Kiké Hernandez Leads the Way

The 2021 Boston Red Sox are in prime position to win the AL East for the first time since 2018. They have showcased one of the most potent offenses in all of baseball. This is despite getting very little production from the leadoff position. Red Sox leadoff hitters through July 23rd are only batting .209 with a 66 wRC+. Here’s a quick runoff of the leadoff contributions: Danny Santana (-6 wRC+), Christian Arroyo (81 wRC+), Marwin Gonzalez (71 wRC+), and Kiké Hernandez (118 wRC+). The rest of the lineup, in particular spots 2-5 have had to carry the slack for the majority of the season.

Leadoff Woes

Prior to June 27th, manager Alex Cora tried any and everything to find the right guy to lead the lineup. Check out this quote from Cora that he made to reporters on June 19. You can sense the mounting frustration with the leadoff spot. “We’re working on it. Trying to find good matchups, hopefully, the guy we put in the leadoff spot comes through. We’re trying to be consistent, but we haven’t been. That’s real.” It’s not often you hear that sort of attitude from a manager of a first-place team. At that point, the Red Sox were still waiting on someone to take the metaphorical “brass ring”. Up until then, the best option was probably Christian Arroyo who batted .263 in his short time in the leadoff role. Thankfully, June 27th became the day when this season-long problem met its solution in the form of a refined Kiké Hernandez.

Much Needed Spark

Thankfully, June 27th became the day when this season-long problem met its’ solution in the form of a refined Kiké Hernandez. He stood in front of New York Yankees right-hander Gerrit Cole and took his first pitch deep and over the green monster. This was the type of spark and explosiveness the lineup needed.

In his career, Hernandez has a 112 wRC+ in 587 at-bats. His career .476 SLG% as a leadoff hitter is highest among any other spot in the order. In this position, Hernandez hasn’t been the most productive across the board. A low on-base of .318, and a higher strikeout rate than walk rate didn’t paint him as the most ideal man to start your lineup.

Since June 27th, however, he has managed to turn himself into one of the most productive leadoff men in the game. The most impressive part of this run has been Henandez’s power surge. From June 27th to July 23rd, his SLG is a whopping .696. That’s 230 points higher than his career average. He’s also found his home run stroke, hitting eight of them during this period. He had six homers leading up to the 27th.

Kiké Hernandez June 27-July 23

Kiké The Hunter

How has this change come? What has gotten into Hernandez that made his power increase so drastically? This quote from Alex Cora helps explain it all. “He’s hunting pitches in certain spots. And he’s putting good swings on it.” When Cora speaks of Hernandez hunting he’s mainly speaking of Hernandez being more selective on what he swings at, and where. Let’s focus on the where for a moment. Taking a look at his heat map during his hot streak, you can see Hernandez has made a concerted effort to pounce on pitches inside. This heatmap shows his swing% from June 27th-July 23rd.

Prior to June 27

This change shows that Hernandez is more confident in what he wants. Anything middle-in, or up and inside receives the green light. When he locks on and identifies what he wants, this is the result:

Another illustration of how much more selective He’s gotten is his walk-to-strikeout ratio. He is now drawing more walks and striking out less. Since June 27th, his walk percentage is up to 14.4%. That is up from 6.8% prior to that date. His strikeout percentage before the 27th of June was 23% and is down to 11.3% since then. 

Going Forward

With the likes of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez manning the middle of the lineup, the emergence of Hernadez as the team’s fire starter is a big boost for a team that is already exceeding all expectations. Even though the bottom of the lineup has been filled with modest contributors, it seems that the top of the lineup can pick up the slack as Cora finds a viable solution to stabilize the bottom. If there are no moves made by the front office during the upcoming trade deadline it seems as if Hernandez and the top five will have to carry the Red Sox throughout the summer.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

Players Mentioned:

Danny Santana, Christian Arroyo, Marwin Gonzalez, Kiké Hernandez, Gerrit Cole, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez


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