The Mediocre Media’s meme for the ALDS series is “Red Sox overwhelming power vs. Tampa’s dominant pitching” and it’s HALF wrong.
True the Sox are way ahead of the Rays in all offensive categories, but the pitching rotations are about even and Boston has a much better closer.
And, although Desmond Jennings gets all the press for being a speedster, the Sox are a much better base running team and, if speed determines a game, it will be the Red Sox who prevail.
How can we apply these “knowns” to determining the Big Unknown:
Will the Sox beat the Rays in the ALDS?
Yes, historically the Red Sox teams have been called the “Lead Sox” [as in the heavy metal], so it is ironic that base running could be a major advantage for the Boston Bashers and may play a more critical role than their vaunted power.
True, the Red Sox did finish the season with the best run differential in the MLB with +197
(#2 Cardinals +187). [http://www.gammonsdaily.com/]
But, did you know that, while the Red Sox are leading the American League in runs, OBP and Slugging, their discovery of baserunning under Farrell has been a major contributing factor?
LISTEN: During the 2013 season they stole 123 bags and were caught stealing just 19 times; that is the best success rate in MLB: 83%. The Rays are 26th with a 66% success rate, just behind the ponderous pachyderms of Detroit [64%].
Like the Dodger teams, since Branch Rickey invented the “farm system,” were renowned for their pitchers [Roe, Podres, Newcombe, Koufax, Drysdale, John, Sutton, Welch, Martinez, Valenzuela, Hershiser, Brown, Nomo, Kershaw], the Rays rely on their starters to win.
Fangraphs, the seamheads who make stats understandable, used 7 factors to rank pitching staffs and came up with this chart:
The chart suggests that the best pitching staff in the AL is Detroit with the Rays a distant second, leading only 2 categories. The Red Sox rank behind all other AL teams, except Oakland, each leading in a single category: Sox [K%] and A’s [BB%].
If we consider ERA:
ALDS: Sox are just .03 behind the Rays.
BAA [Batting Avg. Against]
ALDS: Sox are better than Tampa by .03.
ALDS: Tampa by just .05.
ALDS: Significant advantage for Tampa by .11.
Overall, Detroit has the best pitching staff in the AL.
POINT FOR ALDS:
Despite the general impression created by the meme-oriented media, the Rays’ staff is not much better than the Sox.
SVs ERA WHIP K/W W/9
Fernando Rodney 37 3.38 1.335 2.28 4.9
Koji Uehara 21 1.09 0.565 11.22 1.1
Nope, those are not typos, Uehara is that much better statistically than Rodney.
In fact he ranks #3, behind Eckersley and Rivera, in the Top Ten Best Relief Pitching Seasons in MLB History:
Best Relief Pitching Seasons in MLB History (min. 70 IP)
LISTEN: Uehara limited batters to a .149 batting average with runners in scoring position. That percentage dropped to .132 with any runners on base. His 1.12 ERA is enhanced by stranding runners.
Baseball-Reference defines what high leverage means in the context of each game:
Within a game, there are plays that are more pivotal than others. We attempt to quantify these plays with a stat called leverage index (LI). LI looks at the possible changes in win probability in a given situation and situations where dramatic swings in win probability are possible (runner on second late in a tie game) have higher LI’s than situations where there can be no large change in win probability (late innings of a 12-run blowout).
In the clutch, when the game is on the line, Uehara performs at his peak.
In 2013, opposing batters posted a .124/.149/.206 slash line against the Red Sox reliever in those situations. For the entirety of his Major League Baseball career, the opposition has hit .193/.215/.320 in high-leverage spots against him. During those moments, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is an insane 11.56.
While it is a baseball truism that “If a MLB pitcher brings his A-game,” he can shut down an offense; the Sox have an even chance of that happening.
While it is a truism that a batter on a hot streak can determine the outcome of an individual game, the Rays would need Longoria to be on fire–en fuego– to balance the power in the Boston batting order.
The brilliant innovator, Branch Rickey, added this truism about team speed: “Speed never goes into a slump.” And the Sox with 123 SBs out run the Rays with just 73 and Boston’s success rate [83%] is miles ahead of the Rays [66%], who are 26th of the 30 MLB teams.
The infamous firebrand manager, Leo Durocher, summarized the game thusly:
“There are only five things you can do in baseball–run, throw, catch, hit, and hit with power.”
“Well, I’ve been talking a lot recently about it’s our best infield defense we’ve ever had here, and you’d have to make a strong argument to tell me there was a better one that I saw this year in the American League,” manager Joe Maddon said.
Let us recognize that the Rays have the advantage in the throw and catch category; their Fielding PCT. [.990] is second only to Detroit [.991] in the AL and the Sox rank 6th at .987. But, while the Tampa infield has Gold Glover Longoria as their anchor and an edge at 1st [Loney/Napoli], SS is a wash [Escobar/Drew] and, while Zobrist had a career year in 2009, he is no Pedroia.
Victorino is ranked by Baseball Info Solutions as the top defensive right fielder in the American League. Not only does he have nine assists, but he is credited with 24 runs saved, far and away the best in the American League (Arizona’s Gerardo Parra has 36).
In the OF the Sox have two of the best defenders in MLB with Ellsbury and Victorino and, although Gomes, outside Fenway, would have to yield to Joyce, will the Tampa LFs be able to play jai-alai caroms off the dents and divots of Da Monstah? And, when Nava (.303/.385/.445, 12 homers) is in LF, give the Sox a big edge.
In sum, the Red Sox dominate Tampa on offense, speed, and at closer, while the Rays are only marginally better in starting pitching.
By Game #4–in that embarrassing, seedy indoor theater in Tampa–the Red Sox should be just a series away from playing the Cardinals in the 2013 World Series.
HEADS-UP FANS: Game One of the ALCS at Fenway starts at 3 PM Eastern Standard Time !!!
@RedSox hosting open workout tomorrow at 2:00pm. Free entry at Gate D. Workout expected to end between 5-6pm.
Fenway will surely be rocking in its team’s playoff return to the Hub, and the Red Sox are happy to have Lester on the mound. The left-hander rebounded from a tough 2012 season with 15 wins and has been particularly effective down the stretch. In his 13 starts since the All-Star break, Lester is 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA.
“He’s been outstanding in the second half,” manager John Farrell said. “The last eight starts that he’s put together for us, he’s been very strong, and he’ll lead the way for us.”
For the Rays, Moore will take the ball, and his emergence as a complementary ace to lefty David Price has been a big reason why the Rays, who suffered from periods of inconsistent offensive production throughout the season, are playing in October.
Moore started the season 8-0 and finished 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA despite missing time with an arm injury. He’s healthy now, and so is Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who has been the team’s hottest hitter in the last part of the season.