Running of the Simulators, Part 4 (2007)

Fourth in a series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

It becomes clear to me in doing this series that there has yet to be a quiet offseason in the modern era of the rivalry. If one of our teams largely stands pat, the other one goes wild. That was the case in 2006-07.

The Yankees weren't entirely bereft of moves. They exercised their option on Gary Sheffield to keep him from signing with Boston as a free agent, then they shipped him to Detroit for scraps. They re-signed Mike Mussina, and they welcomed back Andy Pettitte. They ended the Randy Johnson experiment, getting back more spare parts. And of course they signed Kei Igawa, which may or may not have been an attempt to answer the big Boston splash of the offseason.

The Sox shocked pretty much everyone by bidding $51 million in a blind auction to win the rights to negotiate with Japanese pitching phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka. The contract negotiations dragged to the very last second and ended with Red Sox fans around the country stalking John Henry's plane online as it flew with Theo Epstein and Matsuzaka to Boston for his physical. Yes, that actually happened.

But Boston wasn't done.


The Sox also mined NPB for reliever Hideki Okajima, then signed Trot Nixon's replacement, J.D. Drew, to a long-term deal despite appearing to be the only bidders for his services. On the same day that was reported, they also signed Julio Lugo to replace Alex Gonzalez as shortstop. On the bullpen front, the Sox traded for Brendan Donnelly and re-signed J.C. Romero. With Dustin Pedroia set to debut at second, the Sox let Mark Loretta depart for free agency. The injured Keith Foulke also left, signing with Cleveland but retiring before spring training. 

Once again, SG took to the spreadsheets in March, this time adding a fourth projection system, the widely respected CHONE system designed by Sean Smith (who also runs the WAR system used by Baseball-Reference.com). That makes four projections at 1,000 simulations each and an overall average divined from the 4,000 sims:

CHONE:

  • Yankees: 94-68, 941 RS, 789 RA, 61% Div, 21% WC
  • Red Sox: 92-70, 890 RS, 762 RA, 36% Div, 30% WC

Diamond Mind:

  • Yankees: 97-65, 934-760, 74%, 13%
  • Blue Jays: 89-73, 848-780, 17%, 25%
  • Red Sox: 87-75, 909-832, 9%, 17%

PECOTA:

  • Yankees: 94-68, 911-765, 57%, 25%
  • Red Sox: 92-70, 893-763, 39%, 32%

ZiPS:

  • Yankees: 92-70, 920-806, 61%, 11%
  • Red Sox: 87-75, 866-786, 22%, 18%

Diamond Mind loved the Yankees and hated the Red Sox, showing perhaps that they were too heavily weighted on the previous year's performance. CHONE and ZiPS had the teams within two games, but PECOTA gave the Yanks a five-game advantage. In the end, of course, they all got this one wrong:

How'd the Sox do it? With spectacular pitching. They allowed more than 100 runs fewer than the most optimistic projections. That's 10 wins right there, which explains almost exactly the gap between their ZiPS projection (87 wins) and reality (96) and was more than enough to offset the fact that the offense was slightly below the projections of the other systems (or much below, in Diamond Mind's case).

The Sox were helped along immensely by Josh Beckett's resurgence and received solid performances from Curt Schilling, Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield. Julian Tavarez as a starter was less than ideal, and he was replaced late in the season by Jon Lester, vastly improving the rotation. Seven excellent spot starts from Kason Gabbard helped, as well. The bullpen, meanwhile, was phenomenal, as Jonathan Papelbon and Okajima joined Mike TimlinManny Delcarmen and Javier Lopez in posting an ERA+ of 140 or better. The new acquisitions, Donnelly and Romero, ended up either injured (Donnelly) or ineffective (Romero).

On offense, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia emerged as capable starters, Jason Varitek rode a hot first half to a league-average season, David Ortiz posted his best campaign yet, and Mike Lowell had his best season since 2003. That all helped make up for struggles at the plate from Drew and Manny Ramirez (who still posted decent enough seasons) and the black holes of suck that were Coco Crisp's and Lugo's respective turns in the lineup. 

