Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2008 Red Sox - Regular season retrospective

It began in the early morning in March in Tokyo against the Athletics, it ended in the rain and fog on a late night in Boston against the Yankees. The 2008 Boston Red Sox won 95 and lost 67, winning the AL Wild Card and preparing to play post-season baseball for the fifth time in six years.

    Odds and ends...
  • Boston finished behind LAA and Tampa with the third best record in the AL. I'd argue that they were actually the best team in the AL from start to finish. Boston's 845 runs scored was second in the AL to Texas, their 694 runs allowed was third behind Tampa and Toronto, and their run differential of 151 was far and away the best in the league, and second only to the Cubs in all of baseball. The Red Sox won as many games as you would project, given their runs scored and allowed, the Rays won five more than you would project given theirs. (The Angels exceeded their Pythagorean projection by a historically noteworthy 12 games.)

  • While every season has its peaks and valleys, in the big picture, the Red Sox were pretty consistent from start to finish. They had one losing month, falling two games under .500 in July. They also had one "pythagorean losing month," but it was only two games, as they were outscored 10-7 while splitting the Tokyo games in March.

  • By May 5th, the projection of Boston's record based on its Pythagorean winning percentage and current record was 92 wins. From that point to the end of the season, that projection had them between 92 and 98 wins.

  • One of the areas of divergence between conventional wisdom and sabremetric inquiry is on the significance of results in one-run games. Conventional wisdom has long been that "good teams find a way to win the close games." What sabremetric inquiry has indicated is that there is little-to-no evidence to support that contention. In fact, it seems to be the opposite - good teams win the blowouts, and records in one run games have little predictive value, nor do they correlate particularly well with overall record or record in other games**. So let's break the Sox record down by run differential:

    2008 Red Sox record by run differential














    And what we see is a team that was under .500 in one-run games, just over in two run games, and dominant elsewhere. Boston was 34-33 in runs decided by one or two runs, and 61-34 in runs decided by three or more.

  • Their longest winning streak was seven games, from May 17-22 against the Brewers and Royals. They also had a six game streak and a five game streak.

  • Their longest losing streak was five games, which they did twice. From April 23-27 against the Angels and Rays, and from June 28-July 2 against the Astros and Rays.

  • There was concern early about the incredible home/road splits. Many questions were asked about why they couldn't win on the road or lose at home. Much of this was way overblown. There are natural ebbs and flows to a season, and if a couple of them happen to line up with home stands or road trips, you get funny looking splits. On May 25th, they were 21-5 (.808) at home and 10-17 (.370) on the road. The rest of the season, they were 35-20 (.636) at home and 29-25 (.537) on the road. On July 13, they were 8 games under .500 on the road and 25 games over .500 at home. The rest of the way, they were 20-14 (.588) at home and 18-13 (.581) on the road.

  • Before the season began, I predicted the Red Sox to win 98 games and the AL East, ahead of New York, Toronto, Tampa and Baltimore. Obviously, I missed badly on Tampa. I did have them over .500, but they won 15 more games than I predicted. I missed the improvement in their pitching and defense, and, obviously, they significantly overperformed their runs scored/runs allowed statistics. I was off by six games on the Yankees, three on the Red Sox and Blue Jays, and two on the Orioles.


32 men batted for the Boston Red Sox in 2008, 24 position players and 8 pitchers. As a team, they hit .280/.358/.447/.805, scoring 845 runs. Only Texas scored more in the AL. Their .280 batting average was tied with Minnesota for second in the AL. Their .358 OBP was first in the AL, their .447 SLG was second to the Rangers. They stole 120 bases while being caught only 35 times.

Red Sox team offensive ranks - 2008 AL
StatisticRed SoxAL Rank















Success rate.7742

The offense was led, not by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, but by Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, both of whom put up seasons which have them being discussed as MVP candidates. Many of us expected Youkilis to develop some home run power, but I'm not certain if anyone predicted that he'd hit 29 in a year in which the league leader hit only 37. Both players have themselves all over the leaderboards for the AL in 2008.

