March 31, 2018

G3: Red Sox 3, Rays 2

Red Sox - 010 101 000 - 3  7  0
Rays    - 000 001 010 - 2  8  1
In 2017 (according to Alex Speier's recent must-read article on baseball's "launch angle revolution"), Xander Bogaerts averaged just 1.2 degrees on balls put in play at 100+ mph. That was the lowest mark among the 213 MLB players who put at least 50 balls in play at that velocity. In other words, the balls Bogaerts hit hardest last year were almost always grounders.

Therefore, Bogaerts was perhaps the Red Sox hitter with the most to gain from adjusting his swing to insure the ball left his bat at the best possible angle. In only three games, it is clear that he is a changed man at the plate. Bogaerts singled, doubled, and homered on Saturday; he is now 8-for-12, with six extra-base hits. Bogaerts is the only American League player in the last 100 years (and quite probably the only one in the AL's 118-year history) to have two or more extra-base hits in each of his team's first three games of the season. The only other player to do so in the last 100 years is Adrian "Evil Bert" Gonzalez, who did it for the 2015 Dodgers.

Speier tweeted during the game that Bogaerts has now hit four balls this season with an exit velocity of 100+ MPH and a launch angle of 20+ degrees. He hit only six balls that hard and at that angle all of that season. That is a jaw-dropping turnaround. ... Rob Bradford of WEEI asks an intriguing and exciting question: "What if this is the real Xander Bogaerts?"

In the second inning, X also showed patience, by laying off a 2-1 pitch that was just a little bit too low. Last year, perhaps, he would have swung at it, and grounded to second. The next pitch from Andrew Kittredge (3.1-3-2-1-1, 57) was slightly higher and X jumped on it, lining it over the wall in left-center for his first homer of the year.

Bogaerts's double in the sixth brought home J.D. Martinez, who had doubled right before him. And he and Martinez began the eighth with singles, but were stranded when Sandy Leon struck out with the bases loaded.

Rick Porcello (5.1-6-1-1-4, 89) was solid, allowing only two Tampa Bay runners to second base in the first five innings. Carlos Gomez doubled leading off the sixth and went to third on Matt Duffy's one-out single to shallow left. Heath Hembree gave up a sac fly to Joey Wendle, snapping Boston's starting pitcher scoreless streak at 18 innings. The run also cut the Red Sox's lead to 2-1.

Lefty reliever Bobby Poyner made his major league debut in the seventh, coming in with two outs and a man on first, and getting Kevin Kiermaier to pop out to third. Poyner stayed in to begin the eighth and Carlos Gomez homered on his first pitch of the inning, bringing the Rays to within one run again, 3-2. Poyner got an out before handing the ball to Carson Smith, who surrendered a single and a stolen base to Duffy. Adeiny Hechavarria ended the threat with a fly to center, the last of seven putouts registered by Andrew Benintendi.

In the bottom of the ninth, it appeared that Craig Kimbrel's 3-2 pitch to Mallex Smith caught the bottom of the strike zone, but plate umpire Andy Fletcher thought otherwise and sent the potential tying run to first base on a walk. (BrooksBaseball recorded the pitch as out of the strike zone.) Pinch-hitter C.J. Cron hit a soft, sinking liner towards shortstop. Bogaerts ran in, caught it at his shoelaces and fired quickly to first, doubling off Smith. Kimbrel then got Denard Span to pop up - to Bogaerts at short.

The Red Sox (2-1) are now tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East.

I was going to mention Speier's story in a separate post, but I'll put it here instead:
J.D. Martinez is a big believer in achieving the optimum "launch angle" at the plate. The Red Sox's new DH saw the light during the 2013-14 offseason, when he worked with private hitting instructors Craig Wallenbrock and Robert Van Scoyoc.
It was an out-of-body experience. ... Like, "This is so crazy. Everything I've been taught for so long has been so wrong. Now, I see everything we're trying to do and how this makes sense." You take a million swings one way and all of a sudden you've got to tell your body you can't do that anymore and have to take a million swings this way. [In his first round of batting practice in the Venezuelan Winter League in November 2013, Martinez crushed ball after ball in the air, clearing the fences with ease from foul line to foul line.] I was like, "What in the world? What is this?" I'm looking around like, "I'm cheating." Honest to God, I felt like I was cheating.
Martinez's career took off like a rocket in 2014. His batting average improved by 65 points, his slugging jumped from .378 to .553, and his OPS rose from .650 to .912. He became a superstar.

