Boston Red Sox Hitters Need to Meet their Pitchers Halfway

The Boston Red Sox rotation has been one of the best surprises in baseball this year. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for their lineup.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 11: Vaughn Grissom #5 of the Boston Red Sox watches a hit against the Washington Nationals during the fifth inning at Fenway Park on May 11, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

The number one thing on Boston Red Sox fans’ minds during this past offseason was pitching. Comments made by the front office gave a starved fanbase glimmers of hope that landing Yoshinobu Yamamoto was a legitimate possibility, and Jordan Montgomery joining the squad seemed like a forgone conclusion. The team had struggled mightily in the pitching department for years, and with a young core in the upper minors it seemed like high time to bring in some arms.

Much to the dismay of the fanbase, the biggest offseason signing was the reclamation project that is Lucas Giolito, and fans scoffed at the addition of Cooper Criswell, who through no fault of his own became the subject of many jokes directed towards ownership.

The rotation was projected to look something like this: Brayan Bello, Lucas Giolito, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, and Tanner Houck. On paper, this was not the group needed to push the Sox out of last place, and within weeks of the season starting Giolito, Pivetta, and Bello were all on the IL.

Fast-forward a quarter of the way through the season and the Boston Red Sox pitching staff has overachieved more than any other unit in baseball this season. Unfortunately, 44 games in the team sits in third place in the American League East with a winning percentage of exactly .500.

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If the team wants to avoid wasting its historic pitching, the offense needs to step up soon.

How Have the Red Sox Done it With Their Rotation?

Despite this lack of name recognition and the injury bug striking the top three in the rotation, the Red Sox starters have been absolutely stellar this year.

The team ranks first in baseball in starter ERA with an incredible 2.62, and is third in WHIP with a 1.07, just .05 off the pace set by Seattle. They have allowed the fourth-fewest hard hit balls in baseball thus far, and are a top-10 rotation in terms of K/BB ratio.

This success is due in large part to Tanner Houck, who has blossomed into a dominant, top-of-the-rotation starter. Houck is leading all pitchers in fWAR, and is top-10 in terms of starter ERA, boasting a stingy 2.17 on the year.

Even with playing in hitter-friendly Fenway, Houck trails only Reese Olson in HR/9, with a ridiculous 0.16. Once believed to be unable to face a lineup a second and third time through, Houck has managed to pitch into the sixth in every start this season, failing to complete six only twice, while racking up seven quality starts.

His rotation mate, Kutter Crawford, who many in the analytics community projected to have a breakout season, is tied for second in all of MLB for fWAR, having already accumulated 1.8 on the season. He sits one spot behind Houck in ERA, ranking 11th among starting pitchers with a 2.24, and two places behind him in terms of HR/9, allowing just .034.

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The depth pieces in the rotation have been outstanding as well. Even Criswell, once on the wrong side of snide remarks, has accumulated 0.4 bWAR thanks to a more than solid 2.76 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and an 8.6 K/9. Now, as Bello and Pivetta return to the rotation, it seems like the Red Sox strength will only continue to grow stronger.

With numbers like these, one would expect the team to be competing towards the top of the AL East, but for as good as the pitching has been, the position players have struggled both offensively and defensively.

Where Have the Red Sox Position Players Gone Wrong?

With numbers like these, one would expect the team to be competing towards the top of the AL East, but for as good as the pitching has been, the position players have struggled both offensively and defensively.

After a year wrought with brutal infield defense a season ago, the injury to Trevor Story placed the Red Sox back in a similar position. The team is tied for last in all of baseball in fielding percentage and have committed the most errors in baseball, averaging .8 errors per game.

Opponents have taken advantage of this, and unsurprisingly the Red Sox have allowed the most unearned runs in all of baseball. 

It’s not just errors that have hurt the team defensively, they also lack range. Outside of Jarren Duran and Wilyer Abreu, no one on the Red Sox has a positive Fielding Run Value, and the team as a whole sits at -6 outs above average.

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According to Fangraphs, the team sits at a -11.6 against league average in terms of fielding and positional adjustments. Even Cedanne Rafaela, who has admittedly been asked to do a lot in his rookie season moving from center field to shortstop, has produced a -3 fielding run value not because of errors, but because of a lack of range at shortstop.

Defense has been a problem for this team in years past, and there is nothing to suggest it will improve over the course of this season.

Additionally, the offense has continued to struggle to put up runs. The team has the third worst K% in all of baseball at over 25%. With Cedanne Rafaela and Vaughn Grissom chasing pitches out of the zone at a 40% and 35% clip, respectively, the strikeouts are sure to continue unless substantive change is made.

Even Tyler O’Neill, who was a breakout star to start the season, is striking out over 31% of the time, and has a whiff rate of 32%. This lack of plate discipline has put the Red Sox 26th in baseball in BB/K ratio at just .32.

What has been the biggest struggle for the team, though, has been hitting with runners on base. Their .225 average with runners in scoring position is 24th in baseball, and their 79 WRC+ in the same situation is 27th in the league.

For context, 19 of the 30 teams have WRC+ over 100 with runners in scoring position, with league leaders sitting in the 140s. The Red Sox have only driven in 130 runs with runners in scoring position, which is 21st in the league, and the team strikes out at a 24.4% clip in the situation. 

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They are in the bottom half of the league in terms of WRC+, and are not in the top 10 of any significant offensive category. Additionally, the underlying numbers suggest that the team has actually been lucky this season offensively, with a .308 BABIP, the fourth highest in the league.

This indicates that the Red Sox have a higher percentage of balls that are put in play resulting in hits, which over the course of 162 games will likely regress; the bloops and dribblers that have been finding holes thus far will likely not continue to do so.

Can They Improve and Contend in 2024?

All of that being said, young players like Wilyer Abreu and Jarren Duran have provided offensive bright spots for this team, and the eventual return of Tristan Casas, combined with the belief that Grissom will be able to figure it out offensively, could provide some hope for Red Sox Nation.

If the pitching continues to dominate like it has, the Red Sox will be able to compete with anybody in the league. The pitching has kept the team afloat, and it is up to the position players now to pick up their pitchers and help this team reach its full potential.