2008 AL leaderboard ranks - Youkilis & Pedroia
YoukilisAL rankPedroiaAL rank





Runs 1181


Total Bases30683224




Runs Created12061233

Extra-base hits764737

Times on Base2703

The players who batted for Boston in 2008:

2008 Red Sox Offensive Statistics

Dustin Pedroia 653118213542178350152201.326.376.493.869322119.56.362.3110.749.5

Kevin Youkilis 538911684342911562710835.312.390.569.958306113.17.255.8105.542.9

Jacoby Ellsbury 55498155227947412805011.280.336.394.72921878.14.617.774.212.2

J.D. Drew 3687910323419647958041.280.408.519.92719178.06.933.874.832.8

David Ortiz 41674110301238970127410.264.369.507.87721176.45.931.573.120.9

Manny Ramirez 3656610922120685288610.299.398.529.92619372.56.835.968.728

Mike Lowell 4195811527017733826122.274.338.461.79819362.24.817.159.914.6

Coco Crisp 3615510218374135059207.283.344.407.75114752.64.614.250.411

Jason Varitek 4233793200134352312201.220.313.359.67215245.83.3-145.47.6

Jed Lowrie 26034672532463506810.258.339.400.73910436.

Jason Bay 18439541229372225130.293.370.527.8979735.46.515.133.212.7

Julio Lugo 261277013012234051124.268.355.330.6858631.13.66.833.29

Sean Casey 19914641400171732510.322.381.392.7737828.

Alex Cora 152144182091611311.270.371.349.7195321.14.5519.75.9

Kevin Cash 1421132703151815000.225.309.338.6474813.82.9-1.514.41.5

Brandon Moss 7872351211602511.295.337.462.7993612.35.32.611.12

Jeff Bailey 5010141126911700.280.390.460.850238.

Mark Kotsay 8461981012711101.226.286.345.631297.82.9-47.2-3.3

Chris Carter 1856000320500.333.400.333.73362.

Jonathan Van Every 1704010510600.235.278.353.63161.73.2-0.61.4-0.6

George Kottaras 511100000200.200.200.400.6002.42.5-0.20.3-0.2

David Aardsma 100000000100.

Javier Lopez 100000000100.

Bartolo Colon 200000000200.

Daisuke Matsuzaka 200000000200.

Dave Ross 811000000300.

Gilbert Velazquez 801000100000.

Tim Wakefield 300000000300.

Joe Thurston 800000000100.

Jonathan Lester 500000000200.

Justin Masterson 500000000400.

Josh Beckett 600000000300.

RC - Runs Created - A measurement of raw offensive production created by Bill James
RC/25 - Runs created per 25 outs. What a team with nine of that player would expect to score on average in a game.
VORP - Value Over Replacement Player* - Another sabremetric counting stat, adjusts for position, created by Keith Woolner
EQR - Equivalent Runs - Yet another Sabremetric counting stat, not position adjusted, created by Clay Davenport
RARP - Runs Above Replacement*, Position-adjusted - Based on EQR, comparison against replacement player, position adjusted

  • Pedroia led the team in Runs Created, but Youkilis led in Runs Created/25 outs. Pedroia had more plate appearances and more raw value, Youkilis had more value per plate appearance. They were both better than Ortiz in both raw value and value per plate appearance.

  • It is important to acknowledge that Ortiz got off to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad start, that affected his numbers all year. Through May 2, he was hitting .198/.305/.351/.656, and had created just over 2 runs per 25 outs. From May 3 through the end of the year, he hit .289/.392/.564/.956 and created almost 7.5 runs through 25 outs. He was still a great hitter, but he dug himself such a deep hole during the first month that it doesn't show in the final numbers.

  • Per plate appearance, the second best hitter on the team was J.D. Drew.

  • Jason Bay is not as good a hitter as Manny Ramirez. But he's a very good hitter, and he performed well after coming over.


23 different pitchers threw 23629 pitches for the 2008 Red Sox, 10791 strikes and 8940 balls. 11 started games, and 15 pitched in relief. Three of them (Justin Masterson, Clay Buccholz and David Pauley) did both. They faced 6180 batters and allowed 694 runs (645 earned).

Red Sox team pitching ranks - 2008 AL
Red SoxAL Rank













The staff led the league in strikeouts, and was very good at keeping the ball in the park. They walked far too many batters, however. (Domo arigato, Matsuzaka-san). On the whole, the pitching was, like the offense, very good. Jon Lester blossomed, Matsuzaka looks like an ace on the stat line, even if he can be excruciating to watch. Beckett was dinged up a couple of times, and a little bit inconsistent, but also led the staff in strikeouts and was a valuable pitcher.

