Where does Jackie fit in the line-up? No where right now.
Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez are both hitting too well right now to be benched, which means JD Martinez needs to start in the outfield.
Wait a second, did I just write that the Red Sox need to start Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez and JD Martinez needs to start in the outfield? Aren't Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez the same two guys who failed to hit .250 last year? Didn't we spend all off-season bemoaning the fact that we didn't sign an upgrade over Mitch Moreland, and wasn't the only upshot of signing Mitch Moreland the fact that we could platoon him with Hanley Ramirez? And didn't we say that JD Martinez was the worst outfielder since Ramirez (Hanley or Manny, take your pick), and that his only role on the team should be as DH?
What has changed? Well, our two first basemen who are sometimes so-so hitters, and sometimes great hitters, happen to both be hitting great right now. And our Centerfielder who is sometimes a good hitter, sometimes a terrible hitter, happens to be hitting terribly right now. As you could guess by the italics and the title of the article, the key words are right now.
We all know that JBJ is a streaky hitter, but even Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez are capable of having hot-spells and cold-spells. Check out the monthly OPS for each player in 2017:
Jackie's start this season looks remarkably like his start to last season, only slightly worse. There is no reason to believe he might not break out at some point like he did in May and June last year. Mitch Moreland's start to this season looks remarkably like his hot hitting in August last season. There is no reason to believe he won't hit slumps like he did in July and September last season. Hanley's performance last year was a little more consistent albeit below his usual standards, it wouldn't surprise me if he maintained his solid hitting this year, but it also wouldn't surprise me to see him hit a slump like he did in September last year.
All of this is to say that they should ride the hot hands right now, even if that means starting JD Martinez in the outfield over JBJ. But they shouldn't trade JBJ when his value is at an all-time low. And they shouldn't lose sight of the plan for how this team was constructed.
JBJ's Role in the Red Sox Plan
The plan going into this season was to platoon Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez, perhaps riding the hot hand or having both players occasionally start when they wanted to give JD a start in outfield. JD Martinez was supposed to primarily be a DH, so that his weak defense wouldn't hurt the team, with the occasional start to rest one of the starters. Whether the original plan was to start him 10 games this season, 20, or 30, who knows.
This Red Sox team was built around having an outstanding outfield, essentially comprised of three centerfielders. The pitching staff would pitch to the strength of the team by inducing more flyballs. Last year the Red Sox staff had the third lowest groundball to flyball ratio at 1.21. This allows them to put forward a defensively shaky infield (I'm looking at you Devers) without getting hurt too badly by it. This year their GB/FB ratio is 1.35, which puts them more towards the middle of the pack. That could represent a dramatic change in philosophy for the team, or it could be the result of a small sample size (probably the latter).
Jackie's defense has been a huge part of that plan. So much so, that even when he has a so-so season hitting, like he did last season, he can still post a 3.0 WAR. At this point we sortof know who JBJ is as a hitter, which is to say that he is wildly inconsistent and you have no idea who will show up that month or that year. When he hits like a stud, like he did in 1.5 seasons from 2015-2016, it is a huge boon to the team and makes our line-up a nightmare to face. When he hits so-so like he did last season, he is still a valuable member of the team and doesn't hurt you too bad batting #7-#9. Of course when he hits like he's hitting now, you just sort of close your eyes and hope for the month to end so that maybe a different version of JBJ will show up.
I have no idea whether he is part of the long-term plan for the Red Sox, we have time still to sort that out. What I do know is that you don't trade a guy like JBJ away when his value is at an all-time low, like it is right now, especially when you're team is humming along just fine at the moment.