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October 24, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

World Series Game One Recap (Red Sox Edition)

by Sam Miller


Throughout the World Series, we'll be providing two recaps of each game, one with a focus on the winner and the other devoting a longer look to the loser. This is the Red Sox entry for Game One. The Cardinals entry is here.

Only one team in the American League walked more often than the Red Sox in 2013, and, if we add hit-by-pitches to the equation, no AL team drew more offense from free bases. Adam Wainwright, meanwhile, came within one walk of having baseball’s lowest walk rate among starters. Intuitively, when these two opposing forces match up, we might expect the edge to go toward the pitcher. If the Red Sox offense’s signature skill is taking advantage of pitchers who aren’t around the strike zone—forcing walks, high pitch counts, and count leverage, and refusing to bail out wild pitchers—then a pitcher who expects no such bailouts could simply execute his plan and make them actually hit the ball.

Instead, the Red Sox knocked Wainwright for five runs in Game One. It was Wainwright’s second-shortest start of the season, and the third-most runs he allowed all year. He averaged 3.70 pitches per batter in 2013; Red Sox batters worked him for 3.97 pitches apiece. Why couldn’t he simply execute his plan?

First, we should ask whether our intuition is correct: Do the Red Sox really do better when they’re facing a pitcher who isn’t in the zone? Using the zone rate leaderboard, we can see which pitchers threw the most pitches in the zone and fewest pitches in the zone in 2013. The Red Sox faced 40 of the 75 most prolific strike throwers at some point in the season, and 42 of the 75 pitchers who spent the most time out of the zone. Each group has its share of stars and scrubs. And, as hypothesized, the Red Sox really did struggle against the control group.

In 264 innings against the zone-rate trailers, the Red Sox scored 144 runs. If we use those pitchers’ actual ERAs as a guide, an average team should have been expected to score 113 runs against them. Of course, the Red Sox have a fantastic offense and a generous home ballpark, so they score 22 percent more runs than the league overall. Adjusted for that, we would have expected them to score 138 runs against the wild pitchers. They narrowly outperformed that.

Now the zone-rate leaders. In 288 innings, the control pitchers should have allowed 119 runs against an average team. Adjusted for Boston’s offense, they should have allowed 145 runs. But, in reality, the Red Sox scored 119 runs. Throwing strikes reduces the best-in-the-league Red Sox to a merely league-average offense.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Wo... (10/24)
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Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Wo... (10/24)
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Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Wo... (10/25)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Sporer Report: Six Sup... (10/25)

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