General Red Sox History

120 Percent

How do you know the Boston Red Sox' offense really cares? They give 120 percent.

Entering Thursday's game, the Sox had a 121 OPS+. For an individual player, that's no amazing feat; 56 players have an OPS+ of 120 or better this year in baseball.

But that should give you an idea of how impressive a team OPS+ of 120 is. Only one-third of the qualifying players in the game can manage it on an individual level, and here an entire team is averaging that total. 

Follows is the list of all the teams to ever finish the season with an OPS+ of 120 or better:

  • 1927 Yankees
  • 1930 Yankees
  • 1931 Yankees
  • 1982 Brewers

And here is the list of teams to get very close (118 or better):

  • 1902 Pirates
  • 1932 Yankees
  • 1933 Yankees
  • 1994 Yankees
  • 1997 Mariners
  • 2003 Red Sox

That's a small group of elite offenses: The 1902 Pirates, 1927-33 Yankees, 1982 Brewers, 1994 Yankees, 1997 Mariners and 2003 Red Sox. Let's have a look at them:

1902 Pirates (118 OPS+), 103-36

  • Top performer(s): OF Honus Wagner (159), OF Fred Clarke (157), OF Ginger Beaumont (149)
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 10
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 3
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 4 (Wagner, 8.1; Leach, 6.4; Beaumont, 6.2; Clarke, 6.2)
  • Of note: Pitcher Jesse Tannehill's 116 OPS+ in 162 PA. The Pirates hold the all-time record for most hitters breaking 6.0 WAR in the same season.

A dominant team in all respects of the game; their .741 winning percentage would equal 120 wins in today's schedule. That outfield has to be one of the best single-season combined performances of all time. The Pirates started the season 30-5, with four of their five losses by three runs or fewer, while scoring 10 or more runs eight times. Not bad for the dead-ball era. This was the second of three straight NL pennant winners for Pittsburgh. The next year, they would fall to the Boston Americans in the first World Series.

1927 Yankees (127 OPS+), 110-44

  • Top performer(s): OF Babe Ruth (225), 1B Lou Gehrig (220)
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 6
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 4
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 3 (Ruth, 12.8; Gehrig, 12.0; Combs, 7.0)
  • Of note: No hitter on the team was older than Ruth, who was just 32.

Murderer's Row, with the exception of shortstop Mark Kienig (83) and third baseman Joe Dugan (78). Catchers Pat Collins (116) and Johnny Grabowski (78) alternated perfectly, starting every other game, for the first 99 games of the season. The Yankees swept the Pirates in the World Series a year after losing in seven games. The Yankees wouldn't play a seventh game in the championship until 1947, going 37-9 in 10 series, losing just one.

1930 Yankees (123 OPS+), 86-68

  • Top performer(s): OF Babe Ruth (211), 1B Lou Gehrig (203)
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 9
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 2
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 2 (Ruth, 10.7; Gehrig, 10.0)
  • Of note: Crazy balance, as no principal player (150 or more PA) had an OPS+ below 91. Shortstop Lyn Lary had that mark, while backup outfielder Dusty Cooke just missed with a 99. Pitcher Red Ruffing added a 157 OPS+ in 106 appearances.

How did this team only win 86 games and finish in third place? Pitching. Ruffing may have been great with the stick, but he led the team with his mediocre 105 ERA+. In fact, it was Ruth, who threw a complete game, giving up just three runs, in the final game of the season, who finished with the team's best ERA.

1931 Yankees (125 OPS+), 94-59

  • Top performer(s): OF Babe Ruth (218), 1B Lou Gehrig (194)
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 8
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 2
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 4 (Ruth, 11.4; Gehrig, 9.7; Chapman, 6.3; Gomez, 6.0)
  • Of note: All eight position players in the starting lineup posted an OPS+ of at least 107, and reserve outfielder just missed with a 99. Ben Chapman added 61 stolen bases and the team's best defense.

The Yankees had 22-year-old Lefty Gomez posting a tidy 150 ERA+, but no one else of note on their pitching staff, sending them to a second-place finish. This team scored an amazing 1,067 runs in 154 games, the most of the Yankee teams from the late 1920s/early 1930s.

