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Entries in Boston Red Sox (105)

Wednesday
Jun262013

Will Middlebrooks learn? Will the Red Sox?

When I was a kid, I felt like my dad was always teaching me something new about baseball.

One of the things he had to keep reminding me of is to contain my excitement about rookies when they first come up to the bigs. There were no such things like the sabermetrics and in-depth analysis that we have today, but he would always warn me, "Wait until the youngster goes around the league a second time. Wait and see if he can hit the curveball, because if he can't, the whole league will find out about it soon enough. And then we have to see if he's mature enough to be a big leaguer and make adjustments on and off the field."

Talk about a lesson in "Baseball Curb Your Enthusiasm."

But, the man knew what he was talking about, and he was right more often than he was wrong, and if he were around today he would talk about this in regards to Will Middlebrooks, who the Red Sox just sent down to Pawtucket not just because Jose Iglesias is hitting, but because the league caught up with him.

Middlebrooks was a Red Sox sensation at third base last season until a pitch broke his wrist on August. He had joined Boston in early May when Kevin Youkilis went on the disabled list with one of his numerous injuries to his back and he wasn't helped by mini-feud with one-and-done manager Bobby Valentine. For the PawSox, Middlebrooks had been hot hitting .333/.380/.667 with nine home runs and 27 RBI. 

Middlebrooks got off to a hot start to his MLB career.

Then he got hotter. He was named the American League Player of the Week for the period ending June 24, 2012 after batting .625 (10-for-16) with three doubles, three homers, 10 RBI and six runs scored in six games. 

On June 24, Youkilis was traded to the White Sox. The Red Sox had drank the Kool-Aid.

Not the whole story

When Middlebrooks' season ended in August he had what appeared to be pretty good numbers. The 23-year-old was hitting .288 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI in 75 games. He was fourth on the team in both home runs and RBI and his .835 OPS was good for third best.

But that really doesn't tell the whole story.

In Middlebrooks first 40 games, ending June 23, Middlebrooks was hitting .331, had a OBP of .368, and was slugging .592 with nine homers and 33 RBI.

Middlebrooks was slamming fastballs at a .380 pace and as you can see he owned the outer half of the plate hitting the fastball at a .478 pace.

While he was hitting well overall, the key was going to the opposite field, when he did that he was hitting .545.

The Rest of 2012

But, Middlebrooks season didn't end until August and as Youk was traded, the rookie hit his peak. Call it coincidence, hubris, or the second time around the league, but Middlebrooks was not the same batter in his final 35 games of 2012.

Middlebrooks was a .240/.276/.416 hitter with six homers and 21 RBI in 35 games.

He was now hitting the fastball at a .204 rate and when the fastball was on the outer half, he was hitting .174 and .192 on all pitches.

As for going to the opposite field? He was now hitting .227 and from the upper grandstands you could hear my father's "I told you so."

2013 was more of the same

Red Sox Nation started the 2013 season with a high degree of confidence that Middlebrooks was All-Star bound. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds when in the sixth game of the season, he slammed three homers amongst his four hits. But that really was more a reflection of the troubles of R.A. Dickey's struggles than Middlebrooks' success.

Middlebrooks was sent down with .192/.228/.389 numbers.

He was hitting .184 on the fastball and .163 on the pitch on the outer half of the plate and .153 overall on pitches on the outer half.

He was still only hitting .220 to the opposite field.

The bottom line

In the 88 games since last June 24, Middlebrooks hit .210 with a .246 OPS and he was slugging .299 with 15 homers, 46 RBI and 93 whiffs.

Don't be fooled, Jose Iglesias is the Red Sox third sacker today because Middlebrooks needs to learn how to make the adjustment to pitchers who made the adjustment against him.

And if the Red Sox have learned anything, that's what to watch for with Iglesias, and Daniel Nava as they make their plans for the second-half run in 2013. 

And all you Yasiel Puig fans out there: chill.

Wednesday
Jun192013

The Power of BAbip and Runs

  • The average team in the American League has a .295 Batting Average for balls in play.
  • The average team in the American League has scored 307 runs. 

  • The Red Sox have a .321 BAbip and have scored 371 runs, to lead in both categories.
  • The Tigers at .317 and 342 are second in both categories
  • But scan over the Astros and the Royals and you can see two teams that have not taken advantage of their high BAbip to put runs on the board.
  • On the other hand, the Rays and the A's are scoring above average despite having lower than average BAbip. Both teams know how to move runners around the bases.
  • You have to know that both the Yankees and the White Sox are counting on progressing to the mean in both categories.

National League

  • The average team in the National League has a .295 Batting Average for balls in play.
  • The average team in the National League has scored 287 runs.
  • Despite the lack of DH, the BAbip is the same, but there is a 20 run per team differential

  • As you can see, the the Cardinals have a .321 BAbip, the best in the NL and they have scored 355 runs, tied for the most in the NL with the Rockies.
  • This means that the Cards and the Red Sox, the two teams with the best records in their leagues are both doing this with their bats.
  • What impresses me is that the Reds, who have an average BAbip have scored 327 runs, third best in the NL.
  • Note that the Pirates are the only team of the eight below 300 runs scored in the NL with an over .500 record. Every other team, from the 36-35 Padres on up have scored over 300 runs and are above average in BAbip.

