With the first ten games of 2020 in the books, it’s safe to say this has been a rough start for the Sox. They currently sit at a disappointing 3-7 and last in the AL East. While most of the blame has been attributed to the pitching staff and bullpen, the lineup has also become a major question mark.
Objectively, it seems like the offense has been just fine. They’re tied for 10th in the league in total runs, 14th in wRC+, and have had big outbursts against the Orioles, Yankees, and Mets. The problem is, an argument can be made that they’ve been one of the luckiest teams in the league thus far.
As a team, the Red Sox are batting .257 and slugging .425, which is above average in both categories. However, Statcast has their expected batting average and expected slugging percentage all the way down to .221 and .376, respectively. No team in the majors has as big of a discrepancy in actual vs expected average or slugging as the Red Sox do. Why is this?
Oddly enough, it’s partially because they’ve been carried by their worst hitters. Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vázquez are big names that have been dominant, but the only other above-average hitters on the team (by wRC+) have been Kevin Pillar, Kevin Plawecki, Mitch Moreland, and Jackie Bradley Jr. Weird. Outside of Bogaerts and Vázquez, all of those listed names have had extreme batted ball luck, and can’t be relied on this heavily as the season continues.
When making predictions for the Red Sox prior to the season, I assumed the pitching would struggle, but thought the lineup would carry them. My opinion was the big four of Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, and Xander Bogaerts, topped off with Alex Verdugo, Christian Vázquez, and a combo of Michael Chavis/Mitch Moreland had the potential to be one of the top lineups in the league.
Instead, these big names have struggled mightily. Benintendi looks absolutely lost at the plate, and I’ve started to doubt Chavis’ ability to hit at the major-league level. Alex Verdugo has hit something seemingly one ball in the air, and his launch angle is actually negative for the year. I’m confident in Devers and Martinez turning it around, but it’s been a difficult stretch for both of them as well.
Another extremely frustrating thing for me has been the management of off-days. Every single game this year, outside of game 1 of the season, one of the big 4 mentioned above has been rested. Yes, everyone needs their days off, but the lack of aggressiveness in a 60-game season has been aggravating. I thought I was hallucinating Saturday night when, instead of J.D. Martinez pinch hitting, Tzu-Wei Lin came up to bat with two outs in the 9th (credit where it’s due, Lin came through).
Normally, during a losing streak or rough patch I am level-headed and like to highlight reasons the Red Sox have been unlucky and how they can turn it around. However, this feels like the opposite. It’s a morale killer to have your worst hitters ride a good wave and still sit last in the division. Hopefully as the season progresses, the top of the lineup starts to figure it out.