April summary: Ups and downs mark a tough month


The Red Sox are currently at 15-12 this season, but considering the Japan trip and the rash of injuries and illnesses they’ve endured, I don’t consider this too bad. We are currently in a three-way tie for first place in the division, and our players are on the mend. Here’s a look at what’s gone right and wrong thus far.

Offense

The Red Sox have hit .288/.361/.432 as a team in the early going, and produced the third most runs in the Major Leagues thus far. It’s hard to complain about that kind of production, but it’s been very erratic. The team has scored only 3.93 runs/game on the road, versus 6.00 runs/game at home, and it’s often been feast or famine. The six-game winning streak was a godsend, and the come from behind victories have done a lot for team confidence and morale.

Manny Ramirez leads the team in almost every offensive category, with a .347/.410/.643 line. His 16 XBH and 6 HRs have been a pleasant surprise after he hit just 20 out last season, and he carried the offense during David Ortiz‘s season-opening slump. That’s great, but not all is perfect in Manny-land. Despite a good 22.2% liner rate and higher percentage of fly balls, Manny’s HR/FB ratio is at just 19.4%, below his career average, even though he’s hitting the ball well, indicating a possible drop in power. His ISO is similar to what he’s shown the three seasons before last year. Ramirez has struck out 26.5% of the time, his highest rate since becoming a Red Sox in 2001, and walked in only 9.3% of his plate appearances, well below his career 13.7% rate. He’s seeing 4.16 pitches per plate appearance, leading the team, but it appear he’s unwilling to take a walk. With his BABIP unusually high at .424, we can expect some serious downward correction if he continues to try and do too much at the plate.

Why is David Ortiz hitting just .177/.288/.323? He’s been pulling the ball, perhaps indicating he’s trying to hit the ball harder, and that may not be the best thing for him. His 7.7/43.6/44.9 LD/GB/FB ratios are way off his norms, and the .176 BABIP may indicate that a good portion of this bad start is simply due to bad luck. He’s still seeing 4.11 pitches/PA, drawing walks at a 12.7% clip, and striking out only 18.8% of the time, the same as last season, so I don’t worry about him… yet. Three homers in the last 10 days is encouraging, at least. His HR/FB ratio is about half of what it usually is, which may indicate that his knee’s not at full strength.

Kudos are due to Dustin Pedroia, who’s hitting .324/.369/.450 in his sophomore season. He’s started all but one of the team’s 27 games, and on his day off he was called on to pinch-hit, delivering a game-changing double in a comeback victory. He’s even stolen three bags, so he is doing whatever it takes to win. Surprisingly, he’s second on the team with 12 XBH, and is basically picking up where he left off in 2007.

Kevin Youkilis should also get a mention, as he has gone .309/.396/.489 in 25 games. With the injury to Lowell, the Gold Glove first baseman shifted back over to third without so much as a nasty look, and has played well there. Youkilis is seriously making strides at the plate, showcasing his best ISO so far at .181 with 11 XBH and cutting down his strikeouts to an impressive 12.8%. He’s hitting slightly more fly balls, which should translate into better power numbers, as he’s been hitting most often in the #5 hole. The very definition of a team player.

Pitching

Boston starters have an ERA of 4.25 so far (7th in the AL), but not enough innings to their credit. Uncharacteristically, they are tied for the lead the AL in walks with 76. The rotation has been hit pretty hard; Josh Beckett has missed two starts, and Daisuke Matsuzaka has also missed one, while Jon Lester has been struggling with consistency in his transition to being a full-time starter. The good news is that Beckett looks great. He’s throwing with great velocity and command, and has been the ace we remember from October. Matsuzaka has walked way too many guys at 5.34 BB/9 and has averaged just 5 2/3 innings per start; he has yet to finish the 7th inning, and the Sox need him to be more efficient if he’s going to be their #2. Clay Buchholz has been good in 3 of his five starts, and we can only hope that the last game was a breakthrough for him. I like that he’s inducing a good number of ground outs and been able to keep the walks in check for the most part. The walks are a little high, but Tim Wakefield has been Wakefield, and we can only ask that he stay healthy.

The bullpen has a collective ERA of 5.27, and has looked porous at times, with Hideki Okajima looking a little less steady than last season(despite very good numbers) and Mike Timlin injured for most of April. They’ve thrown the fourth-most innings in the AL thus far, and that needs to change in order for them to be successful. To be fair, the flu has hit them pretty hard this past week or so. Jonathan Papelbon has been basically untouchable, and posted some staggering numbers. He still has yet to blow a save before May in his career. David Aardsma has been a nice addition overall, but Javier Lopez inspires zero confidence in me when he enters a game. They’ve blown four saves already, so that kind of balances out all the comeback victories they’ve helped in.

Defense

The infield defense has been fairly solid, but Julio Lugo has been inconsistent in the hole. He started out with some terrible defensive lapses, improved for a while, then made another costly gaffe this week. Kevin Cash has done well catching Wakefield and filling in for Jason Varitek, but the reality is that he just can’t be an everyday catcher, even defensively. The outfield has been very good for the most part, though the depth has been thin at times.

Outlook

The early injuries could become a blessing in disguise later on in the season. The extra rest could benefit older players like Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek, and we want guys like Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson getting their taste of the big time now rather than in September. The weather’s turning warmer, and Big Papi should heat up. That should be enough to keep this offense humming. If the rotation can stay healthy, I think we should continue to be the class of this division.

Advertisements

2 Responses to April summary: Ups and downs mark a tough month

  1. Pat says:

    The Santana no deal is looking better everyday. This month has really shown how our depth is so important. To think we might have traded away 3-4 of Lowrie, Ellsbury, Masterson, Lester, Hansen or Crisp for one pitcher. All of these guys have been key to our success in April, which is actually surprising. Being able to bring Lowrie up when needed is huge. It’s like having two Alex Coras.

    The especially nice thing about the performances from Lester and Buchholz is how poorly their Yankee counterparts Huges, and Kennedy have fared so far.

    I wonder, now that our starters have started to pitch 7 innings, if our middle relief will be much better in May than they were in April. It seems like they are the lone blemish on a great team, but perhaps the small sample size isn’t creditable.

  2. redsoxtalk says:

    Hey Pat, one thing is clear, these kids can play. Looking at Ellsbury, Lowrie and Masterson, I don’t think I’ve seen such mature looking rookies since.. well, Dustin Pedroia. Beyond their production, they are playing smart baseball, and not making many mistakes in the field and on the basepaths. The front office has to be pleased with the way these guys are looking thus far.

    You’re right, fans can complain all they want about Lester (previous to last night), but he and Clay have been miles ahead of Hughes and Kennedy thus far. In Lester’s case, he’s got quite a bit of big league experience compared to the rest, so let’s hope last night was a breakthrough for him.

    I’m convinced that our bullpen will look ten times better if we can consistently get 6+ IP out of our starters. That goes for everyone, not just the middle relievers.

    After a hot start, J.D. Drew has looked putrid at the plate, and that has to be addressed. He’s chasing breaking stuff low and away, and looks like he lacks confidence up there. I think Lowell will be fine in time, and as long as Crisp and Lugo bat in the bottom 3rd of the order, I have no complaints about them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: