Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Note of Caution and History or How Good Are These Guys?

The Red Sox are playing at a .703 clip. If they play that way the rest of the way, they'll finish with 113 wins. Teams that win 113 games don't have to worry about winning their division or making the playoffs (winning in the playoffs is another matter for another time). If the Red Sox are that good, it won't matter what the Yankees (or Blue Jays, or Tigers) do.

Of course, not many teams win 110 games in the regular season. The record for the most wins in a regular season is owned by the
2001 Mariners who won 116 games. That topped the 1998 Yankees who won 114 games, which topped the 1954 Cleveland Indians who won 111 games.

The only other team team to win 110 games (or more) in a season was the 1906 Chicago Cubs who won 116. A couple teams came close. Two teams won 108 games ('75 Reds and '84 Tigers), and the '95 Indians were on a 112 win pace having won 100 out of 144 when the season ended due to strike.

Are the Red Sox that good? Maybe. To win that many games you have to be healthy, deep, and great at either hitting or pitching while being good-to-great in the other. Lets examine these a little more closely

1. Health

To continue at their present pace the Red Sox must remain healthy, and for the most part they have, although they have already had a few injury concerns. Josh Beckett is likely to miss his next start, and he could be out longer than that according to the Boston Globe. Manny Ramirez' hamstring tightened up in the Amazing Comeback on Sunday night against Baltimore, but he played yesterday and seemed fine. Mike Timlin has had shoulder problems and is out for the foreseeable future.

These are mostly minor issues, unless Beckett is out much longer than expected. So far so good.

2. Depth

While no team has the depth to survive the kind of injuries the Sox had last August,
the Red Sox have the depth to survive some injuries, both on the bench and at the minor league level. If Beckett is out for a month Bucholtz, Lester, Pauly, or Hansack could fill in and likely provide adequate production. If Manny needs to sit for a week, Wily Mo Pena can play left and again provide adequate production.

Alex Cora is hitting like Ted Williams and can fill in at shortstop or second base in case of injury. Eric Hinske can play 1st, 3rd, or either corner outfield spot, and Kevin Youkilis can play both infield corners well. Brandon Moss and the newly promoted Jacoby Ellsbury are raking at AAA and could fill in longer term if needed.

Still, the Red Sox are not injury=proof. If Jason Varitek suffers a serious injury, the team will have to scramble to fill the hole as they simply do not have another starting major league ready catcher anywhere in the system.

3. Be Good at Hitting or Pitching

The Red Sox hitting has been good. They are on pace now to score about 900 runs, which is not amazing but qualifies as very good. For some context, the 2004 team scored 954 runs which led the majors. There is some chance for improvement as well, as J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez, two guys who were counted on to help carry the load offensively have not been hitting of late.

4. Be Great at the Other One

To date, Boston's staff has allowed 126 runs in 36 games. Thats the best in the majors by a good amount. The next lowest is the Mets with 138 in 37 games, then San Diego with 140 in 38 games. Both the Mets and San Diego play in strong pitchers parks and in the noticeably weaker hitting National League. There is no question that adjusted for league and park effects, the Red Sox staff has played as the strongest in both leagues by a long shot.

The Sox staff has been better even than just league best. Over a whole season at this pace, the Sox would give up 551 runs. For context, the 116-win 2001 Mariners allowed 627. MLB.com only has data back to 2001, but in that six year time frame, the team that gave up the fewest runs is the '03 Dodgers who gave up 556. Of course, they only scored 574 (a run differential of +18 [edited]; the Red Sox are on pace for a run differential of +346). The 2002 Braves gave up 565 and thanks to a decent offense won 100 games. You'll notice that both these teams are NL teams, where its much easier to field a pitching staff with flashy stats.

Sabermetric principals holds that a truer measure of a team than its actual record is its Pythagorean record. This formula takes the number of runs a team scores and allows and distills it into a 'record' based not on actual wins and loses, but on how a team actually played. The whole thing can get extremely complicated as people have built layers upon layers on top of the formula to make it more realistic. I don't have the math ability to get into all that here, but for our purposes the original formula will work just fine. It looks like this:

If you project the Red Sox to play at their current pace through the rest of the season, they would score 897 runs and allow 551 runs. When you put this into the formula above you get a winning percentage of .726 and a record of 118-44 (or if you like decimals, 117.6-44.3).

Plainly put, thats historic. The Red Sox are probably not that good. But maybe they are. Like the answer to many questions, time will tell us soon enough.


I'm not really sure this means anything, but I thought I'd mention it. While the Red Sox have been amazing so far, their opponents have not been. So far, the Red Sox average opponent has had a winning percentage of .492, good for 24th in the league. This means that the average Red Sox opponent so far this season has been a team with an 80-84 record.

I don't think this is an indicator of weakness because the Red Sox have been so dominant. If the Sox were beating these teams 3-2 and 4-3 I'd be less certain that we have a great team on our hands.

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