Kevin Youkilisphoto © 2009 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)Early on you had to assume that the offense would turn things around and for awhile they had, but lately they have returned to being shut down more often than breaking out most games. This essentially limits the team to wins on nights with Jon Lester or Josh Beckett in low scoring games. This isn’t the team we expected, but we know they are better than that.

Soon data will begin to get out of the “small sample size” realm and you have to start to wonder when things will change or should we become concerned. Initially this began as a look into what is wrong with Kevin Youkilis at the plate. He is walking at a career high, but his strikeout rate stands at a frightening 32.2 percent. That is over 50 percent higher than his career rate of 21.6 percent.

Well how do we decide when that becomes significant and when we can still defend him with small sample size. I had some data I discussed at RotoSavants a few years ago. This was originally data from Statistically Speaking, which is no longer active. The important data is the strikeout and contact rate number of 150 PA. This means that for this stat to become significant the player needs at least 150 plate appearances. Once that number is reached you can start to believe the rate as the current skill level.

Well Youkilis isn’t there yet, but he stands about 30 PA away from significance. That’s pretty concerning, but if it was just Youkilis we could be OK. The problem is he’s not alone. The Red Sox have three other major contributors with strikeout rates at least 5 points higher than career rates. That is Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew.

The least concerning right now is Drew who is only 5 points higher and also has less than 100 plate appearances. He’s got time to turn that around before we get to concerned.

The same can’t be said for Ellsbury or Pedroia. Both have greater than 130 plate appearances and are striking nearly twice as often as career rates. Ellsbury has a career strikeout rate of 13.9 percent, but in 2011 he is striking out 24.3 percent of the time. For a player who can’t draw many walks this makes him a drain on the team and if not for the power so far he would be a replacement level player.

As for Pedroia he has seen his strikeouts climb in 2010 and again in 2011 with a career rate of 9.0 percent, but this year stands at 20.7 percent. Much like Ellsbury he does not draw an abundance of walks, but his contact rate has been amazing. That is not the case this year and he is even striking out more than his infamous debut in April of 2007.

With all this said there is no clear answer to why these usually steady players are struggling so mightily in 2011. Not one of the group is swinging much more than 2010 or seeing an extremely high rate of first pitch strikes. In fact only Ellsbury has swung more than last year. All three have seen decreased contact on pitches in the zone and Ellsbury and Youkilis are making less contact out of the zone.

With a colossal meltdown to start the year it’s possible this is nothing more than pressing. If so then they should be starting to turn it around as the team gets closer to .500, but if they continue to lag behind the Rays and Yankees the contact issues could continue. The other possibility is that all three of these guys saw significant time on the DL in 2010. Perhaps the layoff has had an effect.

I can’t give a solid answer for why, but I know we need to see better. Based on ZiPs rest of season projections all three are headed for record years in strike out totals and would be a slight disappointment to the team. Without the best from these guys the team will continue to struggle for consistency.