Boston Red Sox: How Do They Improve Against Left-Handed Pitching?
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The 2013 Boston Red Sox have, by most conventional measurements, the best offense in baseball. They lead MLB in runs scored, doubles, total bases, OBP, OPS and walks, among others. They’re near the top in numerous others.
So why can we still gripe about the hitters?
Thursday night’s feeble effort against the immortal Bruce Chen (7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO) solidified a serious problem the Sox still have at the plate: They can’t hit left-handed pitching. This is largely a team-wide problem, and the disparity between their performances versus right-handers has become pretty staggering.
Here are just a few of the areas in which Sox hitters continue to struggle. The stats are complete as of Thursday night’s loss in Kansas City:
|Category||vs. LHP||vs. RHP|
As one would probably expect, Dustin Pedroia (.321 BA, .897 OPS) has led the way for the Sox against lefties. Shane Victorino (.293 BA, .787 OPS) has certainly carried his weight as well. But that is really where the strong performances against southpaws end.
At least left-handed hitters David Ortiz (.275 BA, 5 HR) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.256 BA, .666 OPS) have a legitimate excuse for their struggles, and both have absolutely mashed right-handed pitching all season. So they get a free pass.
Everyone hitting outside No. 1 through 4 in the Sox’s lineup, though, has been a mess. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.193 BA), Stephen Drew (.202 BA) and alleged lefty-killer Jonny Gomes (.202 BA) have been absolutely horrid against lefties, posting a 1.05 BB/SO ratio and combining to drive in just 32 runs all season long.
A complete look at the carnage versus lefties can be found here, courtesy of ESPN.com. Just be warned: It is not going to be pretty.
The good news, despite these brutal numbers, is that there is hope for the Sox. They still have over three weeks to decide if they want to pursue an available bat via a waiver deal, and with each passing day, it looks more likely a move could be made.
The most obvious choice—one that has been discussed ad nauseam—is making a trade for the Phillies’ Michael Young. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Young would waive his no-trade clause for Boston. While the third baseman has traditionally been a strong hitter against left-handed pitching (.310 lifetime average, .829 OPS), he has struggled in 2013 (.230 BA, .705 OPS).
The veteran would certainly bring stability and experience to third base, but it doesn’t seem like he would represent much of an improvement for the Sox at this stage of his career.
So perhaps the solution is Will Middlebrooks? After all, he is a right-handed hitter who has MLB experience, and in 2012, he crushed lefties to the tune of a .300 average and .906 OPS over 100 at-bats.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem like a viable candidate either. His 2013 numbers against lefties were certainly better than his numbers against right-handers, but that isn’t saying a whole lot. Middlebrooks hit .234 with a .675 OPS versus southpaws this season before his demotion, and it doesn’t seem like the Sox are in any hurry to bring him back to Boston.
The answer, as one of my colleagues observed yesterday, is Xander Bogaerts. Admittedly, he doesn’t have much experience playing third base or high-level minor league experience of any kind. However, he’s got the talent and poise to succeed right away in Boston.
While it’s a small sample size, Bogaerts’ numbers against lefties in Pawtucket have been very encouraging. He has gone 16-for-48 with four doubles and two home runs, and his 15 walks give him an absurd OBP of .492 and a 1.034 OPS. While these figures don’t guarantee MLB-level success, surely he won’t be worse than the horrific Brock Holt-Brandon Snyder platoon.
It’s also worth pointing out what we observed in the first paragraph: The Sox are the highest-scoring team in MLB. They can afford to have Bogaerts learn on the fly at the bottom of the lineup, taking his lumps so that when the Sox have a pivotal showdown against David Price, Matt Moore or CC Sabathia in September, he’ll be ready to give them the lift they so desperately need.
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