Red Sox Struggles: What Has Gone Wrong for Boston?

Spring training brought talks of a quest to repeat as World Series champions. Red Sox manager Alex Cora decided that, instead of putting the success of 2018 behind them, he would encourage the team to “keep it going.” What has resulted, at least through week one, has been as poor a start as anyone could imagine. The Red Sox struggles have been all encompassing, as a sleepy offense, lethargic starting rotation, and an inconsistent bullpen have quickly snowballed into a 2-7 start. Some of the numbers suggest a team that is spiraling downward.

The Red Sox struggles start with the rotation

The most prevalent issue so far has been a staff that holds a 7.02 ERA. That is the Red Sox Strugglesworst start to a season by Red Sox pitching since ERA became a stat in 1913, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. The most surprising note? 23 home runs allowed through 9 games in 2019, versus 5 allowed in 2018. Home runs are up across baseball to start the year, following the home run boom of the last few seasons. But even so, the Sox have been getting blasted out of the park, and it shows no signs of slowing.

Amidst all these poor starts, the team has put together exactly one quality start. One. That belongs to staff ace Chris Sale, who held the Oakland A’s to just one run over six innings on April 2nd. Sale, however, was tagged for seven runs, including three homers, in an opening day blowout by the Seattle Mariners. David Price, on the bump tonight for Boston, will look to end the Red Sox struggles. He came an out away from recording a quality start against the A’s on April 1 before allowing a two-run bomb to Chad Pinder.

If things are going to change for Boston, it is going to have to start with its hurlers working deeper and more efficiently into games. The home runs have to come down significantly.

The Red Sox struggles are also fueled by the offense

While the club is averaging 4.5 runs per game, batters have succumbed to the pressure in high-leverage situations at the dish. For the season, the Red Sox have held a lead for exactly six out of 89 innings played. They have led for just 6 percent of their innings played. That is accompanied by late inning comebacks in both of their wins, meaning they easily could be 0-9.

The team needs more production out of players like Rafael Devers, who Cora pegged to hit third in the lineup. The young third baseman finished 2018 strong, leaving the organization hopeful for a big jump this year. So far, Devers has yet to drive in a run and possesses just two extra-base hits. Andrew Benintendi has struggled mightily to get on base, which is troublesome for a leadoff hitter. His .289 OBP is well below his career average of .357, thus holding the Sox back from gaining leads early in games.

The Red Sox struggles will not end without improvement on both sides of the ball

Per Speier, “of the more than 200 teams to reach the postseason since the introduction of the wild-card round in 1995, just four have overcome a performance as poor as the Red Sox’ through the first nine games.” Yikes.

The Red Sox find themselves on the wrong side of history to begin 2019. If they have any hopes of making the playoffs once again, things have to turn around soon. Or else.

Not Saying The Red Sox Need Pedroia, But Maybe?

The early struggles of the 2019 Red Sox derive from multiple departments. Starting at the top, Mookie Betts is 6-for-27 in the batters box, which is equates to a .222 batting average. That’s a problem. The team’s pitchers have allowed a total of 16 home runs in just six games. That tops the American League. The team’s poorest output, offensively speaking, has come from center field and second base. Jackie Bradley Jr., in 23 PAs, has a .174 on-base (OBP) and the combination of Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt looks like this: 23 PAs, 2 hits, an OBP of .130, 2 steals, and 2 strikeouts. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia back, and I am not saying they don’t. But perhaps his admittance to the 25-man roster could do some good for this team.

Fact: The Red Sox did not need Dustin Pedroia last year to win the World Series.Red Sox need Pedroia

The team occupied Eduardo Nunez, Ian Kinsler, and Brock Holt at the keystone in 2018. Nunez reached base at a .289 clip and Kinsler’s .294 clip was in 143 PAs for the Sox. Holt, on the contrary, posted a .362 clip in 367 PAs.

Pedey played in just 3 games last season and in 2017, he logged 463 PAs in 105 games. He tallied 201 hits in 2016. It was just the second time in his lengthy career that he eclipsed the 200-hit mark.

