The Orioles have not been the Sox' only punching bag. The Sox are 11-4 against Toronto (another doormat) and went 11-7 against the inferior National League. That leaves the Sox at 46-45 against everyone else. All of this suggests the Sox are far closer to being a mediocre team than they are an elite one.
Tony Massarotti earlier in the week ran this column, saying the Sox are not actually a good team because, despite their record, the way they achieved it leaves something to be desired. This is reminiscent of the J.D. Drew debates a week or so ago in which Drew's detractors seemed more fixated on the way Drew achieved his excellent production, as opposed to focusing on his actual production.
One key difference is that the Red Sox in the postseason would be playing only the good teams. No Baltimores or Torontos to beat up. Only the Yankees, Tigers and Angels, if the season ended today. Teams against whom the Sox have posted a .607 winning percentage. Add in the Phillies, whom they could face in the World Series, and the winning percentage is .613, a 19-12 record.
Ok, so maybe the Sox have actually played better against their potential playoff opponents than the rest of the league. Massarotti's point is that they're mediocre because they can't beat good pitching:
Let's get to the math: At the moment, the Sox currently rank seventh in the league in ERA. Since June 11, against the six teams in front of them in ERA, the Sox are 12-21 while batting .243 and averaging 4.7 runs per game. Against the seven teams behind them, the Sox are 30-12 while batting .277 and averaging 5.6 runs per contest. The Sox take from the poor and give to the rich, which is the truest definition of mediocrity.
Funny, I always thought the truest definition of mediocrity in baseball was an 81-81 record, which the Sox will achieve should they go 0-23 in their remaining games. Last I checked, 95 wins, which the Sox are on pace to achieve, is not actually mediocre. Since June 11, the Sox are 43-33, a 92-win pace. Also not mediocre.
Should you believe that every team in baseball follows this pattern, think again. The New York Yankees currently rank sixth in the AL in pitching, though their ERA (4.31) is essentially identical to that of the Sox. Including the head-to-head meetings with the Red Sox, the Yankees are 24-9 against the top pitching teams in the league since June 11. In those games, they have batted .298 while averaging 6.1 runs per contest. The obvious point is that the Yankees have demonstrated an ability to beat everyone, which suggests a far more balanced and potent roster than the one currently occupying the home clubhouse at Fenway Park.
So since June 11, the Red Sox (43-33) have not been as good as the Yankees (57-24). You got me.
The problem, of course, is the way we're selecting our dates. June 11 was the high point of the season for the Sox and the low point of the season for the Yankees. The Sox then went through a hideous team-wide slump in July, culminating with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Yanks and a six-game losing streak. Since Aug. 9, the Sox' low point, they are 19-10, a .655 winning percentage. Why aren't we using that data set?
I'm also not sure why we're randomly selecting pitching staffs better than Boston's, when, for example Tampa — from whom the Sox just took to of three on the road — is a whopping .03 of a run worse than the Sox, or those same Blue Jays against whom the Sox are 14-4 have an ERA of 4.40, better than league average and just .09 of a run worse than Boston's.
So, using Massarotti's methods, the previous excerpt could be written this way:
Since Aug. 9, against teams with an ERA better than league average, the Sox are 17-10, averaging 5.85 runs per game, batting .279 and posting an OPS of .854. All but the last two games against Baltimore have been against teams with better than average pitching staffs.
What's especially strange is Massarotti's suggestion that the Sox are unique in their alleged inability to play better than .500 ball against good pitching staffs (even though, as we've shown, the Sox actually in 2009 have a better winning percentage against their potential playoff opponents than they do against everyone else). But the only example he provides is the best team in baseball, whom you would expect to perform better in most situations than the Red Sox.
So let's look at the American League's five most likely playoff teams using their season-long records and runs per game against the Top 7 staffs (Seattle, Chicago, Texas, Detroit, New York, Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto [where necessary]). In parentheses, I've included the team's total 2009 runs per game:
- Yankees: 51-29, 5.41 (5.7)
- Angels: 31-29, 5.37 (5.6)
- Red Sox: 40-35, 4.93 (5.3)
- Rangers: 35-27, 4.50 (5.0)
- Tigers: 27-27, 4.24 (4.6)
So among the five playoff contenders in 2009, the Sox are smack in the middle — they have the third-best scoring against the top pitching staffs (behind New York and the Angels), the third-best record (behind New York and Texas) against those staffs, and the third-lowest drop from their seasonal RPG (behind Detroit and the Angels) against those staffs.
Not surprisingly, of the six teams thus far in 2009, they also have overall… the third-best record and the third-most runs scored per game. Imagine that. Not bad for such mediocrity.