Gauging the Slump

Thankfully the Sox won last night. The offense broke out, David Wells showed he might be the most valuable deadline acquisition after all, and the Yankees and Twins both lost. Overall, a very good night. Today worked out as well, pushing the horror of the last three weeks further behind us.

And what a dismal three weeks it was. Since winning their fifth game in a row July 21 (a three-game sweep of the Royals, the makeup game against Texas and the first game of the road trip against Seattle) and tying their season high at 23 games above .500, the Sox went 6-12, a dismal .333 winning percentage. Consider also that half those wins came on improbable walk-off comebacks. Without David Ortiz and Fausto Carmona, the Sox would have gone 3-15.

After another horrible loss and a sweep at the hands of the AAA team that is the KC Royals, SF said:

I really don’t recall any Sox team with as decent a lineup as they have and at least some semblance of a pitching staff looking this out of it, this tired, this lackluster, this fundamentally bad on an all-around level, since at least as far back as the 1990 playoff series against the A’s or, in a regular season, since the collapse in 1978.

Is this true? What are the worst 18-game stretches in Sox history, and how many of them were pulled off by playoff-caliber teams? And what does that mean for the current edition of the Sox?

First, as we all know, the Red Sox have a long history of simply abysmal teams, so it’s not surprising that there are now actually 178 separate stretches in which the team has gone 6-12 or worse over 18 games (this removes the overlapping caused when a team’s record over, say, 30 games is 6-12 in four or five 18-game stretches).

18-game stretches as bad or worse than the one the Sox just went through and, hopefully, are finished with:

  • 0-18: 1
  • 1-17: 2
  • 2-16: 5
  • 3-15: 21
  • 4-14: 37
  • 5-13: 52
  • 6-12: 60

Here are the absolute worst 18-game slumps in Red Sox history:

May 1-22, 1906: 0-18. The Red Sox, or Pilgrims as they were known at the time, actually lost 20 straight during this horrible run in a horrible season. The Sox posted a losing record against every team in the league, lost the first three games of the season and never got to .500, eventually losing 105 games and finishing an amazing 45.5 games out of first. The team simply had no offense, with only Chick Stahl and Myron Grimshaw batting above .250/.300/.360. Even Cy Young lost 20 games, one of four Sox starters with at least 18 defeats.

Aug. 20-Sept. 8, 1926: 1-17. It might have been the Roaring ’20s in other parts of the country, but not in Boston. In the aftermath of the Ban Johnson/Harry Frazee rift and subsequent talent dumps to New York, Boston’s AL club was the laughingstock of baseball. Consider this: the Sox’ best winning percentage in any month of 1926 was .355, a simply torrid 11-20 mark in July. The first 17 games of these 18 were all losses. The team finished in last, of course, with 107 losses, just 44.5 games out of first this time and 15.5 games behind seventh-place St. Louis.

June 17-July 4, 1927: 1-17. Clearly, the next year was no better in Boston. Although outfielder Jack Tobin actually hit .310 with a .371 OBP, the pitching staff was deplorable. All five starters lost more than 10 games, and four of them posted ERAs above 4.50. Team ERA leader Sim Harriss (4.18) lost 21 games. This 18-game stretch — one win followed by 17 straight losses — cemented a wretched month of June, in which the team lost 24 of its 28 games. The team finished 59 games behind the Murderer’s Row 1927 Yankees, against whom the Red Sox went 4-18 that year.

June 22-July 10, 1925: 2-16. How much more can you say about the teams of the 1920s and early 1930s? They were absolutely terrible. The Sox started the season 2-10, never won more than three games in a row, and lost 105 games. This stretch starts in Game 4 of a season-high nine-game losing streak. The Sox won once, lost five more, won again, then reeled off another five straight losses.

May 11-31, 1930: 2-16. This pitiful performance ended with a 14-game losing streak. Not much else to say.

