Friday, October 23, 2009
Updated: October 28, 10:38 PM ET
Behind the numbers of '09 Sox hitters
By Jeremy Lundblad
ESPN Stats and Information
With the season in the books and the stove not quite hot, it's a good time to look back at the key contributors for the 2009 Red Sox. What went right, and what went wrong? Who had a better year than you think? What's up with David Ortiz? Let's start out by checking in on the position players.
Ty Cobb, Rickey Henderson, Willie Wilson, Tim Raines and Kenny Lofton. Since 1915, those are the only players to hit .300 with 70 steals and 45 extra-base hits in a season. That is, until Jacoby Ellsbury joined the club this season. All five of the aforementioned players had more than 2,200 career hits and 600 stolen bases. In other words, the best is yet to come for Ellsbury. When he was moved out of the leadoff spot at the end of May, his .322 on-base percentage was 23rd in the majors among leadoff hitters. After returning to the top of the order in mid-July, Ellsbury had a .368 OBP the rest of the way. He walked almost twice as often and made better use of his speed, significantly raising his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio. Factoring in that Red Sox leadoff hitters not named Jacoby hit just .217, it seems you won't be seeing him moved down again for a very long time.
What's the difference between an MVP season and a very good season? Could it be as simple as the first pitch? Certainly not, but the numbers are interesting. In 2009, Pedroia swung at the first pitch 7 percent of the time (the second-lowest rate in MLB) compared with 15 percent in his 2008 MVP season. Pedroia's production in at-bats ending on the first pitch makes those numbers even more interesting. In 2008, Pedroia hit .306 with 2 HRs and 8 doubles on the first pitch. This season, that fell to .167 with just four total hits. Take away his one-pitch at-bats from each of the past two seasons and Pedroia's home run, double and RBI totals are nearly identical. However, his increased patience also had its benefits. With 24 more walks in 2009, his .371 on-base percentage nearly equaled the .376 OBP in 2008 despite his hitting 30 points lower.
Just how good was Victor Martinez offensively? We're talking Carlton Fisk in his prime. Martinez hit .363 in September, the highest for a Red Sox catcher in that month since Fisk hit .364 in 1977. As great as Martinez was down the stretch, it's hard to believe there were legitimate questions about him when the Red Sox acquired him in July. Improving the offensive production at catcher was a clear basis for the trade; however, Martinez was hitting only .247 as a catcher with the Indians in 2009 (compared with .329 at first base). On top of that, he was a mere .246 against lefties. Neither was an issue after he joined the Red Sox, as Martinez was equally productive at catcher (.907 OPS) and first base (.893 OPS), and he hit .323 against lefties. Maybe it's just the sight of the Red Sox uniform that gets Victor going. Consider this: He hit .336 with the Sox and is a career .331 hitter against Boston.
Of the 62 players with 1,000 plate appearances in the American League over the past two seasons, no one has a higher OPS than Kevin Youkilis. Not A-Rod, not Joe Mauer and not Miguel Cabrera (OK, Mark Teixeira does if you make it 900 plate appearances). So why did Youkilis' season feel like a disappointment? Certainly, his position flexibility proved invaluable, but Youkilis never quite seemed like himself after going on the disabled list in May with an oblique injury. After returning from the DL, he hit just .286. More alarming was his performance at Fenway. Before getting hurt, he was hitting .476 at home. Afterward, that fell to just .287, and he struck out once every 3.2 at-bats.
Let's just ignore the first two months of the season when looking at David Ortiz. Since June 6, he led the AL in home runs and tied for the lead in RBIs. But was Ortiz ever really back to the old Big Papi? Of the 27 home runs he hit from June on, only six came with runners in scoring position. From June on, he hit just .250 with runners in scoring position and .216 in the seventh inning or later. In 2007 and 2008, he hit .362 and .336, respectively, with RISP. The bigger concern, and part of the reason some are clamoring for a platoon at DH, was Ortiz's performance against lefties. Even when he was at his best starting in June, Ortiz hit just .214 with a .779 OPS vs. lefties.
