Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we look at the domination of opponents by the offense, the man responsible for putting this lineup together and Xander Bogaerts’ control of the bottom of the strike zone. We’ll also explore Hanley Ramirez’s smooth transition to first base, Steven Wright’s emergence, Clay Buchholz’s struggles and what Eduardo Rodriguez needs to do to get back to Boston.
Last week the Red Sox completed a 6-and-1 homestand in which they scored 73 runs. That’s right, they averaged more than 10 runs per game last week. The Oakland and Houston pitching staffs have not exactly been top-notch groups, but last week was still a remarkably dominant performance, and beating up on weak teams is something a good team should do. After last week’s drubbings the Red Sox’s offense led baseball in runs per game, hits and doubles. Putting all of their offensive components together, we find that by wRC+, the 2016 Red Sox have been the best offense group ever (since 1904). Now, obviously this is after the team has only played 38 games and a lot remains to be seen this year. But the point is that this group has been historically good so far, leading David Schoenfield of the ESPN Sweetspot Blog to suggest the 2016 Red Sox could be one of the best offenses of all time when everything is said and done.
Before going too far in praising the offense, it must be noted that some regression looms. As an example, they are currently carrying a league leading (and historically high) .348 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Matt Collins noted at Over the Monster that the Red Sox are doing things that can sustain a high BABIP (e.g., hitting line drives, hitting to all fields), but still, their current rate is going to come down at least 20 points and along with it some of their ridiculous run production will fall. The upcoming schedule will present a tougher test and likely contribute to the regression in BABIP. While four of their last five series were against teams with worse-than-average pitching staffs, the upcoming five series are against the Royals, Indians, Rockies, Blue Jays, and Orioles, four of whom have better-than-average pitching staffs thus far in 2016.
Regardless of the “greatest of all time” projections, the 2016 Red Sox offense has been great and therefore the architect of the lineup deserves some credit. So we must applaud ex-GM Ben Cherington for his work in building much of this team. Alex Speier of The Boston Globe notes that, other than fourth outfielder Chris Young, every player who has contributed to the team’s incredible offense was in the Boston organization before Cherington left the team. It is also worth noting that Matthew Kory wrote about this issue here at BP Boston just over a week ago. With Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Travis Shaw, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart in the organization (all products of the Ben Cherington era), David Ortiz says he is confident the team will be in good hands after he retires. Ortiz’s sentiment was echoed by David Price (one of the few Dave Dombrowski roster acquisitions). Price told John Tomase of WEEI.com that he thinks the current Red Sox group bears a resemblance to the excellent Tampa Bay Rays teams of which he was a part. All told, it is clear that there is a lot of excitement around this team and while things tend to look better than they really are during long stretches of winning baseball, the blend of youth and veteran players should keep this team winning throughout the season.
Xander Bogaerts has been a huge part of the dominant Red Sox’s offense. Through 38 games he has a .306 TAv and has accumulated 1.84 batting wins above replacement player (BWARP). Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal outlines how Bogaerts’ success has come as a result of his mastering the bottom of the strike zone. This area of the strike zone has expanded more than any other in recent years, and can be a significant problem for players as tall as Bogaerts, but he is handling it well.
The transition to playing first base has been much smoother for Hanley Ramirez this season than was the transition to playing left field last season. Ian Browne of MLB.com notes that John Farrell has been impressed with Hanley’s work at first base. Ramirez has yet to be charged with an error this season, but advanced defensive measures have him as a below average contributor (-0.8 UZR, -2.5 FRAA). Nevertheless, his work at first base so far is a major improvement from his defensive contribution in 2015.
After seven turns of the Red Sox’s rotation, it is Steven Wright who has allowed the fewest runs. Wright’s emergence this season has been excellent, as is the story of how he came to be a knuckleballer. Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe details Wright’s turbulent path to the big leagues. Throwing the knuckleball in the big leagues leads to membership in the knuckleball brotherhood, so Scott Lauber of ESPN.com spoke with another member of the group, now-retired knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, about Wright’s success.
In the exact same number of innings pitched (45.2), Clay Buchholz has allowed more than twice the number of runs that Steven Wright has allowed (31:15). Not great, Clay. The good news is that, as Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reports, Buchholz thinks he is close to being really good. Hopefully Buchholz is on to something because Tim Britton of The Providence Journal writes that despite Buchholz’s struggles and the impending returns of Joe Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez, the team is sticking with Buchholz in the rotation.
While Eduardo Rodriguez has an inside line on a spot in the Red Sox’s starting rotation, he has not been very good in his rehab starts with Pawtucket. In 21.0 innings he has a 5.14 RA9 (5.95 FIP) and has allowed 5 home runs. Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe reports that the Red Sox are not interested in rushing Rodriguez back to Boston and want to see him pitch much better before recalling to the big leagues. A reassuring part of this story is that Rodriguez has felt good health-wise, which hopefully leads to a streak of effective innings soon.
Three Good Game Stories
The Red Sox locked down a series win on Sunday in a sloppy, slugfest with the Astros. Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe has more on the game and how the weather conditions wreaked havoc on the outfielders’ defense.
Saturday afternoon’s game against the Astros provided more examples of David Ortiz’s ability to come through in critical moments. He tripled in the ninth to tie the game and doubled in the eleventh to walk it off, altogether providing .942 WPA on the afternoon. Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald writes about Ortiz rushing out of Fenway post-game to get to his daughter’s birthday party and about Ortiz feeling pressure to come through on Saturday after making the final out of Friday night’s loss.
Saturday’s game could have ended without the need for extra innings, but with David Ortiz standing on third base representing the winning run and two outs, Hanley Ramirez tried to bunt for a hit. It didn’t work. Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com has details on Hanley’s decision and John Farrell’s thoughts on the play.
Photo by Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports Images