Red Sox EXPLODE
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
BOSTON'S OFFENSE IS OBLITERATING OPPOSING PITCHERS
We've talked a lot over the years on these pages about the importance of consistency when it comes to scoring runs in Major League Baseball. Volume is great. But, superfluous volume doesn't get you all that far.
Imagine a team that averages five runs a game by going 2-8-2-8-2-8-2-8. Five runs is a nice average. But, you're looking at a .500 caliber team because it's very hard to win with just two runs, and you almost always win when you get to eight runs.
Now, imagine a team that averages five runs a game because they ALWAYS score 5 runs. Their line is 5-5-5-5-5-5-5. That team is going to be a lot better than 50/50 because five runs is enough to get the job done a lot more than half the time. They'll lose when their pitchers have bad games. Otherwise, they win.
So, it's possible for two teams with identical averages to not truly have identical "offenses" in terms of their impact on results. Finding success in the majors means getting runs up on the board every day....not occasionally having explosions against relievers getting mop up duty.
Most stat-types will tell you that inconsistency is almost impossible in the majors because opposing pitchers are so tough. You can't score very easily "on purpose," or "on command" whenever you want to. You send your guys up to take their shots. If the opposing starter has his stuff, they're probably going to struggle. This is largely true. Every so often, it's not.
The clearest example of a great offense that could score consistently was the Seattle Mariners in the year they made a run at 120 wins. They showed everyone the power of getting runs up on the board every day. It led to an unbelievable won-lost record for a year. Characteristics in play were:
- Ichiro at the top of the order with a high batting average
- Bats behind him who weren't afraid to draw walks
- Probably steroids!
We're not saying Ichiro was on steroids. He's a singles hitter that beat out a million ground balls. But, there were several players on the Mariners that year who had uncharacteristically high slugging percentages...and who often drew a lot of walks as a result. The key element of that group was that they had FOUR guys near the top of the order with on-base percentages around .400 most of the year. The Mariners were ALWAYS getting guys on base...which created a merry-go-round that yielded consistency.
We may never see the likes of that again now that the sport has cleaned up. But, the Boston Red Sox may have built a lineup with brains, moneyball strategies, and A LOT OF MONEY that could make a run at it.
Here are the on-base percentages through this past weekend for the top spots in the Red Sox batting order (as compiled by baseball-reference.com). You don't see any .400's. But, you see a lot of high numbers. Remember that the major league average is currently .321 in this stat.
BOSTON'S ON-BASE PERCENTAGES BY BATTING SLOT
#2 Hitter: .375
#3 Hitter: .376
#4 Hitter: .392
#5 Hitter: .392
Again, major league average is .321! Boston has the #1 offense in the sport because they emphasize patience at the plate with a high quality lineup. But look how those top five spots are well above average...with a clustering that certainly has the potential to create a merry-go-round effect.
And, NOW, look at what Boston has been scoring in recent games. We'll start with this past Sunday and move back in time:
14 at Toronto
16 at Toronto
5 at Toronto
8 at NY Yankees
11 at NY Yankees
6 at NY Yankees
6 vs. Oakland
9 vs. Oakland
8 vs. Oakland
Thirty runs in two days is mind-boggling. But, the consistency during those last there series is also a sight to behold. Five was the low water mark. Boston was at a "low" number of 5 or 6 just three times in the nine games. They've been getting enough runs to win (that's a nine-game winning streak you're looking at). Sometimes they explode and really have some fun.
A few notes:
- The team struggled to score early in the season, partly because of Carl Crawford's long slump, and partly because weather was cool across the Northeast. They really kicked things up a few notches when the weather warmed up.
- Some of the full season data is certainly helped by playing home games in Fenway Park. That's a great hitting environment (particularly in good weather). But, the last six games on the list above came on the road remember. These guys can score anywhere.
- Boston has been particularly abusive to mediocre right handed pitching lately. Righty aces have a chance to slow them down. Any rotation righty who isn't an ace is in deep trouble. Middling righty relievers should just duck for cover. Be sure you're focusing on this particular element when you play sides AND totals.
- Boston isn't suffering letdowns. Sometimes you'll see major league teams follow up a big game with a yawner. Everyone got their money's worth of hits in a blowout...and they lose their focus the next day. Did you see that happen in the streak above? Boston followed up an 11 in New York with an 8 in New York. Boston followed up a 16 at Toronto with a 14 at Toronto. NO MERCY!
The Red Sox start a very big three-game series tonight in Tampa Bay. They currently have a four-game lead over the Rays, who were in first place themselves not too long ago. Should Boston stay hot, they can push Tampa Bay WAY BACK in the AL East race. Should Tampa Bay's pitching put up a road block, this AL East race that also features the NY Yankees is going to tighten back up.
Projected Moundsmen for Tampa Bay:
Tonight: James Shields (right-handed ace)
Wednesday: Jeremy Hellickson (young righty with potential)
Thursday: David Price (lefty who's ace caliber at home)
Quite a U-turn from Kyle Drabek. This will be a great test for both teams. Should Boston's offense impress in this series, then the AL East race may already be over. The evidence will be clear that this is a championship offense that's going to take no prisoners the rest of the way. Should Tampa Bay win the series, there's hope that pitching heavy teams can compete with Boston down the stretch and in the playoffs. You'll recall last year (and in most prior seasons) where frontline pitching ruled the postseason regardless of what kind of offenses were on the field.
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