1932 Yankees (118 OPS+), 107-47

  • Top performer(s): OF Babe Ruth (200), 1B Lou Gehrig (180)
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 7
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 4
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 2 (Ruth, 9.0; Gehrig, 8.6)
  • Of note: Luck evens out. The 1931 Yankees had a Pythag record of 100 wins and fell shy by six. The 1932 Yankees had a Pythag record of 99-55 and overshot it by eight, en rout to a pennant and a sweep of the Cubs. 

The '32 Yanks still powered their way to 1,000 runs. They lost three games in a row just twice and back-to-back games just five times. Ruth failed to lead the league in OPS and OPS+ in a fully healthy season for the first time since 1917, when he was a part-time hitter for the Boston Red Sox.

1933 Yankees (118 OPS+), 91-59

  • Top performer(s): 1B Lou Gehrig (176), OF Babe Ruth (175), 
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 7
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 3
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 2 (Gehrig, 7.9; Ruth, 6.9)
  • Of note: Mortality. Ruth was 38 and fell below 200 OPS+, just the second time in a healthy season that had happened while he was in pinstripes (and the other time, in 1929, he still led the league with a 193 mark). It would be Ruth's 14th and final season with an OPS over 1.000.

The offensive attack was extraordinarily balanced for these Yankees teams, but especially in 1933, as Ruth and Gehrig dropped closer to the pack, and Bill Dickey and Tony Lazzeri each posted a 134 OPS+ and the underrated Ben Chapman added a 124. Gehrig returned to form in 1934, but it would be Ruth's final season for the Yankees, and the rest of the cast regressed. The 1934 Yankees had "just" a 107 OPS+.

1982 Brewers (121 OPS+), 95-67

  • Top performer(s): SS Robin Yount (166), DH Don Money (148), 1B Cecil Cooper (142)
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 7
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 5
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 3 (Yount, 11.5; Molitor, 7.0; Cooper, 5.9)
  • Of note: Robin Yount! A .578 slugging percentage with 29 home runs from shortstop. Oh, and he was the team's best defender, too. Not surprisingly, he won the MVP.

The Brewers' offense was paced by an incredible infield of Ted Simmons (112) catching, Cooper at first, Jim Gantner (99) at second, Yount at short and Molitor (129 OPS+ with 41 stolen bases at an 82 percent success rate) at third. Add in Ben Oglivie (118) and Gorman Thomas (137) in the outfield, and this was one of the most formidable post-integration lineups we've ever seen. Money was a solid hitter who played DH and third for many years in Milwaukee. He played about half the season, DHing and pinch hitting. He was out of baseball a year later. The pitching, on the other hand, posted just a 95 ERA+. That was good enough to win the AL East (ahh, the old days) but not enough to prevail over the Cardinals in the World Series, where Milwaukee was outscored 19-4 over the final two games of the seven-game series.

1994 Yankees (118 OPS+), 100-62 pace

  • Top performer(s): RF Paul O'Neill (176), 3B Wade Boggs (141), C Mike Stanley (140) 
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 105 PA): 9
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 105 PA): 2
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 2 (Boggs, 6.5; O'Neill, 6.3; Key, 6.2)
  • Of note: Gerald Williams and Matt Nokes added solid OPS+ totals and may have gone over 150 plate appearances had the strike not ended the season, but they weren't on pace for that number of appearances so aren't included in the above number. 

The strike was a calamity for a number of reasons, not least of which, in my mind, were the great seasons lost to history. Do people remember how great Boggs, O'Neill, Stanley and Jimmy Key were in 1994; I would argue not. They've been overshadowed because the season didn't end properly, and in Yankee history, that possibly 100-win team was quickly superseded by the greatness of the dynasty shortly to follow. This was a veteran team, with only 25-year-old Bernie Williams (119 OPS+) and 26-year-old Pat Kelly (90) on the right side of 30 among the starting lineup. Guys like Danny Tartabull, Don Mattingly, Luis Polonia, Randy Velarde and Jim Leyritz provided solid offensive support to the big bats of O'Neill, Boggs and Stanley. Only shortstop Mike Gallego (80 OPS+) provided truly subpar offense.

