Looking behind the numbers at the Red Sox awful start
By: Tom Tippett
Date: May 2, 1996
Diamond Mind Baseball is based in Lexington, MA, a suburb of Boston.
So we've been hearing every day about the Red Sox awful start. And we're
about to tell you why it's not as bad as it looks. We're not saying it's
good -- just that there is reason to believe things will get much
First, it was widely reported that the Sox made 21 errors in their first
11 games, but little mention has been made of their improved defense,
committing only 7 errors in their next 15 games. They're still not a great
fielding team, but they're not nearly as bad as they looked in the first
couple of weeks.
Second, the vaunted Red Sox offense was last in the AL for much of the
first month. This is mostly an illusion caused by bad weather and strong
opposition. Consider three factors:
- Almost all of the Sox first 15 games were played in cold, damp weather.
It's not surprising that they would have trouble scoring runs in these
conditions, nor is it surprising that they're scoring more runs now
that the weather is much better.
- The Sox have faced only three left-handed starting pitchers in their
first 27 games. It shouldn't be a big surprise that the hitters who
are off to a good start are lefties (Vaughn, O'Leary) and the ones who
struggled early have been right-handed batters (Valentin, Stanley, Cordero,
- But these two factor pale in comparison to the quality of the opposing
pitchers. To gauge quality of opposition, we divided the 70 AL pitchers
who began the season in the starting rotation into three groups of roughly
equal size. The first group is filled with consistently good or great
pitchers such as Johnson, Mussina, Appier, Hill, and Wells. Not all
superstars, for sure, but guys who are expected to be the ace or second
starter on a good team. The second group are pitchers who have pitched
well in stretches and would be considered solid third or fourth starters
on a staff that's not awful -- guys like Belcher, Bones, Radke, Hentgen,
Gubicza, and Ontiveros. The third group consists of everyone else --
fourth and fifth starters on bad teams; first, second and third starters
on awful staffs (Detroit), and anyone called up from the minors after
opening day. We ended up with 21 starters in the top group, 25 in the
middle, and 24 in the bottom.
We then examined the Red Sox performance over the first 27 games. Because
the groups are of equal size, we would normally expect the Sox to face
about nine from each category in a 27-game stretch, with a small bias
toward the top group because the #5 starter doesn't pitch as much early
in the year. But the Sox have faced 14 from the top group, 8 from the
middle group, and 5 from the bottom group, and their record reflects
it -- 2-12 and 3.7 runs per game against the top group, 2-6 and 4.5
runs per game against the middle group, and 7.4 runs per game and a
4-1 record against the bottom group. Their real record is 8-19, but
it could easily be 12-15 if they had faced nine from each group. That
doesn't sound like much, but it means they would be only 3-1/2 games
out of first.
By the way, we did the grouping of the pitchers based on their performance
prior to this year and expectations for the coming year. If we had just
looked at 1996 performance to date, this would be a circular argument.
Your team beats up on a pitcher...helping to put him into the last group...so
of course you have a better record against that group.
Finally, there is ample reason to worry about their pitching. They have
faced some of the most potent offenses in the league (Texas five times,
Cleveland seven, Baltimore three), but they've also played six games against
KC (clearly a bad hitting team) and four with Minnesota (which is hitting
well this year but not highly-regarded as an offensive powerhouse coming
in). But, despite favorable weather, they've walked way too many hitters
and given up far too many runs.
So, as you look ahead to the remainder of 1996, expect to see (a) the
Sox climb near the top in runs scored as they take advantage of better
weather and begin to feast on the weaker pitching staffs in the league,
(b) below-average but not awful defense, and (c) a pitching staff that
will probably continue to struggle. The net result should be a team that
wins more than it loses the rest of the way, and probably finishes a little
over .500. But they don't have the pitching needed to climb all the way
back into playoff contention, unless Clemens continues to pitch well and
Sele comes back to where he was two years ago and Wakefield is
at least mediocre and Gordon or Moyer can be a solid fourth starter
and Suppan comes up and peforms the way Sele did in his rookie
year. It's very unlikely that enough of these things would happen to make
them a serious contender to make the post-season and have a chance once
they get there.
Copyright © 1996. Diamond Mind, Inc.
All rights reserved.