There’s no denying that the Red Sox possess one of the most potent offenses in Major League Baseball. That’s what you get when you put together a lineup anchored by MVP favorite Mookie Betts and destroyer-of-right-field-bleacher-creatures J.D. Martinez. As of Saturday morning, the Sox rank:
- 2nd in the Majors in runs
- 2nd in HR
- 3rd in SB
- 2nd in ISO
- 2nd in batting average
- 4th in OBP
- 2nd in slugging (and 2nd in OPS)
- 3rd in wRC+
I could go on, but you get the picture. Boston’s ability to score repeatedly is one of the main reasons why they have the most wins in baseball and the second-best run differential. Yet, while the overall performance of the lineup on a night-to-night basis has been a strength, there are a few red flags regarding the sustainability of its production. Most immediately pressing? A void between the “good” and the “bad” so wide and deep that Michael Cera or Aziz Ansari might crawl out of it at any moment.
Highs and Lows
Here’s the Red Sox most-used lineup this season, substituting Mitch Moreland for the recently deposed Hanley Ramirez (wRC+ and plate appearances in parentheses):
- Betts (204 in 232 PA)
- Andrew Benintendi (149 in 300 PA)
- Moreland (137 in 197 PA)
- Martinez (177 in 286 PA)
- Xander Bogaerts (130 in 237 PA)
- Rafael Devers (83 in 281 PA)
- Eduardo Nunez (66 in 254 PA)
- Jackie Bradley Jr. (57 in 229 PA)
- Christian Vazquez (47 in 177 PA)
As for other players with more than 50 PA this year, only Brock Holt (120 in 133 PA) has a wRC+ over 100. The next highest non-regular still with the team? Sandy Leon, whose 58 wRC+ is somehow still 45 points better than poor Blake Swihart‘s 13(!?!?!?!?!?!?) in 70 plate appearances. A full explanation on wRC+ can be found here for the uninitiated, but it is useful because it serves as an all-encompassing stat that takes into account criteria like era, park factors, and total offensive performance. League average for any given season is an even 100. The best season per this metric: 2001 Barry Bonds (an astonishing 244 wRC+, or 144% better than league average). The worst (min 300 PA)? 1909 Bill Bergen (an equally astonishing 5 wRC+, or 95% worse than league average).
Worth Worrying About?
All of this is to say that the Red Sox could do with taking a page out of Thanos’ book. While Betts’ transcendent season has lifted the lineup from the jump, the gap between the haves and have-nots is alarming enough to start an Occupy Jersey Street movement at any moment. It’s great that Benintendi has slashed .340/.421/.673 since May 5th, and that Martinez is so comfortable in this lineup he’s moved on to fixing other guys’ swings. However, when almost than half of the everyday starters are producing at well below league average, it tempers expectations a bit. Can the bottom part of the order really be relied on come October? Is Holt really going to be the biggest PH threat off the bench all season? Will Dustin Pedroia ever come back, and if (when) Martinez makes his annual trip to the DL, who will step up?
The Sox don’t have those answers yet. As they make their way towards the dog days of summer, it might not even matter. But last night’s game in Seattle highlighted just how frustrating a lopsided lineup can be. Boston touched up AL Cy Young Award contender James Paxton for 6 runs (5 earned) in the 3rd inning. It was the only frame in which they scored, and the Mariners were able to stage a late inning rally against Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes as a result. With 6 weeks left until the July 31st trade deadline, you have to think Dave Dombrowski will take a hard look at balancing out this roster. After all, this team isn’t supposed to be satisfied with beating good teams in June. It’s meant to beat great teams in the fall.