6-2-2011: May wrapup, a great month


The month of May was a good one for the Sox, a really good one. They began the month at just 11-15 on the year, scraping the bottom of the division. The offense was barely average, and the pitching was decent but inconsistent. What a difference a month makes. Now Boston sits at 30-26 on the year, and is in second place, just two games back of the Yankees, despite the recent three-game sweep at the hands of the ChiSox. What have been the keys to this turnaround?

Offense

The Red Sox offense was the most potent in the American League in May, and not by a little. Putting up 126 runs in 29 games (5.38 runs/game) is very impressive by 2011 offensive standards, where league average is just 4.30 runs/game. Just a year ago, the average was 4.45 runs/game, and the year before that, it was 4.82 runs/game. So you probably have to kind of mentally add a quarter to a half run per game onto that figure if you want to compare with previous years.

Month R/G Avg OBP SLG BABIP wOBA BB% K%
April 4.11 0.243 0.331 0.380 0.283 0.319 10.9 21.1
May 5.38 0.287 0.349 0.472 0.317 0.361 7.9 18.4

As a team, the Red Sox put up a .287/.349/.472 slash line and a .361 wOBA (second was the Yankees at .340) and were about 26 percent better than the average AL offense. Looking at the walk and strikeout rates, it looks like the Sox as a team got more aggressive, and it’s been paying off. also, the power is back on. They hit the most doubles with 61 and tied with New York for first with 39 HRs this month. Even the running game got started (along with Carl Crawford), as the Sox swiped 28 bases in May. Some of this extra production comes from that high .317 BABIP in May. With league average at .286 on the year, that’s going to fall back to earth a bit. Still, this offense has moved up to fourth on the year and has the potential to keep pushing up the ranks.

I heard some people (*cough* Tony Massarotti) trying attribute this to improved hitting at the bottom of the order, but I ain’t buying that. No doubt that Jason Varitek did hit well, but that was primarily due to his .419 May BABIP, and he only came to the dish 50 times. There are four reasons for this offensive explosion, and their names are Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis.

Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Ortiz 119 0.342 0.387 0.694 0.464
Gonzalez 132 0.341 0.371 0.618 0.421
Varitek 50 0.333 0.400 0.533 0.409
Ellsbury 135 0.314 0.381 0.446 0.384
Youkilis 114 0.293 0.377 0.485 0.379
Crawford 117 0.304 0.328 0.482 0.351
Saltalamacchia 64 0.220 0.281 0.475 0.331
Pedroia 128 0.227 0.331 0.309 0.309
Lowrie 106 0.261 0.330 0.359 0.303
Drew 82 0.188 0.305 0.290 0.267

Two of these guys posted excellent wOBAs above .400 in May, and you can’t help but score with bats like that in your order. Ellsbury is now one of the top-hitting outfielders in 2011, and having him atop the order has really transformed our early run production. He has gone back to hitting lots of line drives and ground balls (54% in May compared with 40% in April), which translates well given his speed on the basepaths. With Crawford back to his usual hitting ways, things are looking rosier than ever, although anything would have been an improvement.

Gonzalez has continued to be aggressive at the plate, with very good results. He is not going to walk as much as he used to back in the NL, but who can complain, with production like this? Ortiz continues to dumbfound me, keeping his strikeout rate at an all-time low (12.8% in April, 10.8% in May) and really stroking the ball well (10 HR and 19 XBH in just 119 PA). He’s another guy who’s being aggressive with very good results.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has managed to cut his strikeout rate to about 20% (down from 30% in April), and flashed some power, making him a passable Major League catcher, if he can defend well and control the basepaths. He’s saved his job for now.

Pitching and defense

The Red Sox staff managed a 4.01 ERA this month (10th in the AL), which was actually lagging behind in the AL. The rotation had a 4.14 ERA, which ranked 9th for the month of May, while the bullpen ranked 7th with a 3.76 ERA.

Rotation ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 xFIP
April 3.83 6.91 3.60 1.10 4.16
May 4.14 6.55 3.77 0.79 4.40
Bullpen ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 xFIP
April 5.13 7.38 3.25 1.00 3.92
May 3.76 8.80 2.97 0.69 3.45

The pitching staff has been very good for the most part, but the back of the rotation was a problem, as both Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey have hit the DL. Dice-K is rumored to require Tommy John surgery, which effectively means this season is over for him. While Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves had a handful of good starts among them, the overall quality of the rotation slipped a little, as can be seen by the peripherals and the rise in xFIP.

The bullpen was surprisingly strong in the absence of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. We have Jonathan Papelbon, Matt Albers, and Rich Hill to thank for that. Scott Atchison has again been very solid for us, and saved us in some messy mopup situations by soaking up innings. Now that Jenks is back throwing mid- to high-90s again, and Wheeler is back, this bullpen could be really good in June. I have a good feeling.

Despite some bad outings, Daniel Bard’s fastball looks to be as effective as ever (+2.62 runs per 100 pitches); it’s the slider (-3.19 runs/100) and the changeup (-6.07 runs/100) that have been getting battered around.

Concerns

So what can stop us going forward? One big worry is Dustin Pedroia.

Pedroia Avg BABIP BB% K% O-swing% Z-swing% Swing% Z-contact% Contact% SwStrk%
April 0.255 0.288 15.30% 17.30% 31.70% 57.50% 42.50% 79.30% 81.20% 7.50%
May 0.227 0.261 13.30% 18.20% 29.70% 62.50% 45.30% 86.70% 84.90% 6.50%

Everyone just assumed it was just a slump, but we’re looking at 250 PA which tell us that Pedey is playing hurt. He’s barely swinging at strikes. To his credit, he is adjusting his game and trying to get on base as much as possible by walking. Those contact and swinging strike rates are improving slightly, but they’re nowhere near his career numbers. If that was the only thing, it might be okay for him to play through this, but the power is gone too, and that makes this a bigger problem. I think with the infield depth we’ve been blessed with this season, we should let him have a DL stint once Marco Scutaro gets back. Jed Lowrie and Drew Sutton have been pretty darn good so far.

The defense has not been as good as advertised. As a team, the Red Sox are middle of the pack at +2 UZR. While that doesn’t mean the figure is super accurate, it does mean that they haven’t shined as brightly as I thought they would. Pedroia’s gotten even better at second than before, but Jed Lowrie, Youkilis, Mike Cameron and Ellsbury are all dragging in the UZR department.

Rotation depth could become an issue. Matsuzaka could be done for the year, and we have decent stopgaps in Wakefield and Aceves. Then there’s Kevin Millwood. I don’t have any desire to see him at Fenway starting for us, so we’d better pray that Wake can stay healthy.

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