Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora revealed that he plans to bat Andrew Benintendi in the leadoff spot next season, followed by Mookie Betts.
Mookie Betts established himself as the premier leadoff hitter in baseball during his MVP campaign this season. For an encore, the Boston Red Sox superstar will aim to become the best No. 2 hitter.
Cora stated that he broke the news to Betts by explaining that over the course of a 162 game season, a leadoff hitter is guaranteed to come to the plate at least 162 times with the bases empty. It’s an idea the manager seems to have been toying with for a while but wisely decided not to risk shaking up the top of his lineup heading into the postseason. Communicating the decision now gives both players an entire offseason to prepare for their new roles.
Moving out of the leadoff spot will give Betts more opportunities to be a run producer. Betts drove in the second-most runs by a leadoff hitter this season but his 79 RBI fell well short of the league leaders. His .325 batting average with runners in scoring position was among the top-10 in the league (minimum 100 plate appearances), so he’s clearly capable of being an RBI machine when given the chance.
A case can be made that the best hitter in the lineup should bat second and Betts has all the traits required of that role. His low strikeout rate of 14.8% means he can be counted on to put the ball in play to move runners along while providing opportunities to deploy a hit-and-run. He gets on base at a high rate but also has 30+ home run pop in his bat. Batting Betts second will give him more opportunities to take advantage of his run-producing power without depriving him of a significant number of plate appearances over the course of the season.
Betts has limited experience batting second but has produced a solid .304/.360/.430 line in 150 career plate appearances in that spot. That’s very similar to his production out of the leadoff spot with the exception being a dip in power that can be chalked up to spending nearly the entirety of the best season of his career at the top of the order.
The switch should be beneficial for Benintendi as well considering he has all the traits of a leadoff hitter. He gets on base at a high rate, sporting a .366 OBP that placed him inside the top-25 in the league this season. Benny has showcased his speed with 20+ steals in each of the last two seasons. The 24-year old does everything you want from a leadoff hitter and will only continue to improve in these areas.
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In a limited sample of 97 plate appearances, Benintendi has hit .322/.381/.598 out of the leadoff spot. That’s his best production out of any spot in the lineup in which he’s tallied at least 40 career plate appearances.
Sure, Betts does it better but that’s because he does almost everything better than most hitters. That’s why he’s the MVP! Benny has the tools to thrive in the leadoff role. At this stage of his career, he doesn’t have the power ceiling that Betts has, which is part of the motivation behind the switch.
We’ve yet to hear reactions from the players but there’s no reason to believe it will be an issue. Cora is a great communicator with his players and wouldn’t have announced the decision if he wasn’t confident that they would be comfortable with the change.
When I spoke to Betts last spring about his spot in the lineup he indicated he wasn’t concerned with where he hit so long as there was consistency. He doesn’t want to bounce around the order. He was told before the season that he’d be a leadoff hitter. Cora stuck almost exclusively to that plan and Betts rewarded him with a career season. As long as Cora remains honest about his role and sets expectations out of the gate, Betts should have no trouble thriving in his new spot.