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OTM Roundtable: How to handle a short season

It’s a complicated question

New York Mets Vs. Boston Red Sox At Fenway Park Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

This is obviously a different kind of season, and that’s not even considering the Red Sox making the bold choice of fielding a Triple-A squad and seeing what happens. With only 60 games, we are witnessing an MLB schedule the likes of which we’ve ever seen, and I have been fascinated to see how teams approach it. Each game is a bigger percentage of the schedule, but the sport of baseball hasn’t changed. The number of games for a sample to be meaningful doesn’t necessarily change just because the schedule length did. Or does it? I don’t know!

So, I wanted to gauge the staffs’ thoughts on this and gave a probably overcomplicated question to answer. I’ll just share with you what I asked them in its entirety, because it’s a bit wordy: How much more aggressive, if at all, would you be with slumping and streaking players compared to a normal season if you were running an organization. So this can mean benching slumping players, getting hot bench players in the lineup more, demoting players who aren’t performing. Would you do that more quickly in a shortened season or is a small sample size still a small sample size for you?

Shelly Verougstraete

For me, it would be how I thought my team was going to perform if 2020 was a normal season. If I was the Tigers, for example, I would use this time to give younger guys or fringe guys more of a role with the team. It would be a great way to see what these guys look like and if they will be good for the team going forward. If I was a competitive team, like the Rays, I would ride the hot hand even if it meant benching some of the better players. I mean, if Cody Bellinger or Christian Yelich-level players were in a slump, they stay in but if any of the ‘glue guys’ are ice cold, they will be riding the pine.

Michael Walsh

For me, it depends on the trust I have in the player. When it comes to proven guys like J.D. Martinez or Rafael Devers, I’m definitely going to give them a ton of leeway. However, in the case of lower-tier hitters, such as Michael Chavis, Kevin Pillar, etc., I’d be very aggressive in riding their hot streaks and benching them more frequently during slumps. For example, after these past few days, I’d love to see Mitch Moreland and Jonathan Araúz over Chavis/Peraza in the lineup for the upcoming series in New York.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Phil Nueffer

I think the performance of the team as a whole really dictates this. If the Red Sox were anywhere near contention, it might make sense to be aggressive, but as they have played so poorly, it makes more sense to give players time to improve and build for the future.

In a regular, 162-game season, we wouldn’t be entirely panicked because of a slow start, but since we are a considerable chunk into this shortened season already, weak numbers look more striking because there is less time to make them better. However, as we’ve seen from J.D. Martinez this week, patience can pay off. In his first 62 plate appearances this season, Martinez slashed .196/.274/.321 with zero home runs. In his next 13, he slashed .364/.462/.909 with two home runs, indicating he may have gotten back to being himself.

Not every veteran is Martinez, so perhaps being aggressive with more seasoned guys makes sense, but the Red Sox should keep playing their young players like Rafael Devers, Michael Chavis and Andrew Benintendi. They have all struggled as well, but their development is already going to be affected by this shortened season, so shortening it any more will only make things worse. I don’t think sitting guys who are slumping will really fix this team, so I say let them play and see who can bounce back.

Jake Kostik

I’m glad it’s not my job to run the Boston Red Sox in 2020. I say that because I know no matter what I do, people would be screaming for me to be fired.

I don’t think I would be any more or less aggressive with players in slumps, generally, nor with those exceeding expectations. While the current logic is that a sprint requires more immediate day to day action, my concern is all the changes up and down the lineup will actually affect the players negatively, more than the boost would help us positively.

There are exceptions, of course. I’d have benched Andrew Benintendi about a week ago, largely because he doesn’t even look like a major league hitter up there, but everyone else needs to be put through their paces and take their lumps. I choose to believe in the talent that is in my original offense, in this hypothetical situation, and don’t wish to make big sweeping changes based on day to day variance.

About the only way I would be aggressive, is in promoting/demoting the fringe members of the rotation and bullpen. If you have an option, and you’ve already been used, see ya in like 10 days (see: Ryan Weber). Why? When dealing with players who are subpar performers to begin with, deception and freshness are the only cards that they will have to play.

Mike Carlucci

At the start of the season I would have said stay steady. The minor leagues are shut down and there are only a handful of prospects getting in their time. But with E-Rod on the IL and the team just falling apart, don’t waste this opportunity. Can Hernandez stick in the rotation? Let’s see! Can Chavis play second base or is his future at first? Let’s find out! Don’t necessarily trade JBJ or Vazquez but if guys aren’t playing well it’s a season to experiment.

This is Boston, there’s no need to burn down the roster, but there’s also no need to play guys who are lost for no reason. John Henry wanted a smart, creative GM. Let him make some creative decisions and see what you can learn before 2021. With so many teams making the playoffs who knows, shaking it up might still get the team into October.

Keaton DeRocher

I would tend to rely more on a player’s past performance when reviewing their struggles. Although everything in a weird shorten season like this is magnified, guys go through slumps in every season and its best not to overreact unless there is a larger trend looking back. Maybe I would feel different if I thought the Red Sox could make a postseason run, and continued slumps could effect the season more greatly, but with this particular team, I don’t see the urgency to bench or replace. Let them work it out on the field if you’re expecting more.

Jake Devereaux

The easy way to answer this question is to say it depends on the players. With a slumping Rafael Devers or J.D. Martinez their track record of success is so well established that it’d be foolish to sit them. With players who are trying to show what they are and earn a future spot on the team I’m much more okay with giving the most playing time to the hot hand. For instance, Michael Chavis, Jonathan Araúz, and José Peraza should all battle for time at second base, nothing should be simply given. On the pitching side that’s especially true, aside from Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Nathan Eovaldi, Martín Pérez, and a few other veterans all the spots in the rotation and the pen need to be consistently earned. Competition usually brings out the best in players and this is a very weird year, let’s put a fire under them and see who rises to the challenge.

Bryan Joiner

The one’s hard to answer because what are these Red Sox? The dying core of a title team? The new core of the future? A platter for other teams to sample from? If it tends toward the latter, and it seems to be heading toward the latter, they should play the players they want to trade then play whoever’s left. If this is all code for “should they keep playing Andrew Benintendi?” then I think the answer is yes but not at the expense of anyone, which is to say they should clear out any space they want for slumping guys and then try to unlock their values. It’s time for long-term planning. Keep the eyes on that prize and, for Aceves’s sake, away from Dodger Stadium.

Matt Collins

I’ve gone back and forth on this a million times, but I just keep coming back to the same answer, which is that the sport hasn’t changed. We act like the necessary sample sizes have changed, but to make an informed opinion it really hasn’t. It still takes X number of games for Y stat to stabilize. That’s just how baseball works. So yeah, the fringe guys they should be more aggressive with, but that’d be the case in a normal season as well. Anybody for whom you had expectations before the season, I think you have to stick with for however long you would have if it was 162 games. But it’s a lot easier to say that from my couch than from a position of actual power in an organization.