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Swing And A Drive
On paper, the Red Sox have attacked some of their major flaws this winter. First, by building a bullpen that will throw strikes and have clearly defined roles. They also hope to have better strike zone discipline at the plate, a skill which has been eroding at a team-level starting in 2019.
Another flaw that is hopefully improved with new players, and turnarounds by holdover players, is the lineup’s ability to pull hard hit fly balls. Throughout MLB, there has been a sharp decline in offensive production on well hit fly balls to center field or the opposite way, while production on pulled fly balls has not been nearly as diminished.
Last season, the Red Sox ranked 25th, with 2.2% of their plate appearances ending with a hard hit pulled fly ball, which was down from their middle of the pack 2.7% in 2021. The team’s slugging percentage fell by 40 points and home runs evaporated.
The Cardinals 3.6%, Yankees 3.6%, Dodgers 3.6% and Braves 3.4% led MLB last season.
As you can see, the offensive ceiling without these kinds of batted balls in your lineup is limited
J.D. Martinez used to feast on going the opposite way with authority, but as we witnessed, those balls have now turned into frequent outs.
Between 2018-2021 Xander Bogaerts was at 3.2% of plate appearances ending in hard hit pulled fly balls, that number cratered to 2.2% last year. 2022 was an extremely tough year for run production with these two batting in the 3 and 4 spots. [Yes, Bogey’s historic success on ground balls made him a well above average hitter anyway, but both were brutal at driving in base runners.]
Justin Turner rebounded to 3.2% last season, and Adam Duvall had spent years at 6 or 7%, before falling back to “only” 4.4% in 2022 prior to his injury.
Raffy Devers 3.2% → 4.1% → 2.6% should rebound this season, and a healthy Kiké 2.7% → 3.1% → 2.2% could also tick back up.
Hopefully an All-Star break return for Trevor Story 4.3% will be a jolt to the lineup, and Triston Casas’ small sample 4.2% would be great if sustained.