Mistaken Blame in Beantown

Reputations and public conceptions are hard to shake, even in the light of contradictory evidence. The Red Sox through the 2000s were known as heavy hitting team thanks in part to the exploits of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and a good supporting cast. With Ramirez gone and David Ortiz visibly declining last season, the Red Sox changed course over the winter and tacked toward a pitching and defense-oriented ball club.

Despite a recent spate of acceptance of the value of good defense can bring amongst mainstream fans and pundits, the praising of it still tends to be limited to teams with good overall records. After all, defense first is a strategy whose fruits are hard to see. People can easily digest the value of a home run. Excellent outfield range is a lot harder. So if the team is doing poorly after deemphasizing offense, then said plan comes under easy attack.

It’s no surprise that Boston’s 19-19 record and current fourth place standing in the AL East has them facing some of these criticisms. The problem is that Boston’s offense is not the unit that is letting down the team, far from it in fact. Even with the continued demise of David Ortiz the Boston offense remains strong. So strong that by batting runs alone, they rank fifth in the Major Leagues. They are well ahead of the sixth-ranked Tigers and within easy striking distance of third-place Minnesota.

What’s actually been felling the Red Sox involves more shades of gray than a simple black hole on offense. The bullpen has been mediocre to downright bad with high walk totals and only average strikeout figures. The defense has also been merely average when it was hoped they would be well above that. On top of that is a slight dose of bad luck in their expected wins and losses and the bad luck to be playing in a division with the Yankees and Rays, two teams everyone expected to be great, and the Blue Jays, who have legitimately played like one of the best teams in baseball.

The Red Sox current record is a result of many things, but most of those 19 losses are not the hitter’s fault and a fair share of the 19 victories are.




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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


41 Responses to “Mistaken Blame in Beantown”

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  1. SF 55 for life says:

    injuries to their outfield don’t help much either. their starters haven’t be great either.

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    • Steve says:

      It is a little unfair that the Sox OF is shorthanded while the Yankees get to intimate their opponents with a Thames/Gardner/Winn OF.

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  2. Marc says:

    Tonight case in point.
    Brutal.

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  3. West says:

    Depending on a 36 year old PED using centerfielder to come from the NL to the AL and put up his typical career numbers and play 150 games was foolish. I projected a .650 OPS for Cam and a negative WAR, and that projection is looking good.

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    • Judy says:

      But did you know they’d allow 5 and half runs a game because they signed one old outfielder? Because that would be impressive.

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    • R M says:

      No it’s not….

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    • joser says:

      Could you link us to where you published this projection prior to the season? Did your system provide projections for the rest of MLB, or was it focused entirely on one player? I am interested because your system seems to be capable of projecting injury time, which would be a unique feature as far as I know.

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  4. Mat says:

    Bard>Papelbon NOW. Not too many people can square up 98mph even over the heart of the plate.

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  5. pft says:

    One of the dangers of looking at cumulative stats is it does not show the ebbs and flows of the season. The Red Sox offense was responsible for a number of losses in April. Players like JD Drew, Victor Martinez and David Ortiz had horrendous starts. If not for the offense provided by fill-ins like McDonald and Hermida, and Pedroias early HR power, they may have lost 3-4 games on top of what they did.

    Then along comes the Orioles, Angels and Blue Jays for 5 series. In 4 of those series they missed the other teams best starter, and most of the games were played at home. Their offensive stats took off like a jet from an aircraft carrier, and they went 11-5 with 10 of the games at home.

    Before tonights game against Hughes, the Red Sox had went 5-13 against starting pitchers who had an ERA under 4.00 as of May 16. The offense averaged 3.5 RPG while the pitching gave up 5.5 RPG. They have not hit poor pitching very well, but have feasted off bad pitching. Against starting pitchers who had an ERA worse than league average they scored 7.1 RPG and went 11-5.

