The Boston Red Sox better hope J.D. Martinez likes hitting second in the batting order, and his debut in the two-hole Tuesday should certainly help.
Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke made the somewhat surprising move of penciling in Martinez to hit second in Boston’s scrimmage vs. the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. That’s certainly a foreign part of the batting order for Martinez, who has started just 33 games from that spot in the lineup during his big league career.
He didn’t appear too bothered by it Tuesday night, though, going 1-for-3 with a home run and a walk. Leaving Martinez in that spot, at least with Andrew Benintendi leading off, gives the Red Sox their toughest batting order to face. It’s what they should be doing more often than not in the abbreviated 2020 season.
With baseball’s new rules stating relievers must face at least three batters, having left-hand/right-hand balance atop the lineup is even more important. With the left-handed Benintendi leading off followed by the left-handed hitting Rafael Devers, it would be much easier for opposing managers to utilize their bullpen. But if Martinez is in there to break up the lefty run, that’s one more thing for the opponent to consider.
“This (Martinez batting second) breaks it up. It makes it tough now,” Roenicke said Tuesday night after his team’s loss to the Blue Jays. “If you want to bring in the lefty to face Benny, you’ve got to get through JD before you get to Devers. It makes sense if everybody is comfortable with it because I know comfort has a lot to do with how these guys hit and changes their confidence. It’s a good look. If you put that lineup up like that and the opposing team looks at it, it’s hard to pitch to it.”
The potential problem, though, as Roenicke also alluded to, is getting buy-in from Martinez. He hasn’t done it much, and Roenicke mentioned Martinez didn’t love hitting second with the Detroit Tigers.
But this can and should be spun as a positive for Martinez, especially as he gets set to enter a potential walk year with universal DH looking like a formality for all of baseball moving forward. Martinez spent most of the 2019 season hitting out of the cleanup spot. In 2019, the Red Sox’s two-hole hitters got 28 more plate appearances than the cleanup spot. In 2018, it was 41. On the surface, that’s a fairly negligible difference, and in a 60-game season, the gap should be smaller — but it’s still something. For someone like Martinez, whose biggest selling point is the home run, that could be two or three dingers to the season total.
Martinez will get more at-bats, he’ll come to the plate with runners on base just as much if not more often. He won’t have to hit with two outs as frequently. There’s a reason why players like Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Francisco Lindor have consistently hit second in recent years.
Having your best hitters bat second isn’t a new trend — here’s a good rundown of lineup optimization from all the way back in 2009 — and it’s one the Red Sox have used for a long time with the likes of Dustin Pedroia hitting second for years and Devers occupying the spot for a good chunk of last season. But moving Martinez, arguably the best pure hitter in the lineup, is something that should benefit not only the team but the player, too.