Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Red Sox - halfway through

The unofficial halfway point of the baseball season follows Sunday's games, as the regular baseball schedule shuts down for 3 days and the All Stars gather in Pittsburgh. The actual halfway point for the Red Sox was reached with the end of Tuesday's game in Tampa, so it's time to take a look at where things stand.

The Division

The Red Sox have been the best team in the AL East through 81 games.

AL East, through 7/4/2006


NY Yankees46350.568426-1720-184473920.5603843



Tampa Bay37470.4414.520-1717-303664320.4254434

The Red Sox have a 4 game lead over the Yankees and Blue Jays. The Orioles and Devil Rays are not division contenders this year. The lead is 4 in the loss column over New York and 5 over Toronto.
  • For much of the first half, the Red Sox had the 2nd or 3rd best Pythagorean in the division. That's no longer true. They've scored more runs and allowed fewer than any other team in the AL East.

  • No other East team has played fewer home games (Tampa has also played 37). Only the Devil Rays have played more on the road. They've been dominant at Fenway (27-10) and have 7 more games left at home than on the road.

The Pace

  • They're on a pace to finish 100-62. If they were to actually do that, it would be the first 100 win season for Boston since they won 104 in 1946. They're also 4 games ahead of where they were last year, when they also played game 81 on the 4th of July.

  • They've scored 900+ runs in each of the last 3 seasons, the only AL team to reach 900 runs scored in that stretch. They're on a pace, this morning, to score 902. There was a lot of concern in the off-season that the offense had been significantly degraded. They're on a pace to score 8 fewer runs than they did last year. They've actually outscored the 2005 team by 2 through 81, 451-449.

  • It was thought that the pitching/defense had been improved in the offseason. And it has. They're on a pace to allow 778 runs, 27 fewer than last year. The 2005 team allowed 403 through 81, this year they've allowed 389.

The Batters

Red Sox, 2006 - Through 81 games

Manny Ramirez 2668323640.3120.4430.6281.071

David Ortiz 3048327520.2730.380.5890.969

Trot Nixon 244816430.3320.4370.4880.925

Kevin Youkilis 2969110500.3070.4130.4860.899

Mike Lowell 293889240.30.3570.4980.855

Mark Loretta 3271023190.3120.3540.3940.748

Jason Varitek 238588310.2440.3280.3950.723

Coco Crisp 161433120.2670.3180.3730.691

Alex Gonzalez 227605140.2640.3090.3790.688

Important reserves

Wily Mo Pena 112364100.3210.370.4820.852

Alex Cora 91270100.2970.390.3520.742

Doug Mirabelli 558140.1450.2170.2550.472

Spare parts

Gabe Kapler 2710200.370.370.631

Josh Bard 185030.2780.3810.3330.714

Dustan Mohr 407230.1750.2330.350.583

J.T. Snow 449080.2050.340.2050.545

Willie Harris 447040.1590.2550.2050.46

Adam Stern 203000.

There's actually a pretty sharp, bright dividing line on that list of regulars. Ramirez-Lowell have all been good-to-great, both overall and against expectations. Loretta's been mediocre. Varitek-Gonzalez have been bad.

  • Manny started slowly again. Not to worry - he's been awesome. He's well above his already awesome career averages, and on a pace for 46 HR, which would be a new career high. He's also been one of their most consistent performers, and has played almost every day. Manny Ramirez is in the middle of an MVP-caliber season.

  • David Ortiz has, again, had some very dramatic hits. He has also, again, gotten all of the credit for "clutchness" even when his hits haven't been the most clutch. They trail Philadelphia in the bottom of the 12th with 2 out and Kevin Youkilis drives in the tying run. Loretta walks, Ortiz singles, the team wins, and the paeans to St. David the Clutch rise again. But his wasn't the big clutch hit - Youkilis' was. If Youkilis makes an out, they lose. If Ortiz makes an out, they keep playing. David's been very good so far, though not as good as last year, and nowhere near as good as Manny. People think so because he's had 4 very dramatic late-inning hits.

  • Nixon - excellent. While we'd love to see a few more HR, the OBP is outstanding, as is the consistent production.

  • Youkilis has done what many of us expected him to do. Start every day, hit .300, draw walks, hit some doubles, draw walks, hit some HR and grind on pitchers. His defense has been sure-handed and smooth, better than many people expected. Kevin Youkilis is a very valuable Major League player, and should be for the next 10 years.

  • Mike Lowell has come back from a dismal 2005 and done everything that the Red Sox could have expected from him, and more. The defense has been as good as advertised, the offense has been much more than people expected.

  • The rest of the starting lineup has not been good. Loretta's hitting .312 and going to the All Star game. But it's an empty .312, not much in the way of patience or power. The .354 OBP is not bad, but not what I'd like to see.

  • Varitek's struggling. Coco Crisp has a little bit of an excuse in that he missed 6 weeks with a broken finger, but he's been an enormous disappointment, at least at the plate. Alex Gonzalez has been, with the exception of two hot weeks, abysmal. For 2 weeks in June, he was excellent offensively, and the team, not coincidentally, had their longest winning streak in years.

  • Wily Mo Pena was a more than adequate fill-in for Crisp before he got hurt. Alex Cora continues to demonstrate that there's no reason to think that Alex Gonzalez should be the everyday shortstop. And Mirabelli's been dreadful. Horrible. Awful. Almost inconceivably bad. I hated the Bard for Mirabelli trade, but didn't think that there was any way that Doug would be this bad.

  • Gabe Kapler's come back and done an outstanding job. His biggest contribution has been keeping Willie Harris off the field during key moments. Stern may have a future, but is clearly not ready yet. Snow was signed to do a job that, as it turned out, didn't need doing.