Now at age 35, he’s on the outside looking in. His recovery from knee surgery has been a long, grueling process. His contract with the Red Sox expires in 2021. It has seemed that all along, he has been to do whatever needs to be done in order to get back to a playing role with this team.

According to Alex Cora, via Ian Browne of MLB.com, Pedroia is set to begin a minor league rehab assignment tomorrow with Low-A Greenville. He is expected to play in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday, have a day off on Saturday, and then play a full nine innings on Sunday.

So, how would Pedroia’s return be helpful? Some may actually view it as a distraction. The thinking is that the team needs to focus on winning games and not become distracted and emotional over the return of the “little leader.”

Pedroia is a true leader

While some may think that way, I believe that the opposing perspective is true. The one constant that has always remained with Pedroia is his leadership. When healthy, he is the first player in the clubhouse. He is all business. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia and his counsel, but that type of attitude could reflect well on Red Sox players at this juncture. Other than last season, Pedroia is a two-time World Series champion. He won a WS with Alex Cora as his teammate in ’07.

Pedroia is also recognized as a leader while playing the field. Besides being a four-time Gold Glove winner, Pedey helps his pitchers in other ways too. In 2016, while David Price was struggling on the mound during his first season in Boston, Pedroia helped point out issues he was seeing in Price’s arm mechanics.

In addition, Pedroia’s entry could break up some staleness in the Red Sox fielding depth chart. Brock Holt, who is known primarily as a utility man, could start to platoon more all around the diamond, instead of backing up Nunez at second. He could give players like Andrew Benintendi and Bradley Jr. breaks in the outfield on certain days. The same could be said about Nunez, whose must comfortable fielding position is said to be third base. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia, but more fielding flexibility could help loosen things up.

In 13 seasons, Pedroia owns an on-base percentage of .366. In some thinking, Pedroia could be this season’s version of 2018’s Kinsler, who owns a .339 career OBP along with two gold gloves, including one last year. Pedroia and Kinsler were teammates at Arizona State University in 2002 before Kinsler transferred to University of Missouri in ’03. Both Pedroia and Kinsler are four-time All-Stars as well. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia, but maybe he could be this team’s missing link.

Martinez Versus Judge: Who Provides More Value?

Major League Baseball’s hottest debate heading into the 2019 season is the battle between Mookie Betts and Mike Trout for being the sport’s top dog. However, it would be hard to leave out two big names receiving a bit less flare in the media. J.D. Martinez and Aaron Judge, two of baseball’s biggest sluggers, deserve some love too. As so, we present Martinez versus Judge: Who Provides More Value?

By the Numbers- Measurements

By now you have heard that Aaron Judge is one of baseball’s biggest stars, but thatMartinez Versus Judge: Who Provides More Value? also applies in a literal sense. Judge is listed at 6’7″ and 282 lbs., a true mammoth in the sport. Martinez is no slouch, countering at 6’3″ and 220, but few players possess the shear mass of Judge. Advantage to the judge’s chambers on this one.

By the Numbers- Contracts

Aaron Judge is a bargain, as he has yet to make more than $650,000 in a season. Martinez is raking in an impressive $23.75 million per year, as he enters year two of his five-year, $110MM contract. Advantage to Judge, and especially the Yankees, at least until it’s time to pay the big man.

By the Numbers- Offense

In a side-by-side comparison, Martinez bested Judge in nearly every offensive category in the 2018 season. It is important to note that Judge was sidelined with a wrist injury that held him to 112 games. Even so, Judge only managed to surpass Martinez in walks (76 to J.D.’s 69). The Red Sox off-season splash put together a historic season for Boston that pushed him past the Yankee star in many statistics including batting average (.330 to .279), home runs (43 to 27), RBI (130 to 67), and OPS (1.031 to .919). Martinez’ 43 homers, in fact, were the most ever for a player in his first season in Boston.

Martinez takes the upper hand, but in a full season for Judge, we can expect closer results in 2019.

