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Will Middlebrooks might not have Brett Lawrie's range, but the Sox think they have someone who does
Last month, John Farrell gave the Red Sox universe some insight into his managerial stylings. Namely, how he handles things defensively, in that he's something of a hands-on manager who employs shifts and considers park effects when assigning positions to his outfielders. Look no further than his use of Brett Lawrie while with the Blue Jays for evidence of the former:
This image -- taken from Colin Wyers' detailed look at shifts at Baseball Prospectus -- highlights how extreme Farrell could get with shifts. The reason he was able to put his third baseman in short right field, though, wasn't just because he wanted to: it's because Lawrie was capable of it.
The same cannot be said of Will Middlebrooks, Boston's third baseman. It's not that Middlebrooks is a poor defender -- he's the opposite, in fact -- but it has to do with differences in the respective ranges of the two. Lawrie has some of the better range of any third baseman, while Middlebrooks' quality defense has more to do with instincts, hands, and his arm at the hot corner.
However, the Red Sox are not without any option to play the role of Lawrie in 2013, as they are considering usingDustin Pedroia for that purpose. Rob Bradford has the details:
The plan is with nobody on, when a left-handed hitter against whom the Red Sox want to shift is at the plate, Pedroia will play Lawrie's position in shallow-to-mid right field, with shortstop Stephen Drew playing his usual position (perhaps shaded toward the bag), and Middlebrooks manning the usual second base spot.
With a runner on first, Drew and Pedroia will be on either side of the second base bag, with Middlebrooks standing between the Sox' second baseman and first baseman Mike Napoli.
Farrell goes on to say that they don't want Middlebrooks at the second base bag, as he's not used to that sort of thing, and they don't see a reason to make their third baseman used to it. However, with Pedroia, they might make him venture further out into right as time goes on and he becomes comfortable with the idea of essentially being the team's fourth outfielder against the shiftable players the rest of the league has to offer.
Bradford says that the Red Sox will spend the last two weeks of spring training working on this setup, so it won't be long before we start to see it utilized in games. While evidence for how much shifts help is still somewhat up in the air, it's encouraging to see a manager willing to try new things if he thinks they can help the team.