The players who pitched for Boston in 2008:

2008 Red Sox Pitching Statistics

Jon Lester1660003333210.3210.3063178753.21874202142906615233090.30258.3

Daisuke Matsuzaka1830002929167.7167.7050358542.90716128121979415429040.26250.7

Josh Beckett12100002727174.3174.3052380784.03725173182703417226880.3233.1

Tim Wakefield10110003030181181054389834.13754154252616011727890.24228.2

Justin Masterson6501336988.35434.326531313.163656810112406813850.24526.2

Hideki Okajima3218236406206218618182.6125849676236010330.26121.8

Jonathan Papelbon54415067069.3069.320824182.342735848287710510.30220.5

Javier Lopez20011070059.3059.317818162.432475347927389610.28220.1

Manny Delcarmen12231873074.3074.322328273.2730755586287212750.26219.8

Paul Byrd42000884949014726264.782085889910267200.3116.1

Bartolo Colon42000773939011723173.921734456710275830.3152.2

Michael Bowden100001155015223.6022701213890.3891.3

Mike Timlin4410047049.3049.314832315.6622760910520328190.323-0.2

David Aardsma4202447048.7048.714632305.542284947835499700.346-0.6

Devorn Hansack10000406.706.720534.032660815960.316-0.7

Kyle Snyder00010201.701.754421.18921521270.25-2.9

Bryan Corey0000170606187710.503111116341080.455-3.2

Craig Hansen1322732030.7030.79223195.571462923923255640.287-3.2

Julian Tavarez010009012.7012.7381296.386418020962230.391-3.9

Chris Smith1000012018.3018.35516167.8778186407133040.24-4

Charlie Zink00000114.34.30138816.74251101511840.478-5.1

David Pauley010006212.375.337171611.7167232365112660.447-8.8

Clay Buchholz2900016157675122863576.753579311144417213810.36-13.9

  • Lester was awesome. From April 29 through the end of the season, Lester pitched 178 2/3 innings in 27 starts, going 15-4 with a 2.82 ERA.

  • As frustrating as he can be to watch, because the pace is dreadful and he throws too many pitches and walks too many hitters, Matsuzaka had an excellent year - a lot of starts, a significant number of innings and very few runs allowed.

  • It seemed to me, watching, that both Okajima and Papelbon struggled this year. I remember very few clean innings from either of them. The numbers suggest that they were much better than my perception.

  • This was a learning year for Clay Buccholz. We'll find out next year what he learned.

Highlights and lowlights

  • March 25: In front of almost 45,000 fans in the Tokyo Dome, the Red Sox begin their World Series defense with a win as rookie outfielder Brandon Moss, playing because J.D. Drew had back problems caused by the flight, homers in the ninth to give the Red Sox their first ever run against Oakland closer Huston Street and tie the game. They'd go on to win in the 10th.

  • April 29: Coming off a weak performance against the Angels, Jon Lester throws 8 one-hit innings against the Blue Jays. It's a sign of things to come. From April 29 through the end of the season, Lester pitches 178 2/3 innings in 27 starts, going 15-4 with a 2.82 ERA.

  • May 5: With a 6-3 win over the Tigers, the Red Sox lead in the AL East grows to a season high 3 1/2 games. They'll maintain it for four days, but it turns out to be the high-water mark of the season in terms of the division standings.

  • May 19: Jon Lester no-hits the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park.

  • May 31: David Ortiz tears the tendon sheath in his wrist in the 9th inning of a win in Baltimore. He will miss almost two full months as a result, but the team keeps rolling, going 26-17 in his absence.

  • July 13: A 2-1 win over the Orioles finishes a 5-1 week in which they made up 5 1/2 games in the division, going from 5 back to a 1/2 game lead in the AL East at the All Star break. It will turn out to be their last day in first place.

  • July 30: With rumors and turmoil swirling around Manny Ramirez, the Sox commit four errors en route to a desultory and dispiriting 9-2 loss to the Angels. After the game, GM Theo Epstein reportedly meets with some of the team's veteran players, who reportedly tell him that Ramirez is a problem and must be removed. It turns out to be Ramirez' last game in a Red Sox uniform, as he is traded at the following day's trading deadline.

  • August 28: After having won the first two games of the series to extend the Yankee deficit to seven games, the Red Sox lose (appropriately, I suppose) their last game in Yankee Stadium, 3-2, with Rivera (appropriately, I suppose) picking up the save.

  • August 30: Top prospect Michael Bowden makes his Major League debut, pitching five innings, allowing two runs and being credited with the win as the Red Sox beat the White Sox 8-2. It is their 18th win in August, the most wins of any month during the 2008 season. They actually lose ground in the division, however, as the Rays go 21-7.

