Change-UpMay 08, 2010
Another Red Sox Update
By Patrick Sullivan

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to detail what was wrong with the Boston Red Sox as best I could. It was pretty straightforward. The Red Sox could not pitch, they could not field, they could not hit. Since April 21st, the Red Sox are 10-6 but with the Yankees and Rays still playing terrific baseball, Boston does not have much to show for their improved play.

The fact remains, however, that the Red Sox have been settling in. Another Yankees blowout last night when the Red Sox seemingly had the starting pitching advantage hurts. So did last weekend's sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, who had just four wins coming into the set. With their stiff competition and regular lackluster efforts, this 10-6 stretch hasn't felt quite as good as it otherwise might. The doubters sure haven't seemed to quiet down at all.

Coming into the season, those who questioned Boston's chances did so on the grounds that letting Jason Bay walk without replacing his formidable bat with a comparable hitter amounted to an exceedingly large step backwards for the offense. It would be too much to fill with pitching and defense, no matter how highly one might think of Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and John Lackey. But let's just take a quick look at how that rationale plays out.

Last year, according to Fangraphs' WAR, Mike Lowell, Bay and David Ortiz contributed a combined 7.0 Wins Above Replacement. Lowell, slowed by mounting injuries, could no longer field his position at 3rd and David Ortiz hit like Neifi Perez for half the year. This season, they would need to replace Bay, find a legitimate everyday 3rd Baseman and, one way or another, get more from the DH position. The rest of the lineup would remain stable, with the one exception that Victor Martinez would be the everyday catcher for a full season.

If you average their 2008 and 2009 seasons, Beltre and Cameron combined for 7.5 wins per year between them. The plan to replace Bay and Lowell with Beltre and Cameron, while giving Ortiz, Lowell, and maybe Jeremy Hermida a chance to offer more production from the Designated Hitter position, was to amount to a better collection of position players.

And guess what? It has! Boston's 114 OPS+ is 2nd in Major League Baseball and 9 points better than the 105 figure they posted in 2009 when Bay was in the mix. Their .355 wOBA would be their best total as a team since the 2004 team managed a .358 total. Just like 2009, they're 3rd in the American League in runs scored. By any measure, this offense has been phenomenal.

Defensively, they've just been middle of the road but that's attributable more to injuries than anything. As any Red Sox fan can attest, whether he is at left field, center field or heavens, shortstop, Bill Hall does not belong on a Major League Baseball field. The 168 combined innings Hall, Jonathan Van Every and Darnell McDonald "contributed" in center field to date have been a complete joke. With either Jacoby Ellsbury or Cameron playing everyday, those 168 innings would never have come to pass. I still believe this is a top-notch defensive team.

That brings me to the starting pitching. You want to have a look at the difference between this year's team and last year's? See below:

         K/9   BB/9   K/BB   ERA  xFIP
2009    7.43   3.00   2.48  4.63  4.17
2010    6.95   3.65   1.90  5.10  4.39

Those numbers are just for Boston's starters, but keep in mind what we are really looking at there. This season, Daisuke Matsuzaka's delayed return notwithstanding, Boston's ducks were in a row. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Lackey, and Clay Buchholz were healthy and ready to go, and Tim Wakefield would tend to Dice-K's spot until he returned. Last year, that top line that looks so much better than the 2010 numbers, well that's filled with Brad Penny and John Smoltz and Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden and Paul Byrd. The 2009 unit that so badly outperformed Boston's starting pitching to date in 2010 was not exactly the 1995 Atlanta Braves (well, except for Smoltz).

The consistent excellence of Lester and Beckett anchored the Red Sox rotation in 2009. Respectively, they ranked 5th and 7th in the AL in WAR among starters. This season, Boston's top two starters have been Lester and Buchholz, who rank 18th and 20th in the AL thus far. Beckett has been one of the very worst pitchers in baseball to date, sporting a 59 ERA+.

Beckett's awful start has been mystifying. Digging into his Pitch Type data on Fangraphs, he is throwing fewer fastballs and curve balls than ever, and replacing them with more cutters and change ups. The result has been a big drop in strikeouts, a big hike in walks and much harder contact according to his Line Drive percentage allowed.

There is some hope. Beckett's 56.9% LOB rate is absurdly low. That will improve. Likewise, his .365 BABIP allowed is bound to normalize as well. Better luck will make Beckett a decent option for the Red Sox, but they obviously are counting on him for much, much more. John Farrell is a highly regarded pitching coach in Major League circles, and what he can do to get Beckett right will go a long way in determining whether or not the Red Sox can climb back into this race.

On May 8th, the Red Sox sit in fourth place, at .500, and six games out of a playoff spot. I hope that I have managed to demonstrate that their poor play to date has been attributable to terrible starting pitching and little more. So, if you're a pundit who thought the Red Sox might struggle because their rotation would not cut it, take a bow. You've nailed it thus far. Otherwise, Red Sox doubters, quiet down please.


I think the recent 17 run outlier game may be skewing your numbers. That one game accounts for over 11% of the Red Sox runs for the season to date. It will be interesting to see if these numbers hold up after another couple months.

How is it "skewing" them? It happened.

I agree the pitching has been substandard. I do think, however, that the 17 runs is an outlier right now. It distorts the runs figure. I'd be interested to see what the runs figure would be if you pulled that one out.

