With the Red Sox having reached the All-Star break on pace to score fewer runs than they have in any season since 1992 — and, at a projected 626, 227 fewer than last season — blame has been directed in a number of different directions.
The finger has been pointed at a .241-hitting outfield that ranks last among AL teams in home runs (13) and OPS (.654). At the bottom third of the batting order, from where the Sox are similarly last in those same categories, and have hit .225. At the young players, with Boston getting an aggregate batting average of .232 from those no older than 25. At the club’s struggles with runners in scoring position, when the team is the league’s fifth-worst with a .242 average and .693 OPS. At the absence of power, with the squad’s 68 homers ranking 13th among the 15 AL outfits. At injuries in right field and third base.
Though when we look at the pace each of the Red Sox hitters are on at this point, and what their numbers project to be by the end of the season, something becomes clear about the American League’s least-productive offense: It’s a collective problem, and nobody — except, maybe, David Ortiz — is beyond blame.
Certain aspects and individuals may have become scapegoats over three months attempting to explain why Boston’s bats rank among baseball’s bottom feeders, and more are likely to be pinpointed as long as these struggles continue, but looking at the level of performance each player has so far delivered offers as good an explanation as any. The Sox have basically underperformed across the board. And if these paces are indeed protracted over the second half, Boston has a much better chance of competing for the No. 1 draft position than it does for a wild-card playoff berth.
Let’s take a look at those who’ve had at least 75 plate appearances to this point, with on-base percentage/slugging/OPS populating the space between the slashes:
2014 pace: .280, 7 HR, 61 RBI, .348/.381/.729
The good news for Pedroia is that he’s on track for 44 doubles, and he’s also on pace to be more valuable defensively than he’s ever been (projected for 2.7 defensive WAR, per Baseball-Reference). Unfortunately, his batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS are all on track to be career worsts, and seven homers and 80 runs scored would also be his fewest when playing more than 75 games. Under the radar, too, is his 2-for-8 success rate on stolen bases; he hasn’t swiped less than 17 in a full season since he was a rookie, yet he’s on pace for three this year.
2014 pace: .255, 34 HR, 109 RBI, ..357/.487/.844
Sox fans would’ve gladly signed for a second straight 30-100 season when the campaign began, and though the OPS does signify a 115-point drop from last year, and 2009 was the only year it’s been lower in Boston, these numbers are still plenty good. It’s the other projections involving Ortiz that reveal issues: despite hitting 34 homers, he’s on pace to score just 61 runs; and he’s on pace to be intentionally walked 27 times, which would tie last year’s big-league high. Both indicate a serious lack of punch behind him in the batting order.
2014 pace: .235, 10 HR, 38 RBI, .311/.348/.658
It would take a monstrous second half for Bogaerts to reach the expectations the Bill James Handbook set for him at the beginning of the season, which projected a .283 season while he launched 19 homers and knocked in 84. As it is, Bogaerts is on pace to lead the team in strikeouts (152), and as underwhelming as his OBP is it’s aided by his being on pace to be hit with 12 pitches. Remove those, and Bogaerts is basically having the same season as A.J. Pierzynski was before being let go.
2014 pace: .266, 17 HR, 58 RBI, .389/.431/.820
Napoli’s numbers aren’t bad, especially considering a stint on the disabled list depresses his projections. However, in a lineup lacking thunder his rate of a homer ever 26.7 at-bats represents the worst of his career, as does an extra-base hit percentage of 7.5 percent. According to Baseball-Reference, the average player would have one fewer RBI than Napoli does through 321 plate appearances, although Napoli has found himself batting with 27 more baserunners than is typical, including 10 more at third base than the average, and five more at second base. So, yes, he’s walking more frequently than ever, but the Sox need him to take better advantage of chances to drive home runners when they’re presented.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
2014 pace: .227, 2 HR, 44 RBI, .305/.311/.616
The sterling center fielder hit nine homers in his first full pro season, 10 at Pawtucket last year, and even had three in 37 major-league games during 2013. So the complete absence of power is surprising. He’s tracking for 27 doubles, though that’s aided mostly by the eight he hit in April, and so his .311 slugging percentage is the seventh-lowest among major leaguers with at least 250 plate appearances this season.
2014 pace: .327, 5 HR, 36 RBI, .371/.463/.834
It’s impossible to complain about Holt has brought to the Red Sox this season, and if he sustains it over the final 67 games then he’ll deserve to return next year with a regular spot in the lineup. But at the All-Star break, he’s on pace to lead the team in steals (10), while ranking second in doubles (31), triples (7), slugging and OPS, as well as third in hits (143) and total bases (203). Again, credit to Holt — however, if you’d presented Sox fans with that outcome at the start of April, they’d likely take it as evidence that something had gone awry elsewhere.