The Yankees, meanwhile, did their winning with the bats, beating every projection while coming just around or slightly better than their pitching projections. At 94-68, the Yanks outperformed one projection by two games, underperformed one by three games and nailed the other two. Not a bad performance by the systems on that one.

The Yankee offense was formidable indeed. Only Melky Cabrera in center and a Doug Mientkiewicz/Miguel Cairo/Andy Phillips combination at first had an OPS+ below 100. Jorge Posada had a monster year (153 OPS+) at age 35, Alex Rodriguez had another amazing season, and the rest of the lineup was solidly above average.

On the mound, the Yankees featured four average or better starters, led by Chien-Ming Wang. But though late-season signing Roger Clemens and rookie Phil Hughes both ended up with an ERA+ above 100, their inconsistency was disappointing. Mike Mussina looked done after posting an 88 ERA+, and Igawa was a bust, his ERA at 6.25 after just 67 innings. In the pen, the Yanks received the usual greatness from Mariano Rivera, but every other reliever posted a WHIP of at least 1.30, with Luis Vizcaino (acquired in the Johnson deal, 1.45 WHIP), Kyle Farnsworth (1.45) and Brian Bruney (1.62) particularly damaging. Scott Proctor also seemed to lose his magic, as his ERA rose to near 4.00 and his WHIP topped 1.50. The late-season addition of rookie Joba Chamberlain and his 1,221 ERA+ (yes, you read that right) in 24 innings was cause for optimism, however.

The Yankees were bounced in the first round by the Cleveland Indians and a swarm of midges. The Sox, buoyed by their unexpectedly stellar starting pitching, won their second World Series in four years.

NEXT: 2008

6 comments… add one

  • Paul, you’re an animal, man. Seriously, these are such good reads. Really, it just goes to show how little anyone can really predict!

    Brad January 5, 2011, 3:34 pm
  • Yes Paul great work…Any chance we can do a season that the Yankees didn’t suck in? LOL, this is depressing!

    John - YF January 5, 2011, 4:24 pm
  • yeah, let’s do ’09 ;)
    good stuff paul

    dc January 6, 2011, 5:48 am
  • Haha, we’ll get there. The wife and kids are out of town for the week, which is why I have the time to do this. I’ll try to do another couple tonight, and the last couple tomorrow night.

    Paul SF January 6, 2011, 10:00 am
  • I eat this stuff up, even for the years where a trip down memory lane is painful. Awesome work Paul.

    Atheose - SF January 6, 2011, 2:48 pm
  • Fantastic Paul – I really appreciate the work you’re putting into these retrospectives. Man I hated this year…not just because the Sox went all the way, but because the Yankees had some truly frustrating performances on the mound. I remember the last 3 months of the season making Mussina look like he was throwing slow pitch softballs up to the plate and the poor guy was totally bereft. In some of those post-game interviews he was just clearly a broken man. Was veyr happy to see him come back and finally cap his fine career with a 20-win season in ’08. And then there was Farnsworth. Perhaps the most cringe-worthy reliever the Yanks have had in the past decade.
    But most of all: Mr. Wang. Complete and utter FAIL in October. The guy started two post-season games only to last less than 6 innings total and accumulate an ERA over 19.00. Horrendous. Only 8 other times in the history of the game has a starter given up 8 ERs in one post-season game as Wang did in Game 1 of the ALDS. Beckett and Clement for Boston and Wells for NY are all on that infmous list as is Sabathia, who did it while he was playing for the White Sox against Boston in the ’07 ALCS just 8 days after Wang imploded vs. the Indians.
    And only 27 other times in the history of the game has a guy lasted 1 inning or less in a post-season game giving up at least 4ER as Wang did in Game 4 of the. No one is on both of these horrific lists, let alone being on both lists for two performances in the same post-season series. Except Chien-Ming Wang. Truly historically terrible.
    Of course, given that we now agree that the Sox $51 million posting fee for Dice-K gets added to their “effective payroll” for this season, they clearly bought this one, spending more for that team than any franchise had ever before, right? JK guys – couldn’t help but poke fun. Sox were stellar that year.

    IronHorse (YF) January 7, 2011, 9:55 am

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