5 Early-Season Red Sox Stats That Tell You All You Need to Know
They say numbers never lie, and this also rings true for the 2014 Boston Red Sox. A maddeningly inconsistent but nonetheless exciting start to the season has left the Red Sox with plenty of reasons for both optimism and doubt moving forward as the weather warms up and players fully enter their regular-season grooves.
It's difficult to encapsulate the Red Sox's up-and-down season in words, but it's somewhat easier to tell the story of the first five-plus weeks of the season through statistics. When you look at the numbers, it's clear where we can expect this Boston team to improve, where it might struggle all year and why it's played below its talent level thus far.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the five most telling Red Sox stats from early 2014.
Unless otherwise attributed, all of the following stats come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Batting Average with RISP: .224
Perhaps the most frequently cited and maddening statistic associated with the Red Sox in the early weeks of the season, the Sox are batting just .224/.321/.351 with runners in scoring position. Contrast this to the .278/.358/.436 line they posted last year, and it's a big part of the reason why this year's Red Sox team is just 13th in runs scored after finishing first in the majors a year ago.
The good news here is that Boston's luck with runners on base is quite likely to turn around. While it may not boast MLB's no-doubt top offense as it did a year ago, the Red Sox should still finish with one of the top five or top 10 best offenses in the league. Downgrading from Jacoby Ellsbury to Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn't account for a massive decline in team-wide performance.
Major League Baseball as a whole right now is hitting .244/.326/.376 with RISP. The Red Sox's overall batting line is .247/.340/.383. Even if the 2014 Sox don't come close to matching last year's group, things are still going to get better when it comes to timely hitting.
Stolen Bases: 11
We've already gone over how the loss of Ellsbury isn't the primary factor behind the Red Sox's struggling offense this season. But it absolutely is the main reason why Boston ranks 28th in the league in steals, having swiped just 11 bases in 20 tries through the first five weeks of the season.
For a team that finished fourth in the majors with 123 stolen bases a year ago, this represents a startling decline. We all knew that the Red Sox would run less frequently than they did a year ago with Ellsbury's 52 steals subtracted, but there was little reason to think that Boston would sink to a stolen base success rate of just 55 percent, which is the worst number in the league.
The sample is small enough here for the percentage of successful steals to change in a hurry, but speed is an element that the Red Sox lack in 2014 nonetheless. Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino may be able to combine for around 50 swipes, but there's no one else on the roster who's a terribly good bet to approach 10 steals. It's a missing element that makes the team's on-base and slugging abilities all the more important.
Bullpen ERA: 3.14
While the Red Sox have had more than their share of frustrations to open the season, they can take some solace in the fact that their bullpen has been quite good. According to ESPN, Boston's 3.14 ERA in relief ranks ninth-best in the majors, which is a major improvement over the 3.70 mark it produced in 2013.
Boston's major offseason bullpen addition, Edward Mujica, has struggled mightily to this point, but fellow newcomer Chris Capuano has emerged as a valuable late-innings weapon. Andrew Miller has been lights out, Craig Breslow and Burke Badenhop have been inconsistent but decent, and Junichi Tazawa has shown flashes of his former dominant self.
That leaves us with Koji Uehara, of course, who's having a down season in that his ERA is up to 1.23 compared to the 1.09 mark he posted in his historic 2013 campaign. In all seriousness, Uehara does look a bit more mortal this season, but he's still one of the better relievers in the game.
Once you factor in the bevy of talented relievers that the Red Sox have waiting in the wings—guys like Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Drake Britton and possibly Anthony Ranaudo—it's clear that Boston's bullpen should be in good shape for years to come.
Slugging Percentage: .383
Whereas the Red Sox had to have anticipated losing a lot of speed and a touch of overall offense with their offseason moves, the lack of power from their lineup is something that's surprised everyone. Through the first 34 games, the Red Sox are posting a slugging percentage of .383, which is just 16th in baseball. According to FanGraphs, they're tied for 15th with an Isolated Power (ISO) number of just .136.
The good news for the Red Sox is that there's little reason to assume this will continue. Mike Napoli and David Ortiz have produced reasonable pop to this point, but the Red Sox have received almost nothing in the power department from Pedroia, Victorino, Xander Bogaerts or Will Middlebrooks. While the first two are more doubles hitters than major home run threats, Bogaerts and Middlebrooks should be able to provide the lineup with 30-40 homers between them this season.
Add in solid power contributions from A.J. Pierzynski and the left field platoon of Jonny Gomes and Grady Sizemore, and this is not a team that should finish in the bottom half of the league in slugging. As the weather heats up, I'd expect balls to start leaving Fenway Park with more regularity and to see the Red Sox approach the .446 SLG they achieved in 2013.
Winning Percentage: .500
You probably saw this coming, but nothing encapsulates the Red Sox's start to the season quite like their 17-17 record, good for a .500 winning percentage. It took Boston several tries to reach this modest benchmark, but they were able to do so for the first time with a win against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night.
On the one hand, this is a disappointing start for a team with championships aspirations and a talented roster. On the other hand, the Sox find themselves just 1.5 games out of first place after suffering through injuries, inconsistency and a bout of defensive inadequacy. This team has survived DL stints from Victorino and Middlebrooks, minor injuries to Pedroia, Uehara and Napoli and poor starts from 40 percent of its starting rotation, yet it is still very much in the hunt.
With excellent defenders at first base, second base, center field and right field—plus the potential for good defense at third base and in left field—the Red Sox should not falter defensively as they did in April. Clay Buchholz has always been streaky and should round into form, and if Felix Doubront doesn't follow suit, the Red Sox have plenty of replacements for him in Triple-A. Hitting with runners in scoring position is less about skill than it is about statistical variation, so that should improve, too.
The 2014 Red Sox are not the juggernaut that their predecessors became, but they're still eminently capable of winning a wide-open division, and with their financial flexibility, stacked farm system and young talent, this is a team and organization on the way up. It might not be a smooth ride, but if the Sox are playing deep into October once again, their .500 record on May 9 will become nothing more than a footnote in their history.