The Frustration of Following a .500 Ballclub

Last night was a microcosm of how frustrating the 2011 season has been for the Boston Red Sox.

On the heels of another series of strong pitching performances, Jon Lester takes the hill and ultimately receives six runs of support — but gives up three runs in the first and five runs in five innings.

Then, the Sox' offense rallies back — three times! — to tie the game in the ninth, but lose the game partly because Terry Francona chose indirectly to substitute Jason Varitek behind the plate for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and partly because Daniel Bard picked a bad time to serve up a rookie hitter's first major league home run.

When the Sox get great offense, the pitching fails. When they get great pitching, the bats go into remission.

The Red Sox have scored five or more runs 15 times this season, and they have lost five of those games (including four of their first five). That .667 winning percentage may seem great, but last year the Sox were 67-19 in games when they scored five or more runs. That's a .779 winning percentage.

And when the Sox have allow three or fewer runs this season, they are 14-4 (.778 winning percentage). Last year, they were 59-10 (.855). 

So .500 will elude the Red Sox for another three days, as the Sox won't reach that level until Friday at the earliest, when they visit the Bronx. 

On the one hand, this ballclub is baseball's third-best since April 15, having gone 15-9 in the 24 games since. Only the Indians (14-7) and Rays (17-9) have done better, and that .625 winning percentage (a 101-win pace over a full season) from this date forward would net the Sox 95 wins. 

On the other, the Sox are 3-4 in their last seven, 6-6 in their last 12, 7-8 in their last 15. Take out the nine-game stretch in which they went 8-1, and the Red Sox are 9-18 this year.

Optimism. Pessimism. Such is the balance when you follow a .500 ballclub.

12 comments… add one

  • Interesting analysis comparing the ultimate results and record on those on-off pitching-hitting days this year vs. last year Paul.
    I watched more of the Sox game than the Yanks last night because my mlb.tv feed for some reason reported a “Media Error” every time I tried to watch the latter and so I listened to Sterling/Waldman (wretch) while watching the Sox.
    It was a really compelling and exciting game for the very reason you cite. I think in all the Sox came back to tie or take the lead 4 times over the course of the game. But yeah, from an sf perspective I am sure it was infuriating for the same reason – they could never make it stick. And the end was brutal with Davis stealing two bases on two pitches with Varitek behind the plate and then walking home on the sac fly – Posada-esque defense there.
    For the very reasons you note (the Sox have shown that their offense and their defense can both be great) I still can’t bring myself to seeing them finishing out of 1st in the AL East this season and I’m frustrated myself that the Yankees haven’t been able to do more to put them in the rear-view mirror as long as they are scuffling like this.
    But if I were a fan of the Sox I’d be torn as to whether to even watch or not since you seem to never know what you’re going to get. I just wish the Yanks could do a bit more to put some ditance between them and the Sox before the Sox hit what I still believe is an inevitable groove of offense and defense clicking at the same time. I mean, this is not a team beset by injuries, age, or missing-talent issues (except posisbly at C) and so as long as they remain healthy I have to assume that groove is coming.

    IronHorse (YF) May 11, 2011, 12:50 pm
  • So that 2-10 start really didn’t matter, eh? We are seeing the residual effects of such a shitty start, in their record: it is going to take a long time, assuming decent performances, to head substantially over .500 and into the top of the division, if they ever get there.
    Thankfully we have the wild card (not saying the division is a lost cause, just saying that the wild card makes any fruit slightly lower-hanging) so there’s always an easier first milestone to reach.
    Last night the Sox had 16 hits, of which three were homers. So they garnered three runs off the other 13 hits and walks issued. That’s awful, frankly.

    SF May 11, 2011, 1:13 pm
  • But if I were a fan of the Sox I’d be torn as to whether to even watch or not since you seem to never know what you’re going to get
    This is insightful. I am torn every night – the Sox are potentially great, I think. And Adrian Gonzalez has, on his own, been nearly worth the price of admission himself – he’s that fine a ballplayer. And the Sox have talent, so I watch in the hopes that they will all (or most of them) will click simultaneously. But for a small stretch they just haven’t done that this year. I hope they do. But there’s enough visual evidence for me to worry – Pedey’s slump (Paul’s evidence proving the regularity of these slumps is not much comfort, though rational!), Youk’s crazy strikeout rate, Bard struggling with consistency, Jenks eating his own talent into submission, etc.
    It’s a dilemma – do I save myself the trauma and do something productive until say June 1st and tune back in, thus missing a chance to see this team put it all together? Or stick it out? So far I have, for worse, stuck it out.

    SF May 11, 2011, 1:18 pm
  • From what little I’ve seen – and it is admittedly little – Pedroia does not look anywhere near as lost at the plate as Youkilis. Youkilis just looks really really bad. He has enough track record of “good” that I assume he’ll eventually revert to that, unless there is some injury to which he is not admitting.
    Pedroia on the other hand looks like he always does – the results just haven’t been there. Though as dc noted yesterday, the K-rate is probably concerning for sfs. Having said that, I’ve never understood the great results he has had in the past because frankly his swing seems to me almost crazy – bordering on “fly out of my shoes maniacal”. But Vladimir Guerrero made a pretty good living off of an even crazier swing and much larger K-zone so I assume Pedroia is simply going to do the same thing over the rest of his career.

    IronHorse (YF) May 11, 2011, 1:36 pm
  • The thing is Youk has been more valuable by a longshot – .850 OPS, getting on base at a touch under .400. But he’s on a pace for like 160 whiffs, which blows away his previous career high by like 30%.
    He’s on pace for career average doubles, less-than career average homers. It’s very weird, frankly.

    SF May 11, 2011, 1:42 pm
  • I’ve always heard that Youk has ‘old player skills’. I don’t know what this means. Does it mean he’s slow and gets on base? It looks like he’s doing just that, to me. So he’s striking out a bit more than he’s used to, whatever, he usually strikes out 110 times a year anyway. He’s still a very valuable player, even with this ‘slump’.

    AndrewYF May 11, 2011, 2:00 pm
  • I’ve always heard that Youk has ‘old player skills’. I don’t know what this means.
    It means that when you wake up like six times in the middle of the night to piss you can find the bowl without turning any lights on.

    SF May 11, 2011, 2:05 pm
  • Definitely more impressive figures on Youkilis than I would have expected from what little I’ve seen of him. I mean, 6 times in one night!?!?!
    The OPS & OBP numbers are stronger than I would have thought too…

    IronHorse (YF) May 11, 2011, 2:34 pm
  • Haha, Youk doesn’t have old-player skills. Old player skills are when a player, who is actually young, has the same set of skills you might expect from a much older player. The idea is that a young player with old-player skills will not age gracefully.
    Those skills are: Low bating average, high walks and high homer-centric power, no speed. Or, as Bill James put it in the New Historical Baseball Abstract: “”power and strike zone judgment, but no speed, arm or obvious unexploited athletic ability.”
    James cited Tom Brunansky as the prototype young player with old-player skills. Bruno, who signed a Red Sox card of his that I sent him as a kid, fwiw, had two seasons out of 14 with a batting average over .260, averaged about 60 walks a year and split his XBH between home runs and doubles. Through age 29, Brunansky had a career line of .248/.326/.448. He had one more effective season at age 31, and was done by age 33.
    Youkilis, in contrast, hits for higher average with roughly the same on-base skills and more doubles power. Through age 29, he was hitting .289/.385/.472 (119 OPS+), and in two full seasons since has hit .306/.413/.555 (150 OPS+).
    This year has been weird for him, but he has a 134 OPS+, and let’s not forget offense is way down leaguewide this year, so his .459 slugging is not as bad as it looks at first blush (league average slugging is just .402 right now). His ISO is down to .220, but that isn’t a terrible drop; it’s above his career average and above what he posted as recently as 2007.
    In fact, Youkilis leads all AL third basemen in offensive and total WAR this year, and is 13th among all AL position players. He leads AL third basemen in OPS+ and wRC+, too, so to the extent that he’s “messed up,” I think a lot of players would gladly be that messed up.
    That said, his BABIP is .300, which is good but still below his .332 career average, and considering he’s hitting line drives at his career average, that means to me that he’s getting unlucky with hits falling in. His XBH% (percentage of all hits going for extra bases) is way up, which is a result of all the singles he’s not getting right now. His ground ball/fly ball rates are also dead on with his career averages, as is his HR/FB percentage.
    The main difference on pitch selection is he’s swinging at pitches in the strike zone less often than at any point in his career, and therefore swinging less often overall. He’s also swinging at pitches outside the zone at the same rate — but missing them much more often than he did in 2010 (though not all that much more often than he did in 2009, but that year he swung at a lower percentage of outside-the-zone pitches than usual). Youkilis is also seeing fewer pitches inside the zone, so he has this perfect storm going on:
    * Seeing fewer strikes than normal
    * Taking more strikes than normal
    * Missing more when he swings at nonstrikes
    That leads to hefty strikeout totals. It seems like Youk might be a bit off with his timing or pitch recognition. Still, if he finishes with an OPS+ and wRC+ above 130, it’s hard to be too disappointed in getting that from your 32-year-old third baseman.

    Paul SF May 11, 2011, 3:07 pm
  • And NOTHING says “old-player skills” like signing cards mailed to you by young punk-fans with a rapidly-developing pentient for statistics :)

    IronHorse (YF) May 11, 2011, 3:30 pm
  • 1992 Upper Deck. Only the best. :-)
    Mo Vaughn and Tim Naehring signed, too. So did Frank White, who was a coach at the time. Of course, as an adult, I wonder if it was really them or a clubhouse attendant. Ignorance really is bliss sometimes.

    Paul SF May 11, 2011, 3:51 pm
  • Youkilis emerged relatively late age-wise and I remember reading somewhere that late bloomers tend to have shorter peaks and burn out quicker. I’ll see if I can find it. Might be a hallucination.

    Nick-YF May 11, 2011, 6:58 pm

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