5-10-2011: What we know so far about our Red Sox lineup
May 10, 2011 4 Comments
This year is just over one month old, but it seems like the Red Sox have been scuffling forever, doesn’t it? Besides that 10-day streak of pitching dominance, this year’s team just hasn’t felt like contenders to me. BUT small sample size, you say! Yes, I grant you that. There are certainly signs of hope. Carl Crawford is turning it on now, and Adrian Gonzalez’ power is showing up one month late. But when is it safe to say something according to the numbers we already have?
When stats start to mean something
Turns out sabermetricians have already gone and done the hard work for us. Here is a handy list of statistics and around how many plate appearances you need before they start to mean something. Given that most of our regulars have about 100-150 PA, that means we can only really draw meaningful conclusions about the following:
- Swing rate (50 PA)
- Contact rate (100 PA)
- K rate, LD%, Pitches/PA (150 PA)
Not a whole lot to go on. But let’s do the exercise anyway:
[* = 2009 stats, ** = career stats used]
You can see that most of the numbers fall into place, but there are some notable differences. Dustin Pedroia’s numbers are all out of whack. He’s swinging more at the dish and striking out almost three times as much as he did last season. His contact rate and line drive percentage are WAY down, which to me suggests some kind of injury. Is this a result of his offseason foot surgery? Could be. He may need some extra time off, which might actually be doable while Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro are both healthy.
Gonzalez appears to be significantly less patient than he was last year, seeing only 3.71 pitches per plate appearance. Perhaps he’s trying to be more aggressive early in the count to make things happen? He may be eager to prove his worth after signing that big extension. He’s also upped his contact rate quite bit, which suggests that he might be trying to go for contact more than power early on. Now that his early funk is over and the power seems to have returned, maybe these will stabilize back to the usual levels.
Crawford, despite his terrible start, appears to be firing on all cylinders, at least the ones we’re looking at here. Maybe all that tinkering with his swing mechanics was unnecessary after all.
David Ortiz is a completely different hitter this year, cutting his strikeouts in half and posting the highest contact rate ever in his career. His line drive rate has also increased, suggesting that he might have removed some of the power and some of the uppercut from his swing. So far, so good. If he can keep this up, Papi might have just saved his career.
Jacoby Ellsbury has been striking out twice as often as usual, which you would expect from someone who was swinging harder to try and add some power to his game. That’s exactly what some people accused him of early on, after he hit 4 HRs in the early going.
Pitchers know Kevin Youkilis is patient, and they’ve gone to throwing him nothing but junk. It’s gotten so bad that he’s swinging just barely more than 1/3 of the time. He’s also whiffing a lot more, which means that either there’s some problem with him, or else he might be getting a bit impatient up there waiting for a strike.
Lowrie has been more aggressive this year while making just as much contact and striking out less often. That’s a recipe for success. If he continues to hit well, pitchers will start pitching around him more, which shouldn’t be a problem with Lowrie’s batting eye.
Scutaro has reduced his already tiny K rate to a miniscule 5.9%, but, coming up less frequently from the bench, he may be itching to make things happen up there and is seeing fewer pitches overall. His unusually poor line drive rate is either a reflection of poor contact, or just bad luck in a small sample.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is actually striking out less than he usually does. Wow. And his contact rate is actually better than his career figure. I don’t think we can expect his bat to become much more than it is right now.
Pitching stats to follow in another post.