Lost in the frustration I think we’ve all felt about the Red Sox’ offense this season is a simple fact:
These guys are a lot better than last season.
I guess that’s not saying much, but even factoring out the injuries that decimated the club come August, the Sox fielded a lineup with Trot Nixon in center, Wily Mo Pena in right, Mark Loretta at second and Alex Gonzalez at short. When Coco Crisp returned, he was awful. Jason Varitek was injured nearly all season, and Doug Mirabelli soon needed a backup (Javy Lopez!). Never mind the Manny debacle.
Needless to say, a little inconsistency can look pretty good compared to consistent suckitude. But really, with Lugo and Drew struggling, Crisp still stuck somewhere north of the doldrums (but south of the trade winds), Varitek and Youkilis falling off, and Manny and Ortiz not really being right all year long, is this lineup really that much better?
Well, of course it is. Any time you’re starting a living, breathing human at catcher instead of the reanimated corpse of Javy Lopez, you’re going to see an improvement. What you might find surprising is how much better the Sox’ lineup is this year — even with the highly publicized flops of the big free agents.
- 2006: Fifth in the AL. .269/.351/.435 (.786), 105 OPS+
- 2007: Second in the AL. .279/.362/.441 (.803), 113 OPS+
- 2006: 7th. .262/.353/.425 (.778) 103 OPS+
- 2007: 4th. .285/.372/.429 (.801) 108 OPS+
The Sox aren’t really hitting for power any better against lefties, but they’re hitting better against them. Twenty points of average/OBP better.
- 2006: 3rd. .283/.366/.457 (.823) 115 OPS+
- 2007: 2nd. .273/.358/.437 (.795) 113 OPS+
Here’s where consistency comes into play. The Sox actually had a better hitting lineup in the first half last year — Gonzalez was red hot; Lowell, Loretta and Youkilis all were having fantastic seasons. Injuries and regression took a big chunk out of those numbers:
- 2006: 13th. .252/.332/.409 (.741) 93 OPS+
- 2007: 2nd. .288/.369/.447 (.816) 112 OPS+
The Red Sox were second-to-last in offense after the All-Star Break last year. They’re second this year. The difference? Well, a lot of the Sox bats started slowly this year — Ortiz, Ramirez, Crisp, Lugo and Drew all were in tough shape early before rebounding to completely or nearly respectable levels (depending on whom we’re discussing). Health and youth also have helped. Lowell has surged rather than slumped, and Dustin Pedroia isn’t Mark Loretta. This is broken down more dramatically below:
- April 2006: 9th. .256/.353/.416 (.769) 101 OPS+
- April 2007: 2nd. .262/.353/.426 (.779) 113 OPS+
- May 2006: 1st. .306/.385/.483 (.868) 128 OPS+
- May 2007: 3rd. .289/.365/.465 (.830) 122 OPS+
- June 2006: 2nd. .299/.371/.462 (.833) 118 OPS+
- June 2007: 8th. .264/.348/.413 (.761) 101 OPS+
- July 2006: 6th. .268/.344/.468 (.812) 104 OPS+
- July 2007: 2nd. .285/.367/.446 (.813) 115 OPS+
- Aug. 2006: 10th. .250/.332/.409 (.741) 94 OPS+
- Aug. 2007: 3rd. .285/.371/.439 (.810) 111 OPS+
- Sept. 2006: 14th. .234/.321/.373 (.694) 84 OPS+
- Sept. 2007: 3rd. .313/.391/.502 (.893) 120 OPS+
Talk about a slide. In 2006, by month, the Sox went 9th-1st-2nd-6th-10th-last. This year, the Sox have actually been remarkably consistent. On-base percentages of .353-.365-.348-.367-.371-.391. The slugging, as has been noted, hasn’t been there as much as we’d like, but with the exception of June, the lineup has actually kept a consistent .285/.370/.440 line. Obviously, September’s numbers carry a sample size warning.
