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OTM Mailbag: Filling out the lineup

This week we look at batting order, Jarren Duran, and favorite Yankees.

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Welcome back for another mailbag. We’ve now had a full week of spring action (sort of; Saturday’s game got cancelled after two innings), but there is still plenty to sort out before the start of the season. For this week’s mailbag, we look at the lineup order, roster building, and Jarren Duran, among a few other topics.

Bradley via email asks:

I was wondering what your thoughts were on Cora using a guy like Hunter Renfroe in the three spot, similar to what he did with Steve Pearce in 2018. Hitting Pearce third helped to stretch the lineup out and make them that much deeper. We could see a lineup that looks like this:

1. Alex Verdugo

2. Xander Bogaerts

3. Hunter Renfroe

4. J.D. Martinez

5. Rafael Devers

6. Christian Vázquez

7. Bobby Dalbec

8. Franchy Cordero

9. Enrique Hernández

This would also take out another guy in that bottom third that has a lot of swing and miss and allow a guy like Kiké that can get on base for the top. Could also substitute Renfroe with Dalbec possibly. Not sure Cordero would fit there.

I’ll be honest, I kind of hate this. I didn’t love it in 2018 when Cora did it either, with J.D. Martinez getting the vast majority of starts in the three spot, although Pearce and Mitch Moreland got some run as well. The thing is, that 2018 team is literally one of the best baseball teams ever assembled, at least judging by results. This team, well it’s not. I know statistically the three hole is not as important as the other lineup spots higher in the batting order since they often come up with nobody on and two outs in the first, but my general philosophy is to stack the top of the lineup with my best hitters, full stop.

We should point out that lineup order is, for the most part, kind of an overrated thing that is fun to talk about and debate as fan but over the course of the season it doesn’t make a huge difference unless you’re doing something silly like putting your best hitter in the eight or nine hole. Generally speaking, the differences are marginal. That said, I want my best hitters hitting as high in the order as possible. This provides both a chance to set a tone early with a big first inning as well as give the best hitters the chance to get more at bats, both on a game-to-game basis but also over the course of a season.

And so if I was making out the lineup card for the Red Sox, I’d have Verdugo, Bogaerts, Devers, and Martinez as my top four. The order from there doesn’t matter a ton to me — I’d have it the way I have it listed — but I’d want those four in my top four spots. It does not appear Cora agrees with me, though, as it sure looks like Enrique Hernández is going to get some real run at the top of the lineup.

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

David via email asks:

Why do they seem to need 14 pitchers when they have a number of solid bench players, and now Danny Santana?

The reason they need more pitchers has everything to do with the pitching staff and the circumstances of this season and nothing really to do with the position players. In fact, that they have so many solid bench players is an argument for carrying fewer, particularly since there’s so much versatility with guys like Hernández and Marwin Gonzalez. They can carry that three-man bench and still be able to give everyone in the lineup the requisite days off they’ll need over the course of the full season.

But on the pitching side, they need as many bodies as possible. For one thing, the pitching just isn’t as good. I think the depth is certainly better than it was a year ago, and there is some mild upside with the group as currently constructed, but there is also a whole lot of variance and uncertainty. When presented with variance and uncertainty, it’s best to have as many solutions as possible that you can throw at the situation.

Probably even more important than that, though, is that the Red Sox have a relatively injury-prone staff as it is (particularly in the rotation) and workload is going to be an issue for everyone coming off the strange 2020 season. Especially early in the season, teams rightfully will not want to push their pitchers too far so they can try and keep them as healthy and fresh as possible through the 162-game grind. Having one extra pitcher can make a big difference toward that end.

Michael via email asks:

If you could take any position player on the team, and magically maximize one attribute about them (power, contact, speed, plate discipline, fielding), which player modification would help the roster the most?

This is a great one, although I actually thought it was kind of easy. With this particular Red Sox team, I think there are two options that are very similar that have to be at the top of the list. Maximizing Rafael Devers’s defense was my first instinct, and I think it’s easy to make the argument for it. If we’re assuming magic lasts a whole career and not just one season, you basically get a young Nolan Arenado that you can hopefully keep around forever.

I’m going with Xander Bogaerts’s defense, though. He’s older so the effects don’t last as long, but they are louder just by virtue of shortstop being the more important position. Plus, it’s not like Bogaerts is two years from retirement. He’s still relatively young, on the right side of the 30. I’m not someone who thinks Bogaerts is a butcher at shortstop, but I do think he’s a bit worse than average. If you were to give him, say, prime Andrelton Simmons defense to go with his current offense, all of a sudden you’re talking about someone in the best player in baseball conversation.

Patti via Twitter asks:

How is Jarren Duran the number eight prospect? I would have him at number two, maybe number one. Are the owners manipulating Duran’s service time by leaving him in the minors when he is clearly ready to come up?

So to answer the first part, I’m not sure where the number eight thing is coming from. The lowest ranking I can find for Duran is seven at FanGraphs, but most seem to have him in the four or five spots. For whatever it may be worth, I’d have him third, and that was the case even before the Bryan Mata injury. But for all of the excitement he brings, and there is certainly plenty, Triston Casas and Jeter Downs are still the better prospects. Casas has much more upside at the plate, while Downs is a more polished player whose all-around game is just a safer bet, although I do think Duran is closer to that Downs range than some give him credit for. But again, I’m a bit higher on him than most.

As far as the service time thing, I’m giving the front office the benefit of the doubt here because there is plenty to work on with Duran. Even if you want to toss aside concern for his mediocre Double-A performance in 2019 — and that’s not really unfair given his performance at the Alternate Site, then in Winter Ball, and now in spring — the defense is still the bigger concern. Remember, he just started playing outfield as a pro, and while he has the tools to be good in center field he still needs to work out some stuff around the edges.

So while the “work on his defense” thing is usually code for “we want to squeeze another year out of this player,” it seems valid to me in this case. All that said, if they say that and then call him up two weeks into the season, it will be clear they were manipulating service time and we’ll call them on it. But, perhaps naively, I really don’t think that’s the case here.

Mickey via email:

As a Yankee fan, when Dustin Pedroia retired, I summarized him as the Red Sox player I respected the most and rooted for. Besides Derek Jeter, who was one Yankee player you respected and rooted for?

Well, first of all I think I respect most Yankees players. Guys like Jeter and Mariano Rivera started getting us to conflate “like” and “respect.” Aside from a few players who maybe did some terrible stuff off the field or played dirty, I have no reason not to respect basically anyone. I would like Aaron Judge to hit .100 this season, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect him.

That said, if we’re talking like, I’ve actually liked quite a few Yankee players too. Most recently would be Didi Gregorius. I think he’s a blast to watch and he seems like a great guy to root for as well. If we’re going back to my childhood, I’d probably go Orlando Hernández. Between the windup, the eephus, the nickname and that time he threw his entire glove to first, he was always pretty fun.

Thanks again for all of your questions. And again, if I didn’t get to yours look out for it in a future edition of the mailbag or on the podcast. We always appreciate more questions, so please if you have any you can either ask me on Twitter @OverTheMonster, you can leave a comment on our Facebook page, you can drop a comment down below on this post, or you can send it via email to