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Steve Pearce has been one of the more under-the-radar acquisitions of 2018

There was a platoon problem for the Red Sox at first base earlier in the season, but it was all fixed with one simple move.

League Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

You want a good laugh? Take a look at the top hitting first baseman in all of baseball since the beginning of July. Filling out the top ten, there’s names like Luke Voit, Ryan O’Hearn, Steve Pearce, C.J. Cron, and Tyler White. The one I want to focus on has a timely ring to it, as he’s currently getting a bulk of the plate appearances for the American League champion Boston Red Sox in the World Series. That player is midseason trade acquisition Steve Pearce, a player that didn’t necessarily come flying in out of nowhere like some of the aforementioned, being a long time major league veteran with past success. Yet his superb .284/.378/.512 line seems like it did fall very much under-the-radar.

Pearce started the 2018 season on another AL East team, the Blue Jays. Not necessarily a full-time player, being the platoon lefty smasher that he is with a Blue Jays outfield glut, he found himself on the Red Sox by the beginning of July. Like he did in Toronto, he’s worked his way into a 108-win lineup with his 158 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. His platoon skills were a clear need on a Red Sox squad with little weaknesses. They had DFA’d Hanley Ramirez and were left with Mitch Moreland covering most of the time at first base, a career 79 wRC+ hitter against left-handed pitchers. If changes weren’t made, it was going to be a problem that could hamper their lineup against lefties come October.

Before they traded for Pearce (June 28th), Red Sox first baseman ranked 24th among their positional group in xwOBA against left-handers.

Team first baseman xwOBA against left-handed pitching before June 28th

Rank Player xwOBA
Rank Player xwOBA
1 ARI 0.455
2 ATL 0.397
3 SF 0.386
4 MIL 0.385
5 DET 0.385
6 CWS 0.38
7 CLE 0.359
8 CIN 0.355
9 OAK 0.351
10 WSH 0.34
11 PHI 0.336
12 TB 0.333
13 NYY 0.332
14 TEX 0.331
15 TOR 0.325
16 COL 0.325
17 SD 0.321
18 MIA 0.317
19 KC 0.317
20 MIN 0.316
21 SEA 0.316
22 BAL 0.315
23 STL 0.314
24 BOS 0.308
25 LAD 0.306
26 CHC 0.299
27 PIT 0.299
28 NYM 0.292
29 HOU 0.286
30 LAA 0.276
Baseball SavantBaseball Savant

Luckily for them, that problem was addressed quickly and early in the trading season. And since that trade, the script has been flipped on their first base success against left-handed pitching. Since June 28th, the group has ranked ninth in xwOBA.

Team first baseman xwOBA against left-handed pitching since June 28th

Rank Player xwOBA
Rank Player xwOBA
1 WSH 0.411
2 CWS 0.376
3 ATL 0.37
4 MIL 0.369
5 ARI 0.366
6 NYY 0.356
7 LAD 0.355
8 CIN 0.344
9 BOS 0.341
10 HOU 0.336
11 PHI 0.336
12 CHC 0.333
13 STL 0.331
14 CLE 0.313
15 OAK 0.312
16 TEX 0.306
17 SEA 0.305
18 NYM 0.303
19 MIA 0.301
20 MIN 0.301
21 COL 0.3
22 TB 0.299
23 PIT 0.289
24 KC 0.279
25 DET 0.268
26 BAL 0.267
27 LAA 0.262
28 SF 0.261
29 SD 0.244
30 TOR 0.244
Baseball Savant

It’s played a part in the Red Sox run to the World Series too, as Pearce’s action against left-handed pitching in the playoffs has gone as follows...

  • 10/5 vs NYY: 1 for 3, BB
  • 10/6 vs NYY: Pinch-hit BB
  • 10/9 vs NYY: 2 for 5
  • 10/16 vs HOU: 1 for 4, HR
  • 10/23 vs LAD: 0 for 2, BB
  • 10/24 vs LAD: 0 for 2, BB

Now playing for his first ring, this is all just the cherry on top for a career-year from Pearce. The improvements this year he’s made this year have been more than impressive. He’s seen a career high in BB/K ratio, his second best season in terms of ISO, and his best in hard-hit rate.

Among 276 players with at least 200 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018, Pearce had the sixth highest increase in BB/K ratio along with the 29th biggest jump in ISO.

He’s even made improvements against the other side of the platoon, as he’s putting up numbers against right-handers that wouldn’t suggest he’s a strict platoon guy.

The Red Sox are now two wins away from a World Series championship. While the lead is in a comfortable position, they still have an unsecured road ahead of them. With the Dodgers sending up to three left-handers the rest of the series (Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu) and an array of important left-handed relievers occupying the bullpen (Scott Alexander, Julio Urias, Alex Wood), Steve Pearce’s success on the platoon still has a chance to make a huge impact.


Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.