New Approach Brings Success for Red Sox Offense

Right now, the Red Sox offense is incredible. On any given night, it’s actually a pleasure to watch this team hit, which is very refreshing after some pretty down years. Guys are finally healthy and reaching their full potential, as opposing teams struggle to contain a dynamic lineup that can win games in many different ways, at home or on the road.

Red Sox offense

Boston currently leads the American League in nine main offensive categories, ranging from runs scored and overall hits to on-base percentage and slugging. However, while the Red Sox offense was once too reliant on the home run, a new approach under hitting coach Chili Davis appears to have transformed this lineup into a relentless unit that hates to make outs. Quite simply, facing the Red Sox must be a terrifying proposition for opposing pitchers, because there is no obvious way of stopping those bats.

A Change of Approach

Just watching games this year, I can sense a different philosophy when it comes to the Red Sox offense. Boston is still a club that values on-base percentage immensely, and the Sox lead the league in that category, but that success is derived from a new offensive plan rather than being the sole cornerstone of it. This year, Red Sox hitters aren’t just taking pitches for the sake of it, or drawing walks because that’s what the front office ordains as the best strategy. Instead, it looks like the Red Sox offense is more focused on finding the pitch it likes then hammering it aggressively. That has led to greater offensive efficiency and, ultimately, more men on base coming around to score.

The fact that Boston leads the American League in slugging percentage but is only sixth in home runs speaks to that refined approach. These hitters aren’t trying to do too much. They’re happy to take the ball where it’s pitched and drive it for a run-scoring single or double. No American League team has a higher opposite field hit percentage than the Red Sox, which illustrates the new altruistic style even further. Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts exemplify that ethos, in that they’re not swinging for the fences as much as last season. They’re just focused on doing whatever it takes to score runs and help this team win.

Stolen Bases Make Red Sox Offense More Dynamic

A major part of that effort has been the stolen base. Only Houston has swiped more bags than Boston in the big leagues, to the surprise of veteran fans who acquaint the Red Sox offense more with sluggers than speedsters. However, the Sox stolen base success rate of 92% is even more astounding. Statisticians suggest that anywhere in the 75% range is a break-even point for stolen base success, but the Red Sox are demolishing that notion. They’ve only been caught stealing twice all season! That’s exciting to watch and a recipe for glory when coupled with the team-first approach in the batter’s box.

Of course, it’s still early, and the dominance of this Red Sox offense can largely be attributed to a small sample size. But, in all honesty, rival fans would be delighted to see their team top so many different categories at any point in the season. In simple terms, the Red Sox have altered their offensive approach without sacrificing the identity for which this team is so renowned. The home runs will likely arrive as the weather heats up, but fans need not worry if they don’t. With help from a terrific hitting coach, this Red Sox offense is scary. It may even be strong enough to carry Boston into October.

The Red Sox Struggle with Making Solid Contact

The Red Sox’ relative inability to score runs has been well-documented this season. After all, through the first 59 games, Boston scored just 221 runs, the 4th-worst total in the entire American League. Such offensive wastefulness has impacted negatively on the pitching staff, which, despite a stellar 2.41 collective ERA in June, still finds itself in the loss column all too frequently. Yet, aside from the bigger problem of scoring runs, the Red Sox just don’t seem to make solid contact, which is a recipe for disaster as the season progresses.

Purely from a fan’s perspective, this Red Sox team looks persistently off-balance at the Red Soxplate, with hitters constantly chopping the ball foul or popping it meekly back into the crowd. Each game feels similar; when the Sox desperately need somebody to produce a quality at-bat and square the ball up, it just never materializes. And frustration is now reaching boiling point.

 

The statistics support this notion of poor contact by Red Sox hitters. Thus far, the Sox have a .374 team slugging-percentage, which ranks 26th in the Majors and second-worst of all American League teams. Moreover, according to Fangraphs, Red Sox batters have hit the ball hard just 27.5% of the time, placing them 23rd in the big leagues, while Boston’s 20.7% soft-hit rate is the worst in all of baseball.

