Back in August I asked the question: Are we looking at an all time great Red Sox team? Since then the comments have been closed so rather than bump that thread, I'm starting a new one. I've also expanded the look from previous World Series teams to every Red Sox team in the World Series era. That's 1903 through to today, or 111 seasons worth of data.
Last time I opted for using ERA+ and OPS+ as they are league and park adjusted and are comparable across eras. No look is perfect, but that's a pretty good way to implement a comparison like this. This time, however, I've decided to move on to wRC+ and ERA- to make this comparison. One of the biggest complaints about OPS+ is that is weights on base percentage and slugging percentage equally and many studies have shown that this is not the case. wRC+ weights on base percentage more heavily and is considered a more accurate statistic because of that.
The reason for using ERA- is more of a personal preference as the differences between it and ERA+ are minor and more about how the data is presented than what they are saying. ERA- actually measures how much better or worse than league average a pitcher has been. It works a bit backwards from how we are used to seeing ERA+. A lower ERA- is better, just like an unadjusted ERA. If league average is 100, then a 91 ERA- is 9% better than league average. When you see an ERA+ of 109 and league average is 100, most people would say that pitcher is 9% better than the league, but it's actually more correct to say the league was 9% worse than the pitcher. It seems like semantics, and it mostly is, but I figured I'd go with the more technically accurate number if we're going to be discussing these teams as being better or worse than league average for a given year.
So, with that bit of explanation out of the way, here is how the 2013 Boston Red Sox fared.
The blue line is wRC+ so the higher a point is on the chart, the better the offense was that year. The red line is ERA- so the lower the point on the chart, the better the staff was that year. The best teams will have a gap between those two points with blue on top and red on the bottom.
For instance, the period of time from the early 1920's through the early 1930's, the Red Sox were horrifically bad. The period of time stretching back over the last ten years or so has seen mostly Red Sox teams that were very good or better.
So how does this team compare to the all time greats? Quite well. They finished the season with a wRC+ of 115 which is 16.16% better than the league average of 99. Only five teams in the franchise's history have been better, relative to league average. 1912, 1942, 1946, 2003 and 2011. That's it. Even the 2004 team didn't have as good an offense, relative to the league, as the 2013 club. The raw numbers don't look as impressive, but this was a truly special offense.
The pitching staff wasn't quite so impressive, but was still very good. Their 91 ERA- was 9% better than the league average of 100 and they were tied with three other teams for 28th all time for the franchise.
That means we had an offense that was within the top 6% of all offenses in the club's history, and a pitching staff within the top 28%. To put that into context, only one team in the history of the franchise was better in both wRC+ and ERA- (again, relative to league average). The 1912 team that also went to the World Series.
Other teams that were worthy of consideration are the 1903 club (15.96 and 13% respectively), the 1936 team (11.86 and 16%), the 1942 team (17.2 and 8%), 1949 (13.98 and 11%), and the 2004 team that was 14 and 11% better than league average.
I thought this was worth bringing up again because as much as we're all enjoying this ride, it's tough to put this team into a greater context and appreciate just how great they really are.
Maybe we'll be able to look back at them in the off season and fully grasp just how amazing they've been, but the lack of huge stars, the relatively low payroll, the way the lineup is filled with all above average guys and very few exceptional hitters (but no easy outs), the pitching staff that had everyone struggle at some point, the bullpen that literally fell apart and had to be rebuilt mid season... all of it contributes to the perception of the team that we have as a bunch of tough, gritty guys who managed to play way above their heads for a year.
That's simply not what we have here. This was the best team in the majors. They weren't built to accomplish their goal of reaching (and hopefully winning) the World Series in the way we've grown accustomed to, but that does not mean they are less talented than their results on the field. They were tied for the 7th best ERA- in the majors this year and were the best offense by wRC+ with only the Tigers anywhere close. Their run differential of +197 was the best in the majors by 10. The Cardinals were second at 187 and the Tigers were third at 172. Only 6 teams in the majors were better than +100.
This is a special team. We have at least 4 more games left to enjoy them. Don't waste them.