The broken Boston Red Sox

Ok… let’s start out with something to keep in mind… a defense of why it’s still early…

Number one ~ Geez… did everyone already forget 2009? Anyone want to guess Boston’s record out of the gate in 2009? They started with a win and then proceeded to drop 6 of the next 7 games. Yup… they were 2-6 at one point before rallying. They ran off 11 straight wins… beginning from that 2-6 record on the morning of April 15, 2009… and finished the month at 14-8. (Keep this in mind for later though… they went 2-5 in games where they scored 3 runs or less in April of 2009. Ok? Got that? Seriously… this will come up again.)

Item number one… easy folks. In fact, as we’ll see in a minute, not only did Boston start slowly in 2009, they crashed in July and August of 2009, and they still managed to clear 90 wins and make the playoffs.

Number two ~ Dad and I debate how to gauge a team and their positioning for the stretch run all the time… and while “how many games behind in the loss column” is a particular concept I simply think of as silly, the general theme of things we discuss holds true. We may not completely agree on the measurements to use, but we do agree on the overall idea. Making up a game a week in the standings is difficult but not obscenely unreasonable. Overcoming a deficit when you still have more than that number of head-to-head games with the team you are chasing is possible.

Item number two… a 5-game deficit with more than a dozen games remaining against both New York and Tampa as well as five months of the schedule to go isn’t hideous.

Number three ~ Jacoby Ellsbury. After playing Kansas City on April 11th, the Sox were 3-3. Entering the ground-rule-miracle opener against Texas at Fenway, they were 4-9. Let’s see… they went 1-6 and got spanked by the Rays at home along the way… is there anything we can point out about how they played in those games? You know… some common factor or missing element? I’m mentioning Ellsbury by name here, but the overall line of questioning is easy to spot.

Item number three… be careful judging how something is running when all the pieces aren’t in place.

What needs to be considered is that at some point this season, both the Yankees and the Rays… and let’s face it, in part any critique of the Red Sox at this time does involve the play so far of these division rivals… at some point both of these clubs are likely to face a stretch or two where they play sub-.500 ball for a 10-game run. That’s what makes baseball so amazing… things can change dramatically over the course of just a week.

As the first two games of the Red Sox – Rangers demonstrated… occasionally it’s better to be lucky than good… Youkilis and Drew and others that have struggled will have positive moments during the year (Drew will simply have less of them)… some unexpected heroes will emerge… and some moves will be made. The world evens out… a record does tend to balance the realities of a full season.

All of the good things that proved true in games one and two of Boston hosting Texas will continue to develop or eventually be replaced by more difficult losses. (All of the stupid things from those games will probably be seen again as well.)

Sum it up… don’t lose the thoughts of 2010 just yet because of April troubles over the first 15 games.

Still… that defense expressed… I think there is reason to be concerned. Let’s get to the chart…

Team 2009 3 or less scored 2009 3 or less scored record 2008 3 or less scored 2008 3 or less scored record
Boston 57 13-44 * (.228) 55 11-44 * (.200)
New York 38 10-28 (.263) 70 21-49 (.300)
Tampa Bay 72 12-60 (.166) 59 20-39 (.339)

* At one point, between July 17th and August 9th, Boston went 1-10 in games when they scored 3 runs or less. In something that should be considered scary heading toward July of 2010, between July 18th and August 8th of 2008, Boston went 1-9 in games when scoring 3 runs or less. When you look things over, and see that they stayed remarkably consistent between the two seasons… winning about 1 out of every 5 of such games and playing about 55 of them each season… 2010 potentially holds quite a problem still waiting to arrive.

Ok… the data itself is pretty simple… no smoke and mirrors… no funny business. In fact, all I really did was count, one by one, two years worth of games for three teams. (So bear with me if I’m off a game or two on my counts. The basic idea remains consistent.) In the years 2008 and 2009… how many games did the Red Sox, Yankees or Rays play where they scored 3 runs or less during a game, and, what was their record in those games?

