The ‘Perfect Storm’ for Red Sox Offense

Carl Crawford's nickname is "The Perfect Storm."

It's also a fitting description of his and his new ballclub's season thus far. 

Pretty much every other Boston Red Sox hitter has shown signs of life — Marco Scutaro has an OPS over .800 in his last seven games, or example, and Jacoby Ellsbury has looked good in his last three starts — but Crawford has been terrible at the plate, with an OPS+ of -4. Yes, that's a negative number.  

April is historically Crawford's worst month, the only one in which he has a career OPS below .770 — all the way down to .712, in fact. Of course, he's never been this bad in April (I'm pretty sure he's ever been this bad for this long). What's going on?


Crawford has an incredibly low Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP). At .167, it's the worst of the starters. His line drive percentage, however is 14 percent, better than Dustin Pedroia's and Adrian Gonzalez's and just 2 percent lower than last year's career year. His strikeout rate is a little high (16.7 percent against 15.8 percent last season), but his walk rate is very low (3.7 percent versus 7.0 in 2010). On the other hand, it appears he's being less aggressive than normal: He's swinging at the first pitch a career-low 26 percent of the time, swinging at just 45 percent of pitches, which would also be a career low. Somehow, he's striking out looking at a career-low pace, as well, while still putting the ball in play more often than he has in years.

So he's run into some bad luck. In fact, quite a lot of it. The handy Hardball Times BABIP calculator allows us to plug in Crawford's numbers (at bats, home runs, strikeouts, line drive percentage, batted ball breakdowns, etc.) and estimate what his BABIP should be. The number it gives us is .312, a huge jump and only slightly lower than his career average of .330. That would give Crawford between 13 and 14 hits, as opposed to the seven he has currently.

If those extra six hits were simply singles, Crawford's line would jump from .137/.185/.157 to .254/.296/.275. Not great, but much more palatable. And in case you wonder whether analysis like this is in any way helpful, I would say it is. We did it once before for another new Red Sox having a terrible April fueled by an extraordinarily low BABIP — Dustin Pedroia.  

The other storm for the Red Sox offense is its inability to drive home runners.

The Sox have an abysmal team OPS of .669. With a runner on second and/or third, however, that OPS (entering Saturday's game) drops to .522, worst in baseball (AL average is .733). Here, too, however, bad luck seems to have played an inordinate role.

For one, the Sox have 126 plate appearances with runners in scoring position — better than Texas and the Yankees and one fewer than league average. So they are putting themselves in an ideal run-scoring situation at a decent enough clip. Likewise, the Sox have 11 walks once they get a runner to second base, just two fewer than league average. Their 26 strikeouts are on the high end, though still just four more than the AL average.

So, by and large, the Sox' problems with runners in scoring position are happening on balls in play. And indeed, the Sox have a .253 BABIP in that situation, including .150 with runners on first and second and .150 with a runner on second, the two most common RISP scenarios the Sox have faced this season. Not only that, but of the 84 balls the Red Sox have put in play with runners on at least second or third, an astounding 17 have been classified line drives. That's 20 percent, which means we should expect them to have a BABIP of .324, according to the THT calculator.

Give the Sox a .324 BABIP with runners in scoring position and the horrendous .196/.272/.250 split jumps to .241/.310/.295. Again, that's assuming the five hits the Sox would gain are all singles, which seems unlikely, given the line drive rate. It's not terrific, but it would certainly have led to four or five more runs, and perhaps an extra win or two. 

Finally, I'll reiterate this doesn't include Saturday's game, when the Sox went 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position, including at least one line-drive out off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury. It seems clear that while the Sox as a whole, and Crawford particularly, are clearly slumping in fundamental ways (strikeouts up, walks down, poorer contact than usual), they are also getting incredibly bad luck in key situations. Like Pedroia in 2007, the key for the Sox — and their fans — is patience. Those line drives will start falling soon enough.

