Red Sox-Angels

While there are still a few pennant races to be determined, we have a pretty good grasp on at least one series that will open next Tuesday – the Red Sox and Angels will be squaring off, as Boston’s the very likely wild card entry and the Angels will almost certainly finish with the league’s best record.

This is a tough draw for the Angels, because despite not winning their division, it’s pretty easy to make a case that the Red Sox are the best team in the AL this year. They have the league’s best run differential (+165), and no one else is particularly close. They’ve scored more runs than each of the other AL playoff teams (only Texas scored more often overall) and they’ve allowed the second fewest runs, 12 behind Tampa Bay.

On top of that, the Red Sox are built extremely well for the playoffs. Their big weakness this year was the #5 starter position, which was filled by a variety of players at different times. Overall, the starters beyond Beckett/Lester/Matsuzaka/Wakefield pitched 231 innings and had a 4.81 FIP, compared to the 3.91 FIP that the four playoff starters managed to total.

In addition, the best innings of the #5 starter group came from Justin Masterson, who has been terrific out of the bullpen for the Sox, giving them another RH setup man to bridge the gap to Jonathan Papelbon. With Hideki Okajima, Javier Lopez, and Manny Delcarman, along with Masterson and Papelbon, the Sox have five quality relievers for high leverage situations.

Assuming that the nine main pitchers for Boston log a significant majority of the playoff innings, the Red Sox probably have the best playoff pitching staff of any team headed into October. Beckett’s a legitimate #1, Lester and Matsuzaka are inconsistent but occasionally brilliant, and Wakefield’s knuckler makes him one of the best #4 starters around.

This isn’t to say the Angels don’t have a chance – they have a good team with some quality arms themselves, but their reward for having the AL’s best record is a date with a team that is probably superior in most ways. If the Angels end up bowing out in the first round, it won’t be because they couldn’t handle the pressure – they’ve just drawn a better opponent.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

8 Responses to “Red Sox-Angels”

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  1. Trieu says:

    This matchup presents a kind of karmic balance. If you lined up each of the teams by run differential, the Red Sox would end up meeting . . . the Angels.

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  2. Chris says:

    Have you taken a closer look at Jon Lester’s season? I’m not savvy with advanced stats, but I think you’re really selling him short by lumping him with Matsuzaka as being “inconsistent, but occasionally brilliant”. Those words could have been used to describe Jon Lester prior to this season, but he is much improved this year. Matsuzaka can be maddening to watch – he works extremely slowly, throws way too many pitches, seems to always be working his way out of self-created jams . Too many of his outings are 5 inning 4 walk affairs. Lester, on the other hand, has really cut down on the walks this year and consistently goes deep into games. After a mediocre April, he has been remarkably consistent, and the most dependable starter on the Red Sox staff, at least results wise. His 20 quality starts leads the team, he has allowed 1 run or less in 14 of his 28 starts (I’m pretty sure I’ve remembered this correctly). He also has played the role of stopper as well, with a 1.43 era after a Red Sox loss. He also has improved as the year has gone on. His stuff has gotten better the farther removed he is from his bout with cancer. His fastball velocity in the past 8 or so starts has been consistently 92-95, touching 96 and 97. The velocity on all his pitches has risen across the board this year. His 210 innings in the regular season are the most on the Sox. With Wakefield, Beckett, and Dice-K all spending time on the DL this year, and the 5th starter spot a mess for most of the season, Jon Lester has been so invaluable to this team. I don’t know where the Red Sox would have been without him this year. I would love if one of you guys could do a detailed analysis of his season.

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  3. Dave Cameron says:

    While I agree that Lester has outpitched Matsuzaka this year, we can’t ignore April. By taking away four bad starts just because they happened in the same month and evaluating him as if May-September is all that matters, he’ll certainly look more consistent because we’ve arbitrarily removed all his bad games.

    Lester’s had 7 starts with a Game Score of less than 40 this year – that’s one in every five starts where he could charitably be described as lousy. He’s also had 11 really good starts (his best 11 performances have an average game score of 74, which is excellent), and then everything else falls in the decent-but-not-spectacular category.

    7 lousy starts, 15 okay ones, and 11 excellent ones. To me, that’s a guy who is occasionally excellent but still frustratingly inconsistent.

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  4. Dave Cameron says:

    Or, to put this another way:

    Lester, average game score: 54.76
    Matsuzaka, average game score: 56.79

    Lester, standard deviation of game score: 17.76
    Matsuzaka, standard deviation of game score: 15.72

    Matsuzaka has the higher mean and the lower variation in terms of Game Score. GS isn’t perfect, and doesn’t account Dice-K’s lucky BABIP, so I’m not concluding that Dice-K is better than Lester, but it is tough to argue that Lester’s been more consistent, results wise.

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  5. Roman says:

    Are these Bill James’ game scores? This statistic seems to assign rather arbitrary weights to me. How accurate do you think it is? Does it do a good job determining how dominate a pitcher is?

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  6. Marcel says:

    Dave, although I agree that you can’t throw out April in evaluating his performance for this year, I do think it can be largely ignored when predicting how he’s likely to perform going forward for the rest of this season. He made a real and noticable alteration to his pitching routine towards the beginning of May that helped him to finally gain control of the strike zone (not like Washburn’s phantom mechanics tweak.) As long as he continues to keep his rhythm, I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll revert to his April form.

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  7. Eric M. Van says:

    If, in fact, you’d watched Lester all year, the first thing you’d do was throw out his first six starts. Baseball players are, rather surprisingly, human beings rather than random number generators.

    Sometimes a player makes an adjustment, or suffers an injury, or recovers from an injury, or undergoes or gets over a personal problem, at some specific point in the season (which usually has to be inferred from the numbers) that then renders everything previous irrelevant. Johnny Damon’s second half of 2002 and first half of 2003 (divorce) had no predictive value, ditto Bill Mueller’s first 6 weeks of 2002 (ST injury), big chunks of David Ortiz’s tenure with the Twins (misc. injuries), and Dustin Pedroia’s first career 166 PA. In every case, predictions would have been better had the clearly aberrant season chunks been tossed out (and in all these cases I did exactly that; in Ortiz’s case it was verifying that his ’03 reason was for real sometime in mid-summer, when sabermetric wisdom had him as just fluky hot) .

    In almost every case you can run simple significance tests (e.g., chi-square) to confirm that the odds of the observed before-and-after split are very small. Lester, for instance, had an improvement in HR / Contact that you’d expect to see in 2.2% of random simulations *plus* an improvement in BB rate you’d see in 7.6% plus an improvement in K rate you’d see in 17.9% (and even in improvement in BABIP you’d see 30% of the time). The odds against all of these things happening together might be something like 11,000 to 1.

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  8. Rev Halofan says:

    Thanks for an insightful preview that mentions exactly zero Angels.

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