Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Red Sox Offensive Machine

Before the season began an article appeared on which proposed that the Red Sox of 2011 could be the greatest team since the 1927 Yankees. The article appeared on January 2, 2011, long before the season ever began and that article was roasted on Twitter and everywhere else. This site was one of the ones that did the blasting too. How could that writer make such a boast before the season ever started and before a game had been played? But doggone it, that piece is sounding more prophetic all the time. The Red Sox win so often and so convincingly that they are a non-story. How many times do you actually hear about them these days? It's just an accepted fact that they will win and will probably score ten runs or more doing so. It's been an amazing story and few are talking about it.

How good is that offense? While the statistic isn't perfect, OPS+ has been a nice barometer of how a batter or a team is doing against the league average. It takes OPS, which combines on base percentage and slugging percentage, adds in some ball park adjustments and a few other ingredients and comes up with a baseline of 100. Fall below that 100 and you are not batting up to league average. Hit above it and you are better than league average. Well, this year, the league average is 97, so we'll just have to let other smarter people explain that. But anyway, this writer went back year by year as far back as the 1998 Yankees to see what the top OPS+ was for a team each season. The results show just how good this Red Sox offense is.

Since 1998, the best team OPS+ was 117 by the Yankees once and by the 2003 Red Sox and also the 2001 Seattle Mariners (yes, folks, at one time they could hit). The current 2011 Red Sox are sitting at 120 for team OPS+. If the Fan had more energy and more time, every year would have been combed through to see where that 120 stands all time. But suffice it to say that it's the tops in the past fourteen years. What were those 1927 Yankees' OPS+? 127. But those 1920s Yankees were ahead of a historical curve created by Babe Ruth. Ruth paved the way of power that changed the game. It took a while for the major leagues to catch up. This Red Sox team of 2011 come into the season without that paving the way thing going on those early Yankees teams did.

The 1961 Yankees had that Maris and Mantle thing going on. Elston Howard also had an amazing year as did his back up, Johnny Blanchard. That team's OPS+ was 109. The Yankees of 1977 with all those great hitters had a team OPS+ of 115. The only team that seemed to compare to this Red Sox team in modern times was the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, the Big Red Machine, that finished that season with an OPS+ of 120. So perhaps we should call this Red Sox team of 2011 the Big Red Sox Machine.

Again, to summarize the OPS+ number, we're basically saying here that the 2011 Red Sox' offense is 20 percent better than the league. Well, this Fan isn't that good in math, but you get the idea. But the number seems to just cover up the small pieces that make the Boston offense so magnificent. Let's round it out for you.

The 2011 league average for batting average this year is .253. The Red Sox have a team batting average of .280. The 2011 league average for on base percentage is .320. The Red Sox on base percentage is .355. The league average for slugging is .711. The Red Sox are slugging .812. And yes, the Red Sox lead the majors in all three of those categories.

The 2011 Rangers lead the league with 1,001 hits. The Red Sox are only three behind with 998. But the Red Sox have played three less games than the Rangers! The Red Sox are tied with the Yankees with the major league lead in walks with 391. The 2011 Red Sox are third in the league in homers behind the Yankees and the Rangers. The 2011 Red Sox lead the majors in doubles and runs scored.

Need some more convincing? They have already won nineteen blowout games. The definition of a blowout is winning by five or more runs. The Red Sox have done that nineteen times. They have three batters slugging over .500 and Kevin Youkilis is right there at .495. They have five batters with an on base percentage over .390. And this is all with negligible offense at shortstop and with a Carl Crawford struggling along with a .663 OPS. Even their catching, supposedly a weakness starting the season, has a combined OPS+ over 100.

The Red Sox have scored ten or more runs in fifteen of their last fifty-six games. That's more than one in every four games. Incredible. Dustin Pedroia is on a 24 game hitting streak. David Ortiz leads all DHs in just about every category. Jacoby Ellsbury has been the best lead off batter in the majors. Adrian Gonzalez is leading the majors in batting average and in runs batted in. They are killers.

The Red Sox have had some problems with their starting pitching. Injuries and poor performances by John Lackey haven't helped. But this offense covers up a lot of those problem and with great relief pitching and solid defense. All these Red Sox have to do is let their offense take over a game and it doesn't matter what  the pitching does.

The one hint of warning comes from last year's post season. A hot pitching staff can shut down an unworldly offense and win a series. The Red Sox aren't champions yet. But they have to be counted as the chief of contenders for the crown this year. We are seeing an offense so much better than the rest of the league that this is a huge story and one worth more attention and less indifference.

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