By the numbers- Defense

In this side of the Martinez versus Judge debate, Judge surely takes the cake. Martinez struggles in the outfield according to his defensive metrics on Fangraphs, with a Defensive UZR/150 of -4.6 for the 2018 season. That would place him towards the bottom of the list of qualifying outfielders from last season. Judge, on the other hand, posted a UZR/150 of 14.1, which would place him near the very top of the list of qualifiers. Defensive analytics are no perfect science, as it’s quite difficult to make easily decipherable numbers of defensive value. But in this instance, Judge is off the charts compared to Martinez.

By the numbers- Awards won

In fairness to Judge, who has only played full seasons in 2017-2018, we’ll consider hardware won the last two years. In 2018 alone, Martinez amassed an All-Star selection, 4th place in MVP voting, and a historic benchmark: two Silver Slugger awards, for both outfield and designated hitter, an unprecedented feat. Judge, meanwhile, collected AL Rookie of the Year in 2017, a Silver Slugger, has two All-Star selections, and finished second in MVP voting in 2017. Both have decorated their trophy cases, but there is one achievement that separates the pair, and that is Martinez’ 2018 World Series ring. We’ll give the slight edge to Martinez, but both are in great position to expand their winnings in 2019 as well. Provided both mashers can stay healthy in 2019, they should be the focal points of their offenses.

The Verdict

Judge’s ability on both sides of the ball, plus his pay rate, makes him more valuable going forward. Ultimately, Martinez Versus Judge is going to be a treat for us to watch in the battle for first place.

Betts Versus Trout: Who’s Better?

Mookie Betts versus Mike Trout as baseball’s best player? That seems to be one of the top questions heading into this season. Let’s start with what the two have in common.

Both were born in the early-90s, play the outfield, and are right-handed. They have been named to the All-Star Game in each of the past three years and both hit the free agent market in 2021.

How do they differ, generally speaking? Trout was a first round pick, has a much larger frame (6’2″, 235 lb.). He has played seven full major league seasons.

Betts was drafted slightly later, in the fifth round, is sized similarly to the average Joe (5’9″, 180 lb.). He has played four full major league seasons.

While speaking from a statistical stance, the question of favoring Mookie Betts versus Mike Trout is where this conversation really heats up.

The next great one?

Trout has been regarded as the ‘Mickey Mantle’ of this generation of ball players. He spent just one full season in the minors before being promoted to the majors for his major league debut in July 2011. He started 2012 at Triple-A and was called up to the majors in late April for good. As a rookie, he plated 639 appearances and led the American League in stolen bases (49) and runs scored (129). He was named an All-Star, honored with AL Rookie of the Year and finished second in MVP voting.

In the six seasons since, he has started 6 All-Star Games, won 2 MVPs, and averaged 107 runs, 34 homers, 91 RBIs, 22 steals, and a 1.011 OPS.

From unknown to stardom

Tough to decide without knowing how far Betts has come in four years. After an unimpressive first season in the minors (292 plate appearances, 0 home runs, 20 steals, .658 OPS), he responded mightily while playing for two of the Red Sox’s Single-A affiliates in 2013, posting 15 home runs, 38 steals, and .923 OPS in 551 plate appearances. In 2014, he split time between Double-A and Triple-A (464 plate appearances, 11 home runs, 33 steals, .960 OPS) before being promoted to the big leagues in late June. Betts has been the Red Sox’s leadoff hitter ever since.

From 2015-2018, he has started 3 All-Star Games, won 3 Gold Gloves and 1 MVP. His averages look like this: 111 runs, 26 homers, 93 RBIs, 25 steals, and a .899 OPS.

It may seem as if Trout’s track record is more attractive. Do not discount Betts, however, as number 50 is the more durable player at this stage of his career (35 more starts than Trout in past two seasons). Betts also owns outclasses Trout in the most important department: World Series rings. Betts 1, Trout 0.

The Xander Bogaerts Comeback Tour is in Full Swing

Since Xander Bogaerts burst onto the scene with his 2013 rookie year playoff performance, his time with the Red Sox has had its fair share of ups and downs. Having only played 18 regular season games in 2013, Bogaerts came alive in Boston’s World Series run. Batting .296 with 2 RBI, giving Red Sox Nation a reason to be excited for this young shortstop.

