BOSTON - The Red Sox aren’t hitting for power as much as they’re expected to and they’re striking out less than anyone. Far less.
So, maybe they should just swing harder?
It’s not that simple, considering they have the second-best batting average in the majors, .271, and the third-best on-base percentage, .342.
Entering Thursday, the Sox had 300 strikeouts, 34 fewer than the 29th team on the list, the Mets. (The Mets have also played 34 games, while the Sox have already played 36.)
In April, when this trend was already evident, Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis was asked if the lack of strikeouts were by design.
“I don’t think it’s purposeful,” Davis said. “But that can be a good thing and it could be a bad thing. You know, to me striking out is never good, but it’s how you strike out that matters to me.
“You chase pitches early and you put a guy in a two-strike count and allow him to use his strikeout pitch or his finish pitch, it’s not a good way to strike out. If you’er battling, if you’re taking good swings at pitches, or if the guy’s making pitches, different story. Not striking out because you understand you’re still getting to have a quality at-bat.
“To be honest with you, there are guys in certain situations I’d rather see 'em strike out, believe me. And it kind of sounds stupid.”
No, it doesn’t. Because in the Moneyball era people started to widely understand that with runners on, a strikeout can be a better outcome than simply putting the ball in play because of the double-play possibility. One out on a swing [or no swing] is a lot better than two.
“Exactly,” Davis said. “In a double-play situation, with a big slow guy running and two strikes on him, and he just put the ball in play, he’s done exactly what they wanted him to do.”
What a coincidence: the Sox have grounded into more double plays than all but two teams. They’re tied with the Blue Jays with 51, trailing the Astros’ 54.
Last year, the Sox had the eighth-most double plays and the fourth-fewest strikeouts. But they also led the majors in slugging percentage, whereas this year they’re in the bottom third. (They’ve perked up in May.)
“I don’t think they’re necessarily swinging to not strike out,” Davis said in April. “But, I think the home runs haven’t come because you know, I don’t think we’ve actually gotten on track yet as an offense the way we would like to.”
Davis cited the weather, which in Boston has continued to be chilly even into May. Hitters have noted the weather too, but that only goes so far.
Sox manager John Farrell on Wednesday noted the team’s draft philosophy.
“If you go back to the origin of the players that are here, a lot of them came through our draft and our system,” Farrell said. “So there was a conscious effort to get the more rounded athlete, not a one-dimensional player...Throughout their minor league career, there’s great emphasis on strike-zone discipline, understanding your limits within the zone. That’s not to suggest you’re going to forfeit the power that you have, but to be a more complete hitter, I think that’s going to win you championships rather than being one dimensional.”
But much of this year’s lineup is the same as last year’s.
In 2017, the Sox are swinging at 44.2 percent of pitches, fewer than all but four teams. Last year, they swung at 44.3 percent of pitches, second-to-last. So, that hasn’t changed.
Last year, their contact rate was 81.6 percent, highest in the majors. This year, it’s the second-highest, 80.1. That hasn’t really changed either.
Maybe the process hasn’t in fact changed much at all, in fact — but the outcomes are looking different because that’s how it goes sometimes. At the least, it’s something to keep an eye on as the year progresses.