There are plenty of things that can be argued regarding the 2011 Red Sox. How well they hit is not one of them. Up through early August, the Red Sox were threatening to be the top offensive club in the last 50 years, beating out even the Big Red Machine of the 70s and the 1982 Brewers, a club that featured so much hitting that Hall of Famer Paul Molitor looked pretty ordinary in the lineup.
Of course, then Kevin Youkilis was injured. He played with these injuries for a while before finally giving in, but not before damaging the Red Sox' bottom line on both sides of the ball. Josh Reddick hurt his hand, and eventually required surgery: his performance before year's end helped tank his numbers and those of the team's as well. These led to the Red Sox having an impressive offense, but not quite at the historic boundaries they sat at with a little more than a month of the season to go.
What's crazy about the Red Sox, though, is that they could have been better than they were, even with the whole injury thing hurting them at the end of the season. As a team, the Red Sox hit well with men on base and in scoring position -- as is to be expected, given it was a team full of real good hitters. With the bases loaded, though, luck never seemed to swing their way.
The team that hit .280/.349/.461 overall put up a line of just .244/.293/.356 with the bases loaded. That's 20 percent worse than the league, and 39 percent worse relative to their overall OPS. It's also the only situation in which they performed worse than they did normally:
It's not like this didn't happen often, either. The Red Sox loaded the bases in 80 of 162 games, and had 188 plate appearances with the bases juiced -- they were second in games, and first in plate appearances, but ranked 10th in the AL in split-adjusted OPS with the full bags. And, for a team that normally hit a homer every 31 plate appearances or so (203 in 6,410 chances), three in 188 looks out of place.
It's kind of ridiculous to suggest that what, when healthy, was easily the league's top offense -- and a potentially historic one, at that -- should have been much better than they were. But the numbers with the bases loaded don't lie.
You might not like what this means, though. The difference between the Red Sox and an average team with the bases loaded was about 30 points of batting average, and 40 points of Isolated Power (the on-base percentages were similar -- .306 for the league, .293 for Boston). In sample sizes like this, that isn't that many hits -- maybe a half-dozen or a little more; the Yankees had 16 more hits with the bases loaded in just three more at-bats, and nearly 100 points more batting average. With the run expectancy for bases loaded situations, it's easy to make the case that Boston could have gained about at least 10 runs, if not another four or five more, simply by being average in this situation. That many runs is easily at least one win; for a team that had their season end on the final day, that's rough news.
It's not something to make a big deal about, in the sense of "choking" or anything like that -- after all, the Sox did hit 21 percent better than the league with runners in scoring position overall, roughly in line with their overall numbers -- but it does lead to some mid-December sighs from those hungry for a new season to start.