Red Sox hitters have a problem with infield pop-ups

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 16: Mookie Betts
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 16: Mookie Betts /

The Boston Red Sox may be hitting into an unusual number of pop-ups.  Or are they?  Pop-ups are frustrating since they do nothing – just a very slight upgrade from a strikeout. Here is a look.

Is it just my imagination? Is it conditioning to expect the worst? Does it seem to happen with unrelenting consistency? The item in question is that potential rally killer known as a pop-up. Boston Red Sox hitters Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts seem – at least from my perspective – exceptionally prone to this nasty bit of negative hitting. A few weeks ago, my curiosity was double-plays and not pop-ups.

The intricacies of the pop-up can be explained via physics as noted in The Hardball Times. I will leave the physics to Sheldon Cooper.  Likewise, there are apparently fixes available for those prone to pop-ups, but I will leave that to Chili Davis. My concern is the Red Sox.

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There is a tidy statistic known as IFFB% or translated – the infield pop-up. The American League collectively averages 10.0% and the Red Sox contribute 11.1%.  The Red Sox are third in the AL, just behind the second place Texas Rangers (11.5%) and the current leader – the Kansas City Royals (11.6%). But what about Betts and XB?

Betts is not the team leader as that honor belongs to the departed Pablo Sandoval with 22%, but Panda was not around long enough to really influence the total picture. So part-time players take the lead with Chris Young at 20% and Sandy Leon at 18.8%. Young has a career rate of 16.8% so his “leadership” is not startling.

Betts has climbed the ladder each year with 2015 having a 10.5%, 2016 a 12.3% and now 14.9%. An alarming trend? Betts does not break the top ten in the AL (minimum 300 AB) as he sits in the eleventh slot just behind Mark Trumbo. The bottom? Sin-Soo Choo with a minuscule 1.3% rate.  So Mookie has some real work to do to crack that top ten.

Bogaerts is next on my suspects list and Bogaerts comes in at a 14.4% rate that places him sixteenth in the AL. In 2016, Bogaerts led the team and was fourth in the AL with a 17.8% rate. Bogaerts also won a Silver Slugger, so maybe he needs more and not fewer pop-ups?

Eduardo Nunez has certainly brought some much-needed offensive energy to the lineup since being freed from the last place Giants. Nunez is just a line drive machine or is he? Surprise for me is his 17.2% pop-up rate.  Leon’s catching partner – Christian Vazquez – is just the opposite of Sandman with a team low of 3.4%.

The Red Sox bottom group – bottom being a relatively good thing – is Mitch Moreland at 3.6% and Jackie Bradley at 5.1%. Both are also near the basement (thankfully) in the AL. In 2016, Bradley posted an 11.1% figure so his improvement is noted.

Next: Sale's struggles against Cleveland becoming a concern

For historical reference, the 2016 Red Sox were an offensive juggernaut, but they did manage to have a slightly higher 11.2% rate than what they are trending this season. So in the “Big Picture”, this falls into the move along, folks, nothing to see (or worry about) here. Pop-ups are just a frustrating consequence of hitting.

Stats through 8/26