Throughout the season, one thing the Red Sox have struggled with is finding a productive and complete lineup. At first, it was about trying to find a quality leadoff hitter. Then it transitioned to lineup construction as a whole, which steadied out a bit with the acquisition of Kyle Schwarber. That is, until Boston’s massive COVID-19 outbreak completely decimated the roster. Even after the end of this period, it is clear that there are still some tweaks to be made during the race for October.
A specific spot to focus on though is the bottom-third hitters in the Red Sox’s order. These hitters have been plagued with inconsistency throughout the 2021 season, and their performance, and consistent performance at that, is vital to the strength and achievement of this Red Sox team down the stretch.
For most fans, including myself, it is easy to think of this bottom third as its former self: a struggling group of hitters who, May through July, had slim-to-none contributions to the overall team. It consisted of a slumping Bobby Dalbec, unusually inconsistent Christian Vázquez, and the gyrating trio of mediocrity that was Marwin Gonzalez, Franchy Cordero, and Danny Santana.
But now it seems that after the trade deadline, as well as Bobby Dalbec’s sudden offensive resurgence, the bottom of the lineup has the possibility to provide significant contributions throughout the next month. This, of course, depends on the consistency that these players can provide. With the current bottom-third of Dalbec, Alex Verdugo, Christian Arroyo, and Vázquez, fans should have a bit more confidence, but let’s look at what each of these players could do to approve
As previously mentioned, Dalbec has been on a hot streak since the beginning of August. Since this time, Dalbec has boasted a 196 wRC+, .464 wOBA, and almost doubled his walk rate (6.4% season average, 10.6% during this period). What all of this means is that Dalbec has finally found some bit of control, which he has struggled with since being called up to the majors, and seems to have capitalized on it. The .464 wOBA is especially intriguing for Dalbec.
wOBA, a stat that weighs hits differently rather than accrediting a batter with the same credit for a single as a home run, takes into account a player’s whole offensive profile. In April through July, Dalbec’s wOBA sat at a measly .281 (league average for the 2021 season is .314), showing his inconsistency at the plate, as he featured only 26 extra-base hits in 280 at-bats, while only collecting 14 walks in that same time period. For reference, Dalbec’s totals for those same categories, respectively, during the August-September 26th timetable: 24 extra-base hits and 15 walks in 124 at-bats.
All in all, these past few months are a hopeful glimpse into what we can see from Dalbec in the future, and possibly in the playoffs and this final wildcard push as well. Dalbec can be a key in the transition to the bottom of the lineup, and all he needs to do is keep the same consistency that he has, mostly, shown throughout the year.
Verdugo has been relatively solid throughout the season. Boasting a 109 wRC+, his season has not been filled with overwhelming success, but as his spot in the lineup has been continuously tampered with, he has been able to still provide run support for the team. Posting a 128 wRC+ and .365 wOBA since the beginning of August, Verdugo, coupled with Dalbec, has been able to provide a solid performance at the bottom of the Sox’s seemingly ever-deepening lineup.
That said, one thing he could improve on specifically though is his walk rate. With a career clip of 8.4 percent walk rate, Verdugo’s season average of 8.7 percent, and his mark since August 1 (8.6 percent) are not alarming. But they are a focus Verdugo could hone in on to continue his production and provide the Sox with consistency at the bottom of the order.
With only 4 plate appearances since his return from the COVID-related IL, Arroyo seems to be a sort of wildcard—no pun intended— in the lineup for the Sox. His hard-hit rate is over 33 percent, which showcases his possibility to dominate at the end of the order. But while he hits the ball hard when he makes contact, he has only put up a season walk rate of 3.9 percent, compared to his career average of 8.4 percent. This clip is abysmal, and Arroyo needs to work on his plate discipline in order to be able to consistently provide good at-bats for the team in this important stretch coming up.
I don’t expect much at all from Vazquez. As of late, he seems to be a certified rally killer, collecting only four RBI in the Sox’s last four series. In the past two months though, his walk rate has improved, almost reaching his career average. At this point, if he gets on base at all fans should be happy. The top of the lineup has been producing, with the exemption of the last four days, so if he is able to move a rally up to them that should be considered a success. He has seemed a bit more patient in at-bats as of late, and if he can continue this, it would be a good sign for him and the team as a whole.
What to Hope For
All in all, the bottom half has gotten deeper and improved overall with age, and hopefully this trend can continue for these players. Obviously, a team will perform better if the entirety of their lineup can contribute to the overall outcome, and it seems that this possibility has been trending upward for Boston. With pressure lifted from the three, four, and five hitters, the team as a whole can improve, and this could result in a final, hopefully successful, playoff push.
At this point, we can just hope that these last few games have been a fluke in terms of offensive production. Still, even including this stretch, the numbers are still promising, and these young players have potential now and in the future as a staple in the bottom third of the order.