You don’t need me to tell you that the Red Sox have not been a good offensive team this season. If you’ve watched a few of their games or checked out some of their statistics, it’s clear that when it comes to hitting and scoring runs, this year’s squad has not gotten the job done. For those who have missed some of those telling stats, the Red Sox are 26th in MLB in wRC+, with a mark of just 82. They are also 28th in home runs (17), 26th in runs scored (104) and second-to-last in walk rate (6.5 percent). I could keep listing similarly disappointing numbers, but I think we can leave it there.
What is perhaps most frustrating about the team’s production is that it’s not actually a team-wide issue. Unfortunately, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez can only do so much if the rest of the lineup can’t muster even a few hits to rub together. There’s no single player to blame, of course, as slumps have mired the season for everyone from free agent signing Trevor Story to utility infielder Christian Arroyo.
Despite all the doom and gloom, there is still some hope, especially if we take a really optimistic view of things. So, instead of piling on about how players are struggling, let’s try to find at least one thing to like in the offensive profile of some of the Red Sox’s besieged hitters to this point. To make things a bit more manageable, will be limiting this to players with at least 50 plate appearances. That may still be a relatively small sample, but trying to find a bright spot for guys with a handful of times at the plate will tell us even less.
All statistics are prior to games on May 11.
Trevor Story – Baserunning
Story’s struggles have been the most glaring this season. That’s to be expected for someone the Red Sox signed to a six-year, $140 million deal this past offseason, especially when there’s the possibility adding him means Bogaerts’ long-term future in Boston might be in doubt. The former Colorado Rockie has yet to homer as a member of the Red Sox (Editor’s Note: That changed Wednesday night!) and his wRC+ sits at a ghastly 66.
However, when Story has gotten on base, he’s been solid. Story’s baserunning skills were obviously not the primary reason the Red Sox signed him, but he’s more of a stolen base threat than anyone else on the roster right now and a consistently solid baserunner overall. Despite only having one steal, he has 77th percentile sprint speed this season, according to Baseball Savant, and he is tied for third on the team in base running runs above average. This may not be the best silver lining, as if he can’t hit, it doesn’t matter how well he runs the bases, but at least Story hasn’t been a complete disaster in all phases.
Alex Verdugo – Low Strikeout Rate
There are actually several things to like about Verdugo’s body of work, even if his surface level numbers look pretty disheartening. The most encouraging indication that he could turn things around is his ability to avoid strikeouts. Verdugo is only striking out 10.9 percent of the time right now, ranking in the 95th percentile in MLB in both strikeout rate and whiff rate. That means Verdugo is putting a lot of balls in play and logic dictates that at some point, a few more of those will fall for hits. His expected results support that conclusion, as Verdugo has an expected batting average of .289, an expected slugging percentage of .549 and an expected wOBA of .351. At some point, his actual numbers in those categories (.213, .324 and .248, respectively) have to inch closer to those expectations, especially if he keeps things up in relation to striking out.
Enrique Hernández – Hitting Against Lefties
Things have been pretty bleak for Hernández, as even trying to find one silver lining is quite a challenge. He’s not hitting the ball hard very often and even though he’s second on the team in walk rate, he’s still below league average in that regard. None of that is particularly surprising since he has a 49 wRC+ and a triple slash line that looks more like what a pitcher would accomplish (.168/.242/.271). But most of that has all been dragged down by his struggles against right-handers. Against southpaws, Hernández has been excellent, with a 153 wRC+ and a 15.6% walk rate. If he can start to get on righties even a little bit more, it should help lift up his entire offensive output.
Jackie Bradley Jr. – Hitting Fastballs Well
Bradley Jr. has never been a consistently above-average hitter, but when he’s turned it on, he’s been exceptional, such as in 2015, 2016 and 2020. Unfortunately, he returned to Boston this year after the worst offensive season of his career, as he turned in a 35 wRC+ across 428 plate appearances with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2021. Coming back to his first MLB home hasn’t helped much, as he currently has a 65 wRC+ and a batting average below the Mendoza Line. Breaking pitches have been the most to blame for his struggles, but Bradley Jr. has hit fastballs very well, producing a .373 wOBA against heaters. That is a marked improvement from last year (.254 wOBA against fastballs) and although pitchers will likely take advantage of his weakness against offspeed stuff, Bradley Jr. should still see enough smashable fastballs to help him boost his production. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the only player on the roster with an above average walk rate and that he’s been his normally excellent self on defense, ranking in the 85th percentile in outs above average and the 88th percentile in outfielder jump.
Christian Vázquez - Low Whiff Rate
As with Bradley Jr., Christian Vázquez had a pretty rough season at the plate in 2021, meaning his struggles this year aren’t exactly surprising. Vázquez was 23 percent worse than league average as a hitter last year, and he’s down to 39 percent worse than league average this season. On the positive side, Vázquez isn’t missing a lot on pitches, with a whiff rate in the 84th percentile. That hasn’t led to a particularly impressive strikeout rate and his chase rate is below average, but it at least shows that when he swings, he’s usually getting the bat on the ball. With a hard-hit rate in the 76th percentile, that means Vázquez definitely has room to improve and we should expect that he will.
Christian Arroyo - Max Exit Velocity
Unlike average exit velocity or hard-hit rate, max exit velocity only records one data point, so it’s not as valuable. However, it still shows what a hitter is capable of and based on Arroyo’s max exit velocity this year, the Red Sox’s versatile infielder and sometimes outfielder can scorch the baseball in the right circumstance. His hardest hit ball this year went 112.2 miles per hour off his bat, ranking in the 89th percentile in MLB and tying for second among Red Sox hitters. As a part-time player, Arroyo isn’t expected to be an anchor for the lineup, but knowing he has that kind of pop is a positive.
Bobby Dalbec - Decent Production Going the Other Way
Dalbec is in trouble. His hot streak at the end of last season hasn’t carried over to 2022, as he’s sitting with a 34 wRC+ while ceding playing time to Franchy Cordero at first base. To make matters worse, Triston Casas is nipping at his heels, even if it’s not as quickly as some would like. Finding a silver lining in that kind of season is difficult. Dalbec has the same max exit velocity as Arroyo, but we all know he can hit the ball hard. Instead, what I think has been at least a little positive to see is the success Dalbec has had going to the opposite field. He has a 145 WRC+ when hitting the ball to right this season and although some of that is because he’s hit more balls that way than to center or left, perhaps being less of an extreme pull hitter like he was in 2020 and 2021 is indicative of his maturation as a hitter. Or, you know, it could be why he’s struggling.