Please notice… right away… of the three teams were focusing on, the team that played the most games of this type didn’t make the playoffs. And, the team with the best success rate in such contests went to the World Series. (I’m just saying…)

In 2008, Tampa played 59 such games… and look at that, they also won a remarkable one-third of them. That was the World Series year, and what we see is that when they played, basically they won. In 2009 they played 13 more games where they had trouble scoring, and the record was much worse. World Series to out of the playoffs. I don’t claim this is the only reason, but it sure looks pretty.

The number that sticks out is that 38 for New York in 2009. We’ve got six records to pick from, and no other record involved less than 55 such games. In other words… they bashed everyone just about all the time. (We’ll come back to this one in a second. Because bashing teams didn’t always work out well for them. At least… not as well as you might expect.)

Now there is likely more we can draw from this, but something funny is already developing in 2010. Ready? Ok…

Team 2010 3 or less scored 2010 3 or less scored recored Record in games decided by 1 run
Boston 7 0-7 2-2 *
New York 4 2-2 0-0
Tampa Bay 4 1-3 3-1

* Both victories came over Texas, while this article was being prepared but after it was started.

New York isn’t playing any close games, and in the four contests they didn’t score, they are breaking even. Tampa is winning close games, lending some support to the idea that their bullpen has tied up some loose ends that hurt in 2009. And Boston… well…

Once again they seem headed for about a third of their games to be played with them scoring 3 or less… and when that happens, they lose. (Unfortunately, given the pace they’re on, they could actually be headed to 70 or more such games. And, we’ve already pointed out what happens in this division when you play more games of this sort than the other two teams. That said… check out the numbers. They have been around 55 games scoring 3 or less for consecutive seasons. Both times they won about 11 of those games. And both times, they cleared 90 wins. That means they are winning 80% of the games when they score that fourth run. In fact…)

Watch this…

Team Record 4 or more scored 3 or less scored
Boston - 2008 95-67 84-23 (.790) 11-44 (.200)
Boston - 2009 95-67 82-23 (.781) 13-44 (.228)
New York - 2008 89-73 68-24 (.740) 21-49 (.300)
New York - 2009 103-59 93-31 (.655) 10-28 (.263)
Tampa Bay - 2008 97-65 77-26 (.747) 20-39 (.339)
Tampa Bay - 2009 84-78 72-18 (.800) 12-60 (.166)

What all of this says to me is that the rumors are true… Boston is a very boring, plodding, methodical team that just paces itself to 95 wins.

But check out New York… in 2008 they played better in the low scoring games… in 2009 they actually played worse in the high scoring games… and yet in 2009 they had a monster season because they played so few of those low scoring games, where they lost more often than they won. (Isn’t that something? Of the six seasons we are investigating… three teams over two years… last year’s New York team had the best overall record, and yet the worst winning percentage when they scored lots of runs.)

What I’m getting at is that in this very small sample size… but involving arguably three of the best four or five teams in baseball over the past two-plus seasons… two things become apparent…

First… It is better to score consistently. When you don’t cross that 3-run mark you lose far more than you win. And too many of those contests simply makes it impossible to cover the ground you’ll have to make up.

Second… Taking your chances by trying to build your club for a full season of low scoring games is pretty stupid. (Hmm… did someone say pitching and defense?)

Let’s just toss in one final, funny thing…

Team 2008 runs scored 2009 runs scored 2010 runs scored 2010 per game average
Boston 845 872 65 4.33
New York 789 915 79 5.64
Tampa Bay 774 803 83 5.53

If we can take 2010 to date as an indicator of things to come… and Tampa is going to once again win about a third of the time they struggle to score, but is now going to add to that a good record in close games (better bullpen) and a division-leading offense (most runs scored to date)… then look out, because the Rays are going to run away from the pack.

As we put the finishing touches on this, Boston has played 15 games. They have failed to score 3 runs 6 times… 40% of the games.

Does that mean things will get better? Or worse?

I don’t know. I can only tell you history says to bet on 95 wins… and that they had better improve their offense if that’s going to happen, and not count on better pitching and defense.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at