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Manager Alex Cora has remained clear throughout the spring: Mookie Betts will lead off and Andrew Benintendi will bat second. So where does that leave Martinez?

“He’ll be in the three or four spot,” said Cora. “This is a guy who not only can hit homers, but he has the ability to hit for average, too. The way he barrels balls, I think it was like 492 at-bats, and he barreled 60 balls last year. He’s not only a homer hitter. He’s a complete hitter. … He’ll be in one of those two spots.”

The @redsoxstats Twitter account suggested that cleanup was preferable to third, given that the three-hole hitter often hits with none on and two outs, while the cleanup hitter is guaranteed to have his first plate appearance come either with a runner on base or to lead off an inning. The numbers bear out the notion.

In 2017, for both the Red Sox and across baseball, no lineup spot had more plate appearances with none on and two outs than the No. 3 spot. The cleanup spot has roughly half as many plate appearances in such circumstances.


By contrast, no spot in the lineup gets more opportunities with either baserunners or runners in scoring position than the fourth spot in the order. Across baseball, the No. 4 hitter gets about 9 percent more opportunities than the No. 3 hole to hit with runners in scoring position.

Great hitters can impact their lineups regardless of their batting order position, of course. The Red Sox won championships with David Ortiz batting (primarily) third in 2007 and fourth in both 2004 and 2013. Still, if the Sox believe that Martinez – who hit .317/.393/.732 with the ninth-highest OPS in baseball (1.125) with runners in scoring position last year – has an approach that makes him a particularly strong candidate to produce runs, their most efficient use of that skill would be expected to come from the cleanup spot.


Obviously, the Red Sox want to stack the top of their lineup with their best hitters in order to maximize the number of plate appearances that the group garners. Martinez certainly qualifies, and if the team’s sole interest was in maximizing his plate appearances, it would put him in the third rather than fourth spot of the batting order.

Still, if the team wants to focus on putting Martinez in position to drive in teammates – or to give his teammates a couple of shots to drive him in – the No. 4 spot might be preferable. Who would that leave hitting third? Cora suggested last week that Hanley Ramirez was a candidate to do so – though Ramirez’s place in the lineup is a question in light of the presence of both Martinez and first baseman Mitch Moreland. The 2015-16 version of Xander Bogaerts comfortably occupied the third spot at times. Rafael Devers eventually could grow into that spot in the order. Dustin Pedroia was the Sox’ primary No. 3 hitter in the championship season of 2013.

The candidates are numerous, and ultimately, lineup debates tend to be overblown. Nonetheless, after the Red Sox committed $110 million to add Martinez as a middle-of-the-order difference-maker, they can be forgiven for seeking to maximize his return by finding the ideal place for him to hit.


Hitting opportunities by lineup position
Lineup position Red Sox MLB Red Sox MLB Red Sox MLB
1 86 (6) 2734 (4) 281 (9) 7539 (9) 163 (9) 4541 (9)
2 74 (9) 2468 (8) 323 (4) 9107 (4) 184 (4) 4960 (4)
3 161 (1) 4899 (1) 352 (2) 9879 (2) 200 (2) 5486 (3)
4 81 (7) 2579 (7) 364 (1) 10273 (1) 218 (1) 5973 (1)
5 77 (8) 2341 (9) 302 (5) 9221 (3) 196 (3) 5510 (2)
6 107 (2) 3141 (2) 289 (7) 8748 (6) 168 (6) 4947 (5)
7 87 (T-4) 2916 (3) 324 (3) 8784 (5) 176 (5) 4927 (6)
8 93 (3) 2658 (5) 286 (8) 8401 (7) 164 (8) 4897 (7)
9 87 (T-4) 2645 (6) 302 (6) 8294 (8) 165 (7) 4824 (8)
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference.com

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.