For Red Sox, patience no longer a virtue

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There was an interesting discussion on the Baseball Prospectus website the other day in which author Matthew Trueblood noted that over the 2013-14 seasons, Red Sox hitters led the major leagues in the percentage of first pitches taken at 79.7 percent. For anyone who has been paying attention, that does not come as a surprise. Although as a strategy, Trueblood made an interesting case as to why that may becoming less effective than in the past.

For one, batters who fall behind 0-1 have a 28.2 percent chance of ending their at-bats by striking out, a significant jump from seven years ago, when the rate was around 25 percent. And the number of 0-and-1 counts was at an all-time high of 49.6 percent, as pitchers have placed a greater emphasis on attacking the strike zone early in the count.

The Red Sox found themselves in 0-1 counts 51.7 percent of the time, the second highest rate in the game, and last season they faced more two-strike counts than any team in baseball. They posted a .516 OPS with two strikes, just above league average, but ranked third in strikeouts (1337).

Trueblood noted that in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, the Sox added two aggressive hitters to their offense. Sandoval swung at the first pitch 43.1 percent last season, while Ramirez swung 32.5 percent of the time.

Farrell said the Sox did not specifically sign those players because they were more aggressive, but agreed a change in approach has value.

"We targeted the best available players first and foremost,’’ Farrell said. “But what we’re seeing around the game, and the bullpens that are just now power arms, you’re getting matchups as early as the sixth inning. So to sit and take and try to work a count, the approach of driving up a pitch count and chasing a starter somewhere in the seventh or eighth inning is probabbly taken away now by the way bullpens are being run. So the more 95 mile-an-hour arms that are in the game right now, you’ve got to have some aggressiveness and be able to hit the fastball. I think we’ve been able to bring in some guys in who can do just that.''

Farrell agreed that pitchers are well aware of the Sox's first-pitch tendency, and have tried to take advantage of it.

"Without a doubt,’’ he said. “The book is out on every guy. How we can keep some uncertainty in the opposition’s mind, that’s part of it. But it’s clear for years that pitchers who did well against the Red Sox or teams like New York would challenge us early in the count and look to use that to their advantage.''