As the Red Sox head into the offseason, one of the biggest issues being discussed about their offense has been that it is too right-handed. It's kind of a strange problem to have, one that I can't really ever recall hearing prior to this. However, there is some merit to the concern, as most of the pitchers they face will be righties, and it would be nice to have the platoon advantage more often. Still, I thought I would investigate the issue and see if it was really such a big problem for the team moving forward.
First, let's take a look at what the offense could possibly look like next year. Obviously, this is a very rough projection, as there are too many moving pieces and different possible scenarios to lock down a true starting lineup. With that being said, these are the guys who could be holding down every day roles next season: Christian Vazquez, Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks/Brock Holt, Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, David Ortiz, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava. Of those names, only Holt and Ortiz hit from the left side, and Nava is a switch hitter.
The first reaction to such an unbalanced lineup is panic, and for good reason. The Red Sox are a team that have always preached balance and depth, and this is the opposite of that. However, looking deeper into it, this shouldn't pose such a problem. Below is a table with all of the right-handed batters listed above, and their career wRC+ against both right- and left-handed pitching.
|Player||wRC+ vs. RHP||wRC+ vs. LHP|
As you can see, there isn't a lot to be worried about with respect to platoon splits. Of course, some of the names on this list haven't been in the majors long enough to make any meaningful conclusions. Castillo's splits, for example, can be thrown out the window. Betts has shown no discernible weakness against same-handed pitching, although he hasn't been given a big shot in the majors yet. It should be noted that he had no issues in this area in the minors, either. Bogaerts' splits were a bit of a surprise for me, as one of the things scouts loved about him when he was rising through the minors was his ability to hit pitching of either variety. I'm cautiously optimistic he will turn this trend around, but it is something to watch moving forward. Middlebrooks is the only name there that I'd be worried about sending to the plate with a righty on the mound, but it appears to be very unlikely that he'll be getting regular playing time in Boston anyway.
I also thought I'd look at the teams who made the playoffs this year and see if balance in the lineup was something they all had in common. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was not. The Orioles and Angels, for example, jumped out to me as primarily right-handed teams. In an ideal lineup, Baltimore will send Nick Markakis and Chris Davis to the plate from the left side, and platoon Alejandro De Aza and Delmon Young in left field. Beyond that, they are all right-handed. Los Angeles' only left-handed hitters are Kole Calhoun and Josh Hamilton. They also have Erick Aybar who is a switch-hitter, but it's not as if he's a righty-killer. Of course, there are also teams like Oakland, Washington and San Francisco who have incredible balance and, in Oakland's case, mix-and-match extremely well using platoons. The point is, there isn't a one-size-fits-all lineup philosophy.
In a perfect world, the Red Sox's offense would have more hitters who batted from the left side. Luckily for them, their primary third base targets look to be Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley, both of whom are switch hitters. Beyond that, though, Ben Cherington shouldn't be going out of his way to find more offense from the left side. If he can get it at the right price, that's great, but it's far from necessary. We can see that the righties that the Red Sox already have can hit pitchers who throw from either side. We can also see that some of the best teams in the league have played primarily right-handed lineups. Putting together a perfectly balanced lineup is great in theory, but it's more important to just find good hitters. And that's something Ben Cherington has already started to do.