Turned Point

I’m a die-hard skeptic when it comes to the topic of turning points. Those often cited as prime examples turn out not to be quite accurate (for example, in 2004 the Sox were just 5-5 immediately after Jason Varitek shoved his mitt in Alex Rodriguez’s face and lost three games in the division, and 2-3 just after the big Nomar Garciaparra trade), and too often players and fans seem determined to ascribe big games "turning point" status within moments of the final out.

Yet the Red Sox now sit within one game of first place on Sept. 9, and they are well ahead in the wild card race, after looking all but dead on July 31. We all know what happened that day, and the feeling as I remember it was that either the Manny Ramirez trade would either cripple the ballclub or turn it around. My vote was with turning it around.

In 34 games since The Trade, the Sox are 24-10. They went 10-3 immediately after the deadline, and after a brief 3-4 slump have rallied again (starting with the 11-inning Toronto game that players said that day was another "turning point") to go 11-3.

By contrast, in the 34 games leading up to the trade deadline, the Sox were 15-19, and the last two weeks were worse — 4-8 in the final 12 games and 1-5 in the final six.

Here are some other 34/34 splits:

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Player June 20-July 30 Player Aug. 1-Sept. 8
Varitek .168/.266/.242, 1 HR, 7 RBI Varitek .260/.360/.417, 4, 7
Youkilis .317/.382/.571, 7, 26 Youkilis .333/.415/.630, 7, 28
Pedroia .395/.434/.558, 3, 16 Pedroia .371/.425/.643, 8, 29
Lowell .286/.351/.398, 2, 26 Lowell/Lowrie .254/.338/.437, 3, 21
Lugo/Lowrie .233/.308/.289, 1, 11 Lowrie/Cora .315/.383/.478, 0, 20
Ellsbury/Moss .250/.276/.306, 0, 8 Bay .313/.367/.545, 6, 31
Ellsbury .232/.264/.290, 0, 5 Crisp .400/.454/.482, 1, 14
Drew .200/.345/.436, 6, 15 Drew/Ells/Kotsay .259/.430/.356, 0, 22
Ramirez .306/.434/.514, 5, 19 Ortiz .276/.414/.472, 4, 26
Overall .274/.349/.419, 29, 149 .305/.387/.485, 37, 215

These splits are simply phenomenal, and they show that a confluence of events unrelated to Manny Ramirez have led to the Sox’ recent success:

  1. Jason Varitek either got healthy, fixed his swing or started sacrificing goats, improving his OPS by 250 points.
  2. Julio Lugo’s injury allowed first Jed Lowrie then Alex Cora to fill in with superior production.
  3. Coco Crisp decided to have his patented One Hot Month at just the right time, spelling the terminally struggling Ellsbury in center field.
  4. The acquisition of Mark Kotsay limited the damage caused by the injury to Adam Dunn J.D. Drew (seriously, 145 points of isolated discipline, 236 points of isolated power before his injury. Good grief!).
  5. David Ortiz returned to the lineup, solidifying the outfield by allowing Francona the luxury of riding a hot hand while sitting a cold one (instead of being forced to play whatever hand he had).

This last cannot be overstated. Look at the difference in the columns: Manny Ramirez was essentially the designated hitter with Ortiz out, leading to a combination of Ellsbury and Moss to man left field, Ellsbury and Crisp in center and Drew in right.

With Ortiz back, Ramirez (now Jason Bay) could return to left, vastly improving the production there. So while the Sox have lost about 50 OPS points between Ramirez and Ortiz, they’ve jumped 350 points out of left field.

Between Ortiz’s return, Kotsay’s acquisition and Crisp’s hot streak, the Red Sox in the span of a couple weeks have gone from an outfield with an OPS+ from left to right of 80-80-140 to 130-185-105. Just imagine what they could have looked like with Drew healthy!

The five starters have delivered more mixed results:

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Pitcher June 20-July 30 Pitcher Aug. 1-Sept. 8
Lester 3-0, 3.14 ERA, 43 IP, 56 AGS Lester 5-2, 3.42, 50, 55
Beckett 2-4, 4.66, 46.1, 50 Beckett 3-1, 4.50, 22, 53
Matsuzaka 3-2, 3.93, 36.2, 52 Matsuzaka 5-0, 2.54, 46, 61
Wakefield 2-4, 3.47, 46.2, 57 Wakefield 2-2, 5.04, 25, 47
Buchholz 0-3, 6.75, 21.1, 39 Byrd 4-1, 3.82, 33, 53
Overall 15-19, 3.96, 304.2, 51 24-10, 4.20, 304.1, 52

Lester’s been about the same, while Beckett and Matsuzaka have pitched better and Wakefield seems to be coming back to earth. That leaves the fifth starter. Buchholz and Byrd have actually overlapped a bit, thanks to injuries to Beckett and Wakefield, but Byrd has esentially replaced Buchholz, and the difference is night and day. It’s certainly a reason why the Sox have been more successful over the past month, and it’s a reason that also has little to do with Manny Ramirez.

Overall, the Sox’ pitching appears to have gotten worse, but this is a bit misleading, thanks to the staff having three times given up 15 earned runs. Over 31 of the 34 games, the staff’s ERA is just 3.14.

Whatever benefits trading Ramirez might have brought — better team cohesion, less distractions, better defense and baserunning from his replacement — it would be a mistake to cite the trade in of itself as the Turning Point to the season. It was one of several significant nearly simultaneous factors that hopefully tonight will lead to the Red Sox retaking the division lead.

5 comments… add one
  • Whoa, whoa. I know things weren’t looking so hot back at the end of July. (I believe I said, mere hours before the Manny trade went through, that [presumptively empty] trading deadlines like this year make me happy the Sox won the WS last year.)
    But “looking all but dead on July 31” seems a bit melodramatic to me. They were in 1st in the WC race (albeit by a much, much slimmer margin) and they were 3 games back of Tampa. Obviously, I like where the Sox stand right now, with a bead drawn on the post-season, but the margin between contention and all-but-dead isn’t 2.5 games unless the Magic Number is 4.
    That minor critique aside, I think you’re right on with eschewing The Trade as the turning point this time. They’ve been better on so many fronts (and their competition has fallen away a little bit) that using the Manny-otomy as the main reason presumes way more about clubhouse psychology than I’m willing to do.

    FenSheaParkway September 9, 2008, 3:29 pm
  • Well they may have been in first place technically, but they were playing like a third-place team — and rapidly heading that way. Had they continued that 15-19 pace over the next 34 games, they’d be 75-67 right now — tied with the Yankees for fourth, one game behind Toronto. So, yes, I think they looked all but dead on July 31, based on the way they had played for the previous month-plus.

    Paul SF September 9, 2008, 3:36 pm
  • What’s that? Trading Manny was a good thing?
    Am I reading this correctly? I must be wrong about this. Everyone said it was over! How can this be???
    Very awesome, Paul. But, who’s to say that they didn’t just have a closed door meeting or something? Teams have been known to have up to ten or so of these every year, you know.

    Brad September 9, 2008, 3:44 pm
  • Good stuff Paul – I enjoy these little factoids!

    Brandon September 9, 2008, 4:06 pm
  • Great breakdown of the performance swings. Coco in particular has been amazing in my opinion… will “Bench Ellsbury!” become a more common cheer around these parts in the next month?

    Atheose September 9, 2008, 4:59 pm

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