I think by "skew" he means that if you recalculate the wOBA/WAR/OPS+ stats for Boston's position players while ignoring that one 17-run game, you might find a noteworthy difference in the value they provided in all of those other games compared to the additional overall value they provided once you add in the 17-run game.

Let's say I throw some data into a process that always spits out one number as output. If I told you that the process was repeated 10 times and produced 10 output values with an average value of 8, then one list of outputs could possibly be:


or it could be


(or infinitely many other combinations that average out to 8)

Given the first list of outputs, if I asked you to predict the next output value for that process, would you pick 8? Even though 8 is the average, I wouldn't pick 8. I would pick something closer to 3 since that is where most of the output values are clustered around. It seems likely that something unusual happened in that last output value of 58, and so the average is skewed by that extreme number. This is where average becomes a flawed statistic, especially in a small sample of numbers. Medians are much more resistant to outliers and are more reliable stats to focus on at that point.

Given the second list of outputs, if I asked you to predict the next output value, would you pick 8? I would pick 8. Almost every value that comes out of that process has been 8. The average is more reflective of this in this case since there is now extreme number to affect it so severely and render it pointless.

So, yeah, the 17-run game happened, like you said, so in the big picture you can't ignore it. But sometimes things that happen do skew final results, especially in a small number of games played. So you can't just ignore the idea of things being skewed. It is a very realistic possibility to consider, especially this early in the season where the stats have yet to stabilize and are still sensitive to extreme results.

So in other words, you might want to consider things like: what was the Red Sox team OPS+/WAR/wOBA in 2010 without that 17-run game and how much did it go up after counting that 17-run game? Was it a large difference? And how much did that 17-run game boost them in those league rankings for these stats? For example, if the Red Sox team OPS+ only ranked 8th without the 17-run game, yet ranked 2nd after considering the 17-run game, then it would seem that the 17-run game skewed things pretty heavily and expecting them to continue to have the 2nd highest OPS+ in the league going forward is probably being too optimistic. But if they ranked 3rd or 4th or 5th in team OPS+ even without considering that 17-run game, then it might be tough to conclude that the 17-run game skewed these numbers in a meaningful way.

Hope that idea/logic made sense.

The idea/logic makes perfect sense. I am just not sure it's as useful an exercise in this context because every team has offensive outbursts. Removing the three highest-scoring game or two or three, even at the 162-gm mark, would have a major impact on any team's offensive numbers. Doing so for the Red Sox without doing so for other teams would offer a murkier picture of where they stand, not a clearer one.

Anyone who thought the Red Sox had the pitching advantage in the Beckett-Hughes matchup hasn't been paying attention. Hughes is the real deal, and his great start isn't an anomaly. He's a lock to win 15 games and have a sub 3.30 ERA.

Beckett, on the other hand, has some major problems. His ERA after the All-Star break last year was 4.53. Throw in this year's terrible performance and he's got a 5.44 ERA over his last 21 starts. He'll improve on those numbers as the season progresses, but this ain't shaping up as a year to remember for Josh.

In evaluating pitching matchups the focus should be on recent performance. Hughes has been dominant so far this year; his 25 innings, 10 hits record coming into the Sox game says it all.

And then there's Beckett's record against the Yankees the last few years - ERA over 7.00 in 42 IP in 2008/09.

The Yanks had the matchup advantage for Friday's game. I know that's easy to say know, but I felt the same way coming into the game.

Cool, so if Dallas Braden was facing CC next time out, he'd have the advantage? Since we're weighing recent results so heavily, that only stands to reason.

Not so, Sully. ARod cuts across CC's mound all the time.

Alex Rodriguez - so great at baseball that even brief exposure to him can turn an average pitcher into a Hall-of-Famer for a short time.

Re the AL East, I guess the only question at this point in the season is how do the Sawx manage to catch the Blue Jays (since they ain't catching TBR or NYY in 2010)....

Sully: "Cool, so if Dallas Braden was facing CC next time out, he'd have the advantage? Since we're weighing recent results so heavily, that only stands to reason."

I noted the stark contrast between Hughes' season to date and Beckett's struggles dating back to the 2nd half of last year. A similar comparison of Braden to Sabathia reveals the following:

Braden, '09: 4-2, 3.33 ERA (good, but not nearly as good as Hughes has been).

Sabathia: 15-3, 2.84 since 2009 All-Star break.

Big edge to Sabathia.

Sully's a Sawx fan, I guess. Hang in there, Sully. The Sawx aren't going to get any better, but it'll be easier on the Nation if they're blown out early. Those annual August/Sept swoons have to be the worst.

Tommy, is Phil Hughes better at baseball than Josh Beckett?

Sully, is Beckett at baseball than Walter Johnson?

The subject was the pitching matchup last Friday. The question was whether the Sawx had the matchup edge. Really, Sully, what was the likelihood that Beckett would suddenly recover his form after losing it last July and suddenly pitch well against a team who's battered him over the last few seasons? In four of Beckett's last seven starts against NY he's had more earned runs than innings pitched. Did you really expect Beckett to pitch well last Friday?

When Beckett's on he's a threat to shut down anybody. But he hasn't been on since last mid-July of last year. He's got serious issues, as does Daisuke.

When a yankee fan dips down into the past saying the sox have annual aug/september "swoons", he's obviously nothing more than an uneducated agitator.

Clearly, he's already forgotten about 2 WS titles the last 6 years. But if he wants to continue to live in the past like most Yankee fans, so be it.