The Pitchers

Red Sox pitching through 7/4/2006

Jonathan Lester 530026.3324992172739.233.08

Curt Schilling 181030121.331194949181410928.093.63

Tim Wakefield 17680110.6799554811377566.13.9

Josh Beckett 17104010490585323348867.624.59

Kyle Snyder 11005433206010.85.4

Matt Clement 1255065.337750488384365.926.61

Lenny Dinardo 712025.334021204121515.337.11

David Pauley 302016311414161025.627.88

David Wells 20108.33158841101.088.64

Jason Johnson 1010465502224.511.25


Jonathan Papelbon 37212541.672222174219.070.43

Mike Timlin 3140128.3330108181705.42.54

David Riske 80109.6784423524.663.72

Manuel Delcarmen 1910019.6723119171707.784.12

Javier Lopez 90006.3333314314.264.26

Rudy Seanez 302003134201751436110.454.94

Craig Hansen 71006.6784411516.755.4

Julian Tavarez 3412139.334426247182645.955.49

Keith Foulke 2921032352020642316.475.62

Jermaine Van Buren 710010.3381/9/190010012403.488.71

Abe Alvarez 1000351/3/190042220612

Mike Holtz 30001.6731/2/19003042110.816.2

  • Curt Schilling has been very good. He's been the Curt Schilling that we didn't get to see last year because of the ankle injury. Jon Lester has been very successful, but he's put too many runners on base to continue to succeed. Josh Beckett's been dominating at times, but has had real trouble keeping the ball in the park. Wakefield has been, for the most part, the good Wakefield.

  • Beyond those 4, the starting's been iffy. Wells came back, got shelled, started to look better, got hit and left again. Clement had a couple of good performances, a few bad ones, and went out with an injury. David Pauley pitched well in 1 of his 3 startes, Kyle Snyder gave them one good start and didn't get another chance, and Jason Johnson gave them one bad start, and apparently will get another chance. Lenny DiNardo had a couple of pretty good starts, a couple of pretty bad starts, and one that was so-so. Then he got hurt (and that may have caused one of the bad starts.)

  • On the whole, the starting pitching has been OK. Pretty good, at times, struggling at others, but good enough. They've had to dig a little deeper than one suspects that they expected to. I don't think anyone is surprised by Wells being injured, but it was not a given that he'd only make 2 starts. Clement pitched worse than expected then got hurt. The first option to replace on them had become firmly entrenched in the bullpen. The next option made a few starts and got hurt. After the first 3 starters, they've had bad luck, but it still, on the whole, hasn't been too bad.

  • The bullpen has been could-have-been-a-disaster-ous, with disaster being prevented by the presence of young Mr. Papelbon. Papelbon has simply been the best pitcher in baseball for the first half of the year, and when the Red Sox have led late, they've won. The gap between the starter and Papelbon has been filled inconsistently. Foulke had a very effective stretch, then got hurt, ineffective and disabled. Timlin was effective, then disabled, then inconsistent. Seanez was bad, then good, then bad again. Tavarez has been disappointing. Delcarmen and Hansen have both shown signs of having the potential for being effective, but neither has been consistently effective yet. It's been iffy to go to the 'pen. But because of Papelbon, they've actually been pretty effective at protecting leads.

The Defense

People have raved about the Red Sox defense, with good reason. They've committed far and away the fewest errors in baseball. They recently came off a Major League record streak of 17 consecutive errorless games. Alex Gonzalez has set a new Red Sox record for consecutive errorless games by a SS. They have basically handled everything that they've gotten to, and there have been more than a few spectacular plays along the way.

All that said, it's not clear that the defense has been great. It has unquesionably been sure-handed, and it has sure looked good. I don't know whether it's been good or great. According to the Baseball Prospectus defensive efficiency ratings, the Red Sox are currently 7th in the AL. According to my calculations of Batting Average on Balls In Play, the Red Sox are currently ... 7th in the AL. That means that, when a batter puts a ball in play in the park, there are 6 AL teams that have been more likely to turn that batted ball into an out than the Red Sox, and 7 teams less likely.

Now, I'm willing to concede that some of that might be the ballpark. The left field wall at Fenway Park takes balls that would be HR (which wouldn't count as a hit for BABiP purposes) and turns them into singles (which do.) It also takes balls that would be outs in other parks and turns them into double and singles.

In any event, I'm not certain that the defense is, or has been, as good as people are thinking. But there's no doubt that it's been sure-handed, and it is certainly good enough.

Looking forward

There are more home games than road games remaining. That's a good thing. They haven't been to the west coast yet, so they still have that to look forward to. They've got games left with Chicago, who's tough, and Kansas City, who is not. They still have a bunch of head-to-head with New York and Toronto.

It is likely that the winner of the East is the only team from the East that goes to the play-off this year. The Red Sox are best positioned to be that team. It is by no means a foregone conclusion, and there's a lot of work left to do, but the Red Sox looked, before the season started, to be the best team in the east, and they still look that way today. I said back in March, in a pre-season "dialectic", that
I don't assume that everything will be perfect and they'll win 95. I assume that some things will go better than expected, some will go worse, and they'll win 95-100. It's a very talented group...Rosy scenario, for a team with this talent level, is 1998 Yankees or 2001 Seattle Mariners, 114-116 wins. I'm not predicting that. Just that the expected scenario for this team, with this talent level, is somewhere in the mid-to-high 90s in wins, with another playoff appearance.

I think that sums it up pretty well...

Update: This morning, Chris Lynch is looking at the first half, too, with more of a global MLB view.



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