The Red Sox' lack of power

Jared Wickerham

Boston's frustrating offense can be pinpointed to a severe lack of power in the early goings.

For a while, it seemed like the Red Sox were never going to get back to .500. They were toiling away around an even record for weeks, but finally climbed over that plateau on Wednesday night. A big reason for the mediocrity was a frustrating offense that currently finds itself ranked right in the middle of the MLB runs scored rankings. The middling ranking isn't all that makes it frustrating, though. It's the fact that they feel like they should be scoring more runs, but they just have failed to do so.

That feeling is completely justified, too. Boston currently has a .340 on-base percentage, good enough for third-best in baseball. Runners have been on base all season, they just haven't been driven in. The blame for this can be firmly placed on a lack of power through the first 34 games of the season.

Coming into Friday, the Red Sox are slugging .383 as a team, or just two points higher than Mike Aviles, a mark that ranks ninth in the American League and tied for 15th in all of baseball. For a team with David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks, you would justifiably expect more. Some of that can be blamed on a poor .247 team batting average, but even when you look just at isolated power, they remain ninth in the AL. Since it's still early May, the easy reaction to have is to blame it on cold weather, and expect a power surge as the weather begins to heat up. And that's a valid way to look at it. However, it doesn't hold up when other northern teams have slugged much better than them, most notably being the White Sox (though they do play in a homer-friendly park). Chicago has had a brutally long spell of cold weather, and yet they have the third-best power numbers in the AL. Really, it's been a bad combination of cold streaks all coming at the same time, especially from a few players in particular.

First and foremost on this list has been Xander Bogaerts. The second-best prospect in baseball, as judged by virtually every talent evaluator around, has not been able to get his power game going thus far. Add this to his shaky defense at shortstop, and people are already starting to tire of the 21-year-old. Of course, this is way premature, especially considering his overall game has still been very good. It's difficult to be upset at a player his age when they carry a .379 OBP. Still, it's strange to see Bogaerts with just a .089 ISO, considering he displayed plus-power throughout his minor-league career. Because of that pedigree, though, I'd expect the power to come soon. He's shown that he's not being overwhelmed by major-league pitching with his impressive approach at the plate, and is hitting line-drives at an above-average rate by Fangraphs' measures.

488684917.0_mediumPhoto Credit: Jared Wickerham

To me, Dustin Pedroia is the most concerning player on the list of disappointments in the power department. Before last season, he was a consistent .160+ ISO player, which is great for a middle infielder with his glove and on-base skills. Then, he put up just a .114 ISO in 2013, and concern started to set in. Eventually we learned that he was dealing with pain all season, and many believed that was the reason for his tough power stretch. It was almost a foregone conclusion that his power would return back to its normal rates this year. Instead, it's right at the same level, this time at .113. The question becomes whether this is the player Pedroia is going to be moving forward (which is still very good, for the record), or if it's just early season noise. It's fair to blame at least some of this on early season struggles, since his career ISO in the first month of the season is .125, compared to a .150 rate for this entire career. Still, he's hitting a ton of ground balls just like last season, and it's something to monitor in the coming weeks as the temperature starts to steadily rise.

Aside from the two middle infielders, a few other player stand out for their lack of power. I mentioned Middlebrooks above as a player who is associated with power numbers, but he's been a better OBP player than SLG so far. While his .176 ISO isn't anything to sneeze at in a vacuum, he's the type of player who one would expect a mark somewhere around .200. His 11 percent walk rate is certainly encouraging, but a little more pop to go with it would be nice. Obviously, his sample is still quite small after missing so much time. Another player on this list finds himself with limited opportunities, though for different reasons. Mike Carp's value is as a left-handed power bat off the bench, but that just hasn't happened in his 40 plate appearances. He only has nine hits on the season, and all three of his extra base hits are doubles. He hasn't had nearly enough time to play himself out of a job, but if he gets more opportunities and continues on like this, it becomes difficult to justify having Daniel Nava in Pawtucket.

In the end, it's still too early to get overly concerned and make a panic move to acquire more pop for the lineup. There is still plenty of time for this lineup to figure it out, and they've already shown signs of it of late. Likely, it's just a bad combination of players being cold at the same time, speaking both in terms of temperature and performance. Still, for an offense to be elite, it has to both get runners on base, and hit for power to knock them in. So far, the Red Sox are only doing one of those things.

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