As you might expect, I've been watching and reading just about everything I can about our World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. (Mostly because I never get tired of those words together in a sentence. World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. So so so good.) During this forced media immersion I've come to recognize the signs of a narrative forming. This year's Boston Red Sox didn't win the World Series because they were the best team, goes this storyline. They won it because they wanted to win the World Series more than any other team wanted to win. Because they had bigger hearts, stronger chemistry, and tried harder.
Maybe the Red Sox did want to win the World Series more than all the other teams. Maybe they did have all those things in greater abundance. They certainly had reasons to want to win it more. Maybe making up for 2012 and the collapse at the end of 2011 were factors for some of the players who were members of one or both of those teams. Maybe the Marathon bombings galvanized the team to a greater extent.
My unscientific guess (as opposed to a scientific guess?) is the Red Sox wanted to win the World Series a lot for all of those reasons. But the Cardinals, Tigers, Rays, and just about every other team wanted to win the World Series too, probably almost as much. Or maybe even more.
But that gets us to this: measuring team-wide desire over a baseball season seems impossible. Maybe someone can measure desire and maybe they can also measure cumulative desire and then rank those cumulative desires, but I can't, and I doubt anyone else can.
I don't doubt the Red Sox desire to win, to win for Boston after the terrible tragedy that was the Boston Marathon bombing, to right the wrongs of the last few seasons. Desire, heart, want, all these things played a role in the Red Sox success, but I fear the main reason is getting lost behind all the talk of chemistry, and unity, and desire. Make no mistake, the Red Sox won the World Series for many reasons, but the most prominent of those is this: the 2013 Red Sox were really, really good at baseball.
As a team the Red Sox led baseball in:
- Wins (tied with St. Louis)
- Winning Percentage (tied with St. Louis)
- Second Order Winning Percentage (per Baseball Prospectus)
- Third Order Winning Percentage (per Baseball Prospectus)
- Runs scored
- Run Differential
- WAR (Fan Graphs version)
- WAR (Baseball Reference version)
- True Average (per Baseball Prospectus)
- