The post-2013 World Series champs have struggled mightily to score runs against right-handed pitching at Fenway Park. We provide a betting angle to profit from the Red Sox's lack of hitting.
Boston Red Sox Scoring on Downward Spiral
It's no secret that the Boston Red Sox's ability to score runs has declined tremendously since their unexpected World Series victory in 2013. Ranking on average 3rd in MLB between 2002-2013 in runs scored, the team pushed home a paltry 3.81 runs per game last season, ending up 24th in the bigs overall. Scoring 3.91 a contest to date in the 2015 season, the Red Sox appear destined to finish at or below .500 for the second year in a row, as their offensive malaise seemingly has carried over from last season. In this article, we will share an angle to possibly invest in exploiting Boston's run-scoring woes, and analyze the the team's hitting a little further.
Who's to Blame?
In recent weeks, several baseball handicappers have provided theories to explain Boston's scoring maladies. Many have pointed the finger at underachieving players. David Ortiz is obviously struggling to catch up to fastballs, again, and Mike Napoli is hitting a measly .212. No argument there. Another surprising theme is the idea that Boston's patience at the plate, which has been a hallmark to their past batting success, is potentially hindering their scoring opportunities. Baseball Prospectus writer Matthew Trueblood and FanGraphs' Matthew Corey have shed light on this opinion, suggesting maybe the Red Sox's tendency to chase a starter out of the game or to take first-pitch strikes is growing disadvantageous, as recent data suggests bullpens are getting better and swinging away at early meaty offerings equate to better scoring opportunities than running the pitch count up. Whether these hypotheses are relevant or not, one thing is most certainly true of Boston's current lineups: their slugging percentage is awful against right-handed starters, and they fail to take advantage of Fenway Park's particularities as a hitter's ballpark when facing them. Let's get straight to our angle, and explain this phenomenon a little further.
Baseball Betting Angles
Since the start of the 2014 season, the Red Sox are 14-43 against the run line when favored by MLB odds at home and facing a right-handed starting pitcher. If one filters out games versus opponents with extremely bad defenses, or those who average above .8 errors a game—we don't want the away team giving Boston extra scoring opportunities—then the record drops to 8-40 (2-12 in 2015). This scenario has returned a tidy 35% profit at average odds of -164 for the +1.5 runs gained by the underdogs, and an equal return has been cashed for those taking the away team straight up at +130 average odds (29-19,W/L record). One could potentially maximize their return in this situation by backing the underdogs on the morning line when the Red Sox close as favorites greater than -145 only, where the away team is 22-6 with an average winning line of +115.
Delving deeper into this scenario, one will find Boston scoring only 3.5 runs a game, despite averaging 4.10 at home since the start of the 2014 season. During this time, the Red Sox have ranked 24th in MLB in slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers, and 23rd in home run to fly ball rate (HR/FB), a straight-forward metric showing the number of round-trippers per balls hit in the air. Obviously, the lineup is not taking advantage of Fenway Park's extreme benefits to fly ball hitters where a deep ball in the air to left field, often a routine out in many ballparks, falls for a home run or ricochets off the Green Monster for a stand-up double. Ironically, since the start of the 2014 season, Boston ranks 3rd in hard% against right-handed pitching, a Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) rating which measures the quality of the contact for batted balls in play. This metric essentially attempts to determine how hard a ball is hit based on trajectory, location, and hang time, to better dictate true hitting performance versus randomness or unlucky breaks i.e. a line drive straight to a fielder. Boston's weakness is that they tend to hit their hardest balls against right-handers straight into the ground, making for less total bases and theoretically less runs. Since 2014, the Red Sox rank 10th in MLB in ground-ball percentage as a team versus right-handed pitching. This isn't a good Fenway formula. To make matters worse, Red Sox insiders have commented on this year's batters' propensities to roll over on outside pitches and ground them softly for outs. In fact, the team ranks 3rd in the majors in BIS' soft% in quality of contact in 2015. Not good.
For this lineup to trend so poorly since the start of last season against right-handed starters at home, particularly when predicted to win, shows there is something fundamentally flawed with this group. They still get on base at a good rate, but their lack of extra-base hits and poor slugging percentage against righties is a hindrance when playing in the hitting-friendly confines of Fenway where a team needs to score runs to win. At this point in the season, there is little the Red Sox brass can do to alter their fortunes, and one can expect they'll ride out the storm for another year. Keep your eye on the Red Sox's bats throughout the rest of 2015, and use this information to support your own methods for deciding MLB picks.
As always, best of luck.