That the Red Sox would hit fewer home runs this season isn’t exactly a surprise given the retirement of David Ortiz. He hit 483 home runs during his 14 seasons in Boston, making every plate appearance one you had to watch.
But the step back in power has been more of a plunge for the Red Sox 19 games into the season.
The Sox are last in the majors with 11 home runs, a whopping 26 behind the Milwaukee Brewers. The team leader is Pablo Sandoval with three, or at many as Yoenis Cespedes hit for the Mets on April 11.
The Mets hit seven that day. The Sox have yet to hit seven in a week.
The Sox are on a pace to finish the season with 94 home runs, which would be their fewest since hitting 84 in 1992. That team finished in last place, 23 games out.
“I’m not worried about it. They come in bunches,” hitting coach Chili Davis. “It’s better not to even think about it. You start to think about it and you change your swing. You have a little drought and boom, boom, boom they start to come.”
The Sox connected three times in Baltimore on Sunday. Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez had back-to-back home runs in the first inning and Mitch Moreland one in the fifth. It was the first time this season the Sox had multiple home runs in a game.
“Maybe now we do,” Ramirez said after the game.
There are several other reasons the Sox have lacked home run power that have nothing to do with Ortiz.
Their complete lineup has been together once all season, on Opening Day. For reasons of illness (Betts, Ramirez), injury (Jackie Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia), or bereavement leave (Xander Bogaerts), the Sox have been unable to field their preferred nine players since April 3.
That has made the lineup easier for opposing pitchers to manage.
“A little bit. Then it makes it worse if you chase, even worse,” Ramirez said. “Take a walk, that’s all. We have to leave it to the next guy.”
Manager John Farrell doesn’t believe Ortiz’s absence has changed the approach of any other hitter.
“With all respect to David, his name hasn’t been talked about in our clubhouse,” the manager said. “That’s who our guys are. We’re focused on how we’re going to attack a given pitcher on a day and not waiting for someone else to come through the door.”
Weather is another factor. Eight of the 19 games were played when the temperature at first pitch was between 40-55 degrees. The Sox hit five home runs in those games.
“The cold takes some getting used to. It’s not great for hitting,” Andrew Benintendi said. “I think you’ll see us hit more home runs as it warms up.”
Farrell finds it all more coincidental than anything else.
“You look at the home run totals guys in our lineup have put up in the past, we’re not expecting them to do something they haven’t done before,” he said. “I don’t think anybody coming into the season, knowing that we were missing a middle-of-the-order guy with 30-plus home runs every year, don’t know that we were necessarily looking for a one-for-one replacement.
“Still, we’re very capable of putting up good offensive numbers. I can’t pinpoint any one reason why the home run total is what it is. I’m confident that we’ll hit our fair share before it’s all said and done.”
The lack of home runs hasn’t hurt the Sox as much offensively as you might think. Through Sunday, they were sixth in the American League in OPS and averaging 4.05 runs, just a tick below the league average of 4.12. Their .388 slugging percentage was just about league average, too.
“I don’t have anything against home runs. They are nice to have. But I’d hate to focus on trying to hit them and changing somebody’s approach,” Davis said.
“You hear guys talk about launch angles. I don’t think you can lift the ball out of the ballpark; you have to drive the ball about the ballpark. You hit the pitch and put a solid swing on it.”
The good news? The Red Sox had only 14 home runs after 19 games last season and finished ninth in the majors with 208. Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Moreland, and Ramirez are capable of 20 or more home runs. Benintendi and Chris Young will contribute as well.
Ramirez is a good example. He had one home run in the first 24 games he played last season and finished with 30.
“If you look at Hanley, we were saying the same thing last year and then he took off. The one thing I can say about Hanley is that he works and he tries to make the adjustments. When he gets hot, he’s going to stay hot,” Davis said.
“You can’t worry about extra-base hits; they just happen. If I could I tell guys when to hit home runs, I’d be making the big bucks. We’ll be fine.”