Keep watching

Regression and progression to the mean in BAbip may bring the Red Sox and the Cardinals back to the field and a number of other teams will be back in play.

Tuesday
Jun182013

B.Chuck: Boston should be worried about their pitching

As I pointed out yesterday, the Red Sox revival this season has more to do with John Farrell's magic with getting the most out of timely hitting and good clubhouse chemistry than with his presumed talents with a pitching staff. 

  • The Red Sox are seventh in the league with a team ERA of 3.84.
  • Their starters are fourth in the league with a 3.79 ERA and their bullpen is 11th in the AL with a 3.94 ERA. 

But perhaps what should be most disconcerting for Red Sox Nation is there is no indication that the pitching staff is getting better.

Split W L W-L% ERA SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
April/March 18 8 .692 3.58 8 231.0 191 97 92 26 97 255 1.247 9.9 2.63
May 15 15 .500 4.00 3 265.2 260 131 118 32 108 249 1.385 8.4 2.31
June 9 6 .600 3.95 2 136.2 136 62 60 21 55 115 1.398 7.6 2.09
April/Mar,GS 15 4 .789 3.24 0 158.1 131 62 57 15 66 170 1.244 9.7 2.58
May,GS 9 13 .409 4.15 0 177.2 168 93 82 23 73 155 1.356 7.9 2.12
June,GS 7 4 .636 4.03 0 89.1 93 41 40 16 32 68 1.399 6.9 2.13
April/Mar,GR 3 4 .429 4.33 8 72.2 60 35 35 11 31 85 1.252 10.5 2.74
May,GR 6 2 .750 3.68 3 88.0 92 38 36 9 35 94 1.443 9.6 2.69
June,GR 2 2 .500 3.80 2 47.1 43 21 20 5 23 47 1.394 8.9 2.04
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 6/18/2013.

A look at the numbers

When you look at the numbers for the pitchers, you can sense that it's pretty amazing that this is a first-place ballclub.

  • With 171 bases on ball, Sox starters have a significant lead in issuing walks over any other group of starters in the majors.
  • With 7142 pitches, Sox starters have thrown more pitches than any other group of starters in the majors, yet they are 10th in the majors in innings thrown.
  • Sox relievers are 10th in innings pitched in the AL with 208.0, but are 11th in ERA in the AL and 13th in WHIP with 1.365.
  • Slugging average against starters is .403, tied for third in the AL and while the slugging against the relievers is .403, that's only good for 13th in the AL.
  • The strikeout to walk ratio is 2.30 for starters (10th in the AL) and 2.54 for the bullpen (6th in the AL).
  • FYI: The Sox pitchers have issued eight bases-loaded walks this season, the most in the majors.

Let's look at some individual numbers 

  • Clay Buchholz is having a Cy Young season: he's 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA. He has pitched brilliantly when he's been out there. Buchholz has made 12 starts, missing three so far and we await news as to whether he is going on the DL. Since the start of 2010, Buchholz has made 83 starts, while teammate Jon Lester has made 111.
  • Lester is a whole other set of issues. In his first nine starts, Lester was 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA. In his last six starts, he is 0-4 and a 7.20 ERA. Lester with 1627 pitches thrown, has tossed more than any other pitcher in baseball, but his 94.7 IP is good for only 15th in baseball. Lester is around the strike zone, he has 69 full counts, the most in baseball, but his 135 foul balls when the batter has two strikes on him is indicative of his inability to finish off an at bat.
  • Despite his 4-5 record, John Lackey has been a pleasant surprise rebounding well from two bad seasons and Tommy John surgery. He has a 3.08 ERA but has a not very impressive 1.212 WHIP.
  • Of course, Lackey's WHIP looks better when you compare it to Ryan Dempster's 1.332 and Felix Doubront's 1.895, who have ERAs of 4.21 and 4.445 respectively, if not respectfully. 

Let's go to the bullpen

  • With the relief corps being used frequently, the Sox bullpenners Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara have each appeared in over 30 games already this season.
  • Andrew Bailey is the full-time closer now that Joel Hanrahan's Red Sox career is probably finished due to injuries. Each season Bailey seems to battle injuries as well. He has been successful in eight-of-10 save attempts. He's had seven-of-22 appearances in which he has not allowed a baserunner. 
  • As a frame of reference, Joe Nathan has had 15-of-30 appearances without allowing a baserunner and Jason Grilli is 17-of-33.

Reason to be concerned

The deeper you look at the pitching (and this was just a glance) for the Red Sox, the more you need to be concerned.

Thus far, the Red Sox timely hitting has carried the team. Having said that, the average team BABIP is .296 and the Red Sox have the highest team BABIP in baseball at .332.

How lucky is that hitting?

Well, in 2008 the Texas Rangers had a .325 BABIP and in 1997, the Red Sox had a .325 batting average for balls in play, the Twins had a .325 BABIP in 1996, the highest numbers in the last 20 seasons.

All of which makes you think that if the Sox don't start getting luckier or better on the mound, the Orioles and Rays and maybe even the Yankees and the Jays will be making the AL East and Wild Card races very close and Red Sox Nation very nervous.

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