Baseball is a game of numbers. Certain numbers are historical, such as “56” or getting 20 wins or a .300 batting average. Numbers sometimes represent a demarcation line prior to the opening bell – get to 89 wins and chances are you get in the playoffs.
To me the big number for the Red Sox of 2014 was .270. That represents a batting average. With .270 comes a series of accompanying numbers for OBP, slugging and a variety of other statistical connections. For a power hitter, the greater the average, the greater the opportunity to get to those traditional power numbers in home runs and RBI. The more contact you have, the more production, be it the singles hitter or long ball hitter.
"For want of a nail the shoe was lost.For want of a shoe the horse was lost.For want of a horse the rider was lost.For want of a rider the message was lost.For want of a message the battle was lost.For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."
What would happen if the three failures – and they most certainly are – Jackie Bradley, Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts – hit .270? How would that have potentially affected the season and the dominoes that fell thanks to the disappearance of promise?
So why .270? Blame it on Nate Silver and PECOTA as I chose to use the 2014 TAv or True Average ( True Average is a measure of total offensive value scaled to batting average) for all three players.
Bogaerts (TAv .274) did come close at one point. On 6/29 Bogaerts was slashing .269/.353/.412. At the end of August that would place Bogaerts sixth in average, second in slugging and number one in OPS among AL shortstops (400 AB qualifier). End result would be no Stephen Drew.
Aug 29, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jackie Bradley ( TAv .273) is more difficult to define since he just plummeted. Early in the season his slash checked in at .273/.368/.333. If Bradley had maintained that, his OBP would be fifth. Average and power would certainly not match up with most center-fielders, but with Bradley, the 800-pound gorilla is his defense. Bradley hitting at just .270 would be a valuable addition, especially with an excellent OBP.
For the oft-injured Middlebrooks (TAv .274) one has to go back to 2012 to find some reasonable numbers. Since that season it has been south of the Mendoza Line. The low point in 2012 was .259/.295/.552. That .552 jumps out. If it was .552 at the end of August of this season Mr. Middlebrooks would be number one among AL third basemen. In all likelihood Middlebrooks would be flirting with 20+ home runs.
The offensive failures can go right to the three mentioned. Imagine a combined .270 average in slots seven through nine? How would that have changed the season? How many wins were lost and players shuffled around thanks to such a precipitous drop in expectations from three players?
Jul 26, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (25) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Maybe Brock Holt would still be languishing in Pawtucket? A contending Red Sox would certainly not have jettisoned John Lackey and Jon Lester. Mookie Betts would be refining his skills in Pawtucket. The Red Sox would probably be buyers and not sellers. Maybe Giancarlo Stanton would be in town?
One could go on and on debating the “what ifs.” You could, obviously, do the same with just about any team, but with the Red Sox, the significant drop in offensive production can be traced to expectations not being met by Bradley, Middlebrooks and Bogaerts.
That .270 just killed us.