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We as a community tended to view our 2014 bracket champion San Francisco Giants, not to mention the Royals who finished a neck behind, as a little bit lucky. Hence, the rather dismissive language associated with the seventh and 10th best teams from the regular season, the latter being the one crowned champion. Hence, the discussion of whether the playoff structure had failed us.

We didn’t – OK, fine, I didn’t – want any runners-up winning short series and fluking their way to a title in a sport that used to be designed to reward the start-to-finish steady.

The whole playoffs had me longing for the old days when the best teams won without any of this luck on their side, like way back in 2013 when the Red Sox beat the Cardinals in a battle of the best teams from each league, just like the World Series used to be.

But like many of our pinings for the old days at times like these, that one comes with a heavy dose of, if not revisionism, then definitely selective memory. One year later, as the Red Sox watched the 2014 Fall Classic from the depths of last place, it looks a little more like we were just rewarding a different kind of luck.

***

One year ago this morning, the city of Boston was waking up to its third World Series hangover in a decade. This website was waking up to a chart that looked like this.

Percentile

By TAv/ERA

By WAR

90-99

Buchholz, Lackey, Nava, Ortiz, Saltalamacchia

Nava, Ortiz, Saltalamacchia, Victorino

80-89

Doubront

70-79

Victorino

Doubront, Drew, Ellsbury, Gomes, Lackey

60-69

Drew

50-59

Ellsbury, Gomes

40-49

Pedroia, Lester

Buchholz, Pedroia

30-39

Dempster, Napoli

Middlebrooks, Napoli

20-29

Middlebrooks

Lester

10-19

Dempster

0-9

The chart, which followed some first-references to the names involved in this recap of Game 6, categorized the 2013 Red Sox in two different, but related ways. On the left, it categorized players into which decile of their preseason PECOTA projection they fell in a rate stat, and on the right, which decile in a compiling stat.

The takeaway was that the Red Sox had either four or five of their top 15 players fall into their top 10% best-case scenarios of what could have been expected at the outset of the season. They had either nine or 10 of the 15 above median. And just as importantly, they had nobody, or just Ryan Dempster, in the bottom fifth of what they were expected to do.

This meant either one of a couple of things, the first being more the premise of the article.

1. The Red Sox upgraded from the 2012 disaster to a pretty good team that got exceptionally lucky in getting career years out of several players at the same time.

OR

2. The front office and the Red Sox scouts beat the projections, getting players who were better than they projected because of something that simply couldn’t have shown up in a past performance and comparables-based system.

Not that the 2014 team that finished 71-91 was constructed exactly the same – it was pretty close to the same, though the impact of injury wasn’t the same. But redoing the charts for the 2014 team and those who were expected to and did get playing time, shows just what can happen on the other side of the euphoria.

Player

PAs

TAv

Percentile

WARP

Percentile

A.J. Pierzynski

274

.232

20-29

0.1

40-49

Mike Napoli

500

.294

50-59

2.0

30-39

Dustin Pedroia

609

.268

20-29

3.6

50-59

Xander Bogaerts

594

.247

20-29

0.7

10-19

Will Middlebrooks

234

.188

0-9

-1.2

0-9

Jonny Gomes

246

.264

40-49

0.7*

50-59

Jackie Bradley

423

.198

0-9

0.0

10-19

Daniel Nava

408

.271

40-49

1.8

60-69

David Ortiz

602

.306

60-69

2.6

40-49

Pitcher

IP

ERA

Percentile

WARP

Percentile

Clay Buchholz

170.1

5.34

0-9

0.7

10-19

Jon Lester

143

2.52

90-99

4.8*

80-89

John Lackey

137.1

3.60

80-89

2.4*

80-89

Jake Peavy

124

4.72

0-9

-0.3*

0-9

*Adjusted to a full season (x1.5) to account for being traded on or around July 31. A.J. Pierzynski, who was designated for assignment, was not adjusted, nor was anybody who was sent down.

