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Archive for the ‘Red Sox’ Category

On Tuesday, the Yankees were simply looking to survive. Tonight, they hope to conquer.

Thanks to the surprising performance of A.J. Burnett in game 4 of the division series, the Yankees escaped from Detroit with their World Series hopes intact and now face a sudden death playoff game for the first time since losing the 2005 ALDS to the Anaheim Angels.

Facing Sudden Death: Yankees’ History in Postseason Series Finales

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankees have played in the most winner-take-all October showdowns, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the team’s playoff history encompasses 368 games to date. However, despite the franchise’s incomparable 48-22 record in all postseason series, the Bronx Bombers are only 11-10 when facing a mutual elimination. Of course, that speaks to how difficult it has been to knock the Yankees out in October. While fewer than one-fourth of their series wins have come gone to the wire, almost half of their loses have gone the distance.

Because the Yankees have played in almost 14% of all sudden death postseason games (21 of 152), many of the sport’s most dramatic October moments have involved the pinstripes (for a companion piece on sudden death games involving all teams, check out my latest post at Bronx Banter). In terms of WPA, five of the top-25 offensive performances in the history of deciding games have been recorded by Yankees. Perhaps the most famous such game is Chris Chambliss’ pennant winning homerun against the Kansas City Royals that sent the Yankees back to the World Series in 1976 for the first time in 12 years. Of course, younger fans of the Bronx Bombers are probably more partial to Aaron Boone’s long ball, which sealed the Red Sox fate in the 2003 ALCS. Either way, both moments not only rank among the most dramatic in Yankees’ history, but all of baseball lore.

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Before Spring Training, Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman labeled the Boston Red Sox as the team to beat. In September, everyone who played them seemed to agree.

In the past, Red Sox fans could blame misfortune on the Curse of the Bambino.

Thanks to a 7-20 record down the stretch, the Red Sox blew a nine game advantage over the Rays in the standings, thereby authoring the “greatest” final month collapse by any team in baseball history.  Since the fabled sale of Babe Ruth in 1919, such disappointment has been an integral part of life in Red Sox nation. From the Babe to Bucky to Buckner and Boone, the Red Sox have regularly been on the short-end of many historic moments. Now, you can add Baltimore to that list.

Of course, before the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, all of the team’s most tragic moments could be explained away by the Curse of the Bambino. That one catchall was the perfect way for Red Sox fans to both retain their passion and their sanity. Because Boston has won two World Series since then, however, that security blanket has been stripped away. So, as Red Sox Nation begins to deal with the aftermath of the team’s September to misremember, below are a few suggestions for a new curse that the Fenway faithful can use once they are done with the four letter ones.

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While the rest of New York City was busy drying off from another day-long downpour, the Red Sox were probably out singing in the rain. Because of last night’s postponement, Boston not only avoided another loss, but also shaved a game off their wild card magic number thanks to losses by both the Rays and Angels.

Unfortunately for Red Sox Nation, one night of rain doesn’t wash away the stench left behind by a 5-16 stretch since the start of September. And, that’s not the opinion of a Yankees’ fan. Just ask Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

That’s a sign of a (expletive) team. Good teams don’t go 5-16 in any month.”  – Dustin Pedroia, September 21, 2011, speaking after losing three of four games to the Orioles

The Red Sox' September swoon even has Dustin Pedroia questioning the team's ability.

With major league baseball on the cusp of 200,000 games played since 1876, it’s likely that several “good” teams have suffered through a stretch as futile as September has been for the Red Sox. However, it’s worth noting that in 2011, Boston is the only team with a winning record that has lost at least 16 of 21 games. The other franchises who have “accomplished” this ignominious feat include the Orioles, White Sox, Marlins, Astros, Royals, Twins, Pirates, Padres, and Mariners. That’s not exactly the company a champion should be keeping.

