Fenway Park No Longer Friendly Confines For Red Sox
Fenway Park used to be a huge home field advantage for the Boston Red Sox. In 2011, before September 1, the Red Sox had a 41-26 record at home. Since then they have been 8-19 at home. From 2007-2009 the Red Sox won over 50 game at home each season. As a matter of fact from 2002-2009 the Red Sox won over 50 games every year with the exception of 2006, in which they won 48 at home. Somehow, somewhere along the way the Red Sox have lost a bit of that Fenway magic. They closed out last September going 4-10 at home and have started this season going 4-9.
When you think of the Red Sox in their heyday (2004-2008) they were a team that feasted on opposing pitching at Fenway Park. There were several factors that went into it, the biggest being the intimidation factor. Think of Fenway Park from an opposing player’s point of view. The fans are all tightly fit into little Fenway Park, usually 35,00-38,000 fans every night. Everywhere you turn there are fans. On top of the monster, behind the bullpen, around the bend in right field, there is no escaping them. Then there was the Red Sox lineup. What Theo Epstein did, and what I think Dan Duquette and Lou Gorman failed to do at times, was put together a lineup that was just made for Fenway Park. The lefties were guys who could use the whole field. The righties were pull hitters who would wear out that wall. And the opposing pitchers were aware of all of this. The Red Sox lineup could quickly get into a pitcher’s head, particularly a young and inexperienced guy.
So why are the Red Sox not as successful at home as they are on the road? In a word – pitching. The lineup is still hitting .011 higher at home than on the road (.275 vrs. .264) and they have 3 more home runs at home than on the road (16 vrs. 13). The pitching, however, is night and day between home and the road. The staff ERA is a run and a half higher at home than on the road (6.17 vrs. 4.66) and they have given up an astonishing 22 home runs so far at Fenway as opposed to 12 on the road. They’ve given up 27 more hits at home than on the road and opposing teams have scored 25 more runs at Fenway this year as opposed to games played away from home. Sure the Sox offense is not quite as prolific as it once was, especially with injuries to Ellsbury, Youkilis, and Crawford, but they have held up their end of the bargain more often than not. A team with a $175 million payroll should have a starting rotation that can hold opposing teams to 5 runs or less in a game. The Sox offense has been overturned quite a bit in recent years and those guys will have to get used to hitting at Fenway, particularly the guys from the National League. You would have assumed that the Sox would have a starting staff that could overcome their growing pains. They haven’t been able to do so since last September.
Obviously the Red Sox pitching staff has severely underachieved since last September 1 but there is another factor involved that may hurt them a bit – the fact that their division rivals started to rebuild more intelligently. For years the O’s and Rays would pick up guys like Fred McGriff, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, etc. just to keep up with the Red Sox and the Yankees. Consider that when guys like Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters have already played 10 games a year for 5 or 6 seasons before they have even hit their prime the intimidation factor of playing at Fenway Park is substantially undermined particularly when you’ve had a great deal of success against the Sox as a guy like Longoria has.
Lastly the Red Sox have done a poor job of developing pitchers in their minor league system and that’s a big part of the drop-off in their pitching production, particularly at Fenway Park. The Sox have sold off a number of young arms, usually to acquire guys to bolster their lineup. Guys like Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone could be helping the major league staff at this point, particularly Masterson who has become a very versatile pitcher. The Sox’ system is void of arms above the A level whereas they’d have a guy like Casey Kelly moving closer towards the majors if they didn’t send him away. The group of pitchers that the Sox have now don’t seem to have the ability to harness the advantages of being a pitcher who calls Fenway Park home with the exception of Josh Beckett who still pitches considerably better at home than on the road. Vicente Padilla, who is supposed to be a key bullpen arm has an 18.00 ERA at Fenway as opposed to a 1.59 ERA at home. The other set-up guy, Franklin Morales, has a 12.46 ERA in 4 1/3 innings at home yet has not given up an earned run in 4 2/3 innings on the road. Current closer Alfredo Aceves hasn’t been as effective on the road as the others with a 6.75 ERA thus far but he’s got a sky-high 7.94 ERA at Fenway. Numbers like that are not going to get it done for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox need to go back to basics when building their pitching staff. They need to find guys that have the guts to get big outs late in games at Fenway. Games like the one against the Yankees a few weeks ago when the bullpen gave up an 8-run lead are absolutely unacceptable. I know there is an endless number of conspiracy theories but in my opinion the “Fenway aura” is really a myth. The Red Sox don’t perform any better or worse no matter how many hapless fans sing Sweet Caroline. Obviously a more intelligent, boisterous crowd will help with the intimidation factor, but that really comes with a successful team. The solution to me is much simpler – fix the pitching and you will fix the problem.
Note – The numbers reflected above are the stats coming into the Sunday game