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.

The Red Sox Are In Crisis

Following a 10-19 May which dumped them deep into the American League cellar, there’s a Red Sox crisis brewing. At this point, with Boston possessing the fifth-worst record in all of baseball, we’re looking at something much more worrying than a simple slow start; something much more serious than a sporadic under-performance. Quite honestly, we’re looking at fifty-one games of unspeakably bad baseball, and, stretching back to last season, eighteen months of abject failure on the part of management to build a team befitting Red Sox tradition. Ultimately, we’re looking at an institutional crisis on Yawkey Way.

Just take a look at the current roster. For a team that cost $184 million to assemble, the Red SoxRed Sox have a disproportionate share of defects and inefficiencies. Hanley Ramirez is signed through 2018, but his defense is so bad as to be nearly unplayable; Rusney Castillo is a raw neophyte being paid like a proven superstar; and prospects such as Blake Swihart and Xander Boagerts have either been grossly over-hyped or severely rushed on the road to Boston. Meanwhile, David Ortiz is lost at the plate, Koji Uehara is showing signs of age, and not a single hitter seems capable of producing with runners in scoring position. As for the starting rotation? Well, there’s not enough ink in my pen to discuss that again.

But, if this Red Sox team seems bad on paper, it’s even worse on the field. Boston currently ranks 23rd in the Majors in runs scored, 25th in slugging percentage, 26th in WHIP and 28th in ERA, despite possessing the third largest payroll. The Sox were recently swept by the Twins, before losing three of four to the Rangers in Texas, including some of the sloppiest baseball I’ve ever seen from a Boston team. In fact, the Rangers series, capped by Josh Hamilton’s walk-off heroics, felt like a new nadir for the Red Sox; a nadir that certain members of team management were fortunate to survive.

Which brings us to General Manager Ben Cherington, who, after years of poor decision-making, is really starting to feel the pressure in Boston. Admittedly, his work in constructing the 2013 Red Sox was legendary, but hitting on so many successful free agent signings in one winter looks to have been an aberration, when judged in the context of his other work.

Red SoxSince November 2013, for instance, the Red Sox’ moves have been terrible. They let Jacoby Ellsbury sign with the Yankees, and attempted to replace him with Grady Sizemore. They failed to pay Jon Lester his true market worth, and watched him join the Cubs. And, following a dismal 71-91 showing in 2014, they invested astronomical sums of money in decidedly shaky investments, such as Castillo, Uehara, Pablo Sandoval and Ramirez, who is already breaking down two months into a four-year deal. Pitching, concurrently, has been sorry afterthought in recent years, with Clay Buchholz becoming the ace of a team whose General Manager is struggling with the magnitude of his position.

Ultimately, there’s a panicked transience to everything the Red Sox are doing nowadays, whereas the mid-2000s dynasty we all so fondly recall was built with calm intelligence. Basically, after years of trying, Ben Cherington has failed to succeed Theo Epstein in honing a Boston baseball juggernaut. Accordingly, as the Red Sox crisis deepens and October baseball fades further from view, it may finally be time for John Henry to clear the decks and get back to basics.