Every playoff team from 2009-2011 has had at least one player with a +5.0 WAR (Wins Above Repko, or Wins Above Replacement, whichever you prefer) or higher. Most have had at least two +5.0 WAR guys, and many have had three or more such players.
Sidenote: interestingly enough, the World Series Champions from those three seasons have had only two (’11 Cardinals), one (’10 Giants), and two (’09 Yankees) such players as opposed to loaded teams like the ’09 Red Sox (four) and ’11 Phillies (five). Again, that ’09 Sox team should have brought home the third Red Sox championship of the ’00 decade, but I digress.
This is all a fancy way of saying that the teams that succeed have great players. Not just a collection of good players, but great players. There were only 33 players in the major leagues in 2011 who had a +5.0 WAR (23 hitters, 10 pitchers - WAR’s inclusion of defense into its formula makes it slightly harder for pitchers to have a high WAR number and makes it even less effective for tracking relief pitchers). Simply put, you need at least one and preferably 3-4 of these best 30-40 players on your team in order to succeed and make the playoffs in the MLB. I know what you’re thinking – I’m a genius who has uncovered a groundbreaking new theory of modern American sport. Hold on, it gets better. This is where I turn this piece back to the sinking ship that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox.
The 2011 Red Sox had four of the thirty-three players with a +5.0 WAR in the MLB: Ellsbury (8.0, #2 in MLB), Pedroia (7.9, #3 in MLB), Gonzalez (6.7, #11 in MLB), and believe it or not Beckett (5.5, #9 pitcher in MLB). As we all know by now, the 2011 Red Sox were poised to go to the playoffs with the requisite star power all playoff teams need. Which finally brings me to the 2012 Red Sox. WAR is a difficult stat to use to gauge player effectiveness after only 30 games. Josh Hamilton, he of the four-homer game, has been worth only 2.4 wins more than a replacement player (or a Repko), which leads the MLB. But WAR can still give us a good idea of how a player is performing in comparison to his peers by combining performance at the plate and in the field in the categories that lead to wins. Therefore, the following is certainly concerning:
- Dustin Pedroia is our highest-ranked player with a 1.6 WAR, which is 16th in the MLB, or 13 places lower than he was at the end of 2011.
- Mike Avlies has been good this year, and comes in second on the team and 20th in the MLB with a 1.4 WAR. We have all read accounts that Aviles’ hot start is most likely unsustainable, and he is a good bet to finish outside the top 40 or 50 by year’s end. Certainly, it’s not a great sign if Mike Aviles is your second-best player.
- The third-highest batter on the Red Sox according to WAR is David Ortiz at #43 in the MLB. Again, WAR takes into account a player’s run prevention through their defensive play, so the fact that our DH is our third highest-rated batter is another bad sign.
Yes, our batters’ performance is concerning, but it is nothing compared to our pitchers’ WAR rankings:
- Our highest-rated pitcher is Scott Atchison. Let me say that again: our highest-rated pitcher is Scott Atchison. He is the #49 ranked pitcher in the MLB at only 0.8 WAR. And, he’s Scott Atchison.
- Matt Albers is our second-rated pitcher. He checks in at #133 in the MLB with a 0.3 WAR. Albers was last seen losing a game for us by serving up a meaty meatball to Billy Moobs Butler.
- Clayton Mortensen is our third-rated pitcher at #150, also with a 0.3 WAR. He has been with the team for a little over a week.
- Josh Beckett is our highest-rated starting pitcher in the WAR rankings with a 0.2 mark and is #161 in the MLB rankings.
- No other starting pitcher has a positive WAR. Meaning Josh Beckett is our only starting pitcher in 2012 who has been better than a replacement-level player.
- The lowest-ranked pitcher in the entire major leagues, at #447? That would be Clay Buchholz. He has a -1.3 WAR.
What does all of this mean? Well, it confirms what any member of Red Sox Nation knows if they have been watching the games: the Red Sox are not playing well. The roster is devoid of players who are playing at an elite level. Their best hitters have been little better than average, and their best player from 2011 (Ellsbury – again, the #2 ranked player in all of baseball in 2011) has barely played. The pitching has been historically bad. Add it all up, and you conclude that this team does not currently have the talent to be a playoff team.
If you remember at the top of this post, I mentioned there are two ways for baseball teams to win a lot of games. One was to have elite-level talent. The other is intangibles (think the Twins and Angels teams under Gardenhire and Scioscia that were perennial playoff-contenders with a plethora of players like Maicer Izturis, Jeff Mathis, Matt Tolbert, and yes Nick Punto). Intangibles are harder to examine with stats or data. But you know them when you see them. Teams with exceptional intangibles do the little things. They make all the outs and do not extend innings. They have a knack for getting the pitching/hitting matchups they want in the late innings. They take extra bases, hold runners, move runners over, sacrifice, get insurance runs, hit with RISP, escape jams, and generally don’t beat themselves.
We have seen this 2012 Red Sox team give away runs and wins in a multiplicity of fashions. This past week alone, they gave up runs through balks, balls in and out of outfielders’ gloves, and homers given up to the first hitter a reliever has faced. This is a team that is terrible at executing the intangibles of baseball. And really, that’s been the biggest travesty of the 2012 season – through all the injuries, the tough schedule, and off-field distractions – this team could have held this thing together until they get more star power back off the DL if they could just execute the intangibles night in and night out.
And I guess that’s my point to this entire post. The Red Sox’ talent level is down, especially their pitching, and they are playing fundamentally-poor baseball. There is still time to turn this season around. But they are going to have to improve in both facets if they want to make the playoffs, and soon. Their talent level will improve when Ellsbury, Crawford, and Bailey return (even Dice-K could be a big step up over the atrocious Buchholz at this point). But they have nobody to blame for themselves for being so terrible at the other avenue to winning in the MLB – intangibles. They need to start playing a cleaner version of baseball if they want to start winning games. Starting tonight.
I’m not sure that it’s going to happen for this team this year. We might be looking at a 4th or 5th place finish in the AL East. If we are, then my generation of Red Sox fans are going to understand how previous generations of Red Sox fans earned the moniker “Diehards”. Because it wasn’t always easy to be a Red Sox fan. It’s been pretty great to watch the Sox from 2003-August of 2011. If the team can’t rebound and 2012 is a lost season, it will be interesting to see how the attendance dwindles at Fenway Park. It will be interesting to watch the pink hats dwindle away. Maybe all that will remain to watch all 162 on the TV, to still pay hundreds of dollars to take a family of four to Fenway, or to continue writing ludicrously long blog posts will be a new generation of Diehards. Because real Sox fans aren’t fans only when the team is leading the standings or chasing pennants. Nay, real Sox fans stand around during winter gatherings and re-live tales of heartbreak and infamy, and then they come back for more. If I get nothing else from this team in 2012, I’m pretty sure they will give me some enthralling tales of heartbreak and infamy. And I’m pretty sure I will come back for more.