The Red Sox’s deep and potent offense was one of the hallmarks of the club’s World Series run in 2013. From the top of the order to the bottom, Boston boasted hitters who could do damage to the opposition and also work the count, making it a tough task for opposing starters to get through the team’s lineup multiple times in one game.
The Red Sox also enjoyed the benefit of having flexibility for any type of matchup, with the likes of Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, and Daniel Nava proving effective in bench and platoon roles when called upon.
The disappearance of Boston’s depth and flexibility on offense in 2014 has been a key storyline and central to the club’s struggles through the season’s first two months. Even more significant has been the offense’s power outage, with runs and extra-base hits proving few and far between for the Red Sox.
Want an explanation as to why the Red Sox have fallen from their perch atop the AL East to a middling spot down towards the bottom of MLB’s pecking order? Look no further than their precipitous decline on offense—especially in the power department—as Boston’s bats rank among the worst the franchise has seen in two decades.
Last year, Boston led the league in slugging percentage (.446) and runs per game (5.27), while placing second in ISO (.169) and sixth in home runs (178).
This season, the Red Sox are currently 21st in baseball in slugging percentage (.375), 19th in runs per game (4.02), 23rd in ISO (.130) and 25th in home runs (48). The disparity between these totals and Boston’s league ranks a year ago demonstrates just how much the club’s production on offense has decreased.
Oddly enough, the Red Sox aren’t having many problems getting men on base—the team’s .327 OBP is MLB’s seventh-best mark. But through a lack of power and extra-base hit ability along with continued struggles with runners in scoring position, Boston has failed to manufacture runs in the manner they did a year ago.
In fact, the Red Sox have been so punchless on offense, they are on pace for the club’s worst slugging percentage and ISO since 1992. That 1992 team, which finished 73-89 and 23 games out of first place, slugged .347 and posted a .101 ISO.
Injuries and underperformance have certainly hampered Boston’s production at the plate. No one could have predicted that Daniel Nava’s output would plummet just as the Red Sox were ready to depend on him more heavily. Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Will Middlebrooks have all missed time, though Middlebrooks was providing very little to the Red Sox offense even when he was healthy.
Even more costly has been Boston’s inability to replace the production of players who departed via free agency this offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury’s 113 wRC+ has been replaced by Jackie Bradley’s 59 wRC+ mark, which currently ranks as the fifth-worst in all of MLB.
In a similar manner, A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross have been unable to match Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s production in 2013. The switch-hitting Saltalamacchia had his warts as a player, but the 14 home runs, .466 slugging percentage, and 113 wRC+ he gave Boston last season have been sorely missed.
Xander Bogaerts was more than adequate in replacing Stephen Drew’s output at shortstop, yet it left the Red Sox with a black hole at third base that they were unable to hide. With Drew back, one has to question how much the 31-year-old shortstop can give Boston over the season’s final four months, especially after he missed his second straight game Tuesday night.
With Bradley and Grady Sizemore both hitting well below league average, Dustin Pedroia slugging below .400 ten weeks into the season, and Napoli just returning from the DL, it is easy to see why the Red Sox have suffered from such a power outage in recent weeks.
The lineup has far more holes than it did a year ago, and outside of Bogaerts, David Ortiz, and Brock Holt, no one has hit particularly well for Boston over the past month. An average pitcher like Bud Norris, who allowed just six baserunners against the Red Sox on Monday night, had little chance of getting through Boston’s lineup multiple times unscathed in 2013.
This year, however, Norris dominated the Red Sox in his longest and best outing this season, needing just 98 pitches to complete eight innings. Norris’ success was telling when considering just how far Boston’s offense has fallen in 2014.
The big question for Ben Cherington is how he can upgrade such a floundering offense. Health is key; if the Red Sox can get Carp and Middlebrooks back, along with Napoli and Drew in the fold, their depth will at least be much improved.
But that doesn’t fix the club’s issues in the outfield or help bring Pedroia’s power back. Trades for Carlos Gonzalez and Giancarlo Stanton are fun to dream on, though neither is especially realistic, especially as Gonzalez recovers from surgery on his left index finger.
Even if a big bat is available, one player will not fix the issues ailing the Red Sox offense. Better production is needed from just about everyone, and that is something even Cherington or Stanton in a Red Sox uniform won’t be able to fix.