I came here today to write a story about how the Red Sox are good at baseball because of their fantastic plate discipline. I expected to find that the Red Sox see more pitches than just about anyone. That their plate discipline paid off in the form of positive counts. That the Red Sox were thus able to make their way into opposing teams' bullpens--particularly bringing their weaker arms into games around the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings--and to feast on those more vulnerable portions of the pitching staff.
Well, the first part is absolutely true. The Red Sox see more pitches than anyone else. In fact, in this they are downright ridiculous. Brewers have seen fewer pitches than any other team in Major League Baseball at 20,840. The White Sox are at the bottom of the American League with 21,126. The Twins(!) are in second place with 23,050. The Red Sox are first, with 23,987. That's a gap of 937 in a field where the bottom is separated from second place by 2,210. That's almost the distance between the Sox and league average at 21,858.
The problem comes from when you try to connect that to Boston's success at the plate. It's absolutely true that the Red Sox see a ton of positive counts--they rank fourth in the league for ABs ending with the batter ahead, and they hit a stunning .339/.512/.593. But at the same time they lead the league in at bats which finish with them behind in the count, in which they hit just .229/.241/.331. This, then, seems to be more a matter of volume than anything else.
So how about getting to relief pitchers? Well, they certainly do that too, and this time it holds up as a rate stat as well! 38% of Boston's plate appearances have come against relievers this year, compared to 34% for the average team. And it's true, the Red Sox hit relievers much better than the league as a whole, putting up a line of .257/.343/.428 against relievers compared to an average of .244/.316/.376.
But that number pales in comparison to their .288/.354/.455 against starters.
The argument can be made that those numbers are too general. That the relief innings added on by chasing starters are pitched disproportionately by far worse relievers, and that perhaps those numbers are better than their numbers against starting pitching as a whole.
How much does that matter when they're demolishing starters quite so thoroughly, though?
There is something to be said for the fact that the Red Sox almost certainly would not be hitting this well if they were impatient. As is, the Red Sox are dead last, swinging at 43.6% of all pitches. If you took them and flipped them up to the top with the Rockies, Brewers, and Marlins--all of them at or above 48%--then it's very likely this team would have scored a lot fewer runs on the season.
When it comes to real concrete connections though--if you're looking for the smoking gun--they just don't seem to be there. The Red Sox are a good offensive baseball team because they're a good offensive baseball team. They'll work the count, yes, and that certainly helps with getting on base, but more than anything they'll just beat the tar out of ya. The fact that they do so by taking tons of pitches, more than anything else, just serves to up the aggravation for their competition.
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