Change-UpOctober 10, 2008
By Patrick Sullivan

The Tampa Bay Rays had a tremendous season and are very much capable of taking Boston out in the 2008 ALCS. Let me explain, however, why these two teams might not be as evenly matched as they appear. The important measures, as far as I am concerned, are how a team performed over the course of the season and how they performed heading into the post-season. Because rosters change, players get injured or heal up, and guys who start slow or fast often do not end the season that way, it's important to look at a team's constitution towards the end of the season. So here are some numbers.

       BOS    TBR
OPS+   108    103
ERA+   114    114
       BOS    TBR
AUG   .854   .836
SEP   .796   .767
LDS   .700   .856
   OPS Allowed
       BOS    TBR
AUG   .732   .738
SEP   .721   .761
LDS   .660   .683

So the Red Sox appeared to be slightly better all season long and they finished the season stronger than the Rays to boot. The difference, however, is not that great. Boston had a better hitting team, and by looking just at the surface, a pitching staff that was equal to Tampa Bay's. The two teams tied for second-best in the American League with a 114 ERA+.

But take a closer look at the make-up of the staffs for this series. Barring a couple of slug-fests or a game that goes many extra innings, there is not that great a chance that either team's fifth or sixth guy out of the bullpen is pitching important innings. This is relevant because baked into that 114 ERA+ number for the Rays are 81 innings of sub-90 ERA+ pitching. That may or may not seem like a lot to you but for the Red Sox, there are 260 innings of sub-90 ERA+ pitching. What this means is that a lot of players that will play no role whatsoever in this series (think Buchholz and Craig Hansen and David Aardsma and hopefully, Timlin) negatively impact Boston's statistics in a way that is entirely meaningless for the purposes of evaluating their chances.

The end result is that Boston is a little bit better at both plating and preventing runs. I like them in six games.


That statement that Boston had a lot of innings from guys that won't matter at all is a very fair statement. And they probably are the better team, however, how they performed going into the playoffs isn't exactly a fair measure. The Rays played litterally their AAA squad the last 2 games of the season. Hinske and Zobrist were pretty much regulars in September and neither will see the field. Carl Crawford did not play at all, which made their OF defense significantly worse. I can't imagine a worst defensive player than Eric Hinske.

Boston has a stronger starting rotation, however with Beckett hurt, their margin is smaller. But the Rays Bullpen is just about lights out. The only pitchers that will see any meaningful time are Balfour ERA+(282), Howell (197), Bradford(208) and Wheeler(140). With maybe a some Price mixed in. Miller will only face lefties and is probably used exclusively as a LOOGY.

I shouldn't have said Zobrist and Hinske were full time players because they weren't, but they did play in half of the games, which is a lot for guys that should be part time players.

That's fair, Tyler. The Rays pretty much had the AL East on lockdown for much of September. And yes, their 'pen is lights out but so too is Boston's.

Like I said, it's pretty close but Boston gets the slight nod on both sides of the ledger.

As an aside, I can't remember the final four teams having bullpens as strong as these four teams do. It's nuts.

How can you state that you cannot imagine a worst defensive player than Hinske? He only had 2 erors in the OF with ~.989 FPCT. If you were actually a baseball fan, you would see that there are numerous other players that Hinske is better at in the field.

There are plenty of fielders worse than Hinske. Manny Ramierez and Raul Ibanez are pretty bad. That being said, how do Boston's OPS+ numbers fair with the removal of Manny? Jason Bay has been awful good offensively and his defense might even balance the trade out evenly.