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Mookie Betts at second base in World Series? It makes no sense and here's why

John Tomase
October 20, 2018 - 12:54 pm

Outside-the-box ideas are great, but sometimes we overthink them. Case in point: the theory that Mookie Betts should start at second base in the National League games of the World Series.

The unorthodox move would allow the Red Sox to keep ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. in the lineup against either the Dodgers or Brewers, with DH J.D. Martinez sliding into a corner outfield spot and either Brock Holt or Ian Kinsler sitting.

Points for creativity, and you never say never, but the negative possible outcomes cascading from such a move would significantly outweigh the benefits of keeping Bradley in center field, batting seventh or eighth.

For starters, imagine an ALCS with Martinez in right field instead of Betts. Jose Altuve homers, Tony Kemp is safe stretching, and Alex Bregman doubles, to name three pivotal plays that Betts impacted, respectively, by leaping into the stands to draw fan interference, gunning down his childhood friend at second, and denying the Astros star with a leaping catch. Let's just agree that Martinez makes none of those plays. You'd hate to see them affect the outcome of the World Series.

If you want to play Martinez in left field, that means sliding Andrew Benintendi to center and Bradley Jr. to right (since Benintendi has never played right field as a pro), and now you've weakened yourself in center to a greater degree than if Betts were Bradley's replacement there.

Martinez has negligible experience in either potential park. During his half season in Arizona, he played right field for three games in Dodger Stadium. He made his big league debut at Miller Park in 2011 and has started five games there in left field, but none since 2012.

If the Red Sox face the heavily left-handed Dodgers, then sitting Bradley against southpaw starters Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, or old friend Rich Hill (with Alex Wood in reserve) is an easy decision. Bradley hit just .185 vs. lefties this year with a .562 OPS.

The Brewers are a different story. Wade Miley is their only lefty starter of note now that Gio Gonzalez is out for the postseason with a sprained ankle, although the way manager Craig Counsell has turned every game into a bullpen scramble mitigates the impact of constructing a lineup built around platoon advantages anyway.

Then there's the effect such a move would have at second base. Betts played 14 games there as a rookie and six innings there in an emergency against the Yankees this season, handling both balls hit his way. With negligible game action since the minors, however, it's asking a lot of even an athlete as gifted as Betts to suddenly turn double plays, play shifts, etc. . . . on such a massive stage. He's a Gold Glove, game-changing right fielder. In time maybe he could be the same at second, but not now.

The last issue is what you gain. Yes, Bradley recorded three gigantic hits against the Astros. They were also his only three hits of the series. If he sits, that means either Brock Holt or Ian Kinsler starts at second. Both are solid defensively -- Holt has been particularly good in that regard over the last month, and Kinsler has won a Gold Glove -- and Holt has been the team's best hitter since the start of September, with the first postseason cycle ever to his credit against the Yankees.

Bradley does not represent enough of an offensive upgrade on either of them to justify such wholesale lineup changes, especially considering the potential hit defensively at second base with an inexperienced player there -- even one who grew up playing the position, like Betts did.

The Red Sox haven't come this far to start messing with their lineup so recklessly. They can survive three games with Bradley on the bench, available to pinch hit and enter as a defensive replacement.

Betts is going to win the MVP award based in part on what he did in the outfield, so let's leave him where he belongs.