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Red Sox aren’t quite right against lefties

Posted by Adam Kaufman  August 7, 2013 07:05 AM

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The Red Sox are 22-15 this season against lefthanded starting pitchers, good for a .595 winning percentage and the fifth-best mark in the major leagues. On the surface, there’s very little to make fans gripe.

Until you dig deeper.

Since the All-Star Break, the Sox are 11-7, but just 4-4 in games started by opposing lefties. In those four losses, the Boston bats were dominated by the likes of David Price (twice) and Matt Moore of the Rays and, on Monday, Astros rookie Brett Oberholtzer. Which one doesn’t belong, right?

However, this is less of an “of late” problem and more of an “against whom” issue.

Dave D’Onofrio did a great job last week in his “Extra Innings” blog to show that the Red Sox’ struggles against lefties has been a direct result of facing premier talent, such as Price, Moore, Rangers funnyman Derek Holland, or Phillies ace Cliff Lee. Since the post was published, Diamondbacks hurler Patrick Corbin would apply as well. In 13 games against the statistically-superior, the Sox are 6-7 but they’ve touched up those pitchers for an average of just 1.5 earned runs per game while compiling a sub-.600 OPS.

Taking a broader look at the season stats against lefties, relievers included, Boston essentially sits just above the middle of the pack among baseball’s 30 teams. The Red Sox are batting .251 (14th) with a .720 OPS (8th), though they’re still tied for fourth with 152 runs scored. Worthy of note, they have the most strikeouts (320) but also the second-most walks (136).

Conversely, against righthanders, the Sox are first in the big leagues with 431 runs scored, second with a .284 batting average, first (by 32 points) with an .817 OPS, tied for third with 280 walks, and all the way down in 13th with 605 strikeouts.

Together, those numbers make up the highest run-producing offense in the game today, but the one-sided edge is apparent.

The larger concern, one that has contributed to the public outcry of late for young phenom Xander Bogaerts to get the call from Triple-A Pawtucket, has been the individual performances against southpaws by Red Sox regulars.

Only one player on the team’s roster is really overachieving against lefthanders as compared to his career splits. Others are fairly consistent, but many who were expected to at least meet such expectations have failed miserably.

The Good

The Fair

The Ugh

Several of those players have an asterisk attached their names, either because they’re gone (Iglesias), injured (Ross), in the minors (Middlebrooks), or have sample sizes of fewer than 30 plate appearances (Carp, Holt, Lavarnway, Snyder).

The fact is that more than a few members of the team who should be contributing to certain levels are not, and that has had a trickle-down effect.

For instance, Ross was signed to reduce (if not entirely remove) some of Saltalamacchia’s load against lefties, but a concussion has kept him out since June 14 and Lavarnway hasn’t been able to pick up the slack. Middlebrooks’ sophomore spiral opened the door for Snyder and Holt. Iglesias’ trade to the Tigers forced the oft-injured Drew – who has never been particularly successful opposite a lefty – back into an every day role which, along with the middling Middlebrooks, has created a bigger worry on the left side of the infield.

Gomes is as guilty as anyone. The clubhouse-favorite projected to pound lefties has often faltered when, ironically, not hitting in the clutch. Nava and Carp are platoon players who, frankly, should not be in the lineup when a lefty is on the mound but injuries have deemed them more necessary.

Then there’s Ellsbury, the free-agent-to-be who’s raking righthanded pitching to the tune of a .329 average and .878 OPS, but can’t come close to those numbers against lefties. And, of course, Napoli, a strikeout-machine who occasionally launches a ball as far as the eye can see – but rarely when facing a southpaw.

Red Sox manager John Farrell was asked following Monday’s shutout loss to the Astros’ Oberholtzer about his team’s undesirable run against lefthanders and he said, “It’s been more lefties that throw consistent strikes. That seems to be where the issues come with us. We’ve run up against a few of them here coming out of the break.”

He’s right, but those are also very possibly the same pitchers his club will meet once the playoffs begin in October. Mark my words, the Sox will be playing, and so will Price and Moore. Potentially Holland or the Orioles’ Wei-Yin Chen, as well. Tough lefties are coming and the Sox’ bats will have to be ready.

The best way for Boston to work toward alleviating this anxiety, short of a waiver trade before the Aug. 31 deadline, may be by promoting from within.

Yes, I’m talking about Bogaerts.

There are a number of reasons to give the 20-year-old stud rookie a shot in the bigs, a horn many of us have been trumpeting for a while. Chad Finn wrote Tuesday why now may be that perfect time. In 49 games for Pawtucket, Bogaerts is hitting .275 with an .830 OPS. Against lefties – ding, ding, ding – those numbers climb to .319 and a whopping 1.016.

The reasons to not recall the top prospect are understandable: he’s still young, and additional seasoning against minor league pitching wouldn’t hurt; he could use more time getting accustomed to the hot corner (where he’s played just seven career games) if he won’t be in his natural shortstop position; and the pressure of joining a team in the thick of a pennant race may be too much to bear – though you would think Aug. 7 is better than Sept. 1.

Based on everything you hear or read about the kid, none of that applies. Bogaerts is said to be ready to make the leap now and, like Jackie Bradley Jr., he wouldn’t be forever scarred if it did not work out right away.

It may also be time to give Middlebrooks another shot after his breakout freshman year. The third baseman is hitting just .259 with a .772 OPS in 42 games with the PawSox but, vs. lefties – you guessed it – .315 and .928, respectively.

Imagine if that duo could get hot in the Fens for the stretch-run.

Again, the Red Sox are 22-15 against lefties. The sky isn’t falling, but the numbers under that protective umbrella of a record aren’t all that intimidating, either. It’s hard to envision a little experimentation hindering the current trend.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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