April 23-May 17, 1932: 2-16. The Sox were two seasons away from their first .500 record since 1918 and three away from the signing of a certain shortstop-manager whose number currently resides on the right-field facade. But first, this club had to set the franchise record for losses in a season, with 111. First baseman Dale Alexander was the sole bright spot, swatting .372 and reaching base at a .454 clip. The 1932 Red Sox lost an astounding 45 games by five or more runs, and won only seven. This stretch includes two, eight and six-game skids split by two wins.

Aug. 9-28, 1985: 2-16. Bill James’ Pythagoran predictor said the Sox should have won 89 games in 1985, good for third in the AL East. Instead, they finished 81-81, in fifth place. The Sox finished third in the AL in runs per game (4.91) and sixth in team ERA (4.42). Wade Boggs hit .368, Bill Buckner, Rich Gedman and Jim Rice all hovered around .300, and Rice and Evans hit nearly 30 home runs each. Oil Can Boyd won 15 games, completed 13 and kept his ERA below 4.00. Nevertheless, the Red Sox were simply atrocious in August, at 8-21, before following up with a 19-9 September that was clearly too little, too late. On Aug. 8, the Sox won the second game of a double-header to move six games over .500. They then lost five in a row, won a game, lost six more, won again, then finished the wretched span with another five-game slide, ending at eight games under .500. Seven of the 16 losses (and none of the wins) came at the hands of the Yankees.

May 31-June 19, 1994: 2-16. You knew a Butch Hobson-managed team had to be on this list. Before you criticize the Javy Lopez/Doug Mirabelli catching tandem, remember the 1994 combo of Damon Berryhill and Rich Rowland. Mo Vaughn and John Valentin provided the only semblance of offense from a lineup that featured good names with old and injured bats (Mike Greenwell, Andre Dawson). The only Sox All-Star that year was Scott Cooper. The offense and bullpen were so bad that Roger Clemens allowed fewer than 3 runs per game and only won nine games — and he led the team in victories! The strike mercifully cut this season short with the Sox one game ahead of Detroit for last in the AL East (although it robbed Otis Nixon of his chance to break Tommy Harper’s franchise stolen-base record). Too bad the players couldn’t have struck at the end of May, when the Sox were 12 games above .500 and just 2.5 games behind New York for first. After going 2-5 to start this 18-game stretch, the Sox then lost 11 straight, finishing the span two games below .500, in fourth place, seven games out.

Clearly, we live in fortunate times. Even with the anomalies represented by the 1985 and 1994 teams, the Red Sox have been far better than the teams fielded by a series of inept and corrupt owners in the 1920s and 1930s. 1985 aside, though, it appears a team must be absolutely pathetic to lose as many as 16 out of 18 games, and by necessity such a stretch includes a long losing streak into which a talented, playoff-bound club would have a hard time falling.

So how about those bad-but-not-that-bad streaks? The ones where a team that should be better than this plays inexplicably bad baseball for three weeks but was still a contender, either in spite of or until the slump? Here’s what I could find (Loss pct. being the percentage of the season’s total losses contained in the 18-game stretch):

1948, 5-13, Final record: 96-59. Loss pct: 22.03.
Most remember the inexplicable Denny Galehouse decision and the one-game playoff loss to this season, but that wouldn’t have been necessary if the Sox had managed just a 6-12 record over a lousy 18-game stretch in May and June. Three hitters (Williams, Stephens, Doerr) drove in more than 100 runs in 1948. Three pitchers won more than 15 games, but the team started the season just 15-24, capped by a 5-13 slide ending June 2 — at which point, the Sox were 10.5 games out of first. They played at a .698 clip the rest of the way, nine games better than Cleveland, but not good enough to avoid playing them in the playoff.