We can speculate all day about what changes made the Sox’ lineup better. I think second base is obvious, and Lowell’s been a beast. But considering the dropoff from Manny and Ortiz, something else must be improving, right?
- C, 2006: 12th. .224/.299/.369 (.668) 80 OPS+
- C, 2007: 5th. .247/.346/.403 (.749) 111 OPS+
Ouch. Lowest batting average from the catcher’s spot of any team in the AL in 2006. Second-lowest OBP to the Royals. Fourth-lowest slugging, third-lowest OPS and OPS+. Even for the Red Sox the catcher’s spot was 30 percent worse than the club’s average offense. Clearly, Varitek performing at even league average this season is a much bigger boost than we might have assumed.
- 1B, 2006: 9th. .270/.359/.414 (.773) 84 OPS+
- 1B, 2007: 3rd. .269/.377/.444 (.821) 103 OPS+
Cearly, the strength at the position has degraded significantly throughout the league. Youkilis is getting on base and slugging more — but not that much more. At the position, the Sox are now third in the league from ninth with really just a slight improvement.
- 2B, 2006: 10th. .279/.338/.361 (.699) 90 OPS+
- 2B, 2007: 1st. .314/.378/.440 (.818) 117 OPS+
Nice as Mark Loretta is, he is well past his prime and was overrated in Boston. That .361 slugging was third-worst in the league. This year, Dustin Pedroia has made a huge difference. The Sox tie with the Tigers for first in OPS+ (though the Tigers have the higher OPS). Just think how much better those numbers would be without Pedroia’s April slump or the random starts Terry Francona continues to give to Alex Cora.
- 3B, 2006: 4th. .284/.341/.482 (.823) 103 OPS+
- 3B, 2007: 2nd. .326/.384/.506 (.890) 128 OPS+
Mike Lowell was very good in 2006. He’s been awesome in 2007. From the hot corner, the Sox have the higest batting average in the league, and with the Yankees are the only team with an OBP above .355 or slugging above .820 from that defensive position. If not for another third baseman in the league, Lowell would be making a serious MVP case right about now.
- SS, 2006: 13th. .250/.306/.368 (.674) 82 OPS+
- SS, 2007: 11th. .236/.293/.347 (.640) 74 OPS+
So there you have it. Alex Gonzalez + Alex Cora > Julio Lugo + Alex Cora. At least for this season. Thanks to the White Sox and Blue Jays, the Sox managed to actually move out of second-to-last place in the league from the shortstop position — despite coming up with some of the worst numbers you’ll ever see in 21st-century baseball. And that’s after Lugo got hot. Incidentally, the Sox received 40 percent less production out of shortstop than average. (60 OPS+ to the team)
- LF, 2006: 1st. .302/.423/.553 (.976) 139 OPS+
- LF, 2007: 1st. .290/.382/.497 (.879) 120 OPS+
Manny’s having a bad year, but in case you were wondering — his line this year would still have led the league in 2006. Shedding 100 points of OPS from a power position like left field is not a good thing, however. It just shows how much the Sox need Manny on that wall.
- CF, 2006: 11th. .272/.326/.388 (.714) 88 OPS+
- CF, 2007: 10th. .270/.336/.396 (.732) 93 OPS+
Basically the same. We all thought the center field position was a black hole in 2006. It’s not much less of one now.
- RF, 2006: 11th. .265/.352/.426 (.778) 94 OPS+
- RF, 2007: 13th. .254/.344/.401 (.745) 87 OPS+
Not a good use of $14 million when you can’t make up the production of a Trot Nixon-Wily Mo Pena platoon.
- DH, 2006: 2nd. .278/.405/.594 (.999) 145 OPS+
- DH, 2007: 1st. .313/.425/.566 (.991) 151 OPS+
Big Papi. Best DH in the league. That’s all there is to it. He is benefiting from a Travis Hafner off year, though.
