The Red Sox recent struggles and what they can do about it

USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Red Sox have acquired Jake Peavy to sure up the rotation, they can address some less pressing issues.

Last night was a good night for Red Sox fans. They landed one of the top pitchers on the market in Jake Peavy and they did it without sacrificing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. or any of their other top prospects. They gave up a quality player in Jose Iglesias, but with the depth at the shortstop currently in the system, they can handle that loss. What happened on the field was extremely encouraging as well. The Boston bats broke out of their funk and scored eight runs on 11 hits to beat the Mariners. Most importantly, they did most of that damage against left-hander Joe Saunders.

Over the past two weeks the Red Sox have struggled to score runs. Since the All-Star break the team is collectively hitting .235/.288/.406, for a wRC+ of 84. This offensive drought has mostly come within the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway, which only makes it more frustrating and difficult to understand. Of course, it is just under two weeks of a season that still has eight weeks remaining and even after this horrible slump, the team is still third in baseball in wRC+ and first in runs. As last night showed, this is still a good offensive club, but here within the final hours leading up to the trade deadline, this kind of stumble deserves some attention. By this time tomorrow, it will be much more difficult to upgrade any shortcomings the team may have and for ten games now, it has looked like there are some real shortcomings.

Looking more closely at this recent scoring drought makes it much easier to understand. To begin with, the Red Sox have faced two of the better pitching clubs in the American League in the Yankees and the Rays. New York has been carried by the pitching staff all season and is currently third in the American League in ERA (3.74) and fourth in FIP (3.80). The Rays struggled on the mound in the early part of the season when David Price was injured and ineffective and several of their uber-talented young arms were still adjusting to the big leagues, but in July four of their five starters have posted ERAs under 3.00 in at least four starts and the club is sixth in ERA (3.75) and second in FIP (3.71).

Not only have the Red Sox run into some good pitching clubs, but they have run into some teams that are well-equipped to take advantage of their biggest weakness on offense. This Boston Red Sox club does not hit left-handed pitching well and New York and Tampa Bay have some killer lefties at the top of their staffs. The Red Sox are 15th in baseball in wRC+ against lefties and 9thth in wOBA (which doesn't adjust for the advantage Fenway gives them against lefties). Their .322 OBP against lefties is not terrible (.320 is the AL average), but their .395 Slugging and .145 Isolated Power numbers are well-below average. The Red Sox have decimated right-handed pitching this season, but lefties are real problem of this club.

During this two week stretch, the Red Sox have faced David Price twice and Andy Pettite, C.C. Sabathia and Matt Moore each once. They were solid against Pettite, getting four runs on six hits including two home runs, and they raked against Sabathia, amassing nine hits and seven runs in five innings, but against the two Rays southpaws they were completely shutdown. In 26 1/3 innings against Price and Moore in that series, Boston managed just nine hits and two runs. With a three game series in Tampa scheduled for mid-September, the Red Sox may very well meet these two again right in the middle of a two-series set with the Yankees.

As close as the AL East is right now, those series may have serious playoff consequences. If that does end up being the case, the Red Sox struggles against lefties could be their undoing. Looking at where the struggles have come in the lineup, it is easy to see where they might finds some solutions.

