Red Sox power drought could be a problem according to recent history

Apr 20, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) hits a double to score three runs against Toronto Blue Jays in the tenth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 20, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) hits a double to score three runs against Toronto Blue Jays in the tenth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

How much of an issue is a lack of home run power for the Boston Red Sox? History isn’t on their side when it comes to making the postseason.

The bats have yet to wake up for the Boston Red Sox this season.

Sure, they are still scoring a modest amount of runs, ranking sixth in the American League with 69 through the first 16 games. Many franchises would be envious of a lineup that produces 4.3 runs per game, yet it remains a steep drop from the major league-leading pace the Red Sox set last season.

The biggest difference this year has been the lack of power in the lineup. A decline was expected following the retirement of David Ortiz, but not to this extent. Boston is dead last in the majors with a mere 7 home runs this season. Milwaukee’s Eric Thames has more than that on his own, while Oakland’s Khris Davis and Houston’s George Springer have each equaled Boston’s total.

Power has been hard to come by in the early going for the Red Sox. Pablo Sandoval leads the team with three home runs, although he’s not exactly lighting it up at the plate with a .226/.276/.415 slash line. The power surge is a pleasant surprise from the Panda, but take that away and he’s been one of the team’s worst hitters. No other hitter on the roster has more than one home run.

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How significant is this power outage to Boston’s chances of making the postseason? Based on recent history, it’s a valid concern. Over the past ten seasons, only one American League team has finished last in home runs and still made the playoffs. Only three teams in that span finished outside the top-10 in homers and still qualified for the postseason.

The closest comparable that the Red Sox can strive to emulate would be the 2015 Kansas City Royals, who won the World Series despite finishing 14th in the league in homers. That team also racked up enough doubles to finish 9th in extra-base hits and practically revolutionized the game by assembling a lights out bullpen.

Perhaps we’ve found the silver lining. Boston currently leads the league in doubles and has a starting rotation and bullpen both capable of being dominant – at least on paper, when healthy. It may be an unorthodox way to win a championship, but it’s not unprecedented.

Here’s where this comparison may go astray. Despite all those doubles, Boston’s .388 slugging percentage still trails the .412 mark set by the ’15 Royals. Kansas City finished 9th in the league in extra-base hits with 481 that season. The Red Sox currently rank 9th as well, but are on pace for only 435 extra-base hits.

If Boston were to slip any further down the league’s extra-base hits leaders then their task of making the postseason becomes even more daunting. The 2014 Royals are the only AL team in the last ten seasons to finish outside the top-10 in extra-base hits and still make the playoffs, which they did as a Wild Card before eventually losing in the World Series. That Kansas City team was also the lone team in the past decade to make the playoffs while finishing last in the league in home runs. If they could do it, so can Boston, right?

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Possibly, although those Royals were different from this Red Sox team. In 2014, Kansas City led the league with 153 stolen bases, converting at an 80.95% success rate. The Red Sox currently rate middle of the pack with 8 steals, while converting at a 66.67% success rate that doesn’t suggest they should be attempting to swipe a bag more often.

Kansas City was also about league average in sacrifice hits, indicating they were capable of manufacturing runs to make up for their lack of power. Boston has yet to record a sacrifice this season and the strategy has never been a significant part of manager John Farrell‘s game plan.

Teams that don’t hit many home runs need to find other ways to score, yet the Red Sox haven’t taken advantage of the methods those Royals teams did to offset their limitations in the power department. Boston is essentially playing a station-to-station game, getting runners on base and waiting for the big hit, only those big hits rarely come.

What the Red Sox lineup does well is get on base. They lead the league with 156 hits and a .282 average. They have four hitters batting well over .300 this season, all of whom rank in the top-15 in the league. That doesn’t even include Christian Vazquez, who is hitting a scorching .563, but doesn’t qualify due to only receiving 16 at-bats so far.

Boston is only middle of the pack in drawing walks, yet that’s enough to giving this lineup a league-leading .346 on-base percentage.

Timely hitting has also been a staple of this year’s Red Sox lineup. They are hitting .331 with runners in scoring position, which leads the league by a wide margin. The Baltimore Orioles are the only other team in the league hitting over .300 with RISP and their .313 average in those situations trails Boston by a significant amount.

Is it sustainable? Well, the Red Sox did lead the league in that category last season, so we know their success isn’t a total fluke. However, their league-leading average with RISP was .283, which is well below what they are doing this season. We expect Boston to continue to hit well in those situations, jut not nearly as well as they have been doing. If they decline in that department and don’t start hitting for more power then they will ultimately end up stranding most of those runners they put on base, resulting in a dip in run production.

The Red Sox are getting their hits, they just haven’t been getting enough of them to leave the ballpark. The hope is that this will change when warmer weather arrives. It’s been a chilly April here in Boston, where the team has played 9 of their first 16 games. One of their early season road trips took them to Detroit, where it wasn’t exactly summer weather either. It can be more difficult for a hitter to make solid contact in cooler temperatures, while the ball doesn’t travel as far in cold air. If Boston’s bats heat up when the weather does, we’ll forget all about these early season struggles.

Next: Which young star may get left out long-term?

If not, the Red Sox playoff aspirations may soon vanish. It’s not impossible to make the postseason with a lineup that doesn’t hit many home runs, but recent history shows us it’s unlikely.