RSCTBNL: Fenway Has Not Been Friendly for the Red Sox

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The Red Sox completed their longest homestand of the season with Sunday's 5-3 win over the Seattle Mariners.  The win earned the Sox a split of both the four game series with the M's and for the homestand overall.  In this week's Red Sox Column to be Named Later, I look at a disturbing trend for the Red Sox over the past few years when playing at Fenway.  We'll also go inside the numbers on Kike Hernandez's new role as a leadoff hitter, check in on the hottest rivalry in baseball today, and identify a potentially bothersome fashion trend in baseball pants. 

Photo courtesy of bostonglobe.com


There's No Place Like Home?

The Red Sox are 8-8 this season at Fenway Park, and 6-1 while playing on the road.  Of course this is a small sample size, but it continues a trend for the Sox which goes back to 2019.  In that season, coming off the historic 2018 season when the team went 57-24 at home, the Sox were five games under .500 at Fenway with a 38-43 record.  By contrast, the Sox were 11 games over .500 on the road with a 46-35 record in 2019, which allowed them to finish the season with a winning 84-78 overall record.

The trend continued in 2020, with the Sox going 11-20 at Fenway and 13-16 on the road.  Overall, since the start of the 2019 season the Red Sox have a .444 winning percentage at home, compared to .556 on the road.

Going further into the numbers, Red Sox pitching has posted a 4.13 ERA so far at home this season, as opposed to a 3.49 mark on the road.  Opposing hitters are batting .245 at Fenway, compared to .212 on their home ball parks against Sox pitching.  In 2020, those splits were 6.09 home/ 5.04 road - .302 home / .256 road.  In 2019, 4.86 home / 4.53 road - .249 home / .254 road.

To summarize, Red Sox pitching has allowed between a half run to a full run less on the road than it has at home.  Is this indicative of Fenway itself, which is known to be a hitter's park?  Perhaps, but the disparity is not that large for Red Sox hitters themselves. 

In 2019, Red Sox hitters batted .278 at home / .261 on the road.  In 2020 - .278 home / .251 road.  This season, Sox hitters currently have a higher average on the road than at home - .286 vs .271.  While visiting batters hit Red Sox pitching between 30 to 50 points better at Fenway, Sox hitters only get a modest 15 to 25 point boost.

Short term performances can be written off as small sample size, but the current trend is now in its third season.  If the Red Sox truly want to contend in 2021, they need to reverse that trend and start winning some series at Fenway.


Setting the Tone

When Kike Hernandez was signed in the offseason, Alex Cora challenged him to assume the leadoff role for the Red Sox, something he hadn't done on a regular basis in his career.  So far the results have been mixed.  Hernandez ranks fourth in the American League among leadoff hitters with a .261, behind the Orioles Cedric Mullins (.350), the Mariners Mitch Haniger (.292) and the Royals Whit Merrifield (.284).  Hernandez drops to sixth in OBP with a .311 mark, with Mullins again setting the pace at .406.

By comparison, last season Alex Verdugo slashed .304/.442/.804 when hitting out of the leadoff spot.

In 2019 Cora inexplicably flip-flopped Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi in the batting order, an experiment which failed miserably.  Benintendi was never the same after that.  Hernandez may be serviceable in the position for now, but he is not the long term solution for a club that expects to contend for a playoff spot.


Please Sir, May I Have Some More?

The hottest rivalry in baseball is no longer the Red Sox - Yankees.  It is now unquestionably the Dodgers and Padres.  Not only are both teams loaded with talent on offense and on the mound, they also have big personalities and, most importantly, don't like each other.

The Dodgers have been a perennial powerhouse in the National League for the past decade and, of course, won the World Series in 2020.  The Padres burst into the baseball upper echelon in 2020 after gradually building their system and going heavy into the free agent market with the signings of Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer. This offseason the Padres went all-in to compete with the Dodgers, trading for pitching in 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove.  Not content to sit pat, the Dodgers signed defending NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to their already loaded starting rotation.