Name

PA

BB%

K%

OBP

SLG

wOBA

wRC+

Brandon Snyder

21

0.00%

14.30%

0.333

0.714

0.446

183

Dustin Pedroia

145

15.20%

11.70%

0.414

0.455

0.382

139

Jose Iglesias

82

8.50%

15.90%

0.402

0.44

0.371

132

Mike Napoli

122

11.50%

31.10%

0.344

0.426

0.334

106

Mike Carp

23

4.30%

47.80%

0.304

0.455

0.33

103

David Ortiz

132

5.30%

14.40%

0.311

0.455

0.328

102

Jonny Gomes

122

12.30%

24.60%

0.328

0.423

0.327

102

Shane Victorino

109

4.60%

12.80%

0.324

0.396

0.318

95

David Ross

43

9.30%

30.20%

0.268

0.459

0.316

94

Jacoby Ellsbury

169

7.70%

13.00%

0.339

0.34

0.308

88

Will Middlebrooks

67

3.00%

26.90%

0.269

0.406

0.294

79

Ryan Lavarnway

23

0.00%

13.00%

0.261

0.409

0.29

76

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

86

11.60%

30.20%

0.314

0.303

0.282

71

Daniel Nava

97

9.30%

25.80%

0.289

0.318

0.27

62

Stephen Drew

95

7.40%

37.90%

0.232

0.341

0.25

49

Pedro Ciriaco

25

12.00%

20.00%

0.24

0.227

0.218

26

Jackie Bradley

23

13.00%

43.50%

0.174

0.1

0.145

-24

Some of the players that we have expected to murder lefty pitching have done just that. Pedroia and Napoli are up near the top, Ortiz is above average even when giving up the platoon advantage and righty hitter Brandon Synder has been an effective platoon bat (through 21 plate appearances at least). Jonny Gomes has not been quite the offensive force against lefties he was thought to be, but it is hard to fault him in this group.

The trouble is coming from a combination of players who we never expected would see so much lefty pitching and players who should be more productive against southpaws then they have been. The problem is made worse by the Peavy trade as well since one of the most effective bats on this list is Jose Igelsias who is now a member of the Tigers following that deal.

Switch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia has a long track record of futility as a righty. That was one reason that David Ross was signed in the off-season. Ross has missed much of the year with a concussion, however, and that has forced Ryan Lavarnway to take his place in the platoon. Lavarnway has been terrible overall, with a batting line of just .233/.292/.349 but he has been worse against lefties this year, with a .227/.261/.409 line in 21 plate appearances. Small sample size warnings apply, of course, but with Salty's career wRC+ of 54 against lefties, now is not the time for that particular problem to rear its head.

Like Salty, Daniel Nava is a guy best served in a platoon. His 67 career wRC+ against southpaws is the biggest weakness in his game and it should be one that is easy enough to address with a player like Jonny Gomes. Unfortunately, injuries to Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury have kept Nava playing almost full-time. That hasn't been much of a problem thanks to his excellent work against righties, but the original plan was created for a reason, obviously.

Stephen Drew has always struggled against southpaws and this season is no exception. While Iglesias was around, there were ways to minimize his exposure to lefties. Without Iglesias, the team may simply turn to Xander Bogearts, playing the top prospect at short against lefties with Brandon Synder at third and then shifting him over to third when facing righties. That plan is ideal for addressing this need, but Bogaerts has just five games of experience at third base as a pro and his development is more important than platoon advantages in the long run.

The biggest problem comes from Victorino. The 32-year old veteran has been a much better hitter against lefties for his entire career, to the point that some people here even objected to the Red Sox giving him $13 million a year because he seemed to belong on the short side of a platoon. Way to prove that theory wrong, Shane. This season the Red Sox right fielder has almost flipped his career splits, hitting righties 15 percent better than lefties prior to his 3-3 night yesterday. This aberration is hurting his numbers- his power is at an all time low (by ISO) and he has historically had more pop from the right side- and it is hurting a line up that needs some help against southpaws to come from within.

While this trend doesn't bode well for September and October, there are simple things the Red Sox can do to improve this problem without paying even Jake Peavy-type prices.

There are several options for replacing David Ross on the market. Dioner Navarro of the Cubs and Ryan Doumit of the Twins could be acquired without much pain and suffering and both have been strong against lefties this year and throughout their careers. Ross could return soon enough to provide the help they need without an acquisition, but at this point, picking up another back up is probably a good idea.

The outfield issue is more difficult to address. The Red Sox have five outfielders now and they can't carry another, even if that player would be a lock to rake against lefties. The problem is not dire enough to warrant acquiring Alex Rios to replace either Nava or Victorino (which is probably not an option anyway). Even if it was, it would mean losing something of real value in the process. An upgrade here might make more impact than adding a third baseman, but it simply isn't as practical. The Red Sox could trade Daniel Nava to bring in more pitching, insert Mike Carp in his current role and then add a better defender with the necessary hitting skills against righties. Old friends Marlon Byrd and Ryan Sweeney could be had or, the Red Sox could turn to a waiver wire deal for Franklin Gutierrez (if he returns from the DL soon). Beyond that rather extreme solution,however, the options are limited.

In some respect, these are champagne problems. The Red Sox addressed their biggest issue yesterday by adding Jake Peavy for the stretch run and even with a subpar performance against lefties this year, the Red Sox are hardly lacking for offense. As they have showed against Joe Saunders and CC Sabathia, they can get to lefties from time to time even without upgrades. They can justifiably stand pat on that side of the ball. However, they will have to run the lefty gauntlet in September and we have just seen how risky that can be.

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