Here’s the funny thing about numbers:
When you look at the statistical breakdowns of bad teams, it doesn’t really tell you too much. Generally, the players aren’t as good as the players on the other team, it usually isn’t more complicated than that. If you’re the general manager of a bad team, it may point out major shortcomings that need to be addressed in the off-season , but it doesn’t help us too much.
However, if you look closely at the numbers of good teams you may learn more. Of course they have good players but sometimes the numbers can reveal a strategy or a philosophy that’s helping them succeed even against other good teams. In other words, sometimes they tip their hands.
Coming into the Bronx tonight with baseball’s best record at 25-9, the Boston Red Sox are going about it differently than last season’s group who won the AL East with 93 wins. Last season it was all about pitching, defense and plus base running as the Sawx were 26th in MLB in slugging percentage. Seriously, your pitching, “D” and base running need to be on point if you can’t break an egg with half of your swings.
So far in 2018, Boston leads MLB in SLG%, but are 24th in BsR (baserunning) and 20th in Def (defensive runs above average). This team can still pitch, as they’re 2nd in the AL in run prevention, but they don’t mind a hitting contest either.
Obviously the addition of J.D. Martinez and the reversions to form of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are factors, but there also seems to be a philosophical shift as well.
The Red Sox swing the bat early and often (4th in overall swing percentage, 7th in team chase rate, 24th in BB%) but also put it play (29th in K%). And so far, with the 7th highest batting average on balls in play, it’s working out. Remember, a high BABIP could mean good luck that’s going to wear out or it might mean they have strategies to beat defensive shifts. In the Red Sox case, as there’s nothing unusual about their ground ball to fly ball rates, their pull to opposite field rates, or the percentage of balls hit hard, I lean toward the former. That being said…
What they seem to be doing well is aggressively expecting the opposing pitchers to “pitch in reverse” – slow stuff early in the count – and take advantage of it. Consider:
In runs above average vs. individual pitch types, the Red Sox are 1st in MLB against change ups, 2nd vs. split fingered fastballs, 3rd vs. sliders, and 4th vs. curve balls.
It’s pretty obvious: They’re looking for slow stuff. When they get it they swing at it and hit it.
The result? 2nd in MLB in runs scored.
With regards to this week’s series, this bodes well for Luis Severino who has never had an issue being aggressive with fast balls on the black.
However, Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia should take note: A get me over, get strike one off speed pitch may not be the best idea. A traditional, throw the fast ball for strikes, use the slow stuff when ahead may be a better plan.