    But you are right in that the offense does not seem to be a problem going forward. It’s really all about the starting pitching. Lester and Buchholz have been fine, but Beckett and Daisuke have the worst ERA among qualified SP’ers, and Lackey has been a below league average SP’er to date. Thats 250 million dollars of BAD. As a result, the bullpen has been overworked, especially in April, and a number of extra inning games have hurt them as well (Papelbon threw 2 1/3 IP on saturday in a game that went extra innings and may have affected him tonight).

    Defense has not been that big of a problem, although the OF defense hurt them tonight. But Beltres errors and all the SB have not been as big an impact on the teams W-L record as one might think. Only “DOPES” get worked up about them. LOL (private joke).

    Also, I beg to differ on the Blue Jays. They have had a very easy schedule and did not impress at all against the Red Sox (1-5). Bad defense, bad base running, poor plate discipline, pitchers who have poor command. Look for them to be fighting with the Orioles for last place before seasons end.

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    • Will says:

      Along those lines, the Red Sox offense is not hitting as well against better teams. In 22 games against teams with a .550 Winning% or better, Boston has scored 4.2 r/g. Against all others, they have scored 6.4 r/g.

      When you “cut back” on offense, I would imagine that shows up most against the better teams (who usually have the better pitchers).

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    • Rich says:

      “Before tonights game against Hughes, the Red Sox had went 5-13 against starting pitchers who had an ERA under 4.00 as of May 16. ”

      I bet if you looked at the league as a whole, they have a worse record against starters with a below 4. ERA.

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    • Matt Harms says:

      I don’t really agree with what you’re trying to do with comparing their win-loss records against different levels of ERA pitchers. That seems pretty obvious, no? ERA is strictly a count of runs, so of course they’re doing poorly against pitchers that they haven’t scored many runs against.

      I would suggest that most teams would perform poorly–given a significant sample size–against teams that they do not score many runs against. This doesn’t really tell us anything special about Boston’s performance thus far.

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  6. pft says:

    I meant “They have not hit good pitching…..”

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  7. Hank says:

    I think you need to also look at the consistency of offense – a quick scan (I could be off a game or so) showed 12 of 39 games where Boston scored 2 or fewer runs and 10 games where they scored 8 or more runs.

    The AL offenses near them in total runs – the Blue Jays and Rays for example had 8 and 7 games scoring 2 runs or less respectively.

    The Yankees have had 3 games where they’ve scored 2 or fewer runs. The Twins, below the Red Sox in total runs, have had just 7 games of 2 runs or fewer.

    I don’t know the odds on losing games where you score 2 or fewer runs, but when this represents nearly 1/3 of your games, the offense actually has let you down some. That said the bigger problem to date has been pitching, but the total run stat is misleading.

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    • RollingWave says:

      this, also, wow, the Yanks have only scored 2 or fewer twice? that’s impressive even by their standard. (and that stanard is like starting their entire opening day bench everyday these days)

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    • Matt Harms says:

      I pulled data for the AL East teams (too lazy to run it for the full MLB), but you’re right: the Std Deviation of Boston’s Runs Scored is 3.76893, highest in the AL East by a wide margin.

      The full order is Boston (3.769), Toronto (3.351), Tampa (3.224), New York (2.975), and Baltimore (2.757).

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      • Hank says:

        Thanks for the statistical backup. Without going through the #’s I think the Brewers may be the NL version of the RedSox (feast or famine offense)

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  8. hk says:

    Matt (or someone else),

    Please explain how the Sox have had “bad luck in their expected wins and losses” if they were 19-19 and -7 in run differential prior to last night. I’m not trying to be a wise guy, I’m just trying to understand expected wins and losses vs. actual record and run differential.

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    • Judy says:

      I don’t know if this is what was meant, but they have outhit their opponents without outscoring them, .270/.350/.455 to .261/.337/.427.

