A little more than a month into an MLB season, there is enough of a sample size to identify true traits of a team. One of the traits for the 2013 Red Sox is their patient approach at the plate, looking to work counts and get opposing starters out of the game as quickly as possible.
This approach seems to have worked as after 33 games the Red Sox have the best record in all of baseball at 21-12.
“I think our overall offensive approach has been outstanding,” manager John Farrell said during the last homestand. “Guys aren’t afraid to pass the baton on to the next guy. They’ll take their walks in key spots. We’ve had good situational hitting. But most importantly, we’ve driven the pitch counts up of starters and have gotten into the bullpen in this series probably earlier than some other series, but still, just a very consistent approach top to bottom.”
There is no stat more telling on how well a team works pitch counts than number of pitches per plate appearance, and as one would expect the Red Sox have a number of players at the top of that list.
Going into play Wednesday, first baseman Mike Napoli leads the American League with 4.48 pitches per plate appearance, with Dustin Pedroia at No. 17, seeing 4.18 pitches. This is of major league qualifiers. Of non-qualifiers, Jonny Gomes comes in at No. 32 with 4.30, followed by Stephen Drew at No. 39, 4.26.
It seems there is a direct correlation from pitches per at-bat to runs scored, as the Oakland A’s have four players in the top 25 and lead the entire league in runs scored.
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Walks also play a key role in Boston’s approach at the plate this season. With 123 walks the team ranks third in the league, with Pedroia leading the team and fifth in the league with 21. Having the mentality of “one player can’t do it all” and feeling confident that every hitter can contribute has paid dividends and is something the entire team has bought in to.
The one issue with the approach is the number of strikeouts. With 284 Ks through 33 games, the Red Sox have the third highest mark in all of baseball, and two players in the top 10, Napoli (46) and Will Middlebrooks (39). This isn’t something that concerns the team, as even as far back as spring training players were on record as saying strikeout totals don’t matter to them, providing they are getting results.
Said Middlebrooks via the Providence Journal: “Let’s put it this way: if you hit 40 homers and you drive in 100, what’s the difference if you strike out or ground out?”
Despite the strikeout numbers, the team been able to put big numbers on the board, averaging 4.82 runs per game, good for sixth in the majors.
Opposing starters have only pitched into the seventh inning 10 times (less than a third of games) and the Red Sox have been able to get to opposing bullpens, contributing to a number of wins this season.
With this approach truly seeing its true benefits later in the year when facing top starters in playoff-like games, patience could be a virtue for these 2013 Red Sox.
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84