It’s been a frustrating start to the season for the Red Sox offense, Sunday’s little outburst notwithstanding. Seemingly every night (not actually every night, but you know what I mean) they have multiple good chances to put big numbers on the scoreboard and they fail. I think most of recognize that this shouldn’t be a long-term problem. Even if they don’t get back to being the elite offense they were a year ago, there are too many good hitters for them to be this ineffective. That fact doesn’t make things any more frustrating, though. The reasoning behind the struggles, whether or not they’re likely to continue, are tough to watch.
One of the biggest reasons is the lack of power. Again, they started to reverse this trend on Sunday, but prior to that they had just eight home runs. It was easily the lowest team total in all of baseball and was five dingers behind the next lowest total. We’ve heard plenty about those struggles, though. Losing David Ortiz was always going to mean a lack of power, and when you combine that loss with slumps from Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts, the homers aren’t going to come.
This lack of power isn’t the only reason this team is having trouble scoring runs, though. They’ve done the hard part in getting runners on base. Unfortunately, they’ve been masters of killing rallies early this season. Specifically, they are grounding into a ton of double plays.
This is where I note that the following numbers do not include action on Sunday. I recognize that this probably sounds a little convenient given that the offense sort of broke out yesterday, but I promise it’s not. I will be gone by the time the numbers update is all.
Through Saturday’s slate of games, the Red Sox had grounded into the third most double plays in all of baseball, with just the Angels and the Astros having more. I don’t need to tell you that plays in which a team both loses a base runner and puts two outs on the board is a bad thing. You only get 27 outs per game; wasting two in one fell swoop is a bad idea, imo. If you dig even a little deeper, though, it’s a really weird phenomenon for this Red Sox team.
On the one hand, it makes perfect sense. The Red Sox get on base a lot, which obviously gives them more opportunities to spoil their chances with double plays. Through Saturday, their .337 on-base percentage was the seventh best in all of baseball. Furthermore, going back to the lack of power for a minute, most of the time they get on base they only get to first. The vast majority of double plays, of course, start with a runner at first getting thrown out at second. Boston’s offense has the most singles in all of baseball and are in the middle of the pack in terms of walks.
On top of that, as I’ve discussed before, they make a ton of contact. Whereas some times would be striking out with the runner on first and giving their team a chance for another try, the Red Sox put the ball in play. They have by far the lowest strikeout rate in the league. In fact, the gap between them and the second-lowest rate is larger than the gap between the second-lowest rate and the ninth-lowest rate. This is not to say that Boston’s contact ability is a bad thing, of course. Just that this is a negative side effect at times.
Despite all of the reasons it might make sense, there is one major ingredient that is missing from the Red Sox game that should prevent them from grounding into so many double plays: Hitting grounders. If you look at the two teams ahead of them in GIDPs, you’ll see that the Angels hit the second-most grounders in baseball while the Astros rank seventh in ground ball rate (per Fangraphs). Meanwhile, you have to go all the way down to 23rd to find the Red Sox. Even when you consider the other factors above, this doesn’t quite jive. It seems like it’s just a case of bad sequencing that will pass.
Before totally declaring that, though, it’s worth looking at the biggest offenders on the roster. Overall, it’s pretty spread out, with three players grounding into at least three double plays through Saturday’s action. Those players are Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Pablo Sandoval. For Benintendi, it sort of makes sense since he is a contact-oriented player who hits behind an on-base machine in Dustin Pedroia. On the other hand, he hasn’t really been hitting ground balls this year. Sandoval is in a similar position, although he’s also less athletic and therefore less likely to beat out a double play. He also hits a few less grounders and is behind slightly worse hitters in the lineup.
Bogaerts, though, makes sense as a double play machine. He is also contact oriented, and not in a power-hitting kind of way. He leads the Red Sox in ground ball rate by a big margin, and while he’s a fine athlete he doesn’t exactly fly. He’s not going to beat out double play balls on a regular basis. When you also factor in the fact that he is hitting directly behind the meat of the Red Sox order, it’s something of a perfect storm for double plays.
The Red Sox offense is going to get it together sooner or later. Judging by Sunday afternoon, it’s probably going to be sooner. However, this has undoubtedly been a frustrating start of the season. They have gotten runners on base, but they are erasing them with double plays. Part of that is due to their style of play, and that will be there all year. With that being said, it’s also largely been a product of poor sequencing. Double plays will happen to Boston throughout 2017, but don’t worry, it shouldn’t occur at this rate all year.