The Scuffling Offense – We’ve Been Here Before

by Sully on August 9, 2010

in Red Sox

PapAfter a great win Friday on a night when the Tampa Bay Rays also lost, it looked like the Red Sox might be poised to make up some ground in the AL Wild Card and AL East races. They’re still long shots, but it was an encouraging start to a critical weekend. Unfortunately it was as good as it would get.

John Lackey and Josh Beckett would turn in lackluster performances, the bats would go silent and this sinking feeling that the 2010 Red Sox just cannot get off the treadmill still lingers. Fortunately, things are far from over for the Sox. The Rays were just swept in Toronto and now news comes that hurlers Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis will have their shoulders examined. Jon Lester takes the mound today in the Bronx. And what’s more, a lot of that sinking feeling fans have right now is due to slumping bats that won’t stay slumping.

Remember when the Sox started 4-9 and nobody was hitting at all? Writers gloated about how an exceedingly strong emphasis on “run prevention” last off-season led to an inept offense. Then do you remember how 50 games later or so the Red Sox had the best offense in baseball? Well check out why the Sox seem to be scuffling so badly at the plate (numbers since the All-Star Break).

         AVG   OBP   SLG   BABIP
Drew    .200  .313  .314   .222
V-Mart  .255  .321  .392   .261
Scutaro .250  .297  .385   .267

Key contributors, players with an extended track record of productivity, are slumping at the worst possible time.

This isn’t the whole story, of course. Adrian Beltre continues to go crazy, Ryan Kalish has been a pleasant surprise, and Jed Lowrie has been productive since returning. That’s really about it on the positive side, though. David Ortiz has a sub-.300 on-base since the Break while Jacoby Ellsbury has not yet recorded a hit in 19 plate appearances despite striking out just once. Dustin Pedroia will be rejoining the team before long. Put another way, things will get better for the offense.

At the same time, the starting pitching peripherals remain just fine despite a couple of iffy recent outings from the power pitching trio of Lackey, Beckett and Lester. Things are going to get better, it’s just the Red Sox need to hope it’s sooner rather than later. That might be too tall an order given the schedule over the next week, a road trip that still includes another game in the Bronx, three in Toronto against the scorching Jays and three more in Arlington against the first place Texas Rangers.

At this point, it’s a race against time. Waiting on mean regression doesn’t do much good as the dog days of August wear on.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Daern August 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm

I definitely agree with the gist of this article, but at this point I think it’s more than a few bad starts from Lackey. Beckett has the excuse of injury, and his 6.21 ERA belies his FIP/xFIP, both of which are below 4.20. His K/9 is a mite low, and his BB/9 a bit high; I would expect the Ks to go up, but I’m not sure about the BBs. His .349 BABIP, however, is most definitely going to regress towards his career number of .304, and there is no way that 59.9% LOB is legit–look for that to rise to around 70%. Considering that there is nothing really wonky in his batted ball profiles, Beckett can be expected to improve.

And then there’s Lackey. His FIP is comparatively “pretty”, at 4.08, which is far better than his 4.60 ERA. Given that his HR/FB is at 6.3%, which is fluky in the face of his 9% career rate, his xFIP would seem to be a better indicator of his performance at 4.73. Actually, plugging 9% HR/FB into the xFIP equation, thus regressing John to his career rate, we get an expected ERA of 4.59, against an actual ERA of…4.60. So perhaps that is the level at which he can be expected to continue. ZIPS sees him outperforming that over the rest of the season, but it sees him doing so by adding .7 to his K/9 and subtracting .66 from his BB/9 for the rest of the year. I’m not convinced he can turn it around. Looking at him pitch, his motion seems to have a stutter to it that causes whiplash to his shoulder when he comes to his release point.

Looking at Lackey’s Plate Discipline numbers, he is getting 2% fewer swinging strikes than his career rate, and is in the zone less than ever. At the same time, his O-Contact numbers have jumped ~15%, causing a 5% jump in Contact over all, which seems fluky to me.

Lackey seems like he is due to improve as well, but not to the degree that Beckett is. I think Lackey is, at this point in his career, basically the pitcher we see, a guy with a 4.40+ ERA, an “eh” K/BB, and worrying arm action. However, if/when Beckett improves, having Lackey slotted in as #4 isn’t going to kill the Sox.

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Daern August 9, 2010 at 5:04 pm

As for the offense, which is actually what this article is about, I think you’ve nailed it. My one problem with the Sox offense is that Kevin Cash is getting some starts to keep Martinez fresh. I would much rather see a minor league catcher in there; for instance, per MLEs, minor league catcher Luis Exposito would have an OPS+ of 76 in MLB. Kevin Cash has a career OPS+ of 39. He should never start, even to spell Victor.

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Sully August 9, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Trust me, I am not enthusiastic about the way either Lackey or Beckett is pitching. I do think the Red Sox will win plenty of games with their offense clicking, however, even with the underachieving versions of Beckett and Lackey we have been getting this year.

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Lavonn February 24, 2014 at 4:10 am

Thanks for writing such an eaonats-uyderst-nd article on this topic.

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