1951, 5-13, Final record: 87–67. Loss pct: 19.4.
That the lineup featured Williams, Doerr, Pesky, DiMaggio and Stephens
meant nothing. Neither did ace Mel Parnell and his 18 wins. The 1951 Red Sox, three games out of first with 16 to go, picked absolutely the worst time to spiral into oblivion — going 3-13 to finish the season, including losing the final nine games and being swept in a season-ending five-game series at New York.

1955, 3-15 and 4-14, Final record: 84-70. Loss pct: 41.4.

Ted Williams reached base 49.6 percent of the time in 1955. I mean, holy crap. He also slugged .703 and hit .356. Sheesh. He hit 28 home runs, Jackie Jensen added 26 with 116 RBI and Norm Zauchin slugged 27. Ace pitcher Frank Sullivan won 18 games with a 2.91 ERA, and no starter finished with an ERA worse than Tom Brewer’s 4.20. Closer Ellis Kinder saved 18 games with a 2.84 ERA. Yet after starting the season 6-1, the club nosedived. From April 21 to May 10, the Red Sox went 3-16. Then, after recovering to 80-56, within three games of first on Sept. 7, they died again. During the next 18 games, they went 2-8 against the two teams ahead of them in the standings, Cleveland and New York, en route to a 4-14 finish that dropped them 10 games out.

1967, 6-12 (twice), Final record: 92-70. Loss pct: 34.3.
A pair of slumps contributed to more than a third of the Impossible Dream team’s losses, including a particularly ill-timed one in late July after the Sox had won 10 straight games to pull within a half-game of the White Sox for first in the AL. The 6-13 slump only cost the Sox 2 games in the standings, however, and they went on to post the best record in baseball from that point forward.

1970, 4-14, Final record: 87-75. Loss pct: 18.67
Yaz smacked 40 home runs, Tony Conigliaro walloped 36, Rico Petrocelli added another 29 — in fact everyone in the lineup but catcher Jerry Moses hit at least 15, and seven of the nine hitters’ OPS+ were over 100. Three starters won more than 15 games, the closer was a guy named Sparky Lyle, and they could not win in May, turning a season-opening 12-8 mark into a 16-22 record, losing 7.5 games in the standings in the process and never recovering.

1975, 6-12, Final record: 95-65. Loss pct:  18.5.
A 20-game slump in late June and early July closed the eventual AL champs’ lead in the AL East to just one game, but they quickly rectified it by winning 10 in a row. 

1978, 4-14, Final record: 99-64. Loss pct: 21.9
We all know about this one. An incredible 23-7 record in May, followed by an 18-7 June, followed by mediocrity the rest of the way. On Aug. 30, when a loss in the second game of a double-header snapped a six-game winning streak, the Red Sox led the AL East by 7 games. Four wins and 13 more losses later, they were down by 3.5 games — a remarkable 10.5-game slide in three weeks highlighted by a four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in Fenway Park.

1979, 4-14, Final record: 91-69. Loss pct: 20.3
Presumably, the Yawkey overemphasis on slugging led to great winning teams that fell apart when the bats slumped, as they will inevitably do during the season. How else to explain the presence of so many talented Boston teams put together primarily by the beloved owner on this list? Once again an amazing month of June set up a disastrous run to the end of the season and an eight-win month of August, including just four wins in 19 games.

1986, 5-13, Final record: 95-66. Loss pct: 19.7
The team that was a strike away from winning it all had great hitting (Boggs, Rice, Evans all with good years), great pitching (Clemens, Boyd and Hurst), and never lost more than four straight games. But in late July, the team dove into a three-week funk in which it was outscored 101-53, capped by a 13-2 drubbing from the Royals.

1990, 4-14, 6-12, Final record: 88-74. Loss pct: 35.1
The Red Sox made the playoffs despite losing records in May, July and September and a stretch in July that knocked them briefly out of first place. September wasn’t much better, featuring a 6-12 stretch, and as we all know, the Sox got swept out of the postseason.

