The good news is the Red Sox pitching staff has looked way, way better than it did earlier in the year. That was expected to be the only thing that could hold this team back. If the pitchers were just average, the Red Sox had a stew goin’. The lineup is just that talented. Instead, coinciding with the return to usefulness by the pitching staff has been a disturbing disappearance by the offense. In the month of May, this stacked lineup has averaged a measly 2.3 runs per game. No pitching staff in the league is going to be able to support that kind of showing, even in this offensive environment. There have been many reasons why the runs just aren’t coming like we all expected them to. Which ones should the Red Sox address, and which should they let figure itself out?
Success (or lack thereof) with runners in scoring position
Of all the ailments Boston’s lineup is suffering from, this is the most glaring. Overall, this group has actually been solid if unspectacular in terms of getting on base. They find themselves squarely in the middle of the pack in on-base percentage, ranking 16th in the majors with a .312 mark. It’s been scoring these players that’s been the issue. Once a runner reaches scoring position, the Red Sox’ OBP falls down to .294, while their OPS stands at .649. Both of those numbers put them in the bottom-five of the league. The good news is there’s just no way this can last. The two worst offenders on this team have been Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, who have wRC+’s of 9 and 22 with runners in scoring position, respectively. Neither guy is anywhere close to that poor of a hitter, especially in clutch situations. Furthermore, the team has a .212 batting average on balls in play in these situations, the worst mark in the league. It’s clearly not all bad luck. You can see that when watching the games. There’s still a heavy dose of it mixed in, though, and their fortunes should change soon.
Failure Against left-handed pitching
If the problems with runners in scoring position is the Michael Scott of Red Sox lineup issues, the incompetence against southpaws is the Jim Halpert. It may not be the lead, but it’s as strong of a supporting character as possible. By wRC+, Boston has been worse than all but four teams against left-handed pitching. This is incredible considering the worries last winter about the lineup being too right handed. The biggest perpetrators come as no surprise, with both Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval putting up wRC+’s below zero. Perhaps more surprising has been the failures of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. This is clearly a major problem that needs to be addressed. The only issue is there’s no clear solution. They could, of course, bring up Rusney Castillo (more on that in a second), but he’d be replacing Shane Victorino in these situations. For all of the gripes about Victorino’s bat, he’s been fantastic about against southpaws. Ortiz and Sandoval aren’t being taken out the lineup, either. The latter may seem like someone they should platoon at times, but Brock Holt is the other third base option, and he’s left-handed. It feels like Boston should do something about this problem, but it doesn’t appear anything can be done.
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Right Field Follies
Now we get to the first of two problem positions on the diamond. This is the most obvious one, and the one that gets the most attention. Only two teams in the game have gotten worse production out of right field than Boston this year, and it’s a glaring hole on this team. While Shane Victorino has done fine against lefties, he’s been terrible against righties. Daniel Nava was supposed to mitigate that problem, but he’s been massively disappointing at the plate, to say nothing about his defense. The answer, obviously, is to call up Rusney Castillo. It’s so obvious that it may have even happened by the time this is published. The only issue is who to drop of the roster, but that’s secondary at this point. The Red Sox need to bring Castillo up, and soon.
First Base Production
While there were some signs before the season that right field could be an issue for this team, not many people saw first base being a major one. Yet, here we are. Boston’s first basemen have a 67 wRC+, the worst in the league. Obviously the main perpetrator here is Mike Napoli. For all of the optimism around him this spring, he’s failed to get anything going in the early part of the year. Luckily, he's looked better over the last few games. It’s surely a tiny sample size, but there is at least some anecdotal evidence that it may be a real change. The Red Sox don’t have to panic here, but they can’t sit on their hands, either. If Napoli is still struggling like this in a few weeks to a month, something needs to be done. Whether that means giving Allen Craig another shot, giving Nava a chance at first base, playing Brock Holt more often or recalling Travis Shaw, they can’t let Napoli toil away all season. I’m still confident that he’ll turn it around, but the team can’t wait around all season, especially with the rest of the lineup hitting the way they are.
Lack of Power
Between Napoli, Ortiz, Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts, there was supposed to be quite a bit of pop in this lineup. All have shown off what they can do at various points, but the unit as a whole hasn’t been able to put it all together yet. As a team, their .135 Isolated Power ranks 20th in baseball, a discouraging mark to say the least. The numbers say there’s been quite a bit of soft contact, too. Fangraphs’ new metric that measures the quality of contact says the Re Sox have made the most soft contact in the league with a soft% of 21.6 percent.
We have to take these new stats with a grain of salt, but others back up the same point. Infield pop ups are a good sign of weak contact, and 15.4 percent of Boston’s balls in play have been pop ups, the highest rate in the league. They’ve also been hitting the ball on the ground more than all but eight teams in baseball. Unfortunately, there aren’t many power hitting options in Pawtucket. Castillo should help a bit, but they’ll have to rely on what they have unless they want to turn to someone like Bryce Brentz, which shouldn’t happen.
The Red Sox offense has been depressing to watch lately. It was supposed to be an elite group, but instead they’ve been performing like one of the worst in the league. Unfortunately, there’s not many options besides waiting out poor performers and hoping they turn it around. Rusney Castillo should help in most areas, but he’s the only help on the way. Luckily, many problems should sort themselves out, starting with the issue with runners in scoring position. If these problems persist late for another month, however, it may be time to look outside the organization.