The correlation between these stats and actual team wins is fairly obscure, however. For instance, the Brewers have the highest percentage of hard-hit balls, but the second-worst record in the Majors; and the Royals have less hard-hit balls than the Red Sox, but have won six more games. But, in theory, a team needs to hit the ball hard if it has any hopes of scoring enough runs to compete. A team that hits continuously for power is obviously far more dangerous, and therefore more daunting for an opposing pitcher, than a team that routinely gets itself out with soft groundballs and pop flies. That’s just logic.

Of course, the great Red Sox teams of 2003, 2004 and 2007 were built with a slugging blueprint in mind. Theo Epstein regarded OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) as the single most important statistic when constructing a team and, to that effect, great hitters such as Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell and even J.D. Drew helped set the tone of a potent offense.

Now, those glorious days are long gone, both for the Red Sox and for baseball. We live in a pitching-dominant age, where the aces keep getting better and the strike zone keeps expanding. In the new baseball world, there is very little reward for the kind of offensive patience ingrained in the Red Sox philosophy. Now, working the count and seeing plenty of pitches is more likely to result in a strikeout, due to more pitcher-friendly umpiring. Likewise, previous Boston clubs would feast on weak bullpens, but that opportunity no longer exists. From the sixth inning on, relief pitchers tend to get better, not worse, meaning a change of focus is needed.

Red Sox

Ultimately, the Red Sox must adopt the new style of contemporary baseball, where it pays to be more aggressive and force the issue early in games. If this team has any October aspirations, it will have to cease making feeble contact and rolling over weakly on pitches, in favor of a rigorous, consistent and altogether more dangerous approach. Whether hitting coach Chili Davis is capable of implementing that change remains to be seen, but time is fast running out for these Red Sox, who must simply do better.

Chili Davis Hired as Boston Red Sox Hitting Coach

Chili DavisIt looks like Yoenis Cespedes will reunite with former Oakland Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis in a few months. However, the Boston Red Sox still have a lot of work to do to really make this offense click going forward.

Davis, 54, was hired this past week as the new Red Sox hitting coach after Greg Colbrunn, 45, stepped down after two years as the hitting coach in Boston. Colbrunn suffered a brain hemorrhage back on June 4 and resumed part-time duties later on in that same month. The 45-year-old, according to sources, wanted to take a break from baseball and focus more on spending time with his family.

Davis played 19 season in the big leagues as a DH and outfielder while making the All-Star team three times. Prior to the last three seasons in Oakland, he as the hitting coach for the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2011.

In 2014, the Athletics hit .258 with RISP for sixth in the AL compared to the Red Sox who hit dead last in the AL at .237. In the other two seasons, the A’s hit .265 with runners in scoring position in 2012 and .268 in 2013, which ranked sixth and fourth respectively.

The Red Sox also announced that they would keep Victor Rodriguez as the assistant hitting coach for his third season with the team.

First Hot Stove Item on The Menu is Chili

Chili Davis

With the cold temperatures upon us this week, the Red Sox fired up the Hot Stove with chili as the main course. Chili Davis, Oakland’s hitting coach the last three seasons, has been hired to the same position by the Boston Red Sox.

Former Red Sox players Bill Mueller and Rich Gedman had also been rumored to be in the running, but the 56 year old Davis, whose career spanned most of the 80’s and 90’s, and who retired with a .274 lifetime average, ended up getting the nod.

Davis is no stranger to the Boston organization; in 2011 he served as the hitting coach for the Pawtucket Red Sox. Although that squad had the third most runs scored in the league, they were second to last in hits and average.

In Oakland, with Davis instructing the hitters, the A’s finished third in the AL in runs scored with 729 after having led the majors for most of the 2014 season prior to slumping in August and September.

Davis replaces Greg Colbrunn, who resigned at the end of the season. Colbrunn had just completed his second season as the Sox hitting instructor, but was dealing with serious health issues after suffering a brain hemorrhage in June.

One of Davis’ priorities will be to see the Red Sox increase their team batting average from the lowly .244 this past season to the lofty .272 number they averaged from 2011-13.