Let's face it. Being a Sox fan was hard in 2012. The collapse of 2011 left most of us shell shocked and to make matters worse our GM quit and we fired the most beloved manager the franchise has had in, well, most of our lives. It was an ugly winter and since the team was already loaded with huge contracts, there wasn't much to do to improve it.
They promoted Ben Cherington, a name most fans weren't too familiar with, to replace Theo. They were huge shoes to fill and many were unsure he would be able to step in and live up to his predecessor. He inherited a bloated roster and a toxic clubhouse and was saddled with Bobby Valentine as a manager even though he wanted to go in another direction. The farm system had quite a few interesting names in the low minors, but no exciting names in Portland or above except perhaps Will Middlebrooks. His tenure was off to a very uninspiring start.
And yet, here we are less than two seasons from that winter and the Red Sox have the best record in the American League with less than a month to play, they have one of the best farms in the game and plenty of payroll flexibility to continue improving the team going forward. It's been a remarkable turnaround, even if the casual fan hasn't fully caught on yet. You can't blame them, really. There isn't much national coverage of the team, and the sting of 2011 and the listlessness of 2012 are still too recent to push completely out of our minds, but is that covering up what might be one of the best Red Sox teams we've ever seen?
Let's start by acknowledging that run scoring environments change over time. It's important to mention this because a straight comparison of one team to another isn't really fair. Instead, I'm going to look at run scoring and run prevention relative to league average for that particular season. For example, comparing this offense directly to 2004's would make this one look much worse than it is since run scoring in general was much higher in 2004. Part of that was the influence of PED's on the sport, part of that was that there was a very different talent pool in the league. So we'll stick to performance relative to the league for any given season as the method of comparison.
To start, here's a quick look at the pitching relative to league average. I'm using ERA+ since it is park and league adjusted and should be comparable across seasons.
Of the three teams, this is the weakest pitching staff relative to the league they played in, but it's not too far off. League average ERA+ for 2004 and 2007 was 100. The 2004 club was 16% better than league average at 116 and the '07 team was 23% better. This year's team exists in a tougher run scoring environment, so league average ERA+ is 101 meaning their 112 is 10.89% better than league average.
Looking at the offense, this team is more impressive. Here we are using OPS+ for the same reasons we used ERA+.
Relative to the league, this offense is better than either the 2004 or 2007 teams. League average OPS+ for 2004 and 2007 was 100. The 2004 club had an OPS+ of 110, or 10% better than league average, and the 2007 club had a 107 which is 7% better. The 2013 Red Sox, again, playing in a tougher run scoring environment (99 OPS+) have a 111 OPS+ so far on the year. If that holds, this offense will be 12.1% better than league average.
That's not to say that the 2013 lineup is better than 2004's bat for bat, but relative to the run scoring environments they played in, the 2013 offense has performed better than either of the last two championship teams.
So, is this an all time great Red Sox team? It's certainly one of the best most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Here's how they stack up against every other World Series team the franchise has had.
The pitching staff ranks 7th in a tie with the 1916 team and the offense ranks 4th when compared to all of the World Series teams in the franchise's history. I included every team that went to the World Series here, not just the champions, since before the wild card era getting to the World Series meant you were, by definition, one of the best two teams in the AL or NL from 1969-1993 or one of the two best teams in baseball before 1969. The total sample is 12 teams, including the 2013 Red Sox.
If this team can avoid falling off a cliff and maintain their performance, both offensively and defensively, relative to the league, they will finish the season right in line with the great teams in this franchise's history. They are doing it without a ton of attention on them, and being this good does not guarantee them a trip to the Fall Classic, but as far as regular season quality goes, this is a special team.