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  9. Stating the Obvious says:

    The Red Sox through the 2000s were known as heavy hitting team thanks in part to the exploits of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and a good supporting cast.

    good supporting cast = tons of steroids

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  10. Mark says:

    Since when did defense become some sort of non-traditional, SABR-metric thing? Other than starting Martinez at C, they’ve placed a high premium on defense and pitching, which is as old school as you can get.

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    • Steve says:

      Ever since the Mariner FO invented it, silly!!

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      • joser says:

        No, the Mariners were late to join that parade; in fact, the Red Sox were on board as early as 2007, though the Rays in ’08 were really the banner-waver that everyone noticed.

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  11. Eric M. Van says:

    Demise of David Ortiz?

    Ortiz in 2008: first 16 G, 72 PA, .111 / .222 / .259
    Ortiz in 2010: first 16 G, 63 PA, .143 / .238 / .286

    Ortiz in 2008: next 12 G, 56 PA, .313 / .411 / 604
    Ortiz in 2010: next 12 G, 50 PA, .348 / .380 / .761

    (He has been platooned this year, of course, but his number vs. RHP in both seasons are probably similar. And no, there’s no data massaging here; the slumps were identical in length in terms of games.)

    Ortiz in 2008, rest of way: .289 / .392 / .564 …

    … to finish at .265 / .369 / .507

    Original 2010 ZiPS projection: .260 / .366 / .507

    Given the start he’s off to (his best of the last three years), is there any reason to think he won’t reach that? And is that dead?

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  12. Pill says:

    how can u do run prevention with a catcher like martinez?

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    • Eric Feczko says:

      Doubtful. Removing martinez didn’t positively affect the indians pitching staff, which is even worse this year. Besides, if martinez were to blame, you would expect the younger pitchers to perform poorly, not the veterans.

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      • joser says:

        He’s certainly not helping the Red Sox prevent stolen bases, but work by Bill James and others has shown that stolen bases just don’t matter all that much in general, and the Red Sox haven’t lost a large number of close games that would lead you to think differently about them this year in particular.

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  13. Eric Feczko says:

    Actually it’s quite simple. The red sox pitching staff (bullpen in particular) has been terrible this year. They’ve allowed at least 5 runs in 24 of 39 games this year (nearly two thirds of all games). They’ve allowed fewer than 3 runs in 5 of 39 games this year. That’s about twice as bad as the hitting staff in terms of consistency across games. Few teams can sustain that level of consistent bad pitching and maintain a .600 record.

    In terms of xFIP (small sample size, I know), the only pitchers above league average (so-far) have been lester and bard. Beckett, in fact, is next with a 4.34, and though it may seem that he’s been unlucky this year (.365 BABIP), more than 25% of balls batted have been line drives. Papelbon has been regressing for awhile now, and likely should have never even been resigned. Apart from bard, the rest of the bullpen is a bunch of rejects and retreads. Most pitching stats have the red sox in the bottom ten or five of all teams this year.

    This season, the offense and defense have been pretty good. In terms of advanced statistics (i.e. wOBA and UZR/150), the sox are ranked in the top 10 teams so far (again small sample sizes).

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  14. chongo says:

    The media says “Papelbon’s first blown save since last July blah blah…” like he has been good steady ol’ JP all this time, and last night was some anomaly. He has been rocky all this season, nothing clean.

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    • joser says:

      Pitchers are variable, especially over short spans like single innings. Nothing new there.

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      • Hank says:

        Papelbon’s been “rocky” last fewer years – though I use that only as a relative term to his 06-08 terms. His WHIP has been up over 1.1 this year and last – good, but not that close to his .95, .77, .78 in ’08 to ’06 – his walk rate is up a fair amount and his hits are up a bit too.

        If it were just this year it’d be one thing, but the last 1.25 years?

        The 2HR’s may have been anomaly, but the WHIP is providing more chances for an anomaly to occur (so to speak)

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  15. Dirty Water says:

    “playing in a division with the Yankees and Rays, two teams everyone expected to be great”

    Define ‘everyone’

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