The Red Sox are spiraling right now, or so it seems. With each passing loss, it increasingly feels like rock bottom, only to have a deeper, rockier bottom revealed to us within 48 hours. This is a team that desperately needs to find their stride again, and while they can’t bring in outside reinforcements beyond the waiver wire or free agency, they have their own. And some have been added already, most notably in the form of Chris Sale and Kyle Schwarber.
Christian Arroyo isn’t as talented as those players, but his return should be imminent, and perhaps as soon as prior to Monday’s make-up game against the Rangers (assuming weather allows the game to take place, of course). And while the infielder shouldn’t be expected to provide the same kind of individual help that the other two players named above have provided and are expected to continue providing, Arroyo’s return does provide some specific benefits that should allow this team to better play the matchups and just feel like a more complete roster.
Part of it is Arroyo’s individual performance, to be fair, though I think the performance may be overrated by some. In our roundtable last week we looked for players who were not currently on the active roster that could provide help at the major-league level, and Arroyo was by far the most popular answer. It does make sense, but it’s also worth noting his 114 wRC+ may be a bit inflated.
While the righty’s pop has been encouraging, he’s also gotten by on a .333 batting average on balls in play, which isn’t wildly out of line with expectations but is probably a bit inflated. His 24 percent strikeout rate and four percent walk rate make me nervous, but your mileage may vary on the precise level of concern. Even so, projections have him as roughly a league-average hitter the rest of the way, which feels about right and is strong enough production to feel good about his presence back in the lineup.
For me, there are really two reasons why I think Arroyo’s addition should be another step in hopefully turning this ship back in the correct direction. It starts with that power, and more broadly what he adds situationally to this team. I was surprised to see that, by wRC+, the Red Sox have been pretty good this month. Their 115 mark is tied with the Dodgers for the fifth best in all of baseball. But a lot of that is built with their on-base abilities, with the second-best OBP in baseball in that span.
Getting runners on base is, of course, the easiest way to score runs, but you do also need to bring them home. In the power department — and extra-base hits are the easiest way to bring runners on base home — Boston ranks in the middle of the pack in Isolated Power (SLG - AVG), which is also where they rank in runs scored this month as well. (More specifically, they are 13th in ISO and 16th in runs.) Essentially, this just backs up all that frustration we’ve felt lately with chance after chance being squandered.
Leverage-based and situational-based splits are often misleading due to sample size issues, but it is worth pointing out that Arroyo has been quite good in these opportunities. While his 43 wRC+ in low-leverage situations is brutal, he’s at 170 in medium-leverage and over 200 in high-leverage. Similarly, he’s essentially been league-average with the bases empty, but 30 percent better than average with runners on base and more than 40 percent better with runners in scoring position.
Again, sample size issues are at play here and they’re far too small to indicate whether this is an actual trait on which the Red Sox can count from Arroyo moving forward. That said, just like we talked about above, the biggest key to driving in runners is hitting for extra bases. That has been Arroyo’s best ability this year with his .194 ISO, and it should continue to be. He’s probably not going to draw many walks, but hitting likely in the bottom-third of the order he should have the big bats on base ahead of him a fair amount. His job will be less to get on base than to take advantage of those situations, which his profile suggests he should be able to do, and his numbers this season suggest he has done.
But even beyond that sort of individual component here, Arroyo also helps bring the roster back to where they should be. Part of this also relies on Schwarber being able to play first baes, which is still totally up in the air, but ideally they will not have to play J.D. Martinez (or Schwarber, for that matter) in the outfield. Instead, the best possible way to line this defense up probably has Kiké Hernández back in center field, being flanked by Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe in the corners, with Arroyo at second and Schwarber at first. That also allows Jarren Duran to play more situationally and provide game-changing speed off the bench.
This team is certainly not in a situation where one player is going to change everything, and if they were that player would have presumably been Sale or Schwarber. Arroyo doesn’t fit that bill. That said, his return should come soon and it should be a step in the right direction. He should provide a boost to this team’s impossibly frustrating situational hitting, and he should also help this team get its defense and offense in a steadier place. Any step in the right direction helps at this point.