Before Red Sox Nation gets too down, however, they can look to 2000 Yankees for consolation. That year, the Bronx Bombers ended the season in the midst of a 5-16 slide, but, after losing the first game of the ALDS, rebounded to win the World Series. Although the Yankees had a stronger hold on a playoff spot before entering their end-of-year spiral, the idea that a team needs to be hot heading into October has widely been debunked by both anecdotal and more extensive evidence.

So, fear not Red Sox Nation. If Boston can hold on for the wild card, the team’s chances in the post season won’t necessarily be hampered by its dismal performance in September. Of course, the Red Sox will probably still need to win a few more games in order to make it. Otherwise, the Boston brain trust may be looking for new leadership and fans in the Nation may be looking for a new curse.

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The games played over the next week will determine the order in next June's Rule IV draft.

At the beginning of the month, it looked as if baseball had a pennant race problem. With the exception of first place in the AL West, every other playoff position was secured by at least a five game lead. Included among those “safe” teams were the Red Sox and Braves, who each enjoyed a nine game loss column advantage over their league’s fifth best team (Boston actually led the A.L. East by a game). Since then, however, both teams have suffered a September slide, breathing life into what had been shaping up as one of the most mundane pennant races in the wild card era.

Not every team can enjoy the thrill of a pennant race, but that doesn’t mean their games are meaningless. The Houston Astros have been an afterthought for most of the season, but with one more loss, the team will clinch the first pick in the 2012 Rule IV draft. Don’t expect champagne in the clubhouse, but if a Stephen Strasburg-type talent emerges, the team might be popping a few corks in the future.

Teams “Vying” for the Top Slots in the 2012 Draft

  W L PCT GA
Houston Astros 53 101 0.344  –
Minnesota Twins 59 94 0.386 6.5
Baltimore Orioles 64 90 0.416 11
Seattle Mariners 65 89 0.422 12
San Diego Padres 67 88 0.432 13.5
Kansas City Royals 68 87 0.439 14.5
Chicago Cubs 68 87 0.439 14.5
Pittsburgh Pirates 69 86 0.445 15.5

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When it comes to strange bedfellows, politics has nothing on the 2011 American League playoff race.

With only 10 games left, the Yankees sit comfortably atop the A.L. East. Barring a historic collapse, the team is all but assured of making the post season and nearly as likely to be entering October as a division winner.  However, that doesn’t mean the Yankees are no longer involved in a pennant race. In fact, they are smack dab in the middle of a heated one.

Could this be the rallying cry of Yankees' fans next week in Tampa? (Photo:

The Yankees’ magic numbers are five to clinch the division and three to secure a playoff spot. Because all 10 of the team’s final games are against the Rays (seven) and Red Sox (three), Joe Girardi can’t rest on his laurels just yet, but if the Yankees are able to clinch sooner than later, it could set up a unique final week in which the Bronx Bombers are cast as both division champions and wild card spoilers.

With the Red Sox in the midst of a September free fall (the team has lost 15 of its last 20 games), the lonely eyes of Red Sox Nation have suddenly turned toward the Evil Empire for support. Even though five more games with the Orioles should boost morale somewhat, the depleted state of the Boston rotation likely means the Red Sox will need some help from their rival in order to hold off the Rays. In other words, for the next three days, diehard Sox fans will be pulling hard for the Yankees, even if they have to hold their noses while doing it.

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It's been "win day" when Verlander pitches for the Tigers (Photo: AP).

Justin Verlander continued his late season run of dominance by recording his 12th consecutive victory in Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over the Athletics. During that span, the Tigers’ right hander has compiled half of his league leading 24 victories, the highest total by an American League pitcher since Bob Welch won 27 games in 1990.

Even though more advanced metrics place Verlander in close proximity to other Cy Young contenders like CC Sabathia, Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, his inflated win total has all but assured he’ll go home with that award. What’s more, if the recent rumblings by voting members of the BBWAA are any indication, Verlander may need room on his mantle for more than just one piece of hardware.

