Rocky Road

The Boston Red Sox are on pace for 98 wins — of which a phenomenal 65 would be at home. While 65 home wins would be an amazing number, the converse — that the Sox would only win 33 games on the road — is equally amazing, for entirely different reasons.

So far this season the Sox have looked (and practically been) unbeatable at home. They’ve looked hapless on the road. The offensive onslaught slows to a trickle. The sterling pitching falters. The lights-out bullpen fails in the clutch. Well, seemingly, anyway.

Why seemingly? Well, consider this chart:

Category Home Road
BA .294 .267
OBP .382 .331
SLG .472 .424
OPS+ 124 110
ERA 3.37 4.40
WHIP 1.32 1.35
BAA .241 .246
OPS+A 97 82

OPS+ is split versus league average and versus team everage.

Fenway inflates offense by roughly 10 percent, and the Red Sox’ OPS+
relative to the league is about 10 points better at home. So that’s about right. Of course,
you’d also expect the Sox to pitch better on the road, but that’s not
happening this year.

In 2007, the Sox’ pitchers were more than half a run better on the road
than at home. It was a quarter-run in 2006. Three-fifths of a run in
2005. One-fifth in 2004. And on it goes. Yet this year, the Red Sox’
pitchers are a full run worse on the road. You can see it,
split-by-split. The big offenders: Jon Lester:  2.55 ERA at home, 4.71
on the road. Tim Wakefield: 3.90/4.37. Jonathan Papelbon: 0.51/4.26.
Clay Buchholz: 1.04/8.64.

What’s really strange, however, is that the Sox’ peripheral statistics
indicate they shouldn’t be that much worse on the road (or perhaps not as good at home). Their WHIP and
opponents’ batting average is virtually identical, and they allow a
significantly lower OPS+ on the road.

Other peripheral statistics go further, indicating the Red Sox should actually have a lower road ERA than home ERA. Sox pitchers put up 7.06 K/9
at home, 7.76 on the road; 3.74 BB/9 at home, 3.68 road; 1.89 K:BB at
home, 2.11 road. Coming into Sunday’s game, the Sox had essentially the
same number of innings pitched at home (315) as on the road (313). On
the road, they had three fewer walks, 23 more strikeouts, the same
number of homers, 28 fewer doubles and 16 fewer points of OPS. They
have allowed 10 more hits, but that shouldn’t translate into 35 more
earned runs.

So what’s the difference? One answer could be plain ol’ bad luck. The
Sox are allowing a .277 BABIP at home this season, versus a
closer-to-average .293 on the road. Average for pitchers is about .300.
The Sox allowed a .303 BABIP at Fenway in 2007, .315 in 2006, .300 in
2005, .294 in 2004. If that’s the reason, we could be seeing a
correction, but not in the way we might like. The Sox’ pitchers might
start returning to earth at home — a 1.32 WHIP certainly doesn’t jive
with a 3.37 ERA.

Whatever the reasons, the Red Sox need to start consistently winning on
the road. My question when deciding to do this piece was: Has there ever been a
team to make the playoffs with a .600 winning percentage and a losing
record on the road? If there has been, were they as bad as the Red Sox
have been this year?

Well, running for all 104 years of playoff history is a bit more than
time will allow, so let’s discuss the ultra-modern era (Post-Strike or
Steroid or whatever you like to call it), starting in 1995.

The Sox’ .417 road winning percentage entering Sunday was tied with the 1995 White Sox for 142nd  among the 196 AL team seasons since 1995.
The ’95 White Sox finished with a sub-.500 overall record. Further back, the teams with road winning percentages in that range don’t exactly impress: 1959 Red Sox, 2007 Royals, 1973 Brewers, 1989 Yankees.

Here are the
worst road winning percentages to make the playoffs since 1995:

  1. 2008 Red Sox, 15-21, .417
     
  2. 2008 Rays, 14-18, .438
     
  3. 1995 Yankees, 33-39, .458
     
  4. 1995 Mariners, 33-39, .458
     
  5. 2008 White Sox, 17-20, .459
  6. 2003 Athletics, 39-42, .481
     
  7. 2007 Angels, 40-41, .494
     
  8. 1999 Rangers, 40-41, .494
     
  9. 1996 Rangers, 40-41, .494
     
  10. 2002 Twins, 40-40, .500
     

It looks like SSS plays its role here. Seven sub-.500 road teams making
the playoffs in the last 12 years, then three making it in 2008 alone?
Unlikely. It’s also unlikely the Sox will set a modern record — if not
an all-time record — for worst team on the road to make the playoffs.

Either the Red Sox will start winning more on the road, or they’ll miss the
playoffs. This weekend’s series was a good start toward ensuring the
former.

1 comment… add one
  • Great work, Paul. Do you think team defense is playing a role in this road/home discrepancy? If the Sox had worse range / fielding away from Fenway, that might explain some of the runs allowed numbers.

    Andrew F (Sox fan) June 16, 2008, 1:10 am

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