Red Sox must repeat road success to retain AL East crown

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox were the most successful road team in the American League in 2016. A repeat will be necessary to secure another division title.

A bump in the road in baseball can upset even the best-designed teams. A simple injury or a prolonged injury can cascade through a lineup and especially a pitching staff. The sudden ineffectiveness of a starter can put further pressure on a bullpen. The potential bump I see that could arise in 2017 for the Boston Red Sox is on the road itself – the games away from Fenway Park.

The two numbers mirror each other. The first is very expected at 47-34 and the second is not at 46-35. That is the home and road record for the 2016 Boston Red Sox. The road record is remarkable considering how Red Sox teams have done in the past, but this is a different construct.

The Red Sox were an offensive juggernaut in 2016 with a run differential of +184, if you place value in that one statistical nugget. Boston’s offense finished third among their American League counterparts in road offense and first at home and overall.

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The lineup is balanced with a great combination of gap hitters, deep in count hitters, excellent OBP and all the other traditional and metric benchmarks that signify success. The team is not hampered by plodding power hitters looking for the three-run homers. That certainly shows in the performance at home and the road, but there is some room for improvement and it is the pitching.

The starters were collectively impressive and notched a second place finish in the American League in WAR, per FanGraphs. The relievers came in sixth and overall the staff was fourth in the pitching parade – a very good performance bordering on excellent. The road figures were second according to Fangraphs, so an improvement could translate into a few more wins or a failure in a few less.

The disaster in the playoffs showed that the road can have a haunting impact and one that may carry over to 2017. Will the pitching deteriorate on the road? Will the hitting do likewise? Do the Red Sox return to ineptness that brings them back to their counterparts in the American League?

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Last season, Boston had the best road record in the AL. Toronto (43-38 – Road) and Baltimore (39-42 – Road) finished tied for second and four games back of Boston and the road was a key. Their road figures as noted, were a difference maker – especially for the O’s.

From 2003-2005 the Red Sox difference in securing a divisional title was road performance – the New York Yankees simply were a better road team. In 2007 Boston went 45-36 on the road and captured a World Series title. In 2008-2009 the team had identical 95-67 seasons, but also identical 39-42 records on the road.

A bump on the road could be critical for 2017 in controlling the division. Boston has a wealth of pitching talent and that clearly showed via road statistics in 2016 and will certainly be key to a repeat road performance in 2017. The latest star to the Red Sox galaxy – Chris Sale – is an accomplished road pitcher whose home/road splits are similar so that stability is there.

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The hitting should also stay relatively close to 2016 road performance, but as a fan of “Debbie Downer,” the maintenance of good road conditions is vital to 2017 success. At least a look at the schedule shows a bit more home/road balance than 2016.

Source: Fangraphs