Last year at this time, Boston had a record of 57-40. They were a half-game ahead of the Rays. They had a home record of 36-11 and a road record of 21-29. They had scored 495 runs and surrendered 396, for a differential of +99, which was second best in the majors behind the Cubs.
In 2009, Boston has a record of 54-34. They are three games ahead of the Yankees. Their home record is 31-14 and their road record is 23-20. They have scored 465 runs and surrendered 380, for a differential of +85, second best in the majors behind the Dodgers.
In short, Boston is doing better in 2009 than 2008. They have a better win percentage and a larger lead. And while their run differential is lower, their record is better. I think a lot of people have forgotten how brutal the Sox were on the road last year in the first half. Looking back, it was ugly. To have them actually have a record over .500 on the road is fantastic. Now to look at the team performance in different areas.
2009: 88 G | 465 R | 824 H | 108 HR | 1344 TB | 440 RBI | .265 BA | .352 OBP | .448 SLG | .800 OPS
2008: 97 G | 495 R | 940 H | 108 HR | 1501 TB | 468 RBI | .282 BA | .356 OBP | .451 SLG | .807 OPS
The Sox have played nine fewer games before the break in 2009, so some numbers will be skewed in favor of 2008. Obviously the hits and total bases are different for more reasons than nine games. But there are some interesting things to see here.
First is that Boston pretty much ranked second across the board in 2008 after the first half, trailing only Texas. In 2009, they are third or fourth in most. And yet they have a larger lead at the break.
Second is that the number of home runs is exactly the same, despite the Sox playing nine fewer games pre-break. So just how much are they actually missing Manny right now? Bay has been more than adequate as a replacement.
Also interesting is how close the OBP, SLG and OPS numbers are between the two years. With Ortiz's massive slump and the nights where the bats go quiet, I am surprised to see the 2009 numbers this close to 2008. Combined with the hit totals, it tells me that the Sox hit better in 2008 but weren't as effective in getting on base in other ways. Looking at other numbers the 2009 Sox have drawn 10 more walks, six more intentional walks and one more hit batsman than they did in 2008. And they've done so in nine less games.
Overall, the Sox are pretty much hitting as well this year as they did last year as a whole. And while they have fewer hits, they are finding other ways to get on base.
Team Pitching (Starters)
2009: 88 G | 40-24 | 4.38 ERA | 6 CG | 6 SHO | 46 QS | 527.2 IP | 560 H | 171 W | 443 K | 1.39 WHIP | .271 BAA
2008: 97 G | 42-24 | 3.70 ERA | 4 CG | 2 SHO | 55 QS | 586.1 IP | 527 H | 236 W | 467 K | 1.30 WHIP | .??? BAA
I apologize right now for not having BAA for 2008. But apparently every single stats site believes that no one would be interested in seeing how starters did in the first half of 2008. You can either split for starters or for the first half in 2008. Not both. Which is beyond useless. And while I can calculate WHIP and ERA pretty quickly, and QS is doable looking at game logs…it’ll take too much time to calculate BAA.
What stands out to me is that starters only won two more games in 2008 despite nine more games played. The 2008 squad also has fewer complete games and shutouts and issued 65 more walks. Yet despite that, the 2008 squad also had a lower ERA, more quality starts and a better WHIP.
I would wager, though, that if you took the last month and compared both squads, 2009 would blow 2008 out of the water. And I think that is what is causing the odd numbers; the Sox pitching staff stunk up the joint to start 2009 before getting their act together. And Daisuke’s short but brutal flameout didn’t help. Compare that to 2008, where the wheels didn’t come off (Beckett injury, Buchholz flameout) until after the break. And Daisuke was having a ridiculous first half (10-1, 2.65 ERA)
But we have a deeper staff this year that is firing on all cylinders right now. Between Beckett, Lester and Wakefield, I haven’t see three pitchers this dominant on a regular basis at the break since Pedro, Wakes and Saberhagen were fronting the rotation in 1998 and just decimating their opposition. Baring injuries, this rotation is primed for a strong second half.
Team Pitching (Relievers)
Do I even need to show the stats?* Anyone could look at last year compared to this year and see how much more solid the bullpen is this year. Even with Papelbon’s expanding WHIP, his ERA is lower at this point than it was in 2008 and he’s cut down his blown saves in half (4 in 2008, 2 in 2009). Okajima is showing that last year’s struggles were a fluke; he is looking more like the 2007 Oki that went to the All-Star game. And Ramon Ramirez has added an extra dimension to the ‘pen that has made it the best in the AL.
Which trio would scare opposing batters the most in the late innings of a game:
- Lyon, Zumaya and Rodney
- Bulger, Speier and Fuentes
- Hughes, Bruney and Rivera
- Ramirez, Okajima and Papelbon
I think the answer is in the order those were presented. And that is what Ramirez gives the Sox. I think the gap widens even further as you go deeper and add Delcarmen and Bard to the mix. Though with Coke, the Yankees wouldn’t be too far behind. But their issue is that Mo, as good as he is, is getting old. The Sox, obviously, don’t have that problem.
But this is where the Sox will win their games; the combination of a solidifying rotation and a powerful bullpen. Even with their slippage going into the break, no team has a better relief corps that the Red Sox.
What’s there to say? Tito is the best Boston manager I have ever seen in my lifetime. And you could make the argument he is the best manager this team has ever had this side of Bill Carrigan**. Dave Magadan and John Farrell are freaking miracle workers when it comes to hitting and pitching. And in DeMarlo Hale we have a third base coach who understand when to hold the runner up. This staff is fantastic from top to bottom and is an integral, if hidden, part of Boston’s success***.
Boston finds themselves in 2009 where they found themselves in 2008; atop the AL East. But this time it feels different. In 2008 it was like the Sox were hanging on by their fingernails, fighting off the inevitable takeover by Tampa for as long as they could. This year feels like Boston belongs on top. And after a rough start to the season, all the various elements on the team are starting to come together.
The rotation looks fantastic. The bats are holding steady. And the bullpen, even with a slight slip, is the best in the AL. Julio Lugo looks to be gone one way or the other. Life is good, Boston fans.
And yes, this can all change with one blown rotator cuff or leg injury. But that’s the same for any season. Luck, good or bad, plays a role. It’s the job of a baseball team to put themselves in a position where they can benefit from the good luck and mitigate the bad luck. That is how championships are won. And right now, no team in the AL is doing that better than the Red Sox.
* This is a roundabout way of saying "No site would split relievers for the first half, just one or the other. There is no way in Hell I am longhanding these stats out. Besides, we all know the pen is better this year."
** I don't want to hear word one about Joe Cronin. That freaking racist turned down a chance to sign Willie Mays to the Sox because he was black. Any manager who would do that is a shit manager for a multitude of reasons. Period.
*** This in no way is a slight on Papa Jack and Dave Wallace, the batting and pitching coaches for the 2004 title squad. If anything, it just shows the depth of coaching talent that was here when Tito arrived and has been nurtured by him since then.