Dustin Pedroia’s imminent return to the Boston Red Sox is creeping ever closer, with the veteran possibly joining the big club as soon as Friday. While there’s no doubt that his presence will almost certainly be a boost to an already surging Red Sox lineup, it begs the question of where exactly he fits in.
Pedroia’s defensive spot is pretty well established. He’ll likely take over as the first choice 2nd baseman right from the jump, but there’s also a high probability that Alex Cora will prefer to ease him into first team action, giving him a day off every 3rd or 4th day, so Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt should still get plenty of playing time. In terms of the batting order though, Pedroia’s position is a little more up in the air.
There’s 2 spots in the order that are unquestionable locks, Mookie Betts at leadoff and J.D. Martinez at cleanup. The rest of the 1-5 crew is pretty well locked up as well, though not as air tight, and there could be some surprise tinkering with the 2 and 3 spots (Benintendi and Ramirez), and #5 in the order (Bogaerts). Rafael Devers seems to have found a nice little home at #6, but he could pretty easily be moved, the 7 hole is currently occupied by the guy keeping Pedey’s chair warm, Eduardo Nunez, and the 8 and 9 positions are basically black holes, with JBJ and Vazquez both sitting below the Mendoza line.
The best guess, and probably the most sensible, would see Pedroia making a seamless, like-for-like substitution for Eduardo Nunez. The benefit of this move would be threefold. For one, it would allow Cora to avoid wholesale changes to the batting order on Pedroia’s presumably many rest days to start off. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and they like to have a defined and consistent role for their club. Slotting Pedroia at 7 would allow everyone else’s roles to remain the same and keep thing uncomplicated.
Secondly, it would allow Pedroia to start off in a mostly pressure free environment. If he were to slot in at somewhere like the 2 hole, there would be an immediate expectation to produce at a high clip. Coming in towards the bottom of the order would give him the freedom to find his swing and ease into full-time action.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it would provide a much needed bump up in production from the bottom third of the order. As mentioned above, the 7 through 9 hitters have been really quite poor thus far. At this point in Dustin’s career, we pretty much know what he’s going to provide. He’s going to give you a nice BA around .290-.300 to go along with a .330-.350 OBP and maybe 10 HR and 50-60 RBI (knock those down to 7 HR and 35-45 RBI to account for a shortened season). That would be ideal numbers for a bottom of the order guy.
(Pedroia’s ferocious swing on display. Theoretically, starting him towards the bottom of the order would provide him with a pressure free environment to find that swing. Photo credit: WEEI)
He could be penciled in at 6 and move Devers down to 7, although Devers’ power numbers resemble more of a 6 hitter than a 7, but regardless, the points made above don’t really change if that’s the case.
Another fairly simple scenario would see Pedroia hit either 8th or 9th. Again, this would be a pressure free environment for Pedroia to begin with, and again it would provide a consistent bat in front of Betts. The only real issue with this is that one of either JBJ or the catchers would be forced to move up a spot in the order, and as we already covered above, the 3 of them aren’t hitting well at all and don’t necessarily deserve a promotion in the batting order.
The final realistic option would be to put Pedroia right back to where he’s made his home for the last decade, the 2nd spot. While there’s not a huge camp of people that think the he’ll produce less than his track record suggests, it’s still a possibility considering he’s missed close to a year of professional baseball.
Additionally, it turns the entire lineup into a convoluted mess. For Pedroia to hit 2nd, Benintendi would have to move down to somewhere else in the order. A straight swap down to 7th would be easiest, but Beni is definitely not a traditional 7 hitter, and he’s performed well enough this year (especially in the last month) to warrant a spot somewhere in the middle of the order. That leaves the options as follows:
Move Benintendi down to 3, displacing Hanley to 5th, Bogaerts to 6th and Devers to 7th. This would theoretically keep everyone in spots prototypically designed for their style of hitting, for the most part. Benintendi could also move down to 5 or 6, keeping the same sentiment in place, but Boston would lose his dynamism with his bat and legs in the top 4.
There’s also the argument that Pedroia could hit 5th, but that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. Taking Bogaerts out of the 5 spot, where he’s grown comfortable, for the benefit of having Pedroia only 1 or 2 spots above 6 or 7 doesn’t really carry weight when considering the ramifications of messing with Bogaerts and the groove he’s found for himself.
The biggest negative that would come from Pedroia batting 2nd or even 5th, though, would be the amount of change it would cause on his off days, which, again, will be often early on. As has already been mentioned here, baseball players prefer to play with generally defined roles, and the amount of lineup shuffling that would need to take place when Pedroia isn’t in the lineup would be pretty significant and would go against the commonly accepted “creatures of habit” theory.
To sum up, the options for Dustin Pedroia’s reintegration into the Red Sox lineup are many, and each comes with their own respective positives and negatives. Regardless of where he goes, though, we can pretty much count on Pedroia coming in and being a welcome addition to the Boston lineup.