The Red Sox, for as well as they’ve been playing of late, are in a bit of a bind with their infield. Hanley Ramirez is out for an unknown period of time. He generally doesn’t play in the field, of course, but his absence will force Mitch Moreland into the lineup more often against left-handed pitching. Eduardo Nuñez is also out, and while he’s hoping to be back soon his absence has taken away John Farrell’s ability to get his players rest and generally play the hot hand. Dustin Pedroia is back in the lineup, but the team is (rightfully) being very careful with the veteran second baseman. This is leading to a lot of days off and DH stints for Pedroia, which in turn is leading to more Brock Holt in the lineup. That last part needs to change.
It’s really hard for me to say that last part for a number of reasons. Just speaking personally and as a fan, Holt is one of my very favorite players on the team and I think that is true for a lot of Red Sox fans. He’s been around long enough that it’s weird to think about the team without him. He’s also one of the funnest players on the roster when he’s playing right given his contact-oriented style, his versatility and his all-out style of play. On top of that, his struggles this year are likely less of an indictment on him as a player and more of a reminder that head injuries suck. Holt has dealt with concussion issues all year, and we’ve seen across various sports how much of an effect those can have. That being said, whether it’s because of the injuries or not, John Farrell needs to do what’s best for the team. Unfortunately, what’s best for the team right now likely involves less playing time for Holt.
The numbers pretty much tell the whole story here, and they tell them in pretty short order. After going 0-3 with a walk on Sunday, Holt’s overall line for the season falls to .175/.286/.208 for a wRC+ of 37. That’s staggeringly low, and puts him at 63 percent worse than the league-average hitter. Of the 400 hitters with at least 130 plate appearances this year, only four have been worse at the plate than Holt. It’s true that we’re dealing with a small sample size here — he has 140 plate appearances on the season — but there hasn’t been much encouraging progress at any point. Holt has been a little better in September, but that speaks more to how poorly he was playing before. This month he still has just a 63 wRC+. The good news is he’s showing off better plate discipline this month, walking a bunch and limiting his strikeouts. Unfortunately he’s still making little hard contact and hitting everything into the ground, so there’s not much reason for optimism.
When Nuñez is able to come back, this obviously becomes much easier. He and Pedroia become a perfect fit to split time between second base and designated hitter and all is right with the world. However, in the meantime as well as in situations in which Farrell wants Nuñez to spell Rafael Devers or Xander Bogaerts, that’s still a time where Holt could get in. Farrell would be smart to pick one of Tzu-Wei Lin or Deven Marrero and give them that playing time.
It’s true that neither of them inspire much confidence with the bat, but they are at least much better defensive players than Holt. The Red Sox should take any upgrade they can find. The Red Sox obviously need to make the postseason before worrying about their roster when they get there, but moving either Lin or Marrero into Holt’s role would kill two birds with one stone. In the regular season, it would give them a player who can field second base at a near-elite level even if they don’t produce much upside at the plate. Really, the only difference between Holt and those two is that Holt can play the outfield. That is no longer such a big deal with both Chris Young and Rajai Davis around now and likely to make the postseason roster. Whoever takes that last spot will be relied upon almost entirely to play the infield, and Holt falls behind when that is the case. Furthermore, having Lin or Marrero in that spot would give the Red Sox a viable late-inning defensive replacement for either Nuñez or Devers, and that could prove very valuable in important games.
When everything else is equal, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Red Sox are much more fun when Brock Holt is involved. I really hope that his issues are able to fixed for next year and that an offseason of rest will help him get over the concussion issues if that has indeed played a role in his play this year. In the meantime, though, the Red Sox need to field their best team, and that involves Lin and Marrero playing over Holt.