Let me be the first to admit that I’m well aware how much of an exercise in futility trying to assign Brock Holt to one position is. His value intrinsically lies in the fact that he plays multiple positions. A 28-year-old with a career .272/.332/.373 slash line is one thing; one that can do that while being defensively serviceable, both in the infield and outfield, is another thing entirely. You will certainly see Holt all over the field this summer, but where is he most valuable?
Mookie Betts isn’t the only player on the Red Sox who was drafted as an infielder only to end up in the outfield. When Holt was drafted by Pirates in the ninth round of the 2009 draft, he was listed as an infielder. His official bio on the Rice University website says the same thing. He’s made the transition to semi-regular outfielder comfortably, especially in left and right field. Where do the numbers suggest he’s best utilized? Here are his career offensive stats when playing at each position:
LF - .279/.358/.414 with a .772 OPS in 286 PAs
CF- .297/.358/.351 with a .685 OPS in 40 PAs
RF- .272/.330/.406 with a .736 OPS in 223 PAs
So, we can obviously exclude center field from contention right off the bat. In fact, there’s no position – outside of pitcher and catcher, obviously – where Holt’s played less than centerfield. That leaves the corner outfield spots, and while he’s marginally better in left, there’s almost no difference. It’s safe to say that the Red Sox are pretty comfortable with the Benintendi/Bradley/Betts setup, and with Chris Young being the defacto fourth outfielder, innings for Holt in the outfield are going to be few and far between. The defensive numbers are generally a confusing mess, because they’re defensive numbers so of course they are. Take it with a grain of salt, but the stats point towards Holt being an average-to-slightly-below-average left fielder while being a slightly above-average right fielder. So to answer my own question, I’ll say that Brock Holt would be best utilized as the Red Sox’s backup right fielder. Now let’s re-watch Holt make his best defensive play as, naturally, a centerfielder.
This is where Holt plays naturally, which is super convenient because that’s where the Red Sox need him most. Dustin Pedroia isn’t getting any younger, the Pablo Sandoval circus is here to stay whether you’re happy about it or not (yes I know you’re not). Plus, Xander Bogaerts occasionally needs a day off despite what John Farrell will tell you. Like I did with the outfield splits above, here’s how Holt has played at various positions throughout the infield.
3B – .276/.349/.368 with a .717 OPS in 374 PAs
2B – .272/.318/.353 with a .671 OPS in 350 PAs
SS – .250/.284/.302 with a .586 OPS in 104 PAs
1B – .281/.305/.368 with a .674 OPS in 59 PAs
Holt’s obviously not spending a lot of time at first – that’s for Hanley Ramirez and *says in a voice that’s desperately trying to hide disappointment* Mitch Moreland. Holt’s played more innings at third base than any other position, and with the Red Sox third base situation being what it is, it makes sense that you’d see him there more often than not. To make things trickier, the defensive stats say that Holt is a significantly below-average fielder at third base. Pablo Sandoval is certainly no defensive wizard either, but the idea that Holt can be a bandaid at that position if Sandoval has another 2016 isn’t necessarily true. Coupling the two sets of data together, it would seem that Holt’s best infield position is second base. That’s obviously an overly simplistic answer to a complicated question. His numbers may point to second base, but with Pedroia being a safer bet than Sandoval, an argument could be made that Holt should see the bulk of his innings at third. If he keeps making plays like this, no one would be complaining.
Overall, the Red Sox would benefit most from Holt by keeping him away from one position for an extended period of time. His versatility is what makes him unique, and without that he’s just another average fourth outfielder or third baseman, two things the team absolutely doesn’t need more of. \o/
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