Boston Red Sox April Offense Outperforms Expectations

The offseason plan for the Red Sox was clearly pitching as they went splashed into the free-agent market for a starter before trading to turn their bullpen into one of the best in baseball. However, their lineup has kept the team afloat despite some lackluster pitching performances. Rick Rowand takes a look at the Boston Red Sox April Offense to see why it performed so well, and what to expect for the rest of the season.

The Boston Red Sox opened the season on the road against the Cleveland Indians, with the first and third games of the series postponed by a combination of rain, snow, and freezing temperatures. They were able to play two of the three games and split the series 1-1. Afterward, they traveled north to Toronto to meet the defending AL Champions for a three-game set. They took the first two games of the series by Torontoing the Blue Jays, beating them into submission by scoring eight runs in each game. While winning three out of their first five, Boston scored 31 runs, an average of 6.2 runs per game, a number that can overcome all sorts of pitching deficiencies.

April ended with the Sox securing the first two of a three-game home series against the New York Yankees, winning the second game with the same run total as that first game against the Cleveland Indigenous People: 8-0. The Sox entered May in second place in the AL East behind the Baltimore Orioles with a 14-10 record, tied for third best in the AL with the Texas Rangers.

[Editor’s note: A win last night put them in 1st in the division.]

Boston has won seven of the last ten and has a +21 run differential through the first 24 games. They lead the AL in runs scored with 126 for an average of 5.25 per game. They also lead the AL in stolen bases (21), RBI (119), BABIP (.340), BA (.281), OBP (.343), wOBA (.342), doubles (66), and triples (9), and are tied for first in bases on balls (79). On the other hand, they are last in home runs with 19; the Orioles lead the league with 34.

There were a few question marks about the positional players heading into the season. How would Travis Shaw hold up at third base and was his performance in 2015 a fluke? Would Hanley Ramirez adapt to playing first and not be a liability like he was in leftfield? Would Jackie Bradley Jr. be able to match his production from the second half of 2015?  Let’s examine each question in detail.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

In 2015, he played the majority of his games in the second half of the season: In those 58 games, he batted .267 with nine homers, 17 doubles and three triples, considerably more productive than his overall line of  .229/.335/.498. Through 23 games this season, he has hit .272/.326/.481 with six doubles, four triples, and just one home run. He also has a .32 Clutch score according to FG – all while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.

Travis Shaw

Travis Shaw has adapted very well to the hot corner after having played at first for the majority of his games in pro ball. Shaw became a regular in 2015, playing in 65 games and hitting .270/.327/.387 with 13 home runs and ten doubles.

There were many who thought Shaw’s offense last season was just a fluke. So far, he’s proving them wrong, hitting .314/.385/.500 with two home runs, ten doubles, and one triple. Granted, his BABIP is very high at .410. Last year it was .304, so his numbers will go down as it normalizes. You can see from this season’s hit chart that he’s better able to protect the plate on the outer and inner fringes of the zone, and he’s shown that he has the ability to foul off those pitches until he gets one that he can handle.

If you’ve watched some games this year, you will have seen that he’s played better than most expected at third. He comes in on balls in the grass quite well and makes most routine plays, committing just four errors so far.

Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez has adapted to first base quite well, showing good footwork around the bag and a good glove on hot grounders and short-hop throws. On offense, he has been better overall so far than he was for the 2015 season, but he’s not showing the power he had last April when he hit ten home runs before he injured his shoulder by crashing into the left field wall. Up to that point, he was hitting .293/.341/.659 with a BABIP of only .233. For the season he ended up at .249/.291/.426 with 19 home runs and 12 doubles. Through April, he’s hitting .284/.307/.389 with one HR and five doubles. He’s also quicker and faster than last year, as he has stolen three bases without being caught once. Even though he’s been caught trying to stretch singles into doubles a couple of times, he’s also scored on hits that would normally have seen him stopping at third.

Notes on the other regulars

Xander Bogaerts has improved to become one of the finest shortstops in the league on both offense and defense. His slash line of .290/.365/.419 is just a hit or two behind last year’s line of .322/.355/.421 even with just one HR on the year. His slugging remains high because of his 9 doubles.

Mookie Betts is currently hitting .266/.298/.459 with four homers, second on the team, and five doubles. Even though it’s only been 24 games, two features of his performance stick out: His K% is seven points higher than last year at 19.3%, and his BB% is down from a career low – minors and MLB – 7% in 2015 to just 4.4% now. Not what you’re looking for in a lead-off hitter. One can hope that he’ll grow more patient and raise his OBP accordingly.

Super-utility player Brock Holt is, well Brock Holt, except now you don’t need a scorecard to see which position he’ll play most days. He’s been the everyday left fielder much of the season because Rusney Castillo was demoted to AAA. Holt is hitting .265/.350/.397, but his BABIP is only .286, much lower than the .349 and .350 of the past two seasons.

Blake Swihart is currently down in Pawtucket taking reps in left field in addition to his duties behind the plate.

Christian Vazquez is rated as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball; those who watch him play make comparisons to Yadier Molina because of his strong arm, framing abilities, and pitch calling. The only question mark has been his offense. If he can come close to the .240/.308/.309 line he had in 55 games in 2014, the Sox brass and fans should be very happy. So far in 2016, however, he has been well below that at .222/.282/.306, but has shown some signs of improvement over his past half-dozen games.

[Editor’s note: Vazquez hit a no doubt home run in the 7th inning last night.]

Ryan Hanigan is the backup catcher and mentor to Vazquez and Swihart. Like most backups, he doesn’t bring much on offense except for an OBP that’s been around .100 points higher than his BA for much of his career.

Dustin Pedroia is looking more like a younger version of himself on defense and at the plate. His line of .311/.360/.485 is higher in all categories than it has been for a few years and yes, we know it’s a very small sample.

David Ortiz is going out on his own terms; based on what he’s been doing at the plate so far, he wants to give the fans a season to remember. He has a slash line of .321/.418/.654, and his 5 homers and 11 doubles lead the team. It looks like he’s determined to lead the team to one last postseason and at this point there’s no reason to doubt that he will. All they need is slightly more consistent pitching, more home runs and a bit of luck.

Rick Rowand has written about Boston’s young stars, baserunning, Brock Holt’s aura, and Boston’s new starting third baseman.

Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.

*Stats courtesy of FanGraphs and ESPN

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