After a 2017 season where the offense was lackluster, at best, the team brought back the same lineup with one significant addition. And it is working.
The Boston Red Sox have scored 655 runs. That’s 5.5 per game which leads MLB. The second best offense, the New York Yankees, have scored 601, good for 5.18 per game. That puts the two teams on pace for 892 and 839 respectively. For Boston, that would be the most runs scored in a season since 2005 and would be an increase of 107 runs from 2017. The 2004 team scored 949 runs and in 2003 they finished with 961. But raw runs scored isn’t always the best way to look at an offense.
Offensive environments change from year to year which is why we have league and park adjusted offensive metrics like wRC+ and OPS+. These metrics allow us to compare players or teams across eras and that’s what we’re going to start off with. The 2018 Red Sox have an OPS+ of 115 and a wRC+ to match. That’s 15% better than league average by both metrics. In both cases, the next best offense comes in at 12% better than league average, or a 112. In OPS+ that’s the Houston Astros and in wRC+ it’s the Yankees. Why the differences if the stats are supposed to measure the same thing? It’s because of how they get there. OPS+ is based on OPS which weights OBP and OPS equally. wRC+ is based on wOBA which weights OBP more heavily. But how does that look when compared to some of the best Red Sox offenses of the John Henry era?
This offense is among the best we’ve seen under this ownership group.
At this point in the season, with the team on pace for 114 wins, what fans really care about is how the team will perform in the playoffs. The ultimate goal, of course, being to win another World Series. Even if this team breaks the record of 116 wins reached by both the 1906 Chicago Cubs and the 2001 Seattle Mariners, it will feel hollow after another divisional round exit from October baseball. So how does this offense stack up to recent World Series winners? I’m glad you asked!
The 2013 Red Sox had an OPS+ of 116 and a wRC+ 114. So on average, that puts them about even with the most unexpected World Series winner in recent memory. What about the 2007 Red Sox? They were one of the most efficient teams the Sox have fielded in memory. They were good at every facet of the game and had no apparent weaknesses. They finished the year with a 107 OPS+ and a 109 wRC+. Those were 3rd and 2nd best in baseball each, with the Yankees leading the league at 116 for OPS+ and 119 for wRC+. Of course, that Red Sox team had great starting pitching and a fantastic bullpen to make up for not leading the way offensively.
Let’s get to the good stuff. What about the 2004 club?
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This is where it gets interesting. The 2004 Red Sox had an OPS+ of 110, just third in baseball. But it was just 1 back of of the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians who finished with a 111. For wRC+ the Red Sox finished at 114, best in baseball. And this 2004 team might be the best comparison for the 2018 squad, of the World Series winners. They had a starting rotation that was 9% better than league average according to ERA- (a Fangraphs metric) which was 4th best that year, and 17% better, or 5th best, for the bullpen. This year the rotation is 3rd best in baseball at 18% better than league average. The bullpen is 24% better than league average, or 3rd best in the game.
Like the 2004 club, this is an offensively driven team with very good starting pitching and excellent results in the bullpen. Of course, the 2004 team had a similarly precarious feel about its bullpen going into the playoffs. The results were there, but after Keith Foulke, you had to hold your breath on any given night. So it’s the offense that carries the team to success, especially lately scoring between 5 and 19 runs in each of their last 7 games, and exceeding 10 runs in 4 of their last 10 games. How does the 2018 lineup stack up against the 2004 Sox?
Head to head, this offense might be better.
Let’s start with that “significant” addition over the winter. J.D. Martinez currently leads MLB in HR and RBI, and is 2nd in AVG. Unfortunately for his Triple Crown hopes, but not for the Red Sox in general, the guy he is chasing is Mookie Betts. And Betts sits at .351 as compared to Martinez’s .332. Regardless, J.D. has been everything the team could have hoped for. Speaking of Mookie, he has somehow managed to make his 2016 near-MVP season look like a mere stepping stone. He leads MLB in wRC+ at 193.
In fact, Mookie and J.D. make for a pretty good David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez proxy. They drive the offense the same way Papi and Manny did in 2004, but the Red Sox utilize them differently. Mookie is a far more dynamic player than Manny ever was. Because of that, he’s the leadoff hitter for the 2018 team. His ability to steal bases makes him invaluable at the top of the lineup as he can set the table or just go yard himself. Martinez, of course, is just crushing everything, He’s already got a David Ortiz-like season in the books with 37 HR and 104 RBIs. Ortiz had at least 30 HR and 100 RBIs in each of his last 4 seasons with the Red Sox, and reached both marks a staggering 10 times in 15 seasons with the team.
Okay, their best hitters stack up well. What about the rest?
The 2004 Red Sox finished with 9 players having a 107 OPS+ or higher, plus Nomar Garciaparra who was traded at the deadline. The 2018 team has 6 at 115 or higher with Kinsler and Dever not far off of a league average (100) pace. In fact, the OPS+’s look more impressive on the 2018 club:
|2004 Red Sox||2018 Red Sox|
|Manny Ramirez||153||43||Mookie Betts||193||27|
|David Ortiz||145||41||J.D. Martinez||181||37|
|Doug Mirabelli||124||9||Steve Pearce||155||9|
|Trot Nixon||123||6||Andrew Benintendi||138||15|
|Jason Varitek||121||18||Xander Bogaerts||128||17|
|Kevin Millar||117||18||Mitch Moreland||115||14|
|Johnny Damon||117||20||Ian Kinsler||96||13|
|Mark Bellhorn||107||17||Rafel Devers||94||16|
|Bill Mueller||106||12||Jackie Bradley Jr.||85||11|
While Brock Holt has a higher OPS+ than Jackie Bradley Jr. at present, JBJ has hit at about 21% better than league average since July 1, with 5 of his 11 HR in that span. So I included him instead. From the 2004 list, Doug Mirabelli and Trot Nixon were not full-time players that season. The same can be said of Steve Pearce and Mitch Moreland this year. Both offenses are incredibly potent with plenty of pop. The 2004 Red Sox had 6 players finish with 17 or more HR. This year’s lineup features 6 hitters on pace for 19 or more by season’s end. Moreland is on pace for 19, Benintendi for 20 and Devers for 22. Bogaerts has 17 and is on pace for 23, and Mookie is getting ready to set a career high for HR at 37. Finally there is the league leader, J.D. Martinez who has 37 HR already and would finish the season at 51 if he keeps it up.
They’re getting there a bit differently, but this Red Sox offense looks to be slightly better than the 2004 club that ended “The Curse of the Bambino.” It might be the best Red Sox offense we’ve seen in the last two decades. There is a lot to like about the current group of 25 lacing up the cleats at Fenway Park this season. And even if the bullpen stumbles in October, this lineup is so good that you simply can’t count them out of any game.