The No. 2 spot is the ideal place in the lineup for Rafael Devers and that seems to be where the Boston Red Sox intend to use him.
Rafael Devers makes his spring training debut on Friday batting in the No. 2 hole for the Boston Red Sox. That familiar spot in the lineup is where we should expect Devers to primarily appear throughout the season.
Ron Roenicke will toy with different lineup combinations in his first spring training as the Red Sox interim manager but the top of the order feels fairly secure based on what he told the media prior to Friday’s game, per WEEI’s Rob Bradford.
"“You tinker with it. Second, certainly is a spot that it could be,” answered Roenicke when asked about Devers. “Then you push three and four with Bogey and J.D. but we’ll see how it plays out. I think the way he’s become consistent I guess with what he does, I think second makes sense. If Benny continues to look like he’s gonna lead off, then probably second.”"
The Red Sox don’t seem to be worried about Andrew Benintendi‘s struggles as a leadoff hitter last season and the left fielder is determined to prove his meager production in that role was a fluke. Alex Verdugo could potentially challenge him for the top spot in the lineup once he’s healthy but for now, it’s Benny’s job to lose.
Boston has several options to fill the pivotal No. 2 spot but Devers is the ideal choice. Devers saw at least two plate appearances in every spot except leadoff last season but batting second was where he thrived most, hitting .334 with a 1.032 OPS. His emergence in a breakout campaign earned Devers a higher place in the order and he spent the majority of the second half batting second, totaling 71 games in that spot.
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An argument can be made that the best overall hitter in the lineup should bat second. It’s why Alex Cora tried to swap Benintendi with Mookie Betts to begin last season. Roenicke pointed out that the Los Angeles Angels typically bat Mike Trout second.
Batting higher in the lineup leads to more plate appearances and more opportunities to do damage. Major league hitters compiled 22,281 plate appearances from the No. 2 spot last season compared to 21,760 from No. 3 hitters and 21,260 from the cleanup spot. The plate appearances continue to dwindle the further you fall down the lineup. The difference between batting second or third could be nearly 20 plate appearances over the course of a full season.
Teams appear to be catching on by batting their most productive hitters second. No. 2 hitters collectively produced a 114 wRC+ last season compared to 104 for leadoff hitters, 113 for No. 3 hitters and 111 from the fourth spot.
The No. 2 hitter should get on base at a strong clip while also possessing the ability to move runners into scoring position for the big bats in the middle of the lineup. Devers led the majors in extra-base hits last season and was second with 201 hits. He can be trusted to make contact, posting a 17.0 K% last season that trailed only Betts for the lowest among qualified hitters in the Red Sox lineup.
Behind your No. 2 hitter should be your best run producing bats. Xander Bogaerts (.987) and J.D. Martinez (1.027) posted the best OPS with runners in scoring position on the team last year (minimum 90 at-bats). Martinez is the greatest home run threat in the lineup and should primarily bat cleanup to allow more opportunities to hit with runners on base.
The lineup isn’t set in stone and a number of factors could lead to Roenicke tweaking it over the course of a long season. Injuries or slumps could force a shakeup. Devers won’t necessarily be locked into one spot but we should expect to see him batting second for the majority of the time. With the additional plate appearances that come with this lofty spot in the order and a pair of All-Stars behind him for protection, Devers should be in line to build on last year’s career season.