MLB

2018 World Series: Dodgers primed to take advantage of Red Sox’s outfield trade-off in Game 3

LOS ANGELES — The dilemma of how to handle the loss of the DH during select World Series games is a dilemma that confronts every American League pennant winner. In the case of the Boston Red Sox, they were left with an imperative — get J.D. Martinez, perhaps their best pure producer during the regular season and their primary DH — into the lineup. 

For a time, the idea of returning Mookie Betts back to his long-ago position of second base was bandied about. For Game 3 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, however, Boston manager Alex Cora went for a less disruptive tack … 

One possibility would be to shift Betts to center and put Martinez in right, which would allow Andrew Benintendi’s left-handed stick to be in the lineup against right-hander Walker Buehler. That, however, would mean two outfielders — Betts and Martinez — would be at their less-than-ideal positions, rather than Martinez alone. So Martinez in left it is. 

As it turns out, the Dodgers are well equipped to take advantage of what’s now a compromised outfield defense. Consider the following numbers. The L.A. offense this season led the NL in fly-ball percentage, which is notable in and of itself. Now, however, regard these numbers … 

  • The Dodgers in 2018 ranked third in the NL with 763 line drives and fly balls hit to left field.
  • The Dodgers in 2018 ranked first in the NL with 917 line drives and fly balls hit to center field. 
  • The Dodgers in 2018 ranked second in the NL with 794 line drives and fly balls hit to right field. 

Also note that three of the Dodgers’ most fly-ball-inclined hitters — Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, and Cody Bellinger — are all in the lineup for Game 3, which you can stream on fuboTV (Try for free). The Red Sox likely have some numbers along these lines to help inform their decision. In essence, the thinking seems to be that the Dodgers are slightly less inclined to hit the ball to left than they are to right. Moreover, given the lofty number of balls hit to center argues strongly for keeping Bradley in the lineup and Betts at his usual spot. 

Although Martinez has been a primary right fielder over the balance of his career, he saw more defensive innings in left — 280 versus 213 in right — during the 2018 regular season. On another level, Cora before Game 3 acknowledged that Martinez’s ankle injury that he suffered in Game 2 played a role in keeping the two skilled fly-catchers at their usual spots. 

Even when healthy, though, Martinez is a liability with the glove. Over at FanGraphs, Inside Edge puts balls in play into buckets based on how likely an average major-league fielder is to make the play in question. You see very little separation when it comes to balls graded as “impossible,” “remote,” or “routine.” Here’s where you see the big differences between fielders … 

  • “Unlikely” – 10 to 40 percent of average major-leaguers at the position make the play. 
  • “Even” – 40 to 60 percent percent of average major-leaguers at the position make the play.
  • “Likely” – 60 to 90 percent of average major-leaguers at the position make the play.

Now here are Martinez’s percentages in those three categories over the course of his career … 

Martinez

10.8 percent

37.5 percent

68.1 percent

As you can see, Martinez is at or below the lower bound in each of those categories across a sample of more than 6,500 defensive innings. Throw in an opposing lineup that’s one of the most adept in baseball at hitting the ball to the outfield, and you have the opportunity for Martinez’s glovework to be exploited. Chance are he’ll be fine — again, most plays are routine or all but impossible — but it remains a notable subplot heading into Game 3. 

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