  • September 9: Jason Bay's two run homer in the bottom of the eight gives the Red Sox a one-run lead headed to the ninth, and a chance to move into first place in the AL East. Jon Papelbon gives up a lead-off tying home run to Dan Johnson, in his first plate appearance for the Rays, and then gives up another run for the loss. This will haunt the Red Sox, as the Rays end up winning the East by two games.

  • September 10: The Red Sox tie the Rays at 1 with a run in the third, and then fail to score in each of the next 10 innings. A run in any of those 10 innings would have resulted in a Red Sox win, but they end up losing 4-2 in the 14th. This will haunt the Red Sox, as the Rays end up winning the East by two games.

  • September 15: Boston hits 6 home runs against the Rays in Tampa, and moves into a first place tie with a 13-5 win.

  • September 16: Boston takes a 1-0 lead into the seventh when Josh Beckett makes his one mistake for the night, giving up a tying HR to Carlos Pena. Masterson gives up a run in the ninth and Boston loses 2-1. This will haunt the Red Sox, as the Rays end up winning the East by two games.

  • September 17: With one last chance to do something head-to-head, Tim Wakefield gives up 6 runs in 2 1/3 innings and the Sox get beaten by Tampa 10-3. Lyford congratulates the Rays on winning the East. Rather than leaving town tied in the standings and tied in the season series, Boston leaves down two and with Tampa having won the tie-breaker for the division. This will haunt the Red Sox, as the Rays end up winning the East by two games.

  • September 23: Boston beats the Cleveland Indians and almost certain AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. This eliminates the Yankees and clinches a playoff berth for the Red Sox.

  • September 26: Following a long rain delay, the Red Sox scratch Daisuke Matsuzaka and start David Pauley in his place. Pauley gets hammered and the Red Sox get pounded by the Yankees 19-8. This clinches the AL East for the Rays.


Eight players made their Major League debuts for the Red Sox in 2008.

Justin Masterson
Jed Lowrie
Michael Bowden
Chris Carter
George Kottaras
Jonathan Van Every
Gilbert Velazquez
Chris Smith
Charlie Zink

Masterson and Lowrie were key contributors in the second half of the season, and are expected to be key contributors in the playoffs. Michael Bowden did nothing to harm his prospect label in his one spot start. The rest are, or at least were treated as, roster flotsam and jetsam.


Another successful season. The Red Sox were a very good run-scoring team, a very good run-preventing team, and they have a chance to play post-season baseball again while continuing to integrate younger players into the lineup. They may win the World Series, they may get swept out in the first round, but whatever happens, you have to look at the regular season as another success for the team and the management team.

* - Replacement varies depending on the stat, but the concept is that there are "freely available" players, AAA veterans and the like, who could play at little-to-no marginal cost for a team. The value of a player to a team isn't the raw value he provides, it's the difference between the raw value he provides and the raw value that a freely available player could provide. If there are 50 guys in the minor leagues who could hit .250/.320/.390 while playing an adequate first base, then there's no marginal value from a major league first baseman who hits .250/.320/.390 while playing an adequate first base.

** - I wrote about this at the Projo board in early August, but apparently didn't blog it. Here's the relevant section:
someone decided to look at the "good teams win the close ones" and discovered that it does not appear to be the case. When you look at records, you'll see that team records correlate pretty well from season to season, but record in one-run games does not. And there's very little correlation between record in one-run games and record in other games. I just ran a quick regression on the current Major League records, and what you see is an r^2 of .001, suggesting that record in one-run games predicts or accounts for about 1/10th of 1 percent of a team's record in other games.

And just looking at the standings is pretty revealing. I think that everyone can agree that San Francisco is not a good team. But they're 23-16 in one run games, 27-50 in the rest. Cincinnati's 18-10 in one-run games, 34-57 in the rest. Boston, on the other hand, is only 15-19 in one-run games but 52-32 in the rest.

The proper way to put it is this - there is not, to the best of my knowledge, "proof" that one-run games are not a good measure of a team's actual quality. But there are many things one would expect if it were that do not appear in the available data. The idea that record in one-run games is essentially random, however, seems to match up with the statistical record pretty well.

And it makes sense conceptually, too. If Boston is a much better team than Kansas City, you're virtually certain to be able to see that during the course of a season. You're less likely to see it over the course of a month, as the sample size dwindles, and still less likely over a week, then a series, then a game. Well, if you're playing a one-run game, the difference between the scores is an inning or an at-bat. If anything can happen over the course of a month and it doesn't necessarily even up, then how much more can happen over the course of an at-bat? If Kansas City and Boston play 8-2 games, as they did twice last week, you really expect Boston to win them. If they play a 4-3 game, that's a crapshoot.

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