Most Wins in a Single Season, Since 1990

Player Tm Year W L IP SO ERA ERA+
Bob Welch OAK 1990 27 6 238 127 2.95 126
Justin Verlander DET 2011 24 5 244 244 2.29 176
Randy Johnson ARI 2002 24 5 260 334 2.32 197
John Smoltz ATL 1996 24 8 253.2 276 2.94 149
Curt Schilling ARI 2002 23 7 259.1 316 3.23 142
Barry Zito OAK 2002 23 5 229.1 182 2.75 158
Pedro Martinez BOS 1999 23 4 213.1 313 2.07 243

Source: Baseball-reference.com

One often repeated fact used to advocate Verlander’s MVP candidacy is the Tigers’ 25-8 record in games that he pitches. According to the theory, the team’s comparative winning percentage (.758 with him versus .533 without) illustrates just how valuable Verlander has been to the Tigers’ division title, which makes him a leading choice for MVP. Of course, there are two obvious flaws in that logic. Obviously, without a contribution from the eight men behind him, Verlander would not have been able to compile such a high win total. Although Verlander has been the common denominator in the 33 games he has started, players like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila and Jose Valverde also deserve a share of the credit for those victories. Secondly, even with a .533 winning percentage, the Tigers would lead the Central Division by three or four games. If the end justifies the means, then it could be argued that the Tigers haven’t needed Verlander as much as some have suggested. (more…)

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The Red Sox’ bandwagon has slowly begun to empty as the team struggles through a nightmarish stretch during which it has lost six games to Tampa in the standings.  Fortunately, those abandoning the Boston ship have found passage on the Tigers’ pennant drive. Over the last three weeks, Detroit has won 16 of 20 games and built an insurmountable lead in the Central.

If the season ended today, the surging Tigers would meet the slumping Red Sox in the ALDS. Judging by the trending conventional wisdom, this clash of teams going in opposite directions would have Red Sox Nation tuning into the Patriots a lot earlier than expected, but should we rely on September records when handicapping post season series in October?

In a 2009 Baseball Prospectus post, Jay Jaffe looked at winning percentages over defined periods in September and found no meaningful correlation to various measures of post season success. However, the study did not distinguish between the relative records of opponents, nor any relationship between overall winning percentage and the rates compiled over the defined periods. In addition, Jaffe’s study was limited to post season series played since 1995. So, as a supplement to his work, the following incorporates the two aforemetioned variables into a breakdown of every first round post season series since 1969.

First Round Post Season Outcomes, Based on Relative Opponent Records (click to enlarge)

Note: Includes all first round post season series since 1969. Ranges refer to the winning percentage disparity between teams. A negative range indicates that a team with a lower record won the series.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and proprietary calculations

There have been 116 first round post season series since 1969 (LCS from 1969 to 1993 and LDS in 1981 as well as from 1995 to 2010). Of that total, 65 series (or 56%) were won by teams with the better regular season record, while in 58 (or 50%), the victor was the team with a better winning percentage in the final month. According to this data, the hottest team’s chances of winning in October were no better than a coin flip. However, if we assume those teams tend to be inferior (i.e., they have to win just to make the playoffs, while better teams have the luxury of resting their players down the stretch), then perhaps a 50/50 chance actually represents an enhancement?

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On Monday, the Yankees will face King Felix for the third time this season (Photo: Getty Images).

The Yankees won’t be catching any breaks on their final West Coast trip. One day after being stifled by Jered Weaver, the Yankees will have to contend with the Angels’ co-ace Dan Haren. Then, on Monday, Felix Hernandez will be waiting for them in Seattle. What’s more, the Yankees shouldn’t expect much of a reprieve when they head back east because Ricky Romero, Jon Lester, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, and David Price are all in line to face them over the final two weeks of the season.

“Here come the Yankees” must be a popular rallying cry because regardless of the city, the Bronx Bombers have been unable to sneak out of town without facing down an opponent’s top gun. Although the luck of the draw often dictates the opposing starting pitcher, sometimes it seems as if teams lay in ambush for the Yankees.  The paranoia that comes with being a fan can sometimes distort perception, but when you see the Mariners give King Felix an extra day of rest just before the Bronx Bombers arrive, it makes you wonder if part of being the Yankees means having other teams save their best?

