red Sox can improve their team with almost no effort by implementing this alignment. Your move Cora.