The Red Sox Collapse – Why?

Introduction

My father insisted that I be a student of all major sports in Boston. That included 4 professional teams (Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, and Red Sox) and the Harvard football team. I have gotten beyond Harvard (college sports are a joke in Boston), but I remain focused on what is going on with the other teams.

This year’s collapse of the Red Sox was epic. On September 4th, the Red Sox had a nine game lead in the American League wild card race with 24 games left to play. Baseball statisticians estimate that means they had slightly more than a 1 in 500 chance not to make the playoffs. And last Wednesday night, with the Red Sox leading Baltimore and Tampa Bay (the wild card competitor) losing to the Yankees, it seemed even more certain…. So what went wrong? How could a team go from winning 83 games and losing 52 to one that loses 20 and wins only 7 in September? Below, I compare Red Sox performance in hitting, fielding, and pitching before September and in the last month to find the answer. All data in this article are from ESPN.

Hitting

Consider first batting averages. Table 1 gives them for the Red Sox key hitters. And certainly, some fell off markedly in September. Varitek is an old man, and his slump was predictable. Lowrie is a bit player and only had a couple of good months, and Youkilis by then had numerous injuries. Saltalamcchia – wow! And he is supposed to be the catcher for the future? It is also notable that both Gonzales and Ortiz, two important hitters, also did not do as well in September as earlier in the season.

Table 1. – Batting Averages

On the other hand, Pedroia hit just as well in September as earlier, while Ellsbury, Scutaro, and McDonald had very good Septembers. In fact, the average batting average for these players, weighted by their at bats, was actually higher in September than earlier.

How about runs scored? The Red Sox led the League with 875 runs scored in the regular season. Before September, they scored 5.40 runs per game. In September, that increased slightly to 5.41.
I conclude that hitting was not the problem.

Fielding

Red Sox fielding really fell off in September. They committed 26 errors in 27 games for an error to game ratio of .96. For the earlier months, they committed 66 errors for a ratio of .49.

Pitching

Table 2 provides earned run data for pitchers in September and earlier in the year. Like fielding, the falloff in pitching is quite profound. Bard, Becket, and Lester, three key players who had pitched well earlier in the year, had miserable Septembers. Matt Albers, who had pitched quite well after coming back from an injury, had a bad September. And Lackey, who had been pitching poorly all year, had an even worse September. In contrast, Aceves and Atchison improved their performances in September.

Table 2. – Red Sox Pitching, 2011

The average earned run average in September was a miserable 5.81 after having been a tolerable (given the team’s run scoring power) 3.84 earlier.

There has been talk about some pitchers being out of shape towards the end of the year. So I looked at what happened to the number of innings pitched in September relative to earlier in the year.

Table 3. – Innings Pitched Per Game

Here again, the fall off by starting pitchers was notable. Only Becket was able to last 6 innings in September! 6 innings? Should that be the standard for front line starting pitchers?

Perspectives

At the beginning of the year, there was general agreement that the Red Sox had the strongest core of starting pitchers. Bad luck in the form of injuries intervened. Two of those pitchers Buchholtz and Matsuzaka) went down for the year because of injuries. But the remaining pitchers did not perform as top line players.
Table 4 provides data on the American League pitchers who threw the most innings in 2011.

Table 4. – Leading AL Pitchers

Source: ESPN

None of the Red Sox pitchers managed to pitch 200 innings. Sabathia’s salary is special, but at least he is performing well.

Conclusions

Bad pitching and fielding at the end of the season did the Red Sox in. And the Red Sox, as has become the norm, are stuck with several players with long term contracts that are not performing.

None of the Red Sox pitchers managed to pitch 200 innings. Sabathia’s salary is special, but at least he is performing well. Conclusions

Bad pitching and fielding at the end of the season did the Red Sox in. And the Red Sox, as has become the norm, are stuck with several players with long term contracts that are not performing.

The content above was saved on the old Morss Global Finance website, just in case anyone was looking for it (with the help of archive.org):
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