Monday, June 27, 2011

An unexpected hole and unexpected production

Alex Speier of WEEI has a nice post about the right field production (or lack thereof) of the Red Sox. He writes that the Red Sox cumulative RF line of .220/.304/.336 is the worst in each of the three categories in the AL. An OPS of .640 (which, if you're paying attention, you already know has to be the worst in the AL) is a disaster, particularly coming from a position with an offensive premium. Typically, right field is the third most productive position, behind first base and left field. This was a surprise. While JD Drew's contract has been vilified, coming in to this season he'd earned his salary, despite not putting up many home runs or driving in many runs. However, Drew's numbers have taken a massive plunge in 2011. For a season with a minimum of 200 PA, this year is Drew's worst year offensively in every single category, including his triple slash (.232/.330/.326), but also more predictive numbers like isolated power, which is a good measure of a players power, without including batting average (.095 in 2011, .214 career) and strikeouts. Since 1999 Drew has been an average offensive player in his worst years, and an elite one in his best, but he has been hopeless in 2011. A left handed hitter, Drew has never hit lefties well, and the Red Sox have started sitting him against more and more left handers. Coming in to 2011, Mike Cameron would have seemed like the perfect platoon partner for Drew and the Red Sox bench in general. A right handed hitter capable of playing anywhere in the outfield, he could spell the entirely left handed Red Sox outfield of Ellsbury, Crawford, and Drew while still putting up solid numbers. Even in his old age, Cameron had put up excellent numbers against lefties - a .980 OPS in 2008-2010, granted with almost all of 2010 lost to injury. In 60 AB so far in 2011, he's only managed a .541 OPS. Perhaps Cameron needs to play every day, perhaps the injury in 2010 fundamentally diminished his skills, or maybe father time is finally catching up with him after a long and successful career, but no matter what, the Red Sox were counting on more. Last year's fill in, Darnell McDonald, made for a great story - finally making his MLB debut after over a decade in the minors, after failing to make it as a highly touted prospect. This year, McDonald has been even more helpless than Cameron, putting up a .381 OPS against lefties and .341 OPS overall. For some perspective, five starters on the Red Sox have an on base percentage that is better than McDonald's on base plus slugging.

Despite this massive black hole at a key offensive position, the Red Sox offense is one of the very best in baseball. The stars, like Pedroia, Ortiz, Youkilis, and especially Adrian Gonzalez have all contributed, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia has quietly shifted from offensive liability to offensive contributor. For the season, Salty now has an OPS of .762, good for 6% better than the MLB average and almost exactly the same as the AL right fielder average. Considering he's playing catcher, that's a hell of an offensive weapon. Saltalamacchia finally seems to be blossoming into the offensive player scouts thought he'd become and it is nice to see the Red Sox faith in him rewarded.

If it makes you feel any better about the state of the team, just pretend that the Red Sox managed to swing a trade for frequent trade target Kurt Suzuki (.626 OPS), and have the resurgent (at least for a little while longer) Jeff "Frenchy" Francoeur (.759 OPS) manning right. OK, Frenchy in right probably doesn't make you feel any better. On the bright side, we may see Josh Reddick finally stick. He had been passed by Kalish on the prospect ladder, but an injury to Kalish and a newly patient approach in AAA gave Reddick the call when Crawford went down. No, he's not going to continue hitting .414 with an OPS over 1.000, but considering how low the bar is that he needs to clear, he could be a nice upgrade. I'll probably write more on Reddick soon, but I will mention that his 2011 minor league numbers (.230/.333/.508) undersell him, because he was extremely unlucky on balls in play (.207).


  1. I am really hoping Reddick can stick. He has a great arm, plays above average defense, and it seems his approach at the plate has taken a real leap forward this season. He is controlling the strike zone much better this season than he has in previous seasons (1.18 K/BB this season, 2.43 K/BB in 2009 and 2010 combined), and as Bill noted, his low batting average is largely related to his low average on balls in play. He's still hitting the ball hard, since more than half of his hits are for extra bases, so it seems reasonable to expect that his BABIP should normalize some.

  2. In 2010 the average BABIP in the International League was .307. While batters do have some control over their BABIP primarily based on how many line drives they hit, we don't have batted ball profiles for minor leaguers. If Reddick had the average BABIP for the Eastern League, and all extra hits would be singles, his .230/.333/508 line becomes a much more impressive 0.304/0.394/0.581. It is amazing what a few more dying quails will do (in this case, 14).

  3. Yes, and based on his slugging percentage it's pretty safe to assume that Reddick was hitting the ball hard quite a bit.