With a pitching staff that seemingly can't keep runs off the board and a lineup that's produced the sixth most runs in baseball, you might think that there's plenty of balls being crushed in Red Sox games.
According to Mark Simon of ESPN, you'd be wrong. Very wrong. In fact, about as wrong as you can be. By reviewing video of every single at bat this season, Simon has put together some numbers that show the Red Sox are the worst team in the league at hitting the ball hard, but also one of the best in the league at keeping their opponents from making good contact.
Some caveats apply, of course. This is a subjective system, categorizing balls as "hard-hit," "medium-hit" or "soft-hit" seemingly by what the recorder considers "beneficial trajectory, velocity, and contact on the barrel." And unless these were all judged by the same individual, chances are there's some gray space between the categories.
Still, it's interesting stuff:
Which pitching staffs are allowing lowest hard-hit rate. Ranking them from best to worst here pic.twitter.com/VD2HM6hXtU— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) April 27, 2015
Ranking the MLB teams from top to bottom in hard-hit rate. Dodgers on top, Red Sox on bottom The full list pic.twitter.com/CzTnmtsZGV— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) April 27, 2015
Nobody needed confirmation that the Red Sox aren't hitting the ball as well as their runs scored tally would suggest. Yes, they've hit 23 homers, good for fifth in the majors, but they've also benefited from a ton of defensive gaffes, and have largely struggled to put together sustained rallies without the help of the long ball.
The pitching side of things is more interesting, lending some credence to the idea that the Sox are perhaps not as bad on the mound as they have looked. Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello in particular stand out as some of the best in the game so far at inducing weak contact:
Which pitchers have allowed lowest hard-hit rate in MLB? Trevor Bauer ranks best. Here's the top 50 pic.twitter.com/ZpkNDLxhR8— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) April 27, 2015
For Buchholz, it's not all that surprising. Yes, he had a disaster outing against New York, but in his other three starts he's allowed just three earned runs, striking out 26 batters and walking just 5. He gave up a bunch of hits against the Orioles, but that came with plenty of "help" from the defense behind him.
For Porcello, though, this is particularly encouraging news. After all, Porcello's problem has been the home run, with six already to his name in just 25 innings of work. But it's seemed like he's just been getting punished for every single mistake he's made--that three-run shot by Jeff Francoeur in an otherwise exceptional game against Philadelphia is the perfect example--and these numbers certainly support that. There's little reason to expect that to continue given these numbers, especially given Porcello's low career home run rates.
So that's good news for the pitching staff, particularly the top pair of arms. But not so much for the lineup. Obviously Hanley Ramirez is crushing the ball, and Brock Holt is some strange sort of wizard, but otherwise this lineup hasn't come close to hitting the way they were expected to coming into the season. Pablo Sandoval is at least reaching base, and Dustin Pedroia is still clinging to an early-season power-induced high. But the likes of David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, and whoever happens to be playing right field on any given day need to get it together. The BABIP excuses lose some significant punch when Simon's data suggests they're earning a good bit of that so-called "luck" themselves.
If you have faith that a lineup like this can't help but hit, then this should just be good news for the pitching staff. But if you've been expecting luck and regression to the mean to carry the way, it might be time to start looking for new reasons to hope.