Things have not gone as planned for the Boston Red Sox this season.
They currently find themselves 3 games under .500 and in 4th place in a competitive (or just really bad?) American League East. The breakthrough, the spark, the winning streak that was supposed to kick them in gear, hasn’t shown up yet, and with a quarter of the season in the books, numbers that were previously ignored due to small sample sizes are now becoming the identity of this team.
The biggest conundrum: The Red Sox have the 4th best OBP in all of baseball at .330, yet with runners on, the club is still scuffling to drive them in, batting a collective .243 with guys on base, and just .240 when they reach scoring position.
The formula for success in MLB is to get as many runners on base as possible. OBP is a valuable tool for judging both the success of players, and the success of teams. But that formula is contingent upon then being able to take those runners and bring them across home plate. The Red Sox have failed miserably in that department.
But I’m not here to tell you the problem because you presumably were already aware of it. Instead, I’m here to tell you what’s behind it and why it’s happening.
The first among the factors contributing to this humdrum offense on display is none other than the worst result in baseball: the double play.
The Red Sox have grounded into 42 twin-killings, good for 2nd in the league, and just 4 behind the league-leader (Texas Rangers, 46). And what makes things even worse: 42% of those double plays (or 18 of 42) have come with runners in scoring position. This explains a lot. Often times, the Sox will get off to a good start in an inning and get nothing out of it because what was once 1st and 2nd with nobody out, turns into a runner standing at 3rd with two down.
Is it bad luck or just bad situational hitting? Probably a good blend of both, but there’s no faster way to kill a hopeful inning than having the opposition turn two, and Boston is all too familiar with that result this season.
Another major contributing factor to the problem has been both protection and production behind Mike Napoli.
In 93 at-bats in April, Napoli had 12 walks. In 51 at-bats so far in May, Napoli has already tallied up 16 walks. His highest number for any month last season was 19, and he’s only three away from tying that with 12 games still to play this month.
There couldn’t be a clearer indication of opposing pitchers being content with pitching around Napoli and attacking whoever John Farrell has slotted in the fifth hole. So far, it’s worked out. The blame doesn’t rest on any one player’s shoulders; there’s been a number of guys who’ve hit fifth so far this season, but none have been able to capitalize on the opportunities.
I’m not saying that whoever hits fifth needs to be an absolute slugger. What I am saying is that whoever is hitting behind Napoli needs to drive in runs consistently enough to the point where Nap can get some pitches to hit so that HE can drive in the runs.
The final thing I’ve taken away from the first 43 games that’s prevented the Sox from getting it done offensively: Xander Bogaerts’ lack of run production.
For Bogaerts, he’s actually played about as well as I expected to this point. His mature approach to the plate has netted him a .369 OBP and an 11.3 walk percentage, but it hasn’t translated into the RBI column quite yet. With just 7 on the season, Bogie needs to contribute much more in this category.
Right on cue with the theme of this post, Bogaerts struggles mightily with runners in scoring position, with a mere 5 hits in 35 at-bats. I’m not sure if the young shortstop is simply just pressing with guys on, or if it has more to do with his inexperience. I lean more towards the latter.
It just seems odd for a player’s batting average to drop more than 100 points with guys in scoring position, so you have to think things will start to turn around for him, especially as he begins to develop his own scouting reports on pitchers. If Bogaerts can start driving those runners home, he could become a key piece to the middle of this Red Sox lineup and maybe even an option to hit behind Nap.
The Red Sox should feel lucky that no team within the division is off to a particularly good start because they have plenty of time to get this offense in gear. When the runs start coming, I expect them to come in bunches, so let’s hope the Boston bats heat up with the warm weather that’s on the horizon.
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