Through the 2015 season’s first 11 games, the Boston Red Sox have currently scored the fourth most runs in all of baseball. This of course follows a year that saw them finish a pedestrian 18th in runs scored, and they only finished that high after a midseason offensive makeover.
This year’s offense is far from pedestrian. The fact that they sit atop the AL East while sporting the eighth worst team ERA (4.46), speaks volumes about the team’s performance at the plate before we even get into the numbers. The pitching has been polarizing but if they can achieve modest success the offense will carry this team to October. And have I mentioned that the “Large Father” David Ortiz, the best hitter on this team for the last decade plus, has yet to start producing?
Fortunately, other hitters have stepped up early in the season to mitigate Ortiz’s slow start. The one I am most excited to talk about is Xander Bogaerts. I have been an unabashed lover of Bogaerts ever since the 2013 World Series. Watching the then 20-year-old play an integral role in a championship left me eager to see what else the uber-prospect could do. The 2014 season was not the year anyone expected from Bogaerts, but we saw potential. In 2015 he has shown that same potential en route to a team leading .366 batting average. The biggest change in Bogaerts thus far has been discipline, as his K-rate is down from 23.2% in 2014, to 13.2% in 2015 while his BB-rate also jumped from 6.6% to 10.5%.
Many have been quick to jump on the brakes with Bogaerts though given his .429 BABIP, which does suggest a little regression. However, his improved plate discipline still suggests to me that he will maintain his numbers to an extent. From watching Bogaerts it seems as though the root of his improvement has been that he has stopped trying to lift the baseball: his fly-ball rate is nearly half of what it was last year. This of course has lead to a high rate of ground balls, and thus a high BABIP, but he is hitting the ball hard to all fields and that at least gives me a little confidence that the shortstop will be able to put together a much better season.
Another big contributor thus far has been the resurgent Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia saw his slugging percentage dip for five consecutive seasons and many wondered if his pop was gone. But for at least the last two seasons he has been hampered by a nagging wrist/thumb injury. In spring training Pedroia made it very clear that those woes are behind him and so far he has backed up that assertion. With his three dingers in 11 games, Pedroia has slugged his way to a .234 ISO which has been a welcome sight with Ortiz and Mike Napoli struggling out of the gate. He surely will slow down at some point (a .489 SLG is unsustainable for him), but what an encouraging start for Pedey.
The only man with more homers than Pedroia has been Hanley Ramirez, who has been downright baaad with the bat since returning to the team that he began his major league career with. Ramirez showed up to camp noticeably bigger than we had seen him in years past, and he has flexed his way to four knocks in this young season, second only to Nelson Cruz in the American League. This has been an interesting development given Ramirez’s 2014 numbers that saw him experience a power outage in favor of a more contact oriented approach. The Ramirez we have seen looks a lot like the Ramirez of 2013 who slugged 20 homers in just half a season.
These three have paced the Red Sox offense in the early going, but this deep lineup has been driven to success thanks to more than just these three. His offensive contributions have been staggered but it is hard to ignore what we have seen of Mookie Betts in his first full season. His most exciting performance came on opening day at Fenway as we saw him rob a home run, steal two bases on a single play, and knock in a 3-run blast for his second home run of the season. That was an exciting display of Mookie’s potential as a five tool player.
His slash line is a modest .209/.271/.395, and while his 20.5% K-rate is a little disconcerting, his ISO of .186 is behind only Ramirez and Pedroia. More than likely he will adjust to make more contact and swing for the fences a little less often. His K-rate in the minors never exceeded 15% which suggests to me that he will adjust (as he has at every other level) and be fine.
Another player who has been good but not great is Pablo Sandoval. He has looked great in the field thus far, and aside from what we knew (he can’t hit lefties) he’s been making good contact all season. Particularly nice has been his .409 OBP, as Sandoval has been known to chase pitches outside the strike zone in the past.
He is hitting .286 right now but has yet to get an XBH, which bothers me a little bit. I definitely expect more power out of Sandoval and while his career trends suggest we shouldn’t expect a ton of power, he will really elevate this offense if he can start hooking some balls around the Pesky Pole or go the other way for some wall ball doubles. Sandoval so far reminds me a lot of Adrian Gonzalez in his time here, and I’m hoping he can be more than a player being paid huge money to hit singles and play good defense. His .414 BABIP definitely suggests a regression in his batting average at some point so hopefully he finds his power stroke before that happens.
That rounds out the positively contributing regulars, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include our two super subs Brock Holt and Daniel Nava. Holt picked up right where he left off at the 2014 All Star break with a scorching start out of the gate. His wRC+ is an exorbitant 239 and just as he did last year Holt will see his numbers even out as he gets more plate appearances. His .579 average is exceeded only by his .688 BABIP, but for now it has been great that Holt has been able to fill in for players and keep the offense rolling.
Nava on the other hand looks a little more sustainable. The key to both players succeeding will be managing their usage but where Holt will thrive in a utility role, Nava can have a slightly larger role as a platoon player and left handed hitter off the bench. Nava has been a force from the left side of the plate against right handed pitchers and as long as that remains his role, there is no reason why he should see a big dropoff. His .313 AVG might dip to the .280-.290 range but that is more than this team needs from him.
I’m not going to linger for too long on the team’s slow starters. Ortiz and Napoli will likely round into form sooner rather than later and when they do, this lineup will be borderline unstoppable. As for Allen Craig, anything we can get from him is just gravy at this point as it still remains to be seen whether he is a long term solution at first base, or just a trade chip. Ryan Hanigan hasn’t given much on offense, but he won’t have to.
The one to watch is Shane Victorino. The team is most likely hoping he hits well enough that they can trade him, but he is off to a very slow start and I’m not overly confident he’ll return to being the player we are paying for. Although he continues to play defense, expect him to be on the outside looking in sometime soon. Oh and by the way? Both Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo are mashing in Pawtucket, and seem more than ready to take over for Victorino if he does hit the DL at any point.
This Red Sox team has fire power. The pitching situation is murkier, but it has always been said that offense will get you to the postseason and it appears as though that is exactly what Boston is set up to do in 2015.