Red Sox

3 shocking stats at the core of the Red Sox’ abysmal offense

Alex Verdugo, Jackie Bradley, Kiké Hernández hug in the outfield.
There's been far too little for Alex Verdugo and Kiké Hernández to smile about this season, and far too little production from them — for differing reasons. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

COMMENTARY

At the end of October, hitting coach Tim Hyers departed the Red Sox for a fresh challenge. That ended up being the Texas Rangers, where he could be a new voice for a rising tide of prospects as a rebuild hopefully comes to fruition.

The logical jump is obvious, with the Red Sox offense cratering in the early months after the switch to Peter Fatse, a highly praised lieutenant who was everybody’s choice — including Hyers’s — to take over the lead job.

The Globe’s Alex Speier covered this angle at length earlier in the week, with the Sox and Rangers about to play a weekend series. The skinny: It’s probably not the reason, given Hyers and Fatse share much of the same philosophy.

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Regardless, it’s a moment to take some stock.

At 11-20, it doesn’t take a real deep baseball knowledge to know the Red Sox are losing games for a lot of reasons. Some of which are, well, bad teams find ways to lose games, don’t they? The Atlanta duet certainly drove that home, with Wednesday’s brutal call on Kevin Plawecki — and it wasn’t the only one — the sort of thing that a team rolling better fights through.

Instead, it lingers two days later, after a fifth walkoff loss for a team that has exactly one win in a game it didn’t lead entering the eighth inning. (April 12 in Detroit, when the Sox broke a tie in the eighth.) The bullpen is a mess, and Josh Taylor’s move to the 60-day injured list scratches him as a short-term help.

Offense, however, helps paper that over. And it remains the easiest solution.

Once again, this is a weekend to build on. The Texas offense, though improved under the hood after a massive-spending offseason, has merely climbed to be as good as the current Red Sox (a .628 OPS to Boston’s .630). The Rangers’ best starting pitcher by a wide margin is old pal Martín Pérez, who’s got a 2.10 ERA and hasn’t allowed a home run in 34⅓ innings.

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At some point, this feels poised to turn. Until then, consider this smattering of numbers as we try to wrap our brains around Boston having a worse offense than the Baltimore Orioles in the second week of May.

1. Only two players in the majors have seen their hard-hit rate drop more than Kiké Hernández.

A revelation a year ago, Hernández is struggling to justify his status as an everyday offensive player, batting like the super utility man he was presumed to be when he signed before last season.

The defense is still there, as is the personality. But a team in need of a spark hasn’t gotten a one from him.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Hernández is swinging more, he’s chasing more, and he’s missing more, especially at down and away stuff. Per Baseball Savant, he’s swung at 29 balls outside the strike zone in the lower half, and missed 24 of them against a lone double.

Hernández has gone from hitting .282 against fastballs last season to .143 this one, and more than a fifth of his contact (21.1 percent) has been meager popups. Your eyes aren’t lying: What he’s not missing, he’s getting under.

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Plugged in leadoff to start the year, Alex Cora dropped him before the disaster Tampa-Toronto-Baltimore road trip. Trevor Story was better, but not enough to keep Hernández and his .213 on-base in the No. 1 spot from going back there since Sunday.

2. Bobby Dalbec has batted with 53 runners on base this season. He has three RBI.

On average, hitters will knock in about 14 percent of the runners on base when they come up. For Dalbec, hitting seventh most of the year, that’d be 7-8 of those across his 91 plate appearances, with 4-5 homers padding the RBI total.

Very much not three, and not only because he has a single home run cracked more than a month ago.

Dalbec’s failure to open this season has been total, his offensive struggles beginning to look like they’re seeping into his focus at first base. His strikeout and walk rates are actually improved from last season, though he remains in the bottom 12 percent of the majors on Ks, and an overall drop in how much he’s swinging comes while he’s going at more first pitches and more stuff out of the zone.

He has just one hit on something other than a fastball — on his 10th-inning triple in Tampa to break up a potential no-hitter, he pushed a two-strike slider the other way. When he makes contact, the numbers confirm your feeling that he’s under everything, chasing those home-run totals that are key to his place in the lineup.

3. Alex Verdugo has a case as baseball’s least-lucky hitter.

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When Verdugo blasted three home runs in the season’s first eight games, the general feeling was he couldn’t possibly keep that up. After all, he had only 13 a year ago, and his .426 slugging in 2021 was not much above league average. Sure enough, he’s gone 93 plate appearances without hitting a fourth, and with a .191/.220/.226 line in 22 homerless games.

But his crash has not been like the others in the lineup. Verdugo remains among the league’s best at making contact, and his expected slugging numbers based on the quality of that contact are still in the top 15 percent of the league.

Verdugo isn’t far behind team leaders Rafael Devers (an MLB-best 56) and Xander Bogaerts (41) with 40 balls hit at least 95 miles per hour, and he has barreled up as many balls — a Statcast calculation of what it terms “the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle” — than all but Devers and J.D. Martinez on the Sox.

So why is he only slugging .333, in the bottom quarter of qualifying hitters? His average launch angle, after jumping in 2021, is down about 30 percent from a year ago. It’s tied for the 13th-lowest among the 171 hitters qualified for the batting title.

Put another way, last year’s line drives are this year’s ground balls. Which plays a part in his batting average on balls in play, a healthy .327 last year, sitting at an abysmal .214. (Leaguewide in 2022, BABIP is .283. Last year’s was .292.)

Milwaukee’s Rowdy Tellez is the only hitter whose expected slugging based on contact quality is further below his actual number than Verdugo, who the stats say should be at .545, and hitting .290 instead of .216. And that’s been critical to the slow start, given no one in the Boston lineup has hit with more men on base than their left fielder.

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The Red Sox need production from someone other than Devers, Bogaerts, and Martinez. (Three guys who, it must be noted, aren’t exactly locks to be on the roster in 2023.) Verdugo, among others, feels like a great place to start.

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