Can the Boston Red Sox Maintain Their Dominant Offense?
There are four players in Major League Baseball with an OPS above 1.000. Two of them -- David Ortiz and Jackie Bradley Jr. -- are on the Red Sox. As a team, the Sox are hitting .297. They have six players in the top 20 in the American League in batting average.
One player not on this list is Mookie Betts, who was one of the best hitters on the team in 2015. After getting off to a slow start this season, he’s hitting over .300 over the past month, is now second on the team in home runs with 9, and is slugging .498, which is good for fourth on the team. He's also first in the MLB in RBI among leadoff hitters. In addition, his BABIP is .294, which is below his career average of .310, hinting that he may be due for positive regression.
This Red Sox offense has been unstoppable for the past month or so -- they have very few holes in their lineup and have been getting contributions from top to bottom. The Sox are hitting .313 at Fenway Park this year, and have gotten off to some fast starts during games -- they've outscored opponents 49-24 in the first inning this season by hitting .355 as a team.
It's been a historic performance so far at the plate for the team as a whole. They're on pace to score 972 runs in 2016, which would be the most in the MLB in the last 10 seasons, and 15th-best in the live ball era.
Take a look at the stats for the typical Red Sox lineup:
RF Mookie Betts: .279/.321/.498, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 40 R
2B Dustin Pedroia: .303/.364/.466, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 34 R
SS Xander Bogaerts: .349/.402/.500, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 35 R
DH David Ortiz: .333/.413/.686, 11 HR, 41 RBI, 22 R
1B Hanley Ramirez: .311/.364/.449, 4 HR, 26 RBI, 26 R
CF Jackie Bradley: .346/.415/.622, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 24 R
3B Travis Shaw: .301/.370/.524, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 26 R
C Christian Vazquez: .226/.270/.345, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 14 R
LF Brock Holt: .239/.310/.354, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 17 R
If it seems like the majority of the team is exceeding expectations, you’re not wrong. Here’s where the Red Sox lie across the MLB:
|On-Base + Slugging % (OPS)||0.846||1st|
|Weighted Runs Created-Plus (wRC+)||128||1st|
|Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA)||0.364||1st|
In his age 40 season, Ortiz leads the MLB in RBI, mainly because the hitters ahead of him in the lineup (Betts, Pedroia, and Bogaerts) are always on base. Bogaerts leads the American League in batting average and has the second longest hitting streak in the majors, having hit consecutively in 18 games. This is second to teammate Jackie Bradley Jr., who is now halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s record. John Stolnis outlined why Bradley Jr. is awesome, and it’s important to note that the majority of his contributions to the offense have come from the bottom third of the order.
Should We Expect Regression?
The Red Sox lead the majors in total bases, but only rank 10th in home runs. Even though they just set a franchise record for consecutive games with a home run (a streak that was snapped last night after 22 games), they haven’t been leaving the yard consistently.
This makes it seem like the production can be maintained to an extent, but is that the case?
The team’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is currently .347. Not only is that the highest in the league, it would be the highest mark in history if the season were to end today. Since the season doesn’t end today, there’s plenty of time for regression to the mean, but just because the mark is high doesn’t mean regression is automatically coming.
The only two teams to have a BABIP over .330 in history are the 1930 Cardinals (.332) and the 1921 Tigers (.321). The average player in the big leagues is more athletic now than almost a century ago, and defenses have gotten better as a result. While this is true, a team had a .329 BABIP as recently as 2013, so it’s certainly possible to maintain a high BABIP if the players’ hitting profiles support it.
Sure enough, examining FanGraphs’s batted-ball leaderboard helps contextualize this number. They’re spraying the ball to all fields pretty evenly, which prohibits teams from shifting them frequently. Just look at Bradley Jr.'s spray chart during his hitting streak.
They rank fifth in baseball in opposite field contact rate, and they’re ninth in the league in hard-hit rate. The team’s .347 BABIP is inflated by a few players having elevated numbers in this area. Bogaerts (.401), Bradley Jr. (.400), Hanley Ramirez (.390), and Travis Shaw (.386) all have BABIPs that seem like they’re way too high at the moment. With Bogaerts’ changes to his approach at the plate, his seems more sustainable than some of the others, but as primarily doubles hitters, they're in line with the team’s propensity to hit the ball into the gaps rather than going for the long ball.
Our algorithm currently ranks them as the second best team in the majors by a comfortable margin. It’s unrealistic to expect the Red Sox to maintain this obscene level of production all season long, but health permitting, metrics show that they're capable of continuing to score runs at a prolific rate.