Last season, Boston finished near the top of almost every major offensive category in 2013, including runs scored, doubles, total bases, RBI and OPS. The Red Sox from a year ago could hit for average and for power, while also drawing walks and flashing some speed on the basepaths.
But 2014 has been a different story, as the Red Sox are struggling after losing key pieces of their lineup this past winter. Only four teams have scored fewer runs per game than the Red Sox (3.68) this season, and in their past 11 games, the Red Sox have scored more than four runs just twice. The one upside is that this year's club has been able to draw walks (only four other teams have more this season), which forecasts better days ahead.
Their big bats are having some injury issues, as Dustin Pedroia is trying to play through a sore wrist, David Ortiz has a sore calf and Mike Napoli lost a few games with an injured finger. Their supporting cast hasn't helped much in the meantime. Grady Sizemore hit just .046 this past week, which takes the shine off his repackaged self a bit.
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The Red Sox have a .221 batting average with runners on and their abysmal .210 batting average with runners in scoring position -- without doubt, those numbers will regress upwards and more runs will be scored. Only three teams have left more runners stranded on base this season than the Red Sox.
Look around the majors, though, and you'll find that all offenses are struggling to get hits and score runs. The "average" batting average in the American League this season is .247, with a .705 OPS through Sunday. Last year, American League players hit .256, with a .724 OPS. Those nine points in the difference between batting averages don't sound like much, but for 15 teams, with 162 games apiece, and a total of over 83,000 at-bats, those nine points end up being a difference of 50 base hits per team.
Most teams are struggling at the plate, including the Red Sox and Tigers -- two teams that paced the majors in scoring last season. From cold weather, to strong pitching starts, to evidence that PEDs are not affecting the game as much as before -- offenses are having a tough April. But Will Middlebrooks (calf) and Shane Victorino (hamstring) will be back for the Red Sox soon, and a turnaround for this offense isn't far behind. Buying Boston low is a smart move for fantasy owners.
All statistics are through Sunday night, April 20, unless otherwise mentioned.
Hitters of the week
Justin Morneau, 1B, Colorado Rockies -- Stats this week: .375 BA, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 6 runs scored
The Rockies new first baseman has adjusted well to his new home address in the thin air and currently ranks among the top 10 at the position. This past week was even more impressive when you see he played four games at San Diego, a park as pitcher-friendly as Coors Field is hitter-friendly. The 32-year-old is batting .367 at home and .324 on the road, and his back is healthy. He's also seeing NL pitching for a full season for the first time, although he did have a short stint in Pittsburgh last year. His numbers should tail back, but since he was likely drafted as a corner infielder, he's a bonus in many respects.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies -- .500 BA, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 8 runs, 0 SB
Another Rockies hitter had a good week despite playing four games at Petco Park. Tulo's huge week came mostly from a five-RBI game against the Phillies on Friday. No one doubts the big stick of the nine-year veteran, but we're all still concerned that he hasn't played over 150 games in a season since 2009, and he has averaged just 105 games over his past three seasons. Don't buy high on him if you're thinking trades.
Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Texas Rangers -- .345 BA, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 6 runs
Speaking of buying high, Kouzmanoff has suddenly resurrected his career in the cozy confines of Globe Life Park in Arlington. He's starting at third base for Texas while Adrian Beltre deals with a strained quadriceps, and his early success should allow Beltre and the Rangers to take their time with their slugger's leg. But how much should you pay for a guy that has played on seven organizations since 2006? "The Crushin' Russian" has always had a powerful bat, mostly disguised during his time in deep Petco Park. If you have Beltre, he's an even better pickup.
Hitters of the weak
Grady Sizemore, OF, Boston Red Sox -- Stats this week: .046 Batting average, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 run scored, 1 stolen base
The names in this week's article makes it seem like it was written back in 2008, with Kouzmanoff, Morneau, Raul Ibanez and now Sizemore getting mentions. Just one base hit over the past week is troubling enough, but add in the fact that three of those games were against the White Sox in homer-happy U.S. Cellular Field, and you roll your eyes just a bit at what could've been. With Victorino coming back soon, and Jackie Bradley Jr. playing great defense, you can figure Sizemore will start to get some more rest days. Fortunately, that's probably a good thing for his bat and legs.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco Giants -- .150 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 runs
Tough week for the Panda, but he took a "mental break" on Sunday, according Giants manager Bruce Bochy. Obviously, he's pressing, trying too hard, whatever you want to call it. He's in a contract year in what might be his last season by the Bay Area, and he came into camp 40 pounds lighter. Expectations continued to build through spring training, and now he's trying to make everything happen at once. He's uncharacteristically swinging at everything, with 16 strikeouts compared to eight walks, which puts him on pace (136 strikeouts) to blow past his career high of 83 strikeouts. He's definitely a buy-low candidate at this early juncture.
