With Mookie Betts jumping out to one of the hottest starts to the season in the MLB, there’s been a lot of talk within Red Sox Nation about moving him from leadoff to the 3rd spot in the order. The 3-hole has been traditionally reserved for a team’s best all-around hitter, which one could say (without much argument) is unequivocally Betts. So, it would certainly make sense to move him two spots back, until you dig a little deeper into the prospect of it, of course.
Aside from the fact that Betts has stated that he prefers hitting leadoff, the stats back up the strategy of putting him there.
Betts has spent almost all of his time in the Bigs hitting leadoff for the Red Sox. In 394 games batting there, he has a .295/.353/.867 slash line with 65 HR, 224 RBI and 276 runs in 1,650 plate appearances. This puts him up towards the top of almost every major statistical hitting category. His best season from the leadoff spot was 2016, where he hit .314/.355/.901 with 23 HR, 74 RBI and 89 runs over 516 PA. Betts finished 2nd in MVP voting that year and acted as the setup man for career years from Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz.
(Betts ranked 2nd in WAR for 2016, the year in which he posted his best season from the leadoff spot in the order, behind only MVP Mike Trout. Photo credit: ESPN)
Compare that to his numbers from the 3-spot, where Betts is hitting .281/.350/.827 with 9 HR, 38 RBI and 25 runs in 226 career PA, admittedly a far smaller sample size. He received his most PA’s hitting 3rd last year, 2017, where he posted a .270/.355/.815 slash line with just 6 HR, 28 RBI and 17 runs in 172 PA.
The last point to make is the amount of plate appearances he would receive batting 1st vs. batting 3rd. On average, a leadoff hitter sees 762 PA in a single year, compared to 725 for a 3rd hitter. That’s within an average lineup, and many would consider this Red Sox order to be above average, at worst, so it would be perfectly fair to tack on 10-20 more PA from the leadoff spot for Betts, meaning 40-60 more chances for him to swing the bat, reach base, and make things happen.
To sum it all up, Betts is an elite Major League player with all 5 tools at his disposal, but he hits almost 40 points better from the leadoff spot, with an OPS almost 80 points higher. He’d receive an extra 40-60 PA from leadoff, and with big bats like Hanley Ramirez and J.D. Martinez hitting behind him, he’d be allowed more opportunities to be the catalyst for this potentially potent Boston offense. This is an easy call to keep him right where he is.