8 comments… add one
  • Very rational, Paul. Nice work. The patience is required not just by the Sox, but by us fans. It’s been hard so far, obviously. Despite the difficulties I haven’t really advocated any changes (what would they do?!), though my worries about the hole-digging are massive.
    The big question is what the deficit will be when these balls start dropping. Hopefully they can hold it at five for a bit, which would imply at worse a steadying ship.

    SF April 17, 2011, 6:23 am
  • Even if they have average luck, Crawford and with RISP, I don’t see from this analysis how it changes much in the way of a pennant race. They go from a .231 team to maybe a .462 team, at best. Amazingly, it looks more and more like this was a team with some glaring holes for a pennant contender. By the way, Texas looks awfully good considering they’re missing their best player.
    On Crawford, I never “got” the signing. The guy carries a .340 OBP and .780 OPS across his career. Sure the stolen bases add value that’s not reflected in those rates, but he can’t steal first. What’s crazy is that for a speedster, he’s only topped 50 walks once. That’s one walk every three or four games from him. For a fan, that has to be infuriating and he’s going to be prone to these major slumps where he appears to add nothing. Then when you consider that they lose his defense for 81 games a year, I just don’t see the value add and especially not in the last few years of the deal. All this tells me he’s going to get booed for many years to come in Boston. I’m sure he’s a nice enough kid, but the fans are brutal and he’s going to run into these severe slumps without the ability to get on-base.

    James YF April 17, 2011, 10:49 am
  • I think Paul’s point was that with better luck (average luck) the Sox would be in far better shape to this point, and that part of the horrific start is simply abnormally bad luck.
    Not sure I would contend that the Sox have played unlucky baseball (having watched most of the games it sure looks like the have played bad baseball as well as unlucky baseball), but Paul’s numbers have some intrigue and hold value.

    SF April 17, 2011, 11:40 am
  • “I think Paul’s point was that with better luck (average luck) the Sox would be in far better shape to this point, and that part of the horrific start is simply abnormally bad luck. ”
    That’s what I don’t understand. With average luck they’d be better, sure. But with average luck they’d still be a 90 loss team. Ergo, the story isn’t luck.

    James YF April 17, 2011, 11:55 am
  • you guys know i don’t buy the whole “luck” angle…good or bad…sometimes players just stink up the place and the problem for the sox right now is that all of them, or at least many of them, are stinking up the place at the same time…history tells us that they will begin to play better…hopefully for their sake and yours…2 singles are better than 1 double?…ok, but oy, has it come down to that?…while true for batting average, scoring opportunities, and overall ops, the fact is that a double is a double [good], and presumably the other at bat was an out [not so good]…but the double gets him closer to home plate than his 2 singles…the logic suggests that 4 singles are better than a homerun, but only as long as those 4 singles produce at least 1 run…run production is what matters, particularly in the clutch, which is why we should value walk-offs more than the game winning hit in a 10-0 game…i know we don’t like rbi around here, but in 54 PA’s over 12 games, crawford has 1 [putting him on a pace to to drive in 14 for the season], while scoring 3 [a pace of 41]…he has 2 walks and 9 strikeouts…like i said, history tells me he will be better than that, with or without “luck”…for what it’s worth, yankee lead off hitters haven’t exactly lit up the scoreboard either…

    dc April 17, 2011, 1:43 pm
  • I don’t know if I believe in luck or not. I do know that it usually sucks when I have to think about it.

    attackgerbil April 17, 2011, 1:50 pm
  • Average luck would make this a bad start, not an historically awful one, and as such the entire narrative surrounding this team would be different. For example, if the Sox were 6-7 or even 5-8, would you be talking about “glaring holes?” I seriously doubt it.

    Paul SF April 17, 2011, 1:50 pm
  • Luck may play some of a part in the offensive numbers but not so much on the other side of the ball. Its not just bad luck that the sox have allowed the third most runs in baseball this far in. That stat has far more to do with the historically bad start than line drives not falling in for base hits.

    sam-YF April 17, 2011, 2:01 pm

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