Red Sox lineup uncharacteristically struggles with strikeouts

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 14: J.D. Martinez
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 14: J.D. Martinez /

The Boston Red Sox have been the toughest team in the majors to strike out this season. That wasn’t the case in the last series.

No team has struck out at a lower rate than the Boston Red Sox this season. That trend did not continue through their three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays this week.

The Red Sox lineup’s 18.8 K% is the lowest in the majors. They are among a half-dozen teams with a strikeout rate south of 20 percent in an era where hitters are emphasizing home run power at the expense of contact. Boston has been far more disciplined at the plate than your average team.

Except when they faced the Blue Jays. Take a look at the strikeout totals in this recent three-game series.

Game 1: 14 strikeouts, 37 at-bats, 37.8 K%
Game 2: 10 strikeouts, 33 at-bats, 30.3 K%
Game 3: 8 strikeouts, 33 at-bats, 24.2 K%

The steady decline over the course of the series is a positive sign but the Red Sox still posted strikeout rates well above their season average in each game. They struck out at a higher rate than the San Diego Padres (major league-worst 28.0 K%) have this season in each of the first two games in Toronto.

It’s not as if the Jays rotation is loaded with strikeout machines either. Toronto’s pitching staff ranks middle of the pack with an 8.96 K/9.

J.A. Happ was the most successful Toronto pitcher in this series. He held the Red Sox to one run over seven innings, striking out 10. Happ currently leads qualified American League starters with a 12.7 K/9, although his career 8.2K/9 rate suggests that’s not sustainable. It was his only double-digit strikeout effort of the season and he only reached that total once last year.

Aaron Sanchez recovered from allowing a leadoff home run to Mookie Betts to last six innings of two-run ball. He struck out eight, giving him a 12.0 K/9 for the night. That nearly doubles his season average of 6.5K/9.

Five strikeouts may not seem like much but Marco Estrada tallied that many over only five innings. That’s a strikeout per inning for a pitcher who hasn’t produced a 9.0 K/9 since he became a full-time starter in 2013.

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Three starting pitchers, all of whom posted a strikeout rate above expectations against a team that doesn’t strikeout often.

Boston’s lineup remains stacked with hitters who are notoriously difficult to strikeout. Betts (11.0 K%), Andrew Benintendi (14.3 K%) and Eduardo Nunez (16.2 K%) are among the 25 toughest batters in the league to strikeout.

One exception is J.D. Martinez, who owns a staggering 30.9 K% that ranks as the eighth worst in the league. He struck out three times in the series opener in Toronto. He also blasted a three-run homer to win the finale of that series. Strikeouts are nothing new for Martinez. His 26.2 K% was the 26th highest in the majors last season (minimum 450 plate appearances). The Red Sox knew what they were getting when they signed Martinez. Being prone to strikeouts is one of his flaws yet he makes up for it with prestigious power.

Even with Martinez creating a steady breeze with the whiffs he’s piling up, strikeouts aren’t a problem this Red Sox lineup should be too worried about. The high strikeout rates in Toronto could be a sign of a few hitters falling into a funk or simply a small sample size fluke.

Each game in Toronto was decided by one run, including one that went to extra innings. Perhaps the Red Sox could have built more comfortable leads if they put the ball in play more. They still managed to win two out of three and finished the road trip at 6-3.

Next: Prospect Watch: Early Impressions

The uptick in strikeouts is worth monitoring to ensure it doesn’t become a trend but it would be premature to sound the alarms.