The Red Sox and Hitting with Runners in Scoring Position

The Red Sox have hit woefully with runners in scoring position in the early going, but don't hit the panic button just yet. Their performance with men on base will improve in the coming weeks.

Not everything has gone smoothly for the Red Sox during their 3-5 start to the season. They’ve made some uncharacteristic mistakes in the field, lost a couple games thanks to a leaky bullpen, and—perhaps most frustrating of all—been woeful as a team at the plate with runners in scoring position.

Indeed, if you’ve watched the Red Sox at all through these first eight games, you’ve probably seen them strand more than a few runners on base, effectively killing one promising rally after another. For any fan, there are few things more frustrating than leaving men in scoring position, but just because the Red Sox have been woeful in these situations so far, doesn’t mean this trend will continue over the next days, weeks, and months.

In fact, considering this lineup’s track record (they did lead the majors in runs scored last season, after all) and top-to-bottom talent, the Red Sox are a pretty good bet to improve on their current performance with RISP as the season continues. Boston is currently hitting .175 (10 for 57) with RISP, though as a team, the Red Sox have been even worse than that figure might suggest considering Jackie Bradley Jr. has accounted for four of those hits. The club’s current performance with RISP is the fifth-worst in baseball thus far.

Photo by Kelly O'Connor of sittingstill.smugmug.com.

Photo by Kelly O’Connor of sittingstill.smugmug.com.

With two outs and RISP—that odd statistic beloved by TV broadcasters everywhere—the Red Sox have only been slightly better, hitting a cool .185 (5 for 27) in such situations.

But before we jump to conclusions and declare this Red Sox club devoid of the all-important clutch factor, let’s remember just how small these sample sizes are. Fifty-seven at-bats is not nearly enough of a sample to judge a player, much less a team, and RISP stats are notoriously fickle, often fluctuating from month-to-month and year-to-year no matter the team.

Let’s take the St. Louis Cardinals, for example. The Cardinals set a major-league record last season for average with RISP over a full season, hitting .330 in such situations. For many, this performance stood as undeniable proof that St. Louis’ batters were clutch and able to dial up their hitting in the most important of moments.

That the Cardinals simply had a lineup full of good hitters who were performing well was lost on many. Instead, the Cardinals stand a far greater chance of regressing from such a lofty team-wide average with RISP than repeating their incredible hitting from a season ago. In 2012, for instance, St. Louis batted .264 with RISP with much the same lineup, and so far this season, the Cardinals have been even worse than the Red Sox at leaving men on base, batting just .167 (12 of 72) with RISP, good for 28th in baseball.

Yet considering how deep and talented both lineups are, neither the Cardinals or the Red Sox will continue to be so poor in these situations moving forward. Last season, the Cubs were the worst lineup in baseball with RISP, hitting .218, and that Chicago lineup was devoid of the overall talent currently on display in Boston. Even if the Red Sox were to finish with the worst mark in the league with RISP, their performance would still likely improve from its current state.

And that’s before we consider how the Red Sox lineup has performed on the whole. In 2013, Boston led the majors in on-base percentage at .349 and scored 853 runs. So far this year, the Red Sox haven’t been quite so effective at getting on base, but their .335 OBP is nothing to scoff at and still ranks among the top 10 in baseball.

This is a lineup that still has David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, and early Rookie of the Year favorite Xander Bogaerts. This a squad that can still play the matchup game as well as anyone, with Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, and Jonny Gomes all capable contributors when put in the right situation. Along with their solid OBP, the Red Sox have amassed the fourth-most hits of any club in the majors.

Those hits just haven’t come at the right time so far. They will, however, as the season moves along, and the Red Sox keep giving themselves opportunities with men in scoring position. Eight games is not nearly enough time to judge a team or their performance with RISP. As surely as the weather will warm up across New England in the coming weeks, so too will the Red Sox bats perform better in those crucial RBI situations.

Seeing groundout after groundout with runners on is no doubt frustrating, but in the early going at least, that shouldn’t prevent you from remembering this remains a potent and talented Red Sox offense.

Categories: 2014 Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox Daniel Nava David Ortiz Dustin Pedroia Jackie Bradley Xander Bogaerts

An avid Red Sox fan who hails from Maine but now resides in Brooklyn, Alex enjoys nothing more than a summer day spent watching and talking about baseball. He writes over at SB Nation's MLB page and also serves as an editor for Beyond the Box Score and SoxProspects.com. A believer in both sabermetric analysis and the power of scouting, you can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexSkillin for some nerdy baseball talk and honest, though ultimately futile attempts at humor. For now, he's just counting down the days until Pedro's Hall of Fame induction speech.

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