In his first three seasons (2011-13), Martinez hit 24 home runs in 975 plate appearances. In 2014, he hit 23 dongs in only 480 PAs. Last season, he went deep 45 times and led all hitters with a .690 slugging percentage.

Martinez easily outslugged Giancarlo Stanton (.631), Mike Trout (.629), and Aaron Judge (.627) in 2017, but because he split time with the Tigers and Diamondbacks, he did not qualify among the league leaders in either the AL or NL. (By comparison, Mookie Betts led the Red Sox in slugging last year, at .459.)

Alex Speier posted a phenomenal article on the launch angle revolution on the Globe's site:
For a Red Sox team that finished last in the American League in homers in 2017, the addition of Martinez made all the sense in the world. But so did an embrace of the concepts that permitted him to transform his career. If some of the Red Sox players who struggled to hit for power last year can tap into better forms of contact, the power-deficient 2017 team could be drastically different in 2018. ...

The Sox' best contact rarely came at a launch angle that delivered the maximum impact. According to, on balls put in play at 100 m.p.h. or greater, the Sox had the lowest average launch angle in the majors — 9.3 degrees — suggesting a team that hit plenty of low liners that yielded solid batting averages but had little chance of leaving the park. ...

Bogaerts was the most extreme example, but he wasn't alone. Jackie Bradley Jr. was in a similar boat, with most of his hardest hits ground balls. Mookie Betts, at a 5.3 degree average launch angle, ranked 203rd. ...

Martinez, meanwhile, had an average launch angle of 19.6 degrees, and his most frequent top-end exit velocities came at a 27 degree launch angle that is ideal for producing home runs. He launched one homer for every 10.9 plate appearances, one of the best ratios in history. ...

[A]s they enter 2018, the Red Sox appear ready for liftoff, with Martinez serving as the flag bearer for their embrace of a hitting revolution, and several of his teammates hoping to tap into the same reservoirs that transformed his career.
See, also, older articles at FiveThirtyEight and the Washington Post.
Rick Porcello / Andrew Kittredge
Betts, RF
Benintendi, CF
Ramirez, DH
Martinez, LF
Bogaerts, SS
Moreland, 1B
Nunez, 3B
Holt, 2B
Leon, C
Some cool stuff, thanks to Elias Says:

Joe Panik is the first player in major league history to hit a home run in each of two consecutive 1-0 games. The Giants beat the Dodgers in both games. (Panik's record is for any two consecutive games, not only two games to start a season.) Also, only one other team has ever started a season with a pair of 1-0 wins. The Reds beat the Cardinals on April 21 and 22, 1943.

The Tigers lost their home opener to the Pirates 13-10 in 13 innings, tying the franchise record for the most runs allowed in a home opener. The other instance was the first game the Tigers ever played. On April 25, 1901, the Milwaukee Brewers (no relation to the current team) led 13-4 going into the bottom of the ninth. The Tigers scored 10 times and won the game 14-13.

The Marlins beat the Cubs 2-1 in 17 innings on Friday night. The only other time two teams played at least 17 innings in either their first or second game of a season was on April 9, 1969, when the Royals beat the Twins 4-3 in 17 innings. That was the second game of the season for each team (and the second game ever for the Royals).

Red Sox Seasons In Which The Starting Pitchers Allowed No Runs In The First Two Games
1919 - April 23 - Carl Mays: 9 innings (beat Yankees 10-0) 
       April 27 - Sam Jones: 9 innings (beat Yankees 8-0)
1940 - April 16 - Lefty Grove: 9 innings (beat Senators 1-0)
       April 18 - Jim Bagby: 9 innings (beat Senators 7-0)
2018 - March 29 - Chris Sale: 6 innings (lost to Rays 6-4)
       March 30 - David Price: 7 innings (beat Rays 1-0)

1 comment:

allan said...

More Speier: "The Red Sox allowed four or fewer hits in back-to-back games to open the year for the first time since 1918. They did it in three straight to open the 1916 season. Babe Ruth was their opening day starter in both seasons."