Change-UpSeptember 16, 2009
Blowin' Smoke
By Patrick Sullivan

The Boston Red Sox have not played the Baltimore Orioles or the Toronto Blue Jays over their last four games but during that stretch they have won all four, having outscored their opposition 20-3 in the process. I am not sure what this will do to persuade Tony Massarotti of The Boston Globe that the Red Sox might have a chance in the post-season, but you never know. In a recent blog entry on titled "A Sox Smokescreen?", Mazz voices concern over Boston's ability to take on the better teams in baseball.

Boston is 24-6 this season against Toronto and Baltimore, which compels Mazz to all but encourage Red Sox fans to pack it in and settle in for football season. This was written last Wednesday, September 9th.

The Orioles have not been the Sox' only punching bag. The Sox are 11-4 against Toronto (another doormat) and went 11-7 against the inferior National League. That leaves the Sox at 46-45 against everyone else. All of this suggests the Sox are far closer to being a mediocre team than they are an elite one.

That last sentence is quite a statement - "the Sox are far closer to being a mediocre team than they are an elite one". For those unfamiliar with his work, Mazz has a history of writing nonsensical, provocative statements of this nature which vacillate between vitriolic and just plain dumb. He and Curt Schilling have famously butted heads in the past, to the point where Mazz threatened not to cover his charity events if Schilling continued to bypass the sports media and engage his fans directly. So who knows, maybe Mazz is doing his "look at me" routine or maybe he really does think the Sox are more mediocre than elite? Either way it reflects poorly on him.

Let's take stock of where the Red Sox are right now. They are 85-58, 5.5 games clear of the Texas Rangers for the AL Wild Card lead. They boast a +126 run differential, better than every team in baseball except for the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. They are on pace for 96 wins, they have not had one month where they were under .500, and they have not had one month where they failed to outscore the opposition. They have weathered their share of bumps at times, there have been major swings all season long, but if the Red Sox are not an "elite" team, then I guess I should brush up on my vocab because apparently I don't know what the word "elite" means.

The thing about the Blue Jays and Orioles is that they still play Major League Baseball. In a league where the best teams tend to win 60% of their games and the worst 40%, that qualifier means that they are very much capable of beating the best teams in the league with regularity. They're just like the Red Sox or Yankees, only they win one less game a week or so. That the Red Sox have so dominated Toronto and Baltimore is not a red flag, but rather an indication that they are probably quite good. Or better yet, it's probably not all that significant at all and probably just attributable to small sample; sort of like Boston's poor play against the Texas Rangers this year. And if the Jays and O's are so bad, then sheesh, how bad are the Yankees? They've lost 3 of their last 4 against the AL East "doormats", yielding 30 runs over that span.

The truth of course is that, since it is more difficult to beat good teams, even good teams will have mediocre records against other good teams. This has always been the case. Here is how the last 10 World Series champions have fared against teams that played .500 ball or better.

Year   Team        W - L
2008   Philly      42-44
2007   Boston      44-40
2006   St. Louis   21-26
2005   Chicago     39-33
2004   Boston      40-31
2003   Florida     53-48
2002   Angels      37-40
2001   Arizona     42-43
2000   Yankees     42-43
1999   Yankees     39-26

Total it up and those teams played .509 baseball. In 2009 the Red Sox are 37-34 against teams who have won more games than they have lost, good for a .521 win percentage. When you factor that consideration, it sure makes a statement like this sound stupid, doesn't it? From the same piece linked at the top:

But we're now 138 games into the 162-game marathon, and we still have no evidence that the Sox of late 2009 can compete with the big boys.

Define a "big boy", Mazz. Would a record of 15-7 against the AL East and AL Central division leaders qualify? Might that be some evidence? Like so many other Massarotti "antagonistic for the hell of it" pieces, this one too falls flat.

I had the pleasure of having lunch in Cambridge with Jonah Keri and David Cameron last Saturday. The next day my Baseball Analysts colleague Jeremy Greenhouse accompanied me at Fenway to watch Jon Lester turn in yet another gem against the Tampa Bay Rays. All three are thoughtful, ridiculously intelligent and open to new and different ways of thinking about baseball. Read some of their work, then go back and check out a couple of Mazz pieces and then decide for yourself. Where is the best baseball writing taking place?


The article made me go check the standings. The Sox in fact currently have the third best record in major league baseball (that's right, they have one less loss than the Dodgers and two fewer losses than the Cardinals). And its not like they have been unusually lucky or some come out of nowhere team that is playing over their heads.

They also play in the toughest division in baseball, the records for the Orioles and Blue Jays would look very different if you put the same teams in any National League division.

Didn't they also have the most All Stars of any team this year?

I'm all for the local beat writers maintaining objectivity but I think Maz's articles tend to boarder on sensationalism.

There have been recent stretches where Boston's offense was painstakingly anemic and the team approached mediocrity. I know the sample size is small but I'd like to see Boston's record against +.500 teams since the AS break.

Mazz is the only person I've ever seen in person use the term "mother's basement," which turned me off him.

Also, I agree that Keri, Cameron, and Lester are impressively intelligent individuals.

Great piece! As a local Sox fan here in MA, who can't bring himself to read this guy, I applaud your example-full response to a ignorant sports writer. Thanks!

But Maz is missing the point isn't he? The good teams always beat up on the crap teams, that's why they are the good teams. And of course, if you can post a winning record against your best competitors, then you are doing something right. Did he mention that we still retain a winning record against NY?

Anyone catch Maz's latest article? Complete 180. What a clown.