1998, 5-13, Final record: 92-70. Loss pct: 18.6
Another playoff-bound team, the Sox in 1998 featured a solid lineup in which no one but John Valentin hit below .265; Pedro, Saberhagen and Wakefield each won 15 games; a young Derek Lowe started 10 games; and Tom Gordon saved 46. No one was catching the Yankees that year, but the Sox were comfortably ahead in the Wild Card on Aug. 27, when they preceded to lose 13 of their next 18, making it a race again.

2002, 6-12, Final record: 93-69. Loss pct: 17.4
How did this team not make the playoffs? Nomar, Manny, Damon, Nixon and Hillenbrand all had big offensive years; Lowe and Martinez each won 20 games; and Ugueth Urbina saved 40. Pythagoras thought the Sox should have won 100 games. This might have had a big reason to do with it: A 10-16 month of June, including a 6-12 stretch mostly during interleague play that knocked the Sox from first place for good.

What can we learn? Well, that good teams can go through slumps that make them look absolutely pathetic. And that it happens fairly regularly.

Whether the Sox played better or worse in the last three weeks than in the most recent comparisons is up for debate. The ’02 team actually scored as many runs as they allowed during their slump, the ’98 club was outscored 86-70, and the 1990 club was outscored by a fairly substantial 88-46 during its 4-14 run.  This year, the Sox were outscored 110-95 in going 6-12, which certainly looks more even than it feels, thanks to all those heartbreaking one-run losses.

1990 — the regular season, not even looking at the playoffs — appears to be the last time a Sox team this good played this poorly. That’s a significant amount of time and underscores the significance of the sloppy play we’ve seen these last three weeks, particularly for those of you who have criticized some of us for being overly pessimistic. But the 1990 team won the division.

So there’s reason for hope. There’s a lot of baseball left. The Sox are now in position to sweep the Orioles and have momentum for upcoming series against Detroit and New York, which will really crystallize the chances for success in 2006. Maybe at the end of October we will all look back here and laugh between sips of champagne. I certainly hope so.

15 comments… add one
  • I should say that the Baseball-Reference streak search was invaluable in coming up with these lists.
    Link: http://www.baseball-reference.com/games/streaks.shtml

    Paul SF August 12, 2006, 5:47 pm
  • This is easily one of the most exhaustively researched post I have ever read. I have to read it again to digest it. Nice work, Paul.

    attackgerbil August 12, 2006, 6:04 pm
  • After re-reading that post thoroughly, I thank you for your time spent writing it. Of baseball, history is as fascinating as is the present.
    Your post, what may have been fostered as a study of what may be considered a “slump” by the Sox recently, is a glimpse into history, and re-living baseball in seasons past in my mind is nearly as entertaining as what happens today.
    Great post.
    Here’s to Friday, and the story it may tell.

    attackgerbil August 12, 2006, 6:29 pm
  • Wait, so was I right? ;-)
    GREAT post, Paul.

    SF August 12, 2006, 7:10 pm
  • Excellent job, Paul. A very useful and informative post…I hate to think how much time you must’ve spent on this. 0_o;

    mouse August 12, 2006, 7:21 pm
  • I’ll have you know that I am having Ma and Pa-SF forward this to the Sox’ team historian, a good friend. Not for vetting, but because I am sure he will absolutely love it.

    SF August 12, 2006, 7:34 pm
  • I’d say you were half-right, SF ;-)
    You named the 1990 team, but for the wrong reason — the playoffs, when their regular-season slump was worse. The 1986 team was annihilated during their 6-12 run, and they were clearly an excellent team. This year looks like third place post-1978/79, which is still quite distressing except for the fact that the top two won the division and the No. 1 nearly won the World Series…

    Paul SF August 12, 2006, 8:00 pm
  • The ’90 Sox had a .000 winning percentage in the post-season, though!