2014 pace: .254, 7 HR, 53 RBI, .286/.348/.633
Over the two previous seasons, the catcher averaged 22 homers and 74 RBIs. Last year, every Red Sox hitter who had at least 400 plate appearances walked at least 25 times. The diminished power detailed above, and a pace of 15 free passes in 467 plate appearances, tell a story of how Pierzynski just didn’t work out here.
2014 pace: .234, 9 HR, 51 RBI, .329/.351/.680
The outfielder is on pace for 13 more plate appearances than he had last season — yet four fewer homers, and slightly decreased numbers across the board. He’s averaging a homer every 37.6 at-bats, which is his worst rate in 12 big-league seasons, though generally speaking Gomes has been as-expected, most notably in his ability to hit lefties. Again, the homers aren’t there (roughly one every 33 ABs), though he’s batting .306 with a .403 OBP and .832 OPS. Those are numbers Ben Cherington should be sure he shares with other teams if Gomes’ name surfaces in trade talks.
2014 pace: .216, 3 HR, 26 RBI, .288/.324/.612
He was one of the American League’s best players for almost half a decade, but the Sizemore the Red Sox got was basically the same Sizemore who played for Cleveland in 2010-11 before injuries forced him to take two years off. Phillies fans should know what they’re getting now that he’s in their outfield.
2014 pace: .238, 3 HR, 17 RBI, .330/.310/.639
He’s hitting .330 since being demoted a second time, so the average and OBP may end up in a decent spot. But after blasting a dozen homers a year ago, his extra-base prowess is almost non-existent. Just one of every five hits has gone for extras this season, putting him on pace for just 10 doubles with the three homers, and accounting significantly for the scant RBI and runs (32) projections.
2014 pace: .176, 9 HR, 14 RBI, .239/.361/.600
It essentially remains all or nothing at the plate for Ross, who is on pace to match his highest home run total since 2007, but who is striking out 32.2 percent of the time he comes to bat. He also hasn’t had much impact on any rallies around him, given that he’s hit five homers to this point — but has only scored nine runs and knocked in eight.
2014 pace: .233, 0 HR, 15 RBI, .307/.289/.596
While he was in Colorado for parts of five seasons, Herrera homered about a quarter as frequently as the average major leaguer, and he’s homered just 27 times in 3,195 minor-league plate appearances, so power was never his game. But Herrera has at times appeared more dangerous when bunting than when swinging this season, his .289 slugging the worst of his career, and putting him on pace for two doubles and three triples this season (assuming he gets promoted from Pawtucket).
2014 pace: .151, 3 HR, 9 RBI, .218/.269/.487
He’s played only 28 games, and is expected to be something close to a full-time player moving forward, so let’s instead look at his pace projected over the 124 games he played last season: 11 homers, 28 RBIs, 39 runs, 17 doubles, 44 walks, and 165 strikeouts. They’re still ugly. Drew hit 13 homers last year, but he had 67 RBIs, scored 57 runs, hit 29 doubles, drew 54 walks, and struck out 124 times while hitting .253 with a .333 OBP and .777 OPS.
2014 pace: .242, 2 HR, 17 RBI, .276/.352/.627
The uncertainty of Victorino’s status moving forward make it tough to project his numbers accounting for the limited sample size — because his various injuries cost him significant time in the second half, too. It’s hard to evaluate what he’s done, or will do, because he’s played so little in what is looking like it could be a lost season.
2014 pace: .221, 0 HR, 15 RBI, .330/.312/.641
Carp is another hitter whose season has been interrupted by injury, but he has had 91 plate appearances without a homer. That means he now has one tater since June 15, 2013, which (including the postseason) spans 200 at-bats. He has little value defensively, and isn’t as good a left-handed hitter as Nava — who plays the same positions — so unless the power returns Carp appears to be somewhat expendable.
2014 pace: .197, 3 HR, 15 RBI, .305/.324/.629
The newly engaged third baseman never really got a chance to display whatever growth he’s made before injuries sent him to the DL, and he hasn’t shown it at Triple-A, either, where he’s homered once with four RBIs and four walks in 60 plate appearances. The Bill James book pegged him for 32 homers and 104 RBIs, which speaks to why the organization should be reluctant to give up on his power potential, but that’s certainly not happening this year — when it has certainly been missed by one of baseball’s most anemic attacks.
Through the All-Star break