Xander Bogaerts

His role increased dramatically in 2014 and thereafter; he hasn’t played in less than 140 games since the 2013 season. The shortstop position for the Red Sox has been a carousel since the departure of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004, and Xander Bogaerts looked to be the man to fill the void and finally afford the Red Sox some stability at one of the most important positions on the diamond.

Xander Bogaerts: Red Sox Shortstop

In 2014, Bogaerts’ first season as full-time shortstop, the 21-year-old left Red Sox Nation underwhelmed and wanting more, posting only a .240 batting average with 46 RBI in nearly 600 plate appearances.

Over the next two seasons, Bogaerts finally validated the excitement surrounding his rookie year with two consecutive Silver Slugger Awards. His batting average skyrocketed to .320 in 2015 and his RBI total nearly doubled. He showed even more improvement in 2016, driving in a career-high 89 runs and playing his way onto the American League All-Star Team for the first and only time in his young career.

Then 2017 happened. Bogaerts, battling a hand injury in the second half of the year, swung his way right back into Red Sox Nation’s doghouse, batting only .273 with a meager 62 RBI, despite playing in only 9 fewer games than his All-Star 2016 season.

The Future of Xander Bogaerts

With Boston’s significant grocery list of contractual obligations, Bogaerts’ future with the Red Sox after 2017 was uncertain. But through six games, it looks as if “X” is returning to his All-Star form.

Xander Bogaerts currently leads the team in batting average (.357), hits (10), and doubles (5). He joins Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Eduardo Nunez as the team’s home run leaders with one so far.

Statistics aside, the eye-test alone is promising enough. Bogaerts is simply hitting the ball harder than last year, despite the small sample-size. While that may just be a result of his healthy hand, it also suggests that he may have figured out his swing after his first few seasons were plagued with inconsistency.

Will he be the Red Sox shortstop for years to come? Only time will tell, as this team is no stranger to instability at his position. His explosive start to the 2018 campaign is very promising, not only for his future, but for a Red Sox offense trying to find its rhythm and compete with the firepower of the Yankees.

The Sox have their first test against their rivals this Tuesday when the Yankees visit Fenway Park at 7:10pm.

Red Sox Have To Adjust Their Home Run Swings

It’s hard to hit a home run in Fenway, especially if you’re a visiting player. The Green Monster has robbed hundreds, if not thousands of home runs, from hitters. Right field isn’t much better with its deep unique corners. Red Sox hitters learn how to adjust their home run swings for the contours of Fenway. But they find it difficult to adjust in other ballparks.

I noticed this when I was in Baltimore last weekend for their series against the Orioles.home run swings Pablo Sandoval hit a bomb to left field that would have cleared the Green Monster. But it’s between 333-364 feet to left/left center in Camden Yards. That’s another few dozen feet that a ball has to travel for a home run. Sandoval has already hit a few homers over the Green Monster this season. However, the can of corn he hit in Baltimore shows he needs to hit for a tad more power. If Sox players like Sandoval want to hit home runs, they have to remember that most outfields are deeper than Fenway’s.

Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a home run in the second series game that traveled over 450 feet. The ball itself almost hit the B&O Warehouse that overshadows Camden Yards. Ken Griffey Jr. is the only MLB player who has hit the warehouse in Camden Yards’ twenty-five year history. But Bradley Jr. is a lefty and it’s 380 to right center field in Fenway. Bradley hits for power, hence the distance on the home run.

The way the Red Sox hit during the Baltimore series clearly showed that they’re used to playing in Fenway.

Red Sox Have to Adjust Their Home Run Swings When They’re On the Road

The Red Sox can hit for power. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are becoming home run hitters. Xander Bogaerts isn’t there yet but he will be. Andrew Benintendi still has a ways to go before he’s a power hitter. But players like Sandoval can’t hit to left thinking it’ll clear the wall when they’re in a different ballpark. The Wall, despite its height, its much closer to home than most left fields.

If these hitters want to add more runs to the board they need to look at each ballpark they play in and adjust their home run swings accordingly.