Expectations were high heading into Opening Day 2015 for the Boston Red Sox. Most fans and media members agreed that the Red Sox starting rotation might be their achilles heel. During April, the predictions looked correct as the pitching struggled and the offense was strong. The Sox young players and rookies have not been as great as hoped. However, the veterans are the culprits in the Red Sox offensive malaise.
The Red Sox came into the 2015 season with a new offensive look. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval had joined a lineup led by David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli. There was every expectation that the offense would produce runs by the boatload. However, in May, they ranked last in Major League Baseball in runs scored.
The Red Sox offense was very good in April, scoring 113 runs which was 3rd in MLB. As is typical with a Red Sox offense, patience was a virtue as they walked 91 times to lead the majors. But, problems were lurking underneath the surface. The team was only 15th in batting average at .245. Still, the problem in April was the pitching staff and their league-worst ERA:
While the pitching improved in May, the offense disappeared. Dropping from 3rd in MLB to last in runs scored in a single month is difficult to comprehend. Scoring 31 fewer runs despite playing seven more games is mind-boggling, yet, that is what the Red Sox did. Runs were not the only thing they were dreadful at. The Sox walked eight fewer times in May. They hit three fewer home runs. Every component of the standard batting line – batting average, on-base percentage and slugging – all decreased. It was an overall team malaise.
Looking further into the stats, the hitting has been slightly worse with runners in scoring position, with that situational batting average an additional .016 lower. However, the Red Sox are certainly not being helped by extra outs during those at bats, grounding into a league-high 28 double plays in May, an increase of ten over April.
The Red Sox scored two runs or fewer in 16 of the 29 games in May, posting a 3-13 record. The team was 0-9 when they scored one or fewer runs in the month. They scored six or more runs in only three games, winning all of them. The lack of offense has hurt, especially since the pitching has been good enough to win. The Sox lost three separate 2-1 games during an 11 game stretch in the middle of the month.
The highly paid veterans are the culprits in the Red Sox offensive malaise. Hanley Ramirez, after a fantastic April, saw his OPS drop by .370. An injured shoulder may have played a part in his decreased offense, but a pair of home runs and three two-hit games over his last four gives some hope that Ramirez is awakening from his slump.
Pablo Sandoval saw his OPS drop by nearly .300 as well. His inability to hit right-handed has not helped, garnering only a pair of singles in 42 at bats this season, and one hit in 23 at-bats in May. Pablo stopped switch-hitting at the end of the month which improved his average against lefties noticeably, hitting four more singles against left handed pitching in seven at-bats in the last week:
David Ortiz, who was not the Ortiz we have come to expect in April (.782 OPS), saw his numbers drop even further (.624 OPS) in May. Ortiz took a couple of days off at the end of the month to work with hitting coach Chili Davis in the hope of fixing his swing:
While they were the biggest culprits, no one hit very well. Mike Napoli put up the best offensive display, thanks to 17 walks and 7 home runs, but even Napoli had a batting average of only .242 and struck out 27 times. Dustin Pedroia was steady, but still had his OPS drop by .100. Brock Holt with increased playing time saw his OPS drop by .360.
There were a few minor bright spots in May. Youngsters Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts both saw increases in their OPS over April, thanks to increased slugging. Blake Swihart started his major league career going 2-for-22, but is currently on an eight game hitting streak and has hits in 10 of his last 11 starts. Shane Victorino was excellent offensively, when he was not injured.
The unfortunate reality for the Red Sox is that there is no savior that can come up from the minors and fix the offense. The fix will have to come from the players who are already here. Do the last four games from Hanley Ramirez show him coming out of his slump? Will Pablo Sandoval’s abandoning switch-hitting continue to produce dividends? Will Ortiz’s film sessions prove fruitful? With the Red Sox only 4 games out of first place in the AL East, a return to the offense that was expected from this crew – or even just the offense from April – could quickly put the Sox back on top of the division.