2012-2014 Red Sox

Just a quick post on how much of a roller coaster the Red Sox have been on over the past few years. The 2012 Red Sox had the lowest winning percentage of any team that would go on to win the World Series the following season.

Year Team W L W%
2012 BOS 69 93 0.426
1986 MIN 71 91 0.438
1987 LAN 73 89 0.451
1968 NYN 73 89 0.451
1953 NY1 70 84 0.455
1913 BSN 69 82 0.457
1990 MIN 74 88 0.457
1958 LAN 71 83 0.461
1989 CIN 75 87 0.463
2001 ANA 75 87 0.463

Not only that, but the 2014 Red Sox had the second lowest winning percentage of any defending World Series winner. Only the 1998 Marlins were worse and we all know that story.

Year Team W L W%
1998 FLO 54 108 0.333
2014 BOS 71 91 0.438
1991 CIN 74 88 0.457
1918 CHA 57 67 0.460
1932 SLN 72 82 0.468
1986 KCA 76 86 0.469
2013 SFN 76 86 0.469
1967 BAL 76 85 0.472
2003 ANA 77 85 0.475
1994 TOR 55 60 0.478

Not to mention the 2011 season, after being considered an all-time great team going into the season and then the epic collapse after being up 9 games in the wild card with less than a month to go. It truly has been a wild ride in Boston the past few seasons. With the reports of their willingness to spend money on free agents this offseason, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to be a contender again in 2015.

Hypothetical Extremes

Clayton Kershaw missed the entire month of April and will finish with fewer than 200 innings pitched for the season. But because he was so dominant during the other five months, he’s the easy choice for the National League Cy Young Award. Kershaw’s 198 IP is hardly the fewest of any Cy Young Award seeing that there have been 9 relievers to win the award since its inception in 1956. However, Kershaw will be the first starting pitcher to win the award with fewer than 200 IP in a non-strike shortened season. This got me to wonder what would be the least amount of playing time to win an award.

I decided to use Wins Above Replacement as a guide. Over the past 10 seasons, the league leaders in pitching WAR have finished with an average of 7.7 WAR. I’m going to use this as the number “required” to win the award, but I’ll try not to get too caught up in the exact number. The point of the exercise is to look at the stat line and decide if you would choose this player as the award winner.

As a quick note, I’ll be using 2014’s run environment (4.07 R/9) as well as replacement levels and wOBA weights. Each hypothetical player is assumed to play in a league average ballpark with league average teammates. Also, table headings are at the bottom.

14 GS, 14 CG/SHO, 7.7 WAR, 0.00 ERA, 378 K
The first hypothetical is a starting pitcher who strikes out every batter he faces while throwing complete game shutouts in every one of his starts. In order to reach 7.7 WAR, this player would require 14 starts at 126 innings pitched. Obviously, this player’s team would go 14-0. Since this pitcher strikes out every batter, the choice to use a FIP or RA/9 version of WAR is unimportant. As an award voter, I could see myself voting for this player.
Verdict: Yes

G IP WAR R/9 RAA RAR W% Exp WAA
14 126 7.9 0.00 59.1 69.8 1.000 1.51 7.0

90 G, 90 IP, 7.7 WAR, 0.00 ERA, 270 K
Now what if we did this for a Relief Pitcher? As mentioned earlier, 9 relievers have won the award, but each one has failed to even break 5 WAR. Our hypothetical reliever would be brought in during the highest leverage situations, regardless of whether or not it is a save situation. I’ll give this player an average leverage index of 2.0. For this player to reach 7.7 WAR, he would need to pitch in 90 games at 1 inning a piece. This is quite the work load and it emphasizes just how difficult it is for a reliever to match a starter in terms of production. During these 90 games, this player and his league average teammates would go 50-40. Would I vote for this player?
Verdict: YES

G IP WAR R/9 RAA RAR W% Exp WAA
90 90 7.7 0.00 37.6 45.2 .551 1.75 6.9

Over the last 10 seasons, the league leaders in overall WAR have finished with an average of 9.0 WAR. This is the number I will use while looking at position players and the MVP Award.

23 G, 98 PA, 98 HR, 9.0 WAR, 2.135 wOBA, 1397 wRC+
Our first hypothetical batter was called up late in the season and was limited to just 23 games. In that short time, he had 98 plate appearances and hit a home run EVERY SINGLE TIME (surprisingly, opposing pitchers never intentionally walked him). This player, along with his league average teammates, went 20-3 in the games he appeared. Even though he only played in 23 games, it would be very difficult to not give an MVP vote to a player with 98 home runs.
Verdict: Yes

G PA WAR wOBA wRAA RAR W% Exp WAA
23 98 9.0 2.135 137.3 140.6 .870 2.12 8.6

65 G, 65 PA, 65 HR, 9.0 WAR, 2.135 wOBA, 1397 wRC+
The second hypothetical position player is similar to the first. The difference is that he is solely a pinch hitter. He appeared in 65 games and hit a home run in each of those pinch hitting appearances. His team went 41-24 in the games in which he appeared. As a voter, I would find it very difficult to not vote for someone with 65 HR. Assuming that these teams play .500 baseball in the games where these players don’t appear, each of these hypothetical teams would end up going 90-72 over a full season. Lastly, I did not apply an adjustment for leverage for this player. But since his manager is able to insert him into any spot in the game, we can assume that his at bats were more valuable than average. Thus, it may actually require less than 65 HR & PA to reach 9.0 WAR.
Verdict: Yes

G PA WAR wOBA wRAA RAR W% Exp WAA
65 65 9.0 2.135 91.0 91.7 .635 1.90 8.8

I chose Yes for each of these four scenarios because they produced an incredible amount of value, even if it was such a short period of time. But what if we look at it from a different angle. What is the worst a pitcher can be while throwing every inning of every game for a team?

162 G, 1458 IP, 7.7 WAR, 90 ERA+, 4.52 R/9, 76-86 W/L
Not that the previous hypotheticals were easy to imagine, but having someone throw 1458 innings is tough to grasp. Not since Jim Devlin of the 1877 Louisville Grays has someone thrown every pitch in a team’s season. However, it was “just” 559 IP and it was the last year of his career because he was banned for gambling. But assuming this is possible and that there aren’t any PED questions, a player throwing 1458 innings and accumulating 7.7 WAR would have to allow 4.52 runs per 9 innings and they would finish with a 76-86 record (with league average teammates). I could not vote for a below average player, so I would not give my vote to him.
Verdict: No

G IP WAR R/9 RAA RAR W% Exp WAA
162 1458 7.7 4.52 -47.9 75.4 .469 1.86 -5.1

This last hypothetical may be proof that using wins above average may be a better metric in award voting. If we set the threshold for Cy Young award to be, say, 6.0 WAA, the pitcher throwing 1458 innings would instead go 87-75, have a 105 ERA+ and allow 3.89 R/9. For this player, I would feel much more comfortable giving a vote.

Table Headings
G: Games Played
IP: Innings Pitched
WAR: Wins Above Replacement
R/9: Runs allowed per 9 innings
RAA: Runs allowed better than average
RAR: Runs allowed better than replacement
W%: Team’s winning percentage in games in which the player appears
Exp: Pythagorean exponent using PythagenPat method
WAA: Wins Above Average

PA: Plate Appearances
wOBA: Weighted On Base Average
wRAA: Weighted Runs Above Average