Percentile

By TAv/ERA

By WAR

90-99

Lester

80-89

Lackey

Lackey, Lester

70-79

60-69

Ortiz

Nava

50-59

Napoli

Gomes, Pedroia

40-49

Gomes, Nava

Ortiz, Pierzynski

30-39

Napoli

20-29

Bogaerts, Pedroia, Pierzynski

10-19

Bogaerts, Bradley, Buchholz

0-9

Bradley, Buchholz, Middlebrooks, Peavy

Middlebrooks, Peavy

Among those expected to contribute heading into the season, just one player, Jon Lester, who was shipped off midseason, hit his top decile (although Brock Holt did too). Only four or five of the 13 were above median, and the bottom fifth was littered with names rather than being empty.

The 2013 Red Sox didn’t get lucky in the way the 2014 Giants did or in any of the ways that we traditionally think of when we talk about the luck factor. They won 97 games, but they had first-order, second-order and third-order wins of 101, 100 and 99, respectively. However with the benefit of one more year of hindsight, 2013 looks even more like a year that came out of nowhere, in which everything went right that possibly could have.

It’s something that the Red Sox will freely talk about. In the immediate aftermath of Game Six, team president Larry Lucchino said that even as they were putting together the 2013 team, they never expected it to reach that peak so quickly. And in August at Saber Seminar, general manager Ben Cherington spent some of his stage time talking about how the key to winning might be more in getting players to hit the upper reaches of their projections rather than spending on those with higher medians.

So here we are at lessons again. With the lights still on at Fenway after Game Six, the absence of lessons felt stronger than any of the usual forcing of a narrative around a team and how 29 other teams should copy it. A year later, that absence might actually be the lesson. The 2013 Red Sox were a good example of a team that put together a spectacular record, a spectacular run differential and spectacular underlying statistics to defy what they were projected to be – and with corroborating evidence from the 2014 season, defy what they actually are.

Luck doesn’t have to be a team with 86 wins popping champagne or a team with an even run differential getting to 86 wins. While it doesn’t feel good to celebrate that, and the concerns about the meaninglessness of the 162-game season are legitimate, if we aren’t going to celebrate teams that got lucky, the 2013 Red Sox show we won’t be celebrating much at all, and that’s not much fun.