After looking more closely at the numbers, the Yankees have, in fact, faced more “aces” than any other team. Although the disparity with the Red Sox is only one, that gap should grow based on the upcoming schedules for each team. Otherwise, the disadvantage compared to all other contenders is at least four games, which, in a tight pennant race, would be significant.

W-L Records Against Opposition Aces

  W L W%
Tigers 11 9 0.550
Athletics 15 13 0.536
Red Sox 17 15 0.531
Rangers 14 15 0.483
Yankees 15 18 0.455
Angels 11 15 0.423
Twins 11 16 0.407
Rays 11 16 0.407
Royals 9 16 0.360
Blue Jays 9 19 0.321
Indians 9 20 0.310
Orioles 8 18 0.308
White Sox 8 19 0.296
Mariners 9 23 0.281

Note: Aces defined as the top-15 pitchers in the American League, ranked by ERA as of September 10, 2011 (minimum 150 innings pitched). Only intra-league games considered.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Is WAR the new RBI? That was the question asked in a thought provoking post at IIATMS, which is sure to draw a new battle line in the statistical debate over the value of composite metrics.

How much of Adrian Gonzalez' success is attributable to those who get on base before him?

At the heart of author’s argument is the suggestion that WAR, like RBIs, is context-based because so many elements of performance are interconnected. To illustrate this point, Adrian Gonzalez’ higher career OPS with men on base is offered as one of the exhibits. In this case, the implication is that Gonzalez’ performance benefits from his teammates getting on base ahead of him (just like with RBIs), so it’s unfair to consider OBP and SLG as strictly individual stats.  If we look more closely at Gonzalez’ splits, however, we see that a significant portion of his 50 OPS increase with men on base stems from the 108 intentional walks he has been given (he has only received two with no men on). Although one could still argue that those intentional walks are as much attributable to the men on base as the pitcher’s fear of Gonzalez, it raises other questions as well. Specifically, one must then also consider to what degree the hitters batting ahead of Gonzalez benefit from his presence in the lineup?

It should be pretty obvious that everything that happens on a baseball field is interconnected. Not only do players interact with their teammates, but the opposition has a say as well. In particular, the pitcher influences a batter’s outcome as much as any variable present on his team (other than his individual batting skill). Using the same example, we could posit that Gonzalez has a higher OPS with men on base because stronger pitchers don’t allow them as frequently as weaker ones (and especially not when they are on top of their game). If so, we might then expect to see that all hitters have a higher OPS with men on base, and in fact, this is the case. Since Gonzalez broke into the majors, the average OPS gap in these two splits is 34 points.

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Maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side? While Yankees’ fans have been lamenting the historically poor performance of A.J. Burnett, Red Sox Nation has been home to an even bigger bust, both in terms of performance on the field and zeros on the pay check.

Following his latest meltdown against the Texas Rangers, John Lackey’s ERA ballooned above the six run level, placing him dead last (by over seven-tenths of a run) among all qualifiers in 2011. On a more historic scale, Lackey’s ERA+ of 68 ranks as the 65th worst rate compiled by a pitcher with at least 140 innings since 1901. In other words, Lackey hasn’t just been bad; he’s been down right terrible. Somewhere, Francisco Cervelli is clapping his hands very loudly.

Adding insult to injury from the Red Sox’ point of view is Lackey’s contract, which calls for the ornery right hander to receive $46 million over the next three seasons. By comparison, AJ Burnett only has two years remaining at $33 million, so financially speaking at least, the Yankees are in much better shape. That’s nothing to get too excited about, but in the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, even small victories warrant a round of applause.

Tale of the Tape: AJ Burnett vs. John Lackey
 
*aWAR = fWAR + bWAR/2
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

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