6-1-2010: A pretty good May for the Red Sox

I don’t think anyone could have predicted that on June 1, we’d be sitting in 4th place in the AL East. Despite that, we’re only five games out of first place, and after an 18-11 record in May, there are some encouraging signs all around. Here’s a look at what worked and what didn’t in each facet of the game:

Offensive resurgence

This lineup has some pop in it, and we definitely saw that this month as Boston ranked second with 166 runs scored, behind the Yankees. The team hit .273.350/.466 as a unit, slugging 42 HRs, which was the second most in the AL for the month. Thanks primarily to Kevin Youkilis, the Sox had the best walk rate in the AL this month and the 3rd best OBP.

Kevin Youkilis 1B 0.329 0.521 0.683 1.204 30.7 0.506
David Ortiz DH 0.363 0.424 0.788 1.211 23.9 0.502
Adrian Beltre 3B 0.333 0.364 0.568 0.932 21.0 0.402
J.D. Drew OF 0.324 0.381 0.471 0.851 17.9 0.377
Victor Martinez C 0.276 0.315 0.563 0.878 14.6 0.377
Jason Varitek C 0.250 0.351 0.563 0.914 6.1 0.385
Mike Lowell DH 0.229 0.325 0.343 0.668 4.0 0.305
Bill Hall OF 0.220 0.250 0.460 0.710 5.3 0.307
Marco Scutaro SS 0.261 0.359 0.333 0.693 13.8 0.314
Dustin Pedroia 2B 0.213 0.325 0.333 0.659 12.2 0.301
Darnell McDonald OF 0.244 0.263 0.321 0.583 5.6 0.266
Jeremy Hermida OF 0.189 0.228 0.270 0.498 2.7 0.224

Perhaps the biggest story in Red Sox Nation with the offense was the resurrection of David Ortiz, who looked like his old dominant self (for one month, anyway). He’s still striking out at a 30% clip, but whatever adjustments he’s made have worked, big time. As I’ve said before, as Big Papi goes, so this offense goes.

J.D. Drew has rebounded from a slow start to have a nice month, and I suspect the annual critic-silencing performance is coming in the next month or two. Funny how you don’t hear those people talking about how terrible a player Drew is anymore.

With Jacoby Ellsbury out, it’s been a very bad month for both Dustin Pedroia and Marco Scutaro to slump atop the order, but slump they have. That’s why you’ve seen Drew hitting leadoff and hitting third more often. It’s an attempt by Terry Francona to get more men on base to take advantage of Papi’s and Youk’s hot hitting.

Thanks to Jason Varitek, we continue to get very good production out of the catcher slot; and even as he has cooled off, Victor Martinez has come back on of late.

Improvement in the rotation

The Red Sox had a strange month, pitching-wise. In a month that featured some of the best pitching performances we’ve seen from this staff, they still allowed 132 runs. The rotation was 17-8 for the month, yet their ERA was 4.32, 8th in the AL for May. So there were a lot of really bad starts too. Not to be outdone, the bullpen also featured a mix of good and bad outings, with little in between. They gave up a league-high 12 HRs this month, tied with Kansas City and Baltimore for that dubious honor. Their 4.21 ERA was 9th in the AL in May.

Jon Lester 44.0 1.84 2.89 9.20 3.48 0.41 0.162
Clay Buchholz 38.0 3.08 3.99 5.92 4.50 0.47 0.246
Daisuke Matsuzaka 34.1 5.77 4.34 6.55 5.50 0.52 0.218
John Lackey 31.1 5.17 5.86 5.17 5.17 1.44 0.272
Tim Wakefield 27.1 5.93 5.50 2.96 1.98 1.65 0.280
Josh Beckett 17.0 7.41 4.06 10.59 3.18 1.06 0.294
Manny Delcarmen 14.2 1.84 3.59 7.36 3.68 0.61 0.162
Daniel Bard 11.1 0.79 3.03 8.74 4.76 0.00 0.180

This is everyone who threw at least 10 IP in May. Jon Lester has gotten on his roll earlier this year, and there may be no stopping him for the rest of 2010. I knew that we would have a very good rotation, but I thought Josh Beckett would be the cornerstone and Clay Buchholz would be one of the strugglers. It’s been exactly the opposite, though Beckett’s peripherals say he’s better than you might think.

I’d also point out that Daisuke Matsuzaka has pitched better than his 5.77 ERA, though those walks have to be dealt with. Looking at the FIP numbers, there’s no real question as to whether Dice-K or Tim Wakefield should be the 5th starter.

The bullpen has not been without its bright spots, either. The improvement in Manny Delcarmen has been a welcome revelation, and has given Francona another all-important, reliable option in the 7th and 8th innings. Daniel Bard continues to show growth and consistency in the Majors, and he is now ready to take on any role the Sox give him.

Defensive improvement

The Red Sox were supposed to be a superior defensive team coming into this season, but we didn’t see that in April. The good news is that we’ve started to see that defensive prowess a bit in May. As a team, we’re now at +11 defensive runs saved (DRS) on the year according to John Dewan’s plus/minus metric, and +12.3 runs by UZR. If you take the UZR rate, we are third in the AL, behind the Tigers and the Mariners.

The following table shows how many DRS each regular has, along with UZR and the rate for UZR if they did that over a season of 150 games:

Name Pos Inn DRS UZR UZR/150
J.D. Drew RF 426 4 5.8 22.7
Marco Scutaro SS 445 6 3.9 12.7
Adrian Beltre 3B 441 8 3.6 13.9
Jeremy Hermida LF 282 -1 2.9 12.7
Dustin Pedroia 2B 454 4 1.8 4.0
Kevin Youkilis 1B 449 1 -0.2 -0.4
Mike Cameron CF 128 -2 -0.8 -13.2
Bill Hall LF 105 -1 -1.0 -12.8
Darnell McDonald CF 208 -4 -5.3 -32.1

Drew is having a tremendous season in right field, and both Scutaro and Adrian Beltre have shown some real improvement, after some early struggles in the field and especially at Fenway Park. Mike Cameron just hasn’t been himself so far in the field, and that may have something to do with why they wanted to put Ells back in center field. Darnell McDonald, we love you but you’re not a center fielder, brother. Not in this lifetime.

The point is, the defensive pieces are there. We just haven’t had them fit together all at the same time yet. If we can get our full outfield back healthy, we could see some real run prevention that works.

A bright (healthy) future

Can the Red Sox make a run at a playoff spot? I think it comes down to health at this point. Can Ellsbury heal enough to return as an on-base and running threat and a plus defender (whether in CF or LF)? Can Beckett’s back calm down enough for him to get in his usual summer groove?

I don’t expect the offense to be as good as they’ve been this month, but then I don’t expect the pitching to be as bad, either. Run prevention is not just a theory. Consider that in May, the Red Sox held their opponents to two runs or fewer in 11 games. That’s not bad. Eliminate some of those bad starts, work out of a more rested bullpen, and you’ll see fewer blow-ups, at least in theory.

I think if we are going to make it this year, we need to do it now. The Yankees are enduring some significant injuries and a bit of a meltdown, and the Rays’ offense is starting to sputter a bit (122 runs in May, 8th in the AL), as many predicted. Inter-League play is fast approaching, and the Sox need to continue their string of success against the senior circuit if we want to contend this season.


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