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rweiler
10/31
Every team that ever won the World Series got lucky somewhere along the line starting with draft picks that turned out to be above average major league [layers and pitchers that didn't blow out their elbows or shoulder, key injuries tath don't happen to them but do happen to the other guys, to balls bouncing 'the right way' to blown balls and strike calls in key situations. If it wasn't so, PECOTA would almost always predict the winners. The thing that's remarkable about the 2014 Giants is that they had their fair share of bad luck with Cain, Pagan, Scutaro, Morse, and Belt all missing good chunks of the season and Lincecum getting prematurely old. Then the lucked into Panik being better than expected and 1/2 dozen quality starts from Peavey, a 1/2 dozen good Lincecum starts, and some bad defensive plays by the opposing team.
mlsgrad99
10/31
Can you run this analysis, or have you already and I missed it, for the Royals and Giants of 2014?
maphal
10/31
Excellent work.
kcb5029
10/31
Great stuff. It also should be mentioned the Uehara, although always a very good reliever, had an insane year and was worth 3.6 rWAR. I don't know exactly what his projections were that year, but his pre-season 2013 comment in the BP annual concludes with: "The 38-year-old righty should remain a usable reliever as long as his splitter remains a wipeout offering," so it doesn't seem like people were expecting the phenomenon he was (especially given his age). The 2011 Red Sox were a very unlucky team, considering that Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz, and Gonzalez each had excellent seasons (and Youk was very good), and the team was a little worse than league average at run prevention. Pythag wins calculates to 94, but they won 90 and missed the playoffs on the last day. So much fluctuation for this club.
jrcookson
10/31
"Defy what they were expected to be... and defy what they actually are". What were the projected wins for the Red Sox in 2013 and 2014? Aren't the two years one example of a team getting good or lucky performances almost across the board, and then getting bad/unlucky performances the next year? In other words, the Red Sox had a bad year, but they weren't projected to be a bad team. As lucky as they were in 2013, they were that unlucky the next year.
ericmvan
10/31
What's awesome (I keep reminding whiny Sox fans) is that the Sox had average luck overall, 2013-2014. But they had an incredibly lucky distribution of good and bad luck (I suppose that's meta-luck). As a result, instead of just missing the playoffs two years in a row, they won a WS, and then were able to both sell off impending free agents, and nab an early first-round draft pick. If you knew the overall luck was going to be average, you couldn't script it better.
KDynan
10/31
Without checking preseason projections, I would have considered 2014 to be only slightly "unlucky". From my memory, 2012 stood out as a very unlucky year for the Sox in terms of under-performing WARP projections (injuries to Lackey, Ortiz, Pedroia, Ellsbury, major down seasons for Lester, Buchholz). Jonah Keri wrote about the 2013 Sox in the middle of the season. He looked at some of their biggest improvements from 2012 with the narrative partially being 2012 was the fluke: http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-2013-red-sox-dont-call-it-a-comeback/
andrews
11/01
Torrii Hunters missed catch in the ALCS was a huge slice of luck. He should have caught it and if he had its pretty certain the Tigers go up against the Cardinals.
mattymatty2000
11/01
Which missed catch are you referring to? The Ortiz-hit one that went over the wall?
andrews
11/01
Yes the one that went over the 5 foot wall! We're not talking about an 8.foot wall here. As line drive that he over-ran without leaving his feet. In any other ballpark, when a fielder misjudged a line drive like that its an error. In any other ballpark it's an error and the batter ends up at 2nd or 3rd. The irony is, Torrii Hunter can to Detroit to win the world series and he personally made the biggest single error in stopping them winning it in 2013.
andrews
11/01
Watch it again on YouTube Matt, and look at Benoit's face when the camera cuts to him straight after, Benoit's expression is "why didn't he catch it?" I've played cricket to the equivalent level of AAA in the UK and we care hand catches 2 handed. That would have been a routine 2 handed catch on the boundary.
mattymatty2000
11/02
I did watch it again. There is no way that is a routine play. I'm sorry, it just isn't. In fact, it isn't close. Could he have caught it? Maybe? I doubt it. Upon re-watching, it appears Hunter over-ran it (I'm guessing the ball was tailing back towards right field), but that was shot out of a cannon and was probably over his head anyway. Even if he ran to the exact spot at the wall he probably still can't catch it.
wilymo
11/02
i believe your assessment is incorrect http://larrybrownsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/torii-hunter-david-ortiz.jpg "not routine", true. very difficult, given slicing, short time. but i think that "even if he ran to the exact spot at the wall he probably still can't catch it" is not correct. he overran it badly and it still came within about an inch of the tip of his glove, as seen in linked photo. i'm a sox fan and i still give thanks this went down the way it did every time i think of the homer. it was pretty lucky. ortiz hit more or less the same ball with the bases loaded in an early game against the cardinals in the following series and beltran caught it.
andrews
11/01
You need an edit function for us smartphone users. That should be "we take catches bare handed with 2 hands.
andrews
11/01
Exhibit A as to why Torrii should retire.
andrews
11/01
I'm off to bed so getting my rebuttal in first. Outfielders are meant to catch line drives hit to them. Just because you overrun it and fall over a 5 foot wall doesn't excuse you from that obligation. Should have been called an error and no home run for Ortiz.
stevemillburg
11/03
If a cricket player would have made a "routine" two-handed barehand catch on that ball, then I guess cricket players are so vastly superior that major league baseball players had better hope the cricketeers don't try their bare hands at the round-bat sport. That ball was not exactly hit "to" Hunter, as you yourself acknowledge by saying he overran it. "Should have been called an error"? OK, now you're being ridiculous. Did you lose a big bet on that game or something?
bobstocking
12/17
Would that be a first, for a ball to land over the fence on the fly and be called an error?
andrews
11/01
Whilst I agree with the premise of the article, it still remains that Boston deserved their WS because as a team they performed well for 6 months as oppposrd to 6 games. If you santé an expanded playoffs, expansion thé number of divisions. 2nd place teams should qualify. Thé réservés champions are Baltimore and St Louis.