    SF August 12, 2006, 8:05 pm
  • If you must know, Mouse, I got this idea into my head the same day SF posted his comment, and it festered for a few hours before I remembered the B-R tool and got so excited, I just HAD to work on it (I’m a dork like that). The wife wasn’t happy — especially since it took me til 3 a.m. to sort all the streaks into a one-per-slump mode by removing all the overlaps… It probably was eight hours altogether, as it took me the duration of today’s game to look at each slump and figure out whether it was worthwhile to include, etc.

    Paul SF August 12, 2006, 8:43 pm
  • Paul SF… you Sir, are a veritable god. In being the type of person who really enjoys parsing nuggets of information out of seemingly inscrutable data, I can honestly say that I am awed by the magnitude of your dedication to that particular vocation.
    If there were awards for such acheivements, your Gauging the Slump posting deserves a Medal of Honor, above and beyond the call of duty just does not begin to desribe the magnatude of the acheivement.
    Risking life and limb (an unhappy wife, the dead of night…these qualify) in the furtherance of the Red Sox Knowledge Base.
    For this, and other acheivements too numerous to mention, I salute you.
    As the English would put it, you are well and truly a joly good fellow
    Hip Hip Hurrah!

    Brian August 12, 2006, 10:42 pm
  • I contend that this slump goes back more than three weeks or 18 games. Look back to June 30, the day the winning streak ended at 12. Since that day, the Sox, if I counted right (I did it quickly), are 19-20. (FYI, I compared that to the Cubs, who are 19-19 since June 30.)
    What does this mean? Well, as I’ve said in many other posts, this team has too many good players to be playing so mediocre. This crap can’t last forever. What I have concluded is that we really don’t know yet what we have with this team.
    We are about to find out. Starting Monday, eight games in eight days against the Tigers and Yankees. And it doesn’t get easier with another trip to the West Coast.
    We know this team can be great, we know this team can be dramatic and we kow this team can be just plain awful. After six weeks of average to bad baseball, we had better hope this is their epiphany if they have any hope of salvaging the season and winning the division.
    We’ll have our answer Aug. 21.

    I'm Bill McNeal August 13, 2006, 12:39 am
  • Addendum:
    Since June 30, the Yanks are 23-13. That’s a five-game turnaround in the standings. And I’d say the competition has been about the same.
    Despite this, Boston is only 2 games back.
    Comparing injuries, I don’t think one team is more or less beat up than the other. I really think that, given the 1-5 road trip to TB and KC, the Yanks missed a chance at a bigger lead. I’ve hardly been knocked out by the way they’re playing.
    I truly believe the Red Sox are lucky they’re not farther behind.

    I'm Bill McNeal August 13, 2006, 12:58 am
  • I have to somewhat echo what Bill said – I don’t think you can suggest that this slump is 18 games in length. If the Sox lose, say, 7 of the next 10 games, then clearly it ain’t over. Let’s see more than two home wins vs the O’s before trying to define this period and put it in some sort of context.
    That said, good work Paul, and a very interesting read. I hope that you’ll soon have post that looks at the worst 30 game slumps in Sox history ;)

    Sam August 13, 2006, 10:26 am
  • The last 18 games were the worst of those played since the break though, which is why I chose them. Looking at a 30-game stretch of .500 baseball — while I too would call it a slump — just isn’t that exciting, and I’m sure parsing through the surely astronomical number of such stretches in Sox history would be a monumental task to sort through.
    Clearly the slump could continue, but it ended with a five-game losing streak, which seemed to bookend the timeframe nicely, since going into it the Sox had won five games in a row.

    Paul SF August 13, 2006, 1:44 pm
  • Paul,
    I was afraid I might give you the impression I was trying to steal your thunder. Not true.
    Your body of work was impressive and your lucky your wife only grumbled at you for it. I’d be in divorce court already.
    And yes, that 18-game run was the worst of it.
    I had just been noting in my head that since the winning streak ended, they’ve been average at best, that’s all.

    I'm Bill McNeal August 13, 2006, 8:12 pm

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