In three of the past four seasons, Jason Bay has suffered through a prolonged slump that started in June and extended through much of July. In 2006, it was a 25-game stretch in which he hit .210. The next year, it was .157 over 29 games. This season, Bay hit just .161 over 28 games from June 26 through July 30, which included a 3-for-42 stretch on the road. If you take out those 28 games, Bay hit .290 on the season, much more in line with his career average (.280). Enough with the negatives, though. Bay hit .360 with an AL-best 1.168 OPS with runners in scoring position. In fact, that OPS with RISP is the fifth best by a Red Sox player since 1974, with only Manny Ramirez and Fred Lynn in front of him.
When healthy -- or at least healthy enough to play -- Mike Lowell had a productive offensive season. His .811 OPS ranked fourth among AL third basemen. However, late in games, Lowell did not produce on the level to which fans have grown accustomed. In close games in the seventh inning or later, Lowell hit just .175 -- after hitting .391 in those situations last season. The more pressing issue appears to be fielding. According to fangraphs.com, Lowell's -10.6 ultimate zone rating was the worst among all AL third basemen. If his future in Boston is at DH, Lowell did a fine job in brief auditions. Coming into the year, he was a .148 hitter in 27 career at-bats at DH. In 2009, he hit .355 at DH.
J.D. Drew was arguably the best offensive player in the majors over the last two months of the season. From Aug. 9 until the end of the season, he hit .367 with 12 home runs in 42 games, even crushing lefties at a .385 clip. If not for missing time with groin and shoulder problems, his 1.182 OPS in that time would be considered the best in the majors. You've probably already seen that Drew ranks third among MLB outfielders in OPS in the past two seasons combined. But strangely, he is just 21st in at-bats per RBI in that span. In 2009, he hit .213 with runners in scoring position. However, he had a .399 OBP thanks to one walk per every 4.47 plate appearances with RISP, the fourth-highest rate in the AL.
Over the past five seasons, Red Sox shortstops have a .967 fielding percentage, fifth-worst in the majors. That includes Alex Gonzalez's two stints with the club in which he has a .987 fielding percentage, which on its own would rank first in the majors. Red Sox shortstops other than Gonzalez have a .962 fielding percentage over the past five years, which would be second-worst in the majors.
Throwing out runners was never the strongest part of Jason Varitek's game. The organizational philosophy against pitchers using the slide-step always deserved part of the blame. However, in 2009, what had been a problem became a crisis. Varitek caught 924 innings and allowed 108 stolen bases, a rate of 1.05 stolen bases allowed per nine innings. In the past 35 years, only one AL catcher has allowed more steals per nine innings while catching at least 900 innings. Matt Nokes allowed 1.08 steals per nine innings caught with the Yankees in 1992, his last season as a full-time starting catcher. However, Nokes threw out 18.8 percent of runners that season. Varitek nabbed only 8.5 percent, the worst by a regular AL catcher in the past 20 years. All of this occurred while not catching a single pitch from Tim Wakefield, who allowed more stolen bases than any other pitcher in the past decade.
What can you say about a player of whom nothing was expected? In Nick Green's case, it's pretty simple. In the first half of the season, he solidified an otherwise disastrous situation at shortstop. His numbers were never gaudy, but consider this simple fact: Before the All-Star break, the Red Sox were 42-18 with Green in the starting lineup and 12-16 without him. It all went downhill from there (he hit .167 in the second half), but then again, Green wasn't even supposed to make the team.
When the Red Sox signed Rocco Baldelli in January, no one quite knew what he would bring to the table given the condition that affects his stamina. Would he be able to play on back-to-back days? Well, 27 of the 62 games he played in were the day after another game. Baldelli hit just .185 in the second of back-to-back games, compared with .292 when he had at least one day of rest.
Later this week: A look at the Red Sox pitching staff