In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, the Red Sox offense was understandably the focal point of people’s desires. This lineup has been off-and-on all year long, and if we’re being honest it’s been off more often than on. The assumption, or at least the hope, was that the team would add a power bat to the lineup for the stretch run. Obviously, no one was going to replace David Ortiz by themselves, but the lack of power in this lineup has been exposed as a massive problem of late and it seemed reasonable that the Red Sox would emphasize that skillset with someone like Todd Frazier. Instead, they traded for Eduardo Nunez and doubled down on their current strategy.
To be clear from the jump, I am not against this trade for Boston. In order to get Nunez the Red Sox sent Shaun Anderson — a solid enough prospect but one whose ceiling is likely that of a back-end arm — and Gregory Santos — an intriguing young arm but one who is still in the Dominican Summer League and is years away. It’s more that I find this decision to shy away from power to be interesting, and there’s a chance it could work.
Nunez is not even close to a power hitter, though his anemic power numbers from this season don’t really do his talents justice. Although the righty has a .107 Isolated Power this season — the 14th lowest mark in the league -- a big part of that is due to the fact that he plays in arguably the most pitcher-friendly park in all of baseball. That’s not to say that the park alone has prevented him from being prime Barry Bonds, but rather that it’s likely had a mild effect. Prior to this season, Nunez had settled in as a .130-.150 ISO player. Again, this is not game-changing power by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s some reason to expect a small amount of improvement in this area.
Where Nunez really excels, however, is making contact. Whereas he’s taken a step back in power this season, whether due to his park or other factors, he’s cut down on his already impressively low strikeout rate. In 2017, Nunez is striking out just 9.2 percent of the time. That makes him one of three players who are striking out in fewer than ten percent of their plate appearances. The other two? Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia. As a team, the Red Sox rank fourth in strikeout rate amongst all MLB teams, and this move should only move them up this list.
It’s not just the contact that Nunez will add to this differently looking lineup, either. In addition to putting the ball in play a ton, Nunez is also going to wreak havoc on the basepaths, provided he’s used correctly. He has been a positive baserunner for his entire career, and last year in particular was a great year. He stole 40 bases in 2016 and has stolen 17 bases so far this year. Just last week I discussed the team’s baserunning skills and mentioned that they have a mix of very good and very bad runners. If they aren’t going to hit for power, they need to see improvement in this area, and adding someone like Nunez to a group that includes Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and Andrew Benintendi certainly can’t hurt.
It is up to John Farrell to utilize these players correctly. Well, first it’s up to these players to get on base, which hasn’t really worked out of late. When they do reach base, though, Farrell needs to let them run wild. If the Red Sox are going to double-down on a lineup without power in this season where every team is loaded with power, they need to embrace it. That means, as much as it can hurt at times, running on the bases and even calling for some hit and runs and trying to get things going. I won’t pretend that smallball is my favorite style of baseball, and it certainly hasn’t been the way the Red Sox have historically played this, but it’s their only option right now.
It’s not just the style of offense that Dave Dombrowski and the rest of the organization is doubling down on right now, either. The team is doubling down on the players that are already here. By not going out and getting a big bat — if such a thing was even available -- they are saying that they believe the most likely road to success is simply waiting for the players that are already in-house to turn it around. It’s possible that the big trade to help the lineup is still coming, but I honestly don’t see it. This Red Sox offense is going to sink or swim based on whether or not guys like Bogaerts, Benintendi, Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland can turn it around.
The Red Sox were always going to be a different offense in 2017. Losing David Ortiz will do that to a unit. That being said, no one saw it going like this. Rather than trying to change the course, the Red Sox are simply adding more to the anti-power lineup they have developed. Boston can succeed like this, but they need to embrace it fully. Put the current hitters in the best situation to succeed. Most importantly, play up to your team’s skillset. That means running like crazy and playing some small ball, even if a part of me dies every time I suggest it.