July 2, 2003
Mashing in Beantown
How Good Has the Red Sox Offense Been in 2003?yesterday's Prospectus Triple Play, the Red Sox' offense is chugging along rather well; at the half-way mark--they played their 81st game last night--they are on a pace to score 1030 runs, the highest total since the 1936 Yankees. The team is also chasing several other historic numbers.
The Red Sox are not doing it via the home run, although their 99 dingers is fourth in the AL and seventh in the majors. And the offense is not being carried by a few monster seasons, only Nomar Garciaparra is having a year worth MVP consideration. They are simply crushing the ball--home runs, triples, and especially doubles--and getting contributions up and down the lineup.
With the understanding that the Red Sox are playing in a high-offensive era, that they are playing with a designated hitter, and that a lot of things could happen in the remaining half-season, I thought we could take a look at how their offense stacks up with the better ones in history.
Batting average is losing some of its panache, but most fans still have an appreciation for what a .300 hitter is. The Red Sox are hitting .299 as a team, a mark not attained since 1950, when the Red Sox hit .302. The highest average since 1950 has been .294, by the 2000 Colorado Rockies.
OK, so they get a lot of hits. Not all hits are created equal, so what kind of hits do they get? For one thing, they hit a boatload of doubles. The all-time record for two-baggers by a team in a season is 373, by the 1930 Cardinals and the 1997 Red Sox. The 2003 Bostons are half way to 446, a full 20% more than the record. Four-hundred forty-six? Think about that. That's 50 doubles, a typical league-leading figure, per lineup slot.
Who's doing it? Bill Mueller leads the major leagues with 30, but if he had zero doubles the team would still be on a record pace. They also have seven players between 17 and 23, eight counting the departed Shea Hillenbrand.
There's more. The record for extra base hits in a season is 607, by the 1996 Seattle Mariners, a slugging team that hit 245 home runs. The Red Sox are not going to hit anywhere near that many round trippers, but they are on track for (are you ready for this?) 700 extra base hits. Seven hundred? A lot of this is the doubles, of course, but they also leading the league with 28 triples. Again, it's the whole team: the club has seven of the top 40 extra base hitters in the league.
Looking at it another way, what club has had the highest percentage of hits that went for extra bases? That would be the 2001 San Francisco Giants, led by Barry Bonds' 73 home runs, whose hits went for extra bases a whopping 38.8% of the time. The Red Sox are on pace for 39.8%, handily beating the old record.
Putting all the various hits together, the Red Sox are heading for 2910 total bases, which would surpass the record 2748 set by the 2001 Rockies. Speaking of the Rockies, you may be wondering about the benefits of playing at Fenway Park. Fenway has played as a neutral park for years, and is doing so again this year. There have been 470 runs scored in 40 Red Sox home games this year, and 478 in 41 Red Sox road games.
And then there are the building blocks of offensive production, as Rob Neyer likes to say. The legendary 1927 Yankees have long had the highest slugging percentage in history, with a fabled mark of .489. The Red Sox, with the advantage of the designated hitter, are currently sitting at .496. They are going to have continue to mash to break this record. The club has walked 304 times, fifth in the major leagues. When combined with the batting average, the Sox have been getting on base at a .365 clip. This is an excellent total, on pace for one of the top 50 seasons of all time, but not threatening the 1950 Red Sox and 1930 Yankees, who posted team OBPs of .382. The Red Sox' .861 OPS would be the third highest of all time, trailing only the Yankees of 1927 and 1930.
All of the above statistics have varying degrees of biases, including the ballpark and era. Fortunately, we have EQA, a measure of total offensive contribution, which adjust for all these things plus league difficulty. The average player, and team, will always have an EQA of .260
The top 12 team EQA since 1901:
1930 New York Yankees .298 1931 New York Yankees .298 1927 New York Yankees .294 1933 New York Yankees .292 1982 Milwaukee Brewers .292 1976 Cincinnati Reds .291 2001 Seattle Mariners .291 1932 New York Yankees .290 1994 New York Yankees .290 1995 Cleveland Indians .290 1997 Seattle Mariners .290 1998 New York Yankees .290
Seven of these teams had the advantage of the designated hitter, but the other five had the benefits of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, which is even better. There is no inherent advantage to playing in a hitter's era, although all of the above squads did. The next team on the list would be the 1913 Philadelphia Athletics, who played in a tough time for hitters.
The 2003 Red Sox have an EQA of .293 (through 80 games), which is up in the rarified air of the Bambino and the Iron Horse. The Red Sox don't have either of these players, or anyone like them. Just whom do they have?
The following table lists the Red Sox regulars at each position, and how their season stacks up with their peers. I use RARP, which better accounts for playing time, and rank amongst players at the position in both leagues. Again, this is through 80 games, all that was available at press time.
Player RARP (Rank)
Ortiz has a .306 EQA, but did not really start playing full-time until Hillenbrand was dealt on May 29.
As you can see, the team has been getting All-Star caliber offense from every position except center field. In fact, to decide who the Red Sox All-Stars should be you might as well just draw names from a hat. Ramirez will likely start, and Garciaparra is obviously going to be selected. The Boston newspapers are pimping for Jason Veritek to make the team, which is fine enough, but he is no more or less qualified than Nixon, Walker, Mueller or Millar. Were I to choose just one more, I would pick Nixon, who is right with Ichiro Suzuki as the best right fielder in the American League. Who actually makes it will likely depend on how all of the other teams have to be represented.
Chances are that the Red Sox offense will regress in the second half. Of the regulars, only Johnny Damon can be expected to improve, while several players are candidates to regress a bit as the season hits the dog days. The club began the year with a lot of offensive depth, but with the trade of Hillenbrand and the ineptitude of Jeremy Giambi, the Red Sox have not had hitters on the bench to step up in case of the inevitable injury. On the other hand, help did arrive last weekend in the person of Gabe Kapler. In his first at bat for the hometown nine, he proved he belonged by promptly lining a double off the wall.
Mark Armour is the co-author (with Dan Levitt) of Paths To Glory, the stories of the building of several interesting baseball teams, which was published this spring by Brasseys, Inc. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.