Boston Red Sox need to determine who bats in leadoff spot
The Boston Red Sox need a new leadoff hitter to replace Mookie Betts and manager Ron Roenicke has a couple of options in mind.
One of the first decisions that Ron Roenicke will need to make as interim manager of the Boston Red Sox is who will replace Mookie Betts in the leadoff spot.
Roenicke didn’t even have time to settle into his new role before he was asked about his lineup during the introductory press conference this week. Nothing is set in stone with spring training barely underway but the new skipper has some options in mind.
According to Masslive.com’s Christopher Smith, Roenicke addressed the question by naming Andrew Benintendin and Alex Verdugo as two potential options to fill the void at the top of the lineup.
"“Well, Benny (Andrew Benintendi) certainly can do it,” Roenicke said. “I think we’ll have to see. We have a couple new players so we’ll see where they fit in. (Alex) Verdugo, I’m sure, with the on-base and the way he can hit, can do it. So I think looking at lineups, that’s something I think the analytics part of it — when we talk about analytics — will help with that in deciding what creates the most runs. So that’s how I’ll kind of go about it.”"
Benintendi struggled when he moved to the top of the batting order to begin last season, forcing former manager Alex Cora to end the experiment by flipping him with Betts. His inconsistencies at the plate combined with the emergence of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers led to Benintendi sliding further down the order as the season progressed. Benny ended up seeing at least one plate appearance from every spot in the lineup except for the coveted No. 3 spot.
Batting leadoff didn’t pan out well last season but Benintendi isn’t phased by the lack of results and appears open to accepting the challenge again.
"“It’s just like any other spot in the lineup,” said Benintendi. “You just have to hit first in the first inning. Other than that, it’s the same.”"
His approach might be the same regardless of which spot he hits in but Benintendi’s production clearly isn’t. He hit a pitiful .119 with a .372 OPS in 48 plate appearances leading off a game last season.
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We haven’t seen Benny thrive in the leadoff role but he has the skill set to do it. Last year was a step back but he’s shown the ability to hit for average in the past. He has a keen batting eye and a penchant for getting on base, sporting a career .354 OBP and 10.2 BB%. Even in a disappointing 2019 campaign, Benintendi was among the top 30 hitters in the American League in both categories.
He also has enough speed to swipe a base with a pair of 20+ steal seasons on his resume. The ability to steal bases isn’t an essential trait for a leadoff hitter but many teams tend to prefer having a threat on the base paths at the top of the order.
Verdugo was the centerpiece of the package that the Red Sox received from the Dodgers for Betts and he could be the one who replaces him at the top of the batting order. He has a mere 11 career plate appearances as a leadoff hitter. He only has one hit in that role and he’s 0-for-1 leading off a game but there’s not much we can take away from such a minuscule sample.
However, Verdugo has the skills that a good leadoff hitter should possess. He didn’t tally enough plate appearances to be considered a qualified hitter during his rookie season, but his .342 OBP would have tied him for 37th in the National League last season.
He didn’t walk much last year, producing a dismal 6.9 BB%, but Verdugo had solid walk rates in his brief previous major league experiences and throughout his minor league career. His 13.0 K% would have been among the five best strikeouts rates in the NL last year if he qualified and he doesn’t chase pitches, posting an elite 6.6 swinging-strike percentage.
No player can completely fill the void created by the departure of Betts. He’s the best leadoff hitter in the league and arguably the best in franchise history. The Red Sox need someone to step into the role now that Betts is gone though. Benintnedi and Verdugo don’t have a successful track record on their side but both have the tools to fill that role at the top of the lineup.