About two months ago, the Red Sox fanbase was up in arms after a season-opening series sweep at the hands of the laughing stock of baseball, the Baltimore Orioles. It was then that I put a moratorium on TAKES until Memorial Day, an unofficial checkpoint in the baseball season where we stop shouting “small sample size!” and are forced to take a closer look at the scenarios playing out around the league. Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, it’s due time to unleash some hot takes.
The Leadoff Spot
Getting mad about lineup construction is a rite of passage for a baseball fan. Even though the emphasis on lineup construction and efficiency has gone the way of the dodo in our broader baseball community due to the realization of how minuscule the advantage of an optimal lineup is compared to what most teams do nowadays, it’s something incredibly easy that can reap benefits for teams like the Sox that are playing on the margins.
The average leadoff hitter in baseball this year has a .336 OBP with a 113 wRC+. The Red Sox, who sit sixth in team non-pitcher wRC+ with a 110 mark, are 26th in leadoff OBP and 21st in leadoff wRC+. Enrique Hernández and his .291 OBP are not the solution to that problem. The Sox are a top-heavy offensive team and do a good job of bunching their best hitters together to ensure the best chance of stringing together hits in order to score runs in bunches with Alex Verdugo, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Rafael Devers in the middle of the lineup. That said, I don’t see how having someone with a sub-.300 OBP in the leadoff spot is helping, and/or how Verdugo wouldn’t be a better fit for the role.
My take is that Hernández should be shuffled to the bottom half of the order while everyone else above him is bumped up one spot with Verdugo manning the leadoff spot.
The Nick Pivetta of it all
This has been the best run Pivetta has had since his 2018 season, a performance multiple organizations have been chasing in hopes he could duplicate it. He’s done this in large part by limiting home runs at a career-best rate, a rate that seems unsustainable if you look at advanced metrics like DRA. He’s given up some curveballs in lieu of his slider, which hasn’t been his lead secondary since his rookie season, and it’s worked out well for him. Batters are slugging .348 on the slider and only .307 on his fastball, both career bests.
However, it also needs to be noted that none of the pitch metrics have changed. The spin rates on the fastball and slider are virtually unchanged from last year and his movement profile is virtually the same. There are explanations for having success despite those facts — ones that I can’t back up with hard evidence — such as deception or sequencing or better command, but one could also look at the rest of Pivetta’s career and chalk this up to a lucky streak. The fastball is still straight as an arrow, and while he’s gotten better at keeping his fastball up, he still leaves it over the heart of the plate too often. One would think that this would eventually come back to bite him. I hope it doesn’t, but I think it will.
My take is that while Pivetta has put up good numbers through his first third of a season, he’s due for some home run and hard contact regression and that Tanner Houck will be coming for his spot when he’s back to full health.
The Franchy Cordero/Andrew Benintendi trade
I was not a fan of this trade at the time, and my feelings are only continuing to get worse. With the nature of players to be named later, it’s unlikely the pending acquisitions push this deal in either direction, though it is fair to mention this is also a different kind of season coming off a COVID year so those PTBNLs could be better than is typical.
But what we do know at this point is that they sold low on Benintendi and Cordero is in Triple-A right now. After a tough start to the year, Benintendi is now slashing .288/.347/.384, which doesn’t feel like it should be above average but chalks up to a 106 wRC+. That’s not good for a left fielder, but it’s far better than what Franchy was providing before his demotion. I’m not even sure if Benintendi is still good, but it always felt like a mistake to sell so low on the guy for a risky player that’s the same age as Benintendi.
Maybe Cordero figures it out in Triple-A, and/or Josh Winckowski and the prospects pan out in a big way, and I look really stupid in three weeks or further down the line, but I stand by my take that this was a bad, completely unnecessary trade.
The lineup is too right-handed
The big weakness this offense had coming into the season was that it was too right-handed. This wouldn’t be a problem if the lineup was made entirely of right-handed hitters the quality of Bogaerts and Martinez, but guys like Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Renfroe, and (traditionally speaking) Enrique Hernández are guys that should be platooned on a team with playoffs desires.
Simply put, there are not enough roster spots to hard platoon that many players. Renfroe has been on fire lately and Hernández’s traditional platoon splits haven’t bourne themselves out this season, but my take is that they’re going to need to shift the makeup of this roster somehow between now and the deadline if they’re serious about winning a playoff spot.
J.D. Martinez was never gone
I think most fans were sympathetic to the circumstances surrounding the 2020 season, but Martinez’s stat line could’ve been cause for concern. He’s eliminated all cause for concern with a blistering .316/.389/.566 line that puts him among the top 10 hitters in baseball by wRC+. He’s as good of a pure hitter as there is in the game, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. On top of that, he’s worth his weight in gold as a mentor and assistant hitting coach, and even though he’s a designated hitter entering his mid-30’s he’s worth keeping around.
My take is that the Sox should look to extend him if they can before he pulls the trigger on his opt-out clause.