Are Boston Red Sox better off settling for second place in the American League?
If we expect a top-seeded Texas team to make it to the league championship round, how much would sacrificing home-field against them matter to the Red Sox? Boston has by far the league’s best road record at 46-33, so they certainly won’t fear going on the road. The concern is how well Texas plays at home. The Red Sox are 3-3 against the Rangers this season, but dropped two out of three at Globe Life Park.
So the chances of advancing to the World Series are better if the Red Sox have home-field advantage over Texas, right? Probably, although are we certain that the Rangers are a bigger threat than the team coming out of the Wild Card? That all depends on if you think the Rangers record is more the result of luck than talent.
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Despite owning the best record in the league, Texas has an unimpressive +8 run differential – easily the lowest of any playoff team in the majors. This anomaly is fueled by setting a new historical standard for winning one-run games, where they are 36-11 this season. The “Pythagorean Win Loss” devised by sabermetrics pioneer Bill James calculates a team’s expected record based on run differential. The formula is considered by many to be a stronger indicator of team strength than their actual record by aiming to eliminate the random variance of luck that can decide close games. Based on this theory, the Rangers have played at a level closer to that of a .500 team, while the Red Sox, with their league best +190 run differential, have actually been better than their record indicates.
Many old school fans scoff at the “Stat Geeks” and their numbers, holding firm to the belief that the best team is the one with the most wins. There are valid points on both sides of the argument, but there is no denying that the Rangers have benefited from converting wins in one-run games at an unsustainable rate. Typically teams with strong track records in close games have elite bullpens, but Texas ranks next to last in the league with a 4.47 ERA and .263 batting average against from their relievers.
The trend of winning close games has worked out well for the Rangers so far, but that doesn’t mean we can expect it to carry over to October. That’s what we call the gambler’s fallacy – just because the Roulette wheel lands on Black eight out of ten times doesn’t mean you are more likely to win if you continue betting on it. The odds remain the same with each spin.
Is there a legitimate reason for the Ranger’s dominance in one-run games? It’s certainly not their bullpen. You can point to intangibles and the “clutch factor” as a reason, but it’s not as if the Red Sox lineup doesn’t have those types of players too.