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MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Boston Red Sox

The Sluggin’ Sox: Success with the Swat

This Red Sox’s ability to mash home runs has been a big part of both why this team is winning and fun to watch!

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In 2022, the Red Sox hit 155 team home runs, ranking 20th in all of baseball. Through just over a month of baseball in 2023, the Sox have hit 43, already more than a quarter of the way to their previous season’s total and 5th-most in the league. Up and down the lineup, we’ve seen some impactful homers, from walk-off winners to downright bombastic shots that punctuate the nature of this ballclub. It’s contributed to a Red Sox team that’s actually succeeding despite expectations, injuries, and just the sheer quality of competition both in the AL East and beyond. What have been some of the most impactful round-trippers this season so far? Let’s take a look.

April 1st: Adam Duvall’s April Arrival

If there was any story to start the season, it was the emergence of Adam Duvall as the power threat the Red Sox had signed him to be in their lineup. It all started in Boston’s first win of the season in their second game against the Baltimore Orioles. After an abysmal game from Chris Sale, the Red Sox fought all the way back to make it a one-run game heading into the bottom of the ninth. Ryan McKenna gave the Sox an absolute gift, dropping what was the sure-fire last out of the game on a Masataka Yoshida fly ball to left field, leading to Adam Duvall stepping up to the plate. Having already homered in this one, he did not miss on a 100 MPH fastball from Felix Bautista, just clearing the red line on the Monster to send Red Sox fans into a Fenway frenzy. The Adam Duvall game kicked off an incredible start to his season, as he hit 4 homers and drove home 14 RBIs in 8 games before fracturing his wrist while attempting to make a catch in center field in Detroit. The good news for Red Sox fans? His hard cast has come off after an x-ray Monday looked positive enough to move him into a soft splint. Rumors of a return by Memorial Day weekend may not be exaggerated.

April 23rd: Masataka Mashes Multiple

I’d have a hard time arguing the top of the 8th in Milwaukee wasn’t one of the best innings to watch this season so far. Entering the frame down 4-3, Justin Turner led off with a solo smash before Masataka Yoshida went back-to-back to give the Red Sox a 5-4 lead. But that’s not the home run that gets me juiced. After batting all the way around, Yoshida stepped up to the plate once again—this time with the bases loaded—and unloaded a 407-ft grand slam to put the game to sleep. This was definitely the Yoshida game. It took a good portion of the month of April, but Yoshida is looking more and more comfortable in a Red Sox uniform. By the way, he hit another one last night, bringing his season total to 5 homers, which is tied for second on the team behind, well, just look below.

April 29th: Rafael Devers Demolishes

With Chaim Bloom signing Rafael Devers to the superstar extension both he deserved and the fanbase had been crying for, it was expected that Devers would continue to be the slugging centerpiece of the lineup. Does 10 home runs in the month of April do that for you? He has the second-most home runs in the bigs, the most in the AL, and crushing this ball 411 feet around Pesky Pole certainly punctuates a powerful month for Raffy Big Scoops. Despite the .229 batting average, he still carries a .827 OPS, average exit velocity in the 96th percentile, max exit velocity in the 97th percentile, expected slugging in the 93rd percentile, hard-hit balls in the 88th percentile, and barrel percentage in the 86th percentile. When he connects with the ball, he’s clearly launching it. If he can make more consistent contact, the league should be on red alert, not that they aren’t already when he’s pummeling home runs at this current rate.

May 1st and 2nd: Jarren Durran Decimates, Enmanuel Valdez Excites, and Connor Wong Wallops

Our last home runs all come from May’s opening salvo against the Blue Jays, but they’re split into two different categories for two very different reasons. Let’s start with Jarren Duran, who has shown he’s a completely different player in 2023 than any of his big league stints before. In 58 plate appearances, Duran is batting .396 with a 1.093 OPS. For a career .245 hitter, this is just bonkers. Not only is he making consistent contact, he’s launching balls with an 83rd percentile max exit velocity. That’s definitely capped by a 434-foot drive that came off Duran’s bat at 109.1 MPH. Whatever adjustments Duran has made to his stance and mentality, it’s paying off. A prospect who needed a big year to change his impression as just a speedster, he’s showing what’s made him a force in the minors.

Just three batters later, Enmanuel Valdez crushed one over the center-field wall and romped around the bases to celebrate his first big-league homer. Valdez represents the future in a big way for Chaim Bloom, as he was one of the prospects acquired in last year’s trade that sent Christian Vazquez to the Houston Astros.

Speaking of catchers and trade pieces from Chaim Bloom, this is the first year the Red Sox are entrusting a good portion of plate time to Connor Wong, one of the pieces from the Mookie Betts trade. If last night wasn’t the Connor Wong Game, I don’t know what was. Going 4-for-4, a triple shy of the cycle with both the game-tying and a game-winning homers—and about a foot away from a third home run—he’s hopefully validating the decision not to sign a true big-league catcher (sorry, Jorge Alfaro) this past winter.

May 1st: Alex Verdugo’s Walk-Off Whallop

Now you know why I had to separate Alex Verdugo from the rest of the pack. Inarguably the Red Sox’s MVP for the month of April, he got May off to the right start, sending a Jordan Romano four-seam fastball into the Red Sox bullpen to lock up Boston’s 4th walk-off win of the season, and the third punctuated by Dugey. Yes, he kept his post-game interview clean, but Verdugo’s underlying stats are dirty. The biggest piece of the Betts trade carries an expected batting average in the 96th percentile, a strikeout rate in the 93rd percentile, and a whiff percentage in the 97th percentile. You can’t score runs if you can’t get on base and Verdugo is not only doing that better than almost everyone in the league, he’s doing it more efficiently than almost everyone in the league. Whether there’s a regression to the mean is yet to be seen, but Verdugo is clearly having fun playing the game this year, and whether it’s due to his approach or a result of his success, it’s the breakout season we all hoped. As Bob wrote about Dugey before the season, he has certainly taken it to the next level.

One note about Bob’s piece. He notes how Verdugo had a sub-par year in the field last season. How is he stacking up in 2023? Just a 91st percentile outs above average, an 87th percentile outfielder jump (a measure of reaction time), and sitting in the 97th percentile of arm strength. How’s that for improvement?

As of May 2nd, the Red Sox are 17-14, fourth in the AL East, and the sole holders of the third Wildcard slot in the AL. If we told you that the Red Sox would lose one of their key early players/free agent signings to injury, that the starting pitching would start the season as poorly as possible, yet that they would be over .500 and not in last place, you would have called us crazy. What’s truly crazy is the Red Sox are above the Yankees in the standings a month in (yes, it’s by only a game, but let’s live a little). Only time and games will tell how the Red Sox continue to develop. Are they playoff-place contenders or frauds that will spoil at some point? Your guess is as good as mine. But I think we all can agree—they’re a heck of a lot of fun to watch. These dingers certainly prove it.

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