Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Game 15: Hit 'em Up

Final Score: Boston Red Sox 5, Cleveland Indians 3

Despite the absence of Mike Lowell and the relative absence of David Ortiz (and his two game hitting streak) I've started to develop a genuine affection for how this year's offense works when it clicks. Partially it's the overwhelming effectiveness, where last night, for the second time this season ,the offense picked up the pitching and returned runs lost to the opposing team with vicious interest, scoring two for one, four for two, etc. You can't help but like the hitting on a team that stays that effective under pressure. But my affection also stems from how the Sox are stringing together hits - or how they seem to be stringing together hits - and how that differs from past teams. Let me explain.

Note: the following is based only partially on statistics and partially on impressions, and as is such is quite possibly wildly inaccurate. Bear with me. In the past (say 2003 to 2005), when Boston wanted to score runs, they'd do the baseball equivalent of filling up the power meter (yes, a video game metaphor) and then try and clobber the opposing pitcher. For the most part it worked, and the team enjoyed winning records, even in 2005 when the pitching wouldn't have scared (or stopped) a little leaguer. More recent teams have flirted with speed, courtesy of first Coco Crisp and then Julio Lugo, but - so far - the 2008 edition mixes speed, hitting, and plate patience in a way that opens far more offensive options. The mix of hitting and plate patience (and here's where statistics come in) is particularly interesting: most of Boston's hits come in more aggressive counts (the twenty hits on the first pitch exceeds hits on any other count, and hitters are more likely to swing and connect with two strike counts), but as the number of balls increase, so do the likelihood of walks.

The end result: the team has an sOPS+ (a measurement of the team's offensive ability relative to other teams) of 110 (100 is average). We're on a hot streak, and that helps, but I think what we've seen in the past few games is how the 2008 Boston offense is supposed to work, and not a case of luck. The pitching may still be a question mark, but the offense looks championship-worthy.