Raul Ibanez, OF, Los Angeles Angels -- .046 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 Runs
The Angels have been pretty strong offensively this season, which explains how they can afford to give this guy 22 at-bats last week. The 41-year-old outfielder won't be used much in interleague games, as the Angels travel to the nation's capital to play the Nationals to start the week. He's someone you should see available on the waiver wire all season.
Buy, sell or hold
Buy: Mike Napoli, 1B, Boston Red Sox
As mentioned at the start of this article, the Red Sox are struggling offensively, and their first baseman, who has just two RBI in his past seven games, is not exempt. A banged-up finger slowed him a bit, and will likely continue to hamper him in April. But the Red Sox are bound to turn it around offensively, and once the table-setters get it straightened out ahead of him, he'll start mashing. (His current .456 slugging percentage would be his lowest since 2007.)
Sell: Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves
Only a handful of outfielders are off to a better start than the younger Upton's 14-.318-5-12-2 start. Unfortunately, we've seen this all before. He smacked 12 home runs last April, batting .298 with 19 RBI and 22 runs scored -- only to follow that up with a May in which he batted .211 with 2 home runs and 10 RBI. He cut out getting a ball flipped to him in batting practice and has refused to go back to it while he's hitting so well. But if we learned anything about Upton, it's that he's streaky. The days of thinking of him as a base-stealer are behind him, as well, in Atlanta. He does have two steals this season, but he has just 10 total steals (11 attempts) since coming to Atlanta. He averaged 27 stolen base attempts from 2009-12. Moving him when he's hot is a better idea than waiting until another valley.
Hold: Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hill's performance thus far is a little less than what we'd hoped, when he was a top-10 fantasy second basemen in most drafts. With just one home run, seven RBI and a .221 batting average, he's barely a top-20 second baseman so far. (Although, he is just one RBI behind Robinson Cano, who is off to a quiet April of his own.) But just as Upton has proven to be streaky, Hill deals with more streaks than Windex. Throw in the fact that the Diamondbacks might be better served by dealing the veteran infielder for some prospects, and Hill's future suddenly looks better.
Rookie hitter spotlight
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros: One of the most anticipated arrivals happened this past week, as the Astros OF prospect was called up to play against the Royals on Wednesday. He has a base hit in each of his first five games, and if he wasn't already owned in your league, he was the top pickup on Monday. But what can we expect from the 24-year-old in 2014? Consider that he was just three home runs short of the first 40-HR/40-SB season in the minors since 1956. (Understand that the rarity of that feat is usually because a player gets yanked up to the majors before he can complete that feat.)
But Springer's power-speed combination is legit, but so are his strikeout numbers. That can be corrected, but how much will that affect the rest of his game? His current swing is more violent than a Quentin Tarantino movie, but he's also joining a club that ranks among the major-league leaders in strikeouts. That's like handing a drowning man a diamond-encrusted cinder block -- it's really nice, but how much can it help? The difference here is that Springer doesn't have trouble with pitch recognition -- as he really doesn't swing at bad pitches much. He only has issues with contact, which we'd expect with that Tasmanian Devil swing. Like most rookies, we should expect highs and lows this season, but while all teams can benefit by adding Springer -- it's the Head-to-Head leagues that don't deduct points for strikeouts that really get the most out of him.
By the numbers
Some interesting numbers I've come across over the past week.
21 -- Stolen base attempts for the Tigers in just 18 games under new manager Brad Ausmus (fifth in the majors). Compare that to the league-low 55 attempts for all of 2013, and you see that this Tigers offense is in a transition, so patience is necessary for its hitters' owners.
10 -- Percentage points that Pirates OF Starling Marte is striking out more this year (34.4%) than last year (24.4%). "I don't know if he's trying too hard, or if his swing is disconnected," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told MLB.com. "But the swing doesn't look right to me."
8 -- FAAB dollars spent on Yankees 2B/3B/OF Yangervis Solarte in the Tout Wars Mixed league Monday. (He was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle Thursday. There's still nowhere for this guy to go but down, but some are willing to take that short ride with him because of his versatility. And really, that's not a horrible idea at all in a 15-team league like Tout Wars.
.509 -- Weight On-Base Average (wOBA) for major-league leader Freddie Freeman through 18 games. It's always good to check out wOBA numbers on hitters throughout the season, as it's one of the most important offensive statistics, measuring a hitter's overall offensive ability.
.469 -- Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for league leader Chris Colabello. If this were a video game, he's totally using cheat codes right now -- but turbo will be running out soon.
.195 -- Combined BABIP for Mark Trumbo, Jedd Gyorko and Prince Fielder. Are you feeling lucky, punk? They're not, as nearly everything they hit that doesn't go out of the park goes right to a fielder. Those numbers will raise back to the league average of .300.
.012 -- Points higher that Miguel Cabrera's OPS (.648) this year is compared to just his slugging percentage (.636) last year. No doubt, he's struggling, with just one home run this season, but the entire Tigers offense has had some problems that will sort themselves out sooner than later. (See "Red Sox" above.)
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow him @davidgonos on Twitter.