The two teams have already played two series in the young season.  The Dodgers took two out of three games at Petco Park in San Diego last weekend.  The first game set the tone as the teams battled it out over 12 innings before the Dodgers broke it open for an 11-6 win.  The Padres took the three out of four this past weekend in Chavez Ravine, coming back from a 7-1 deficit to score two runs in the ninth to tie the game and then winning in the eleventh in the series finale on Sunday night.

All games have had a playoff feel to them, with bat flips, home run trots, multiple lead changes, and Mookie Betts laying it out in center to make a diving catch to walk off a win.  The two will meet 12 more times this season, including the penultimate series of the year September 29 - October 1 in L.A.  

These two teams and this rivalry is exactly what baseball needs to market itself to a younger generation.  The MLB should do everything it can to ensure as many games as possible between these two teams end up in primetime on the east coast, so young viewers around the country can see these two teams and exciting players at their best.


Bo Knows Fashion

If you caught any of the Red Sox - Blue Jays series at Fenway earlier last week, you may have noticed Jays shortstop Bo Bichette is wearing his pants up above the knees this season.  Many NFL players have adopted the bicycle shorts look; hopefully this is not going to start a trend in the major leagues.  

Photo courtesy of the athletic.com

It should be noted that actual shorts were worn in a major league game when the White Sox donned these beauties in a regulars season game on August 8, 1976.  This look was thankfully a one and done deal.  Let's hope it stays that way.

Bucky "Bleeping" Dents sporting shorts in 1976


Trending Up

Alex Verdugo may not be making fans forget the loss of Mookie Betts, but can fans realistically expect anyone to perform better than Verdugo has recently?  This week he only slashed .478//.500/.739, with a double, triple, homer and five runs scored.  He tweaked a hamstring in Saturday's loss to the Mariners.  While he finished the game, he was kept out of Sunday's game as a precaution due to the wet field conditions.  The Red Sox can't afford to lose this spark plug from the top of their lineup for an extended period.

The "Bill Eats Crow About J.D. Martinez Being Done Tour" continues.  This week Martinez slashed .385/.484/..731 and added a pair of homers, a trio of doubles, and knocked in three.

Adam Ottavino was charged with a blown save in Thursday night's loss to the Mariners, but the run was unearned (on his own throwing error).  In four appearance this week Ottavino did not allow a hit or an earned run while striking out four in 3 2/3 innings.  Walks are still a problem for the right hander (four this week), but he appears to be the primary choice to pitch the eighth and get the ball to Matt Barnes for the save in the ninth.


Trending Down

Christian Vazquez continues to struggle at the plate, going 5 for 23 over the last week, with no extra base hits, to drop his average to .257.

The Red Sox bullpen has been improved this season with the additions of Ottavino and Hirokazu Sawamura, but they could use a reliable lefty in the pen.  Last week Darwinzon Hernandez was tagged with a 27.00 ERA after allowing three earned runs in a single inning of work against the Mariners on Thursday night.  He has not pitched in a game since.  Fellow lefty Josh Taylor also struggled, allowing three earned runs of his own in 2 2/3 innings of work in two appearances.


Look Ahead

The Red Sox head back out on the road this week, with a two game set in New York against the Mets after an off day Monday, followed by a four game series in Texas against the Rangers.  The Mets are 9-8 on the young season after making a major move in the offseason to acquire All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor.  

The Mets also have one of the best pitchers on the planet in right-hander Jacob deGrom, who the Red Sox will face on Wednesday night.  deGrom chronically suffers from run support, and his 2-1 record is incredibly misleading.  The perennial Cy Young candidate sports a microscopic 0.31 ERA over his four starts and 29 innings pitched this season, with a 0.552 WHIP.  

The Rangers have struggled out of the gate this season.  They sit at 9-13 in last place in the American League West.  The Red Sox will make their first visit to Globe Life Field, which opened in 2020.


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Boston Sports Syndicate: RSCTBNL: Fenway Has Not Been Friendly for the Red Sox
RSCTBNL: Fenway Has Not Been Friendly for the Red Sox
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