The 1977 Red Sox
The Baseball Crank has an interesting link today to Baseball Musings' totally awesome comparison tool, which he uses to look at the late 70s Red Sox. I mention this because it's interesting to me, and because that's a topic I've addressed before.
The Sports editor of the Providence Journal Bulletin ("projo") is a very bright guy, and big Red Sox fan, named Art Martone. Several years ago, he used to run a feature regularly on the Projo web site in which he'd talk Red Sox baseball. He knows all of the baseball history and baseball conventional wisdom, but he knows the stats and sabermetrics, too. The following analysis was something I put together in response to his comparison of the 2002 Red Sox and the 1977 "crunch bunch." He concluded that the 1977 team was a better offensive team than the 2002 team, and I disagreed.
The reason that I disagree with the conclusion is that I disagree with the premise that the 1977 team was an offensive juggernaut. I think it was an average to better than average offensive team, benefiting greatly from a home field that played like Coors-east.
If you just look at the raw numbers, you’ll see that the 1977 team was 2nd in the AL in runs/game, about 18% better than the average AL team. But if you look more closely, you'll see that it's almost entirely due to their performance at Fenway. At home, they scored 6.19 runs/game, on the road only 4.49. That's an enormous difference. And, before you attribute that to "comfort with the park" or "taking advantage of the park", you've got to look at what their opponents did. And you'll see that the opponents took the same advantage of the park that the Red Sox did. It wasn't just the Red Sox that scored runs in Fenway - everybody did. In 1977, AL teams averaged 9.06 runs/game league-wide, but 11.28 runs/game in Fenway.
|G||Red Sox||Opp||Total||R/G Total||R/G Sox||R/G Opp|
As you can see, the Red Sox scored about 37% higher at home than on the road, and their opponents scored about 35% higher at Fenway. A one-year park factor of 136 isn't quite Coors field, but it's pretty darned close.
And when you look at them with an eye to the Fenway effect, the fearsome impression collapses quickly. They did set a team record with 213 home runs, but 124 of them, 58% of the total, were hit at home, and only 89 on the road. Opponents hit 60% (95 of 158) of their home runs in the Fenway games as opposed to the road games. When you look at the Red Sox as a road team, they were an average team.
|R/G - Fenway||R/G - Not Fenway|
They were 5th in the AL in runs/game scored at Fenway, and 6th in the AL in runs/game scored anywhere else. Obviously, the "R/G - Fenway" table is a very small sample for everyone but Boston, but it's an interesting data set nonetheless.
Was 1977 an aberration? It sure looks like it. In a look at the one-year Fenway park factors, 1977 certainly stands out.
Why is that? Who knows? If I had to guess, I'd guess weather. If 1977 had more than it's fair share of warm days with the wind blowing out to left, that could easily account for this kind of aberration. I don't remember the summer of 1977 well enough to say so, but I'd certainly guess that it was the case. In any event, the Red Sox of 1977, legendary though they may be, don't look, after analysis, to have been a great offensive team.
There's a perception by all Red Sox fans who lived through the late 1970s, as the Red Sox won 91, 99 and 91 games yet never made the play-offs, that it was an offensive monster that was held back by lousy pitching. In retrospect, the 1977 team in particular actually looks like a team with a strong pitching staff, better than the offense. But the park disguised the effectiveness of the pitching and masked the deficiencies in the offense.