1997 Mariners (119 OPS+), 90-72

  • Top performer(s): CF Ken Griffey (165), DH Edgar Martinez (165) 
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 10
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 3
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 2 (Griffey, 9.4; Johnson, 7.7; Martinez, 6.2)
  • Of note: Catcher Dan Wilson, the lone member of the starting lineup not to break a 100 OPS+, finished at 96. Seven of the other eight had an OPS+ of 110 or better.

This Mariners team actually scored fewer runs than their 1996 predecessors, but its amazing balance included contributions from such unlikely sorts as Joey Cora (110), Jose Cruz (120) and Russ Davis (109), all of them posting totals well above their career averages. Seven hitters had 15 or more home runs, a testament to the high-offense era that was in full swing by this point. And guess who was tied with Cruz for fifth on the team in OPS+: 21-year-old Alex Rodriguez.

Though they had the sticks, the M's had no pitching beyond Randy Johnson, and especially no bullpen. They made deadline deals for Mike Timlin and Heathcliff Slocumb (a deal Red Sox fans know well) and scratched out a division title, but they were booted by Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs.

2003 Red Sox (118 OPS+), 95-67

  • Top performer(s): LF Manny Ramirez (160), RF Trot Nixon (149), DH David Ortiz (144), 3B Bill Mueller (140) 
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 9
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 150 PA): 5
  • Players above 6.0 WAR: 3 (Martinez, 7.4; Garciaparra, 6.7)
  • Of note: The limits of OPS+ in determining value. Nomar's 121 OPS+ and great defense at short was more valuable than the all-bat, no-glove sluggers at the corners and DH. Nixon's impressive production came with the requisite 25 missed games, as well, which dinged his value.

No other club on this list had as many players with an OPS+ of 90 or better and at least 150 plate appearances. The 2003 Sox had 12. They needed it, with not much pitching behind Pedro Martinez in his last great season. This ended up being the end of the line for Nomar, the last generally healthy season for Nixon and a career year for Mueller. The dropoff from those positions in 2004 left the Sox with merely a very good offense, rather than an historically great one. In the end, however, this was not the club of destiny, not because the offense failed them but because their manager did.

2011 Red Sox (121 OPS+), 102-60 pace

  • Top performer(s): 1B Adrian Gonzalez (163), DH David Ortiz (158), CF Jacoby Ellsbury (146), 2B Dustin Pedroia (143), 3B Kevin Youkilis (141) 
  • Players over 100 OPS+ (min. 95 PA): 7
  • Players under 100 OPS+ (min. 95 PA): 4*
  • Players above 6.0 WAR pace: 5 (Pedroia, 9.2; Ellsbury, 8.1; Gonzalez, 7.7; Beckett, 7.7; Youkilis, 6.0)
  • Of note: Jed Lowrie and Jason Varitek both sit just under 100 and could conceivably bump the total of above-average hitters to nine. Meanwhile, Mike Cameron meets the minimum criteria to be included among players under 100 OPS+, but he's off the team and below the 150-appearance threshold, so I didn't include him.

With five players at or above 140 OPS+, the Red Sox are in uncharted territory, not just among teams on this list, but ever in the history of baseball. Only two teams have ever even had four such players — the '03 Sox listed here and the 1976 Reds of Morgan, Rose, Griffey and Foster. But unlike the 2003 squad, when a core of high-power hitters produced underwhelming WAR totals thanks to poor speed and defense, this is a crew of excellent defenders, which is why four of the five are on pace for 6.0 WAR (that would tie the 1902 Pirates) and the Red Sox as a team are on pace for more than 100 wins.

Note: Added the '94 Yankees

7 replies on “120 Percent”

I love posts like this; a critical look at the current team, with historical comparisons which both puts things in perspective and helps me learn a bit of history. Nice article to have with my morning coffee at work!

Great, great offense but still a lot of games left.
Indeed. It seems likely that these guys will all slump at the same time for even a couple of games. After yesterday’s strong performance by Luke Hochevar, the Sox are back down to 120.
Glad you all enjoyed it! It was fun to do.

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