Close Games Continue to Hurt Red Sox

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Last night’s pitcher’s duel between David Price and Chris Tillman lived up to the hype. Both starters looked a little vulnerable early on, then settled in nicely with shutdown stuff. Unfortunately for Price, of the 5 hits he allowed, 2 were HRs leading to a 3-2 loss. This was the 14th game this year the Red Sox have played with the final score being a 1-run differential and they are 5-9 in those contests.

For me, close game records say a lot about a team. They give a glimpse into the team’s ability to pull together and rally. In last night’s game, the Red Sox bullpen was strong (only Craig Kimbrel for 1 inning), but their offense could not produce the big hit when needed. Earlier in the game, there were chances with runners on base and less than 2 outs that resulted in nothing.

The once over-powering offense top to bottom now has more holes than swiss cheese. Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw both had hits last night, but have been struggling mightily as of late. Christian Vazquez is what he is: a top tier defensive catcher who will hit in the low .200s. Jackie Bradley Jr. is coming back to earth with his average dropping from .350 on May 25th to .310 on June 15th. On their own, none of these things are season-changers, but all together it amounts to some serious struggle.

In June, the Red Sox have a 4-7 record and are 0-3 in 1-run games. Overall they are 15-17 against AL East opponents. Things are trending in the wrong direction.

The Curious Power Outage of Hanley Ramirez

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AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Leading up to the 2016 season there was significant concern around Hanley Ramirez and his transition to playing first base. After an abysmal year in left field in 2015, there was a tremendous amount of anxiety around putting Ramirez in a position to handle the baseball at least 5-10 times per game. As it turns out, Ramirez has been more than serviceable at 1st base, committing 0 errors through June 6th, a mark that many would not have predicted. The bigger question is what has happen to Ramirez in the batter’s box.

Since arriving on the scene in the MLB in 2006 (first full season), Hanley has had a unique blend of speed and power. He stole 51 bases in his first year with the Marlins (after the Red Sox traded him away) and hit 17 HRs in 158 games. After his first year, the power grew and he hit 29, 33, 24 and 21 HRs respectively in the next 4 years. He dipped in 2011 to 10 HRs due to an injury (only played in 92 games), but then rebounded in 2012 for 24 HRs and 2013 for 20 HRs (in just 86 games). That is a large sample showing Hanley as a more than capable power hitter in the big leagues.

Hanley hit 13 HR 2014, which maybe showed a glimpse of a potential slowdown in production after age 30. If the slowdown began in 2013, it is in full force in 2016 as Hanley sits with just 4 HRs in 54 games as of June 6th and has no HRs in nearly a month (last HR was against the Oakland Athletics on May 10th).

Breaking it down a little further, I wanted to see if there was truly a slowdown pattern in Hanley’s power or if 2016 is just non-representative thus far. We know Hanley can be a streaky hitter, but is that the reason he has just 4 HRs in 2 months, or is the power-hitting version of Ramirez disappearing as he ages?

Looking at one of my favorite recent stats, at-bats per HR (AB/HR), there is not a clear pattern of decline. Throughout his career, Ramirez has averaged a HR every 24.7 at-bats. Looking back at the last 5 years, I would expect to see a steady increase in that number if his power outage was directly related to age. As it turns out, Hanley’s AB/HR average for the last 5 years were 25.1, 15.2, 34.5, 21.1, and 52.3. There is no discernable decline, as a matter of fact, 3 of those 5 years were below or very close to his career average.

Obviously, AB/HR is not the only statistic to analyze decline, but it makes me believe that Hanley’s power outage is actually more of an aberration than the new norm. He is still hitting .282 and on pace to at least finish near his career average in most other categories. Ramirez could certainly still be in a power decline, but my guess is that he is just slumping due to the extra energy devoted to the defensive side of his game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a break in the slump over the next few weeks followed by a power surge, bringing his HR numbers back up close to his career average. One can hope.