The Sox are approaching the .500 mark and, despite their early season woes, are only four games behind the first-place Yankees. Imagine what’s going to happen when the offense begins to fire on all cylinders.
One issue that has led to some low batting averages early on has been uncharacteristically high strikeout rates. Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury all stand with strikeout rates well above their career averages.
Youk has struck out in 32.6 percent of his at-bats so far this season. His career average is 21.6 percent. Like other Sox players, Youk may have been trying to do too much given the team’s poor start. Both his whiff rate and swinging strike rate are above his career averages, but both should normalize in the long-run given his consistency in those categories throughout the years.
Batted ball wise, Youk is right on track, hitting line drives at a 20 percent clip. His fly-ball rate is a little high, but that hasn’t been the real issue given his current .267 ISO.
The last time Youk had a month in which he struck out in over 30 percent of his at-bats was in 2009, when he ended up hitting .305/.413/.548. Given his track record, I think we can safely assume that Youk will strike out at least five percent less often going forward and raise his AVG to the .280 mark or better before long.
The case with Pedroia is a bit more extreme. His strikeout rate stands at 20.7 percent, over ten percent higher than his career average. Unlike Youkilis, however, Pedroia’s swing-and-miss rate is currently way off base. Pedroia has always been a contact machine, but his whiff rate is up about 10 percent and he’s chasing pitches outside the strike-zone at an alarming rate given his pedigree (33 percent chase rate). Something in his swing is a bit off track, as his line drive rate is only 13 percent right now while he has pounded the ball into the ground over 50 percent of the time. No, he doesn’t have Derek Jeter-itus — at least I don’t think he does — but he’s certainly not the Pedroia we’re used to seeing.
116 at-bats is not a large enough sample size, but the trend hasn’t exactly slowed down. In his last ten games, Pedroia has struck out 11 times, including his four K’s last night.
His track record suggests that things will turn for the better before long, but he’s never been through a tough stretch quite like this before. He’ll get the day off today and maybe the mental break will do him some good.
While Jacoby Ellsbury has surprised with his four home runs already in 2011, he has disappointed in terms of AVG and OBP. Both stats, however, are trending in the right direction.
14 games ago, Ellsbury was hitting .182/.262/.418. Since his 0-4 on April 20th, Ellsbury has had at least one hit in every game, including five multi-hit games, raising his triple slash to .268/.328/.455. Like Youk and Pedroia, Ellsbury has a very long track record of much lower strikeout rates and I expect him to lower his K-rate (currently at 25 percent) by around 10 percent as the season moves along.
If Ellsbury can keep hitting line drives at a 20 percent or better clip and start cutting down on his strikeouts, he’ll be hitting .290-.300 in no time. Obviously, this would also help his on base numbers and allow him to be a ferocious threat on the basepaths even more often.
Even though all three of these hitters are trending in different directions right now, all three are all destined to improve. The sooner the strikeout rates drop the better as each hitter’s role in the lineup is paramount to the team’s quest for postseason glory.