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Putting Mookie Betts in cleanup spot is bit unorthodox, but you shouldn’t freak out about it

03.09.17 at 1:25 pm ET

Mookie Betts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Mookie Betts (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

So, John Farrell is tinkering with the idea that Andrew Benintendi might hit third, sliding Mookie betts down to the cleanup spot.

This is what the Red Sox manager had to say on the matter when meeting with the media at JetBlue Park Thursday morning:

“There might be some lineups here in camp when Bogey [Xander Bogaerts] returns that would take a look at that. If you were to take the approach of Andrew in the two-hole, where does that put Bogey? We’re also talking about a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner who has had very good production offensively. If there’s a way to combine breaking up the right-handers and not having a string of three or more right-handers in a row, is that one potential option with Benny in the three-hole? That puts Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], Bogey 1-2 with Benny and then Mookie four and Hanley [Ramireiz] five. You can probably make the argument those are our best five hitters in the top half of the lineup with some balance as best possible. So I wouldn’t rule it out and like I said, we’ll take a look at it when Bogey returns here late in camp.”

Some of the initial reaction when Ken Rosenthal first surfaced this notion late Wednesday focused on the concern over Betts, the American League MVP runner-up, potentially not getting to the plate in the first inning.


But understand that cleanup hitters more times than not actually do hit in the first, which means they are coming to the plate with runners on base. Nelson Cruz, who hit fourth more than any other batter in 2016 (155 times), hit in the first inning 98 times. And Mike Napoli, who was second with 140 appearances at cleanup, hit in the first on 97 occasions.

The guy who hit No. 4 for the Red Sox most often 2016 (96 games), and also just happened to have baseball’s best OPS, David Ortiz, was put in that position without nary a complaint even with a first-inning stat line that saw him hit .398 with a 1.241 OPS in the frame.

It should also be noted that in the major leagues last season, the No. 4 hitters had almost the same number of plate appearances as those hitting third (21,530-21,039).

No big deal, right? Probably. Especially when you have three guys in front of Betts who seem to have a pretty good chance at being at an elite offensive level for their respective positions.

Still, considering the kind of player you’re talking about with Betts, the move could be considered somewhat off the beaten track.

There hasn’t been an American League MVP winner since Alex Rodriguez in 2008 who didn’t hit in the first three spots in their respective batting orders more than six times since in the season after claiming the award. Josh Donaldson (2), Mike Trout (0), Miguel Cabrera (6 and 0), Josh Hamilton (0), Joe Mauer (1) and Pedroia (0) all were MVP winners who their team was going to make absolute sure got up in the first.

But Rodriguez offered an example of how it can work a year after winning the AL MVP, hitting fourth in 126 of his 138 games, and still getting up to the plate 97 times in the first inning. When you have good hitters in front of you — in this case Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano — having your best guy hitting fourth can actually work.

So, lower your heart rate, and understand on the ninth day of March, it’s worth the conversation.

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