Thursday, October 25, 2018

What's at second?

The Red Sox now carry a 2-0 lead in the series across the continent. And a dilemma.

Mookie Betts is the likely MVP in the American League. Mike Trout is still the best player in the game, but the MVP voters are very much behaving these days as a different set of voters did in the 50s and 60s -- who can we find to give the award to other than Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?

This year the obvious non-Trout option is Betts. True, he didn't hit as many homers or drive in as many runs as teammate J.D. Martinez, but Betts plays a brilliant defensive outfield (Martinez seldom sees the field) and had superior on-base and slugging percentages. Betts does well the things Martinez does well, and he does well the things Martinez does poorly. Betts is clearly the better player.

Betts and Martinez are clearly the two best hitters in the Boston lineup, and that poses a World Series problem. There will be no DH in Games 3, 4 and 5, which means (at least according to some voices on the internets) they either

  • bench Martinez, or
  • sharply weaken their defense in both the infield and outfield by moving Betts to second base and putting Martinez in the outfield.

There is a middle ground, which involves sitting Jackie Bradley Jr. and moving either Betts or Andrew Benitendi to center to fit Martinez in an outfield corner. I think option "C" is the more likely approach, even if JBJ was deemed the MVP of the championship series. It would weaken the outfield defense, but not the infield defense.

Then there's this aspect, gleaned from listening to the Red Sox radio feed for Game 2: The announcers said Martinez isn't moving all that well on the bases after rolling his ankle running the bases in Game 1. That, they suggested, might serve to dampen any enthusiasm for wedging Martinez into the outfield for the Los Angeles games.

The question is, which is more valuable, Bradley's glove or Martinez' bat? That is a challenge for the Boston analytics department. And I don't know that there's an answer that is clearly correct for one or three individual games. It can be a different answer on Friday than on Saturday.

I'm a bit curious about what that analytics department makes of the Betts-to-second idea, but this probably is a case in which the analytics won't matter. Yes, Betts was a second baseman in the minors, and a highly regarded one; he wound up in the outfield because second base was blocked by Dustin Pedroia. But it's been years since Betts played second on anything more than an emergency basis. How comfortable would he be to return to second for the biggest games of the season?

Alex Cora might consider the move if Betts, unprompted, came to him and volunteered. Short of that, or sheer desperation because of injuries, I can't see the manager taking that risk in the middle of the World Series.


Late reports Wednesday/this morning that the Twins have settled on Rocco Baldelli as their new manager.

I'm neutral. I like the age (37) but don't particularly care for the complete lack of managerial experience. He's been a player, a front office exec and a coach, all with Tampa Bay, but hasn't managed in the minors or, I believe, in winter ball.

It's a good bet that he's analytics friendly. Everything else about him as a manager is, like an iceberg, submerged and out of my view.

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