It looks like the Sox have managed to upgrade their offense through ways they didn’t really expect — by better performance from existing infielders and the major-league splash of Dustin Pedroia. Improvements by Varitek, Youkilis and Lowell seem to more than make up for minor losses in the outfield and at shortstop — three positions (CF, RF, SS) that remain woefully unproductive.
So how does this affect the lineup itself? The Sox brought Drew in specifically to upgrade the five hole that was essentially vacant all last year. As we know, Drew’s now filling the six spot, with Lowell producing quite well behind Manny (when Manny’s healthy).
- 1st, 2006: 9th. .260/.348/.394 (.742) 96 OPS+
- 1st, 2007: 12th. .259/.323/.371 (.694) 82 OPS+
Terry Francona for two years has juggled numerous players in and out of the top spot — Youkilis, Lugo, Crisp, Pedroia. Clearly, it has not worked — mainly because he insists on putting Lugo and Crisp — low-average, low-OBP guys there for their speed.
- 2nd, 2006: 14th. .279/.334/.366 (.700) 83 OPS+
- 2nd, 2007: 3rd. .302/.386/.441 (.827) 117 OPS+
Yes, Mark Loretta was the worst-hitting No. 2 batter in the AL last year. His .279 batting average was good for ninth, but the .366 slugging was well below anyone else’s. No other team had an OPS below .720 out of that spot in the order. Pedroia has clearly added spark to the almost-top of the lineup.
- 3rd, 2006: 1st. .278/.404/.607 (1.011) 136 OPS+
- 3rd, 2007: 1st. .311/.420/.565 (.985) 134 OPS+
- 4th, 2006: 1st. .308/.416/.567 (.983) 125 OPS+
- 4th, 2007: 3rd. .306/.396/.499 (.895) 112 OPS+
Clearly not as much protection for Papi this year as in the past.
- 5th, 2006: 14th. .231/.321/.362 (.683) 67 OPS+
- 5th, 2007: 5th. .274/.370/.413 (.783) 103 OPS+
From a combination of an injured Trot Nixon, an injured Jason Varitek and a slumping Mike Lowell, the 5 spot goes to a slumping J.D. Drew and an on-fire Lowell. Just imagine if Drew ever gets hot what a 5-6 punch that could be.
- 6th, 2006: 7th. .264/.343/.415 (.758) 98 OPS+
- 6th, 2007: 3rd. .289/.351/.453 (.804) 107 OPS+
- 7th, 2006: 4th. .286/.346/.458 (.804) 114 OPS+
- 7th, 2007: 2nd. .270/.353/.443 (.796) 116 OPS+
- 8th, 2006: 7th. .251/.321/.383 (.704) 100 OPS+
- 8th, 2007: 10th. .212/.294/.349 (.643) 89 OPS+
- 9th, 2006: 4th. .261/.312/.377 (.689) 137 OPS+
- 9th, 2007: 2nd. .286/.357/.434 (.791) 168 OPS+
The 2006 combo of Varitek-Crisp-random injury reserves-bench players was slightly above average in 2006 and about the same this year. Clearly, No. 8 is where Terry puts the slumpers. No. 9, Alex Gonzalez’s residence last season was home to Dustin Pedroia early, and Julio Lugo just as he started to get hot. The combination has certainly helped give the Sox production from the bottom, though they get far less now than they used to.
In all, the Sox are getting equal or better production relative to the league average from six of the nine spots in their order and six of their nine positions on the diamond. And they’ve avoided the injury bug. Those three factors have made the lineup — as maddeningly inconsistent as it feels from day to day — far more suited for success than last year’s.
What’s funny is that the two largest improvements — Lowell’s over his own and Pedroia’s over Loretta’s — didn’t require the huge free-agent splashes the Sox made in an unsuccessful attempt to engineer the spark that Lowell and Pedroia are providing on their own. Also, I think this shows that Varitek’s presence in the lineup — even as a league-average catcher offensively — should not be underestimated. He provides far more offense than any alternative the Sox have right now.