Searching For A Spark

The Red Sox offense has two states of being: fun and exciting, or absent and frustrating. There is no middle ground. Last week has illustrated this fact, ranging from the disappointing series against the Angels after a strong first game, to the Twins series, where the Red Sox came to play the first couple games, and then took some PTO on Wednesday. The up-and-down nature of the offense makes the entire team prone to streakiness, or just bewildering inconsistency. Despite having one of the best records at home in the majors, the Red Sox dropped two straight games this last weekend because noted staff aces JC Ramirez and Parker Bridwell held them to three runs total. That’s just baseball, sure, but that’s not an encouraging sign either.

One thing this offense excels in is making contact. They are third in the majors in contact percentage, just slightly behind the leading Houston Astros. That is, without a doubt, a good thing. They don’t swing and miss, they put the ball in play, and force the other team to get them out. That’s a sound strategy, and ups the chance that your opponent will make a mistake in your favor. Where the Red Sox differ from the Astros in this regard is how much power they’re getting out of that contact. While the Astros lead the majors with a .201 Isolated Power, the Red Sox are a distant 26th place with a .149 ISO. Our very own Matt Kory wrote about the disappearance of the long ball on this webpage over two months ago, and while he did say the offense would be different, I don’t think he expected it to still lack power six weeks later.

The hitters aren’t going to run into one because that’s not really what they do in the post-Papi era. This offense is tailored to deliver death by paper cuts.

This leaves the offense susceptible to stretches of ineptitude, where the bounces don’t go your way, or when you can’t string hits together despite putting the ball in play. The hitters aren’t going to run into one because that’s not really what they do in the post-Papi era. This offense is tailored to deliver death by paper cuts, not crush baseballs 400 feet every other inning. While the Red Sox are in the top five in Fangraphs’ Hard Hit Percentage, they are also top five in infield fly ball percentage, which are basically pop-ups. Combine that with the 29th-ranked HR/FB rate, and you’re looking at a lot of weak contact in the air. The Red Sox can smoke a ton of liners and grounders, but they’ve been putrid when they’ve gotten under the ball whatsoever.

So let’s look at the sources of power for the Red Sox. Mitch Moreland’s been a pleasant surprise, and he’s still crushing homers despite a broken toe. Jackie Bradley Jr. is riding one of his patented hot streaks, so his ISO has risen to .211, just a point below Moreland. You’ve got the excellently consistent Mookie Betts sitting on a .203 ISO, and then…there’s a near-40-point gap to Hanley Ramirez’s .165. If that doesn’t seem bad enough, Dustin Pedroia has a .073 ISO. Yeesh.

Ramirez in particular has been an issue. I wrote about him last week, and revealed that he’s been awful against lefties, sliders, and anything up in the zone. I thought he was relatively healthy, but the shoulder is apparently still bothering him at times, and now his knee has been battered so badly that he’s had to sit out several games. Not a lot of driving force for Han-Ram.

Due to Hanley being a quasi-permanent DH for three months, I’m proposing a plan to 1. give the Red Sox some chance at finding power in their lineup, 2. make them healthier in general, and 3. give some of the young guys a chance to stick.

1. Place Hanley Ramirez on the 10-day DL.

Ramirez has a .265 TAv right now, cannot play the field, and is dealing with a sore knee. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had foot issues as well, considering all the foul balls he ends up drilling into his cleats. No matter the malady, he needs some time off. Three months of shoulder soreness is worrying, especially if it’s bad enough that playing first base is not at all an option. This all seems very 2015-like, where he crumpled his shoulder like a soda can early on in the season, came back a few days later, and was never the same. The Red Sox need to give him time off. He’s not hitting well, he’s clearly still hurt, and trotting him out there further exacerbates any problem he currently has.

2. Utilize a rotation with the DH spot.

Chris Teeter wrote about the Red Sox losing the platoon advantage a couple days ago, and with Ramirez out of the way, the DH spot becomes more flexible for per-game strategy. Chris Young is starting to see more time against lefties with Andrew Benintendi still struggling against them, and Sam Travis has been somewhat underused. You could even put Moreland here, and take some stress off the guy with the broken toe. Ramirez being on the DL lets the Red Sox be more flexible with lineup construction.

3. Call up Rafael Devers, even if it’s only for a couple weeks.

This is probably the hottest take here, so here goes: I think Devers could, right now, hit better than Ramirez’s currently slash of .241/.341/.406., and even if he doesn’t walk as much, he could make up for it with his power (insert fire emojis here). I don’t think it would hinder his development much – if at all – by giving him a cup of coffee for a couple weeks of games, while the Red Sox let Pablo Sandoval and Jhonny Peralta duke it out for the hot corner in Pawtucket. With the DH slot rotating, he wouldn’t even need to play third base all the time to get some plate appearances. Could his call-up be as uninspiring as Yoan Moncada’s last year? Possibly. But it’s worth a shot for a team starved for power, and costs them little to nothing to do so.

The Red Sox desperately need some sort of pop, and with how this team is built, it’s hard to go outside the organization to find it. The offense can put the bat on the ball with the best of them, but when it comes to putting power behind those hits, the Red Sox are no dynamos. The team isn’t in dire straits when it comes to winning games, but a lineup lacking power will keep this team struggling more often than you’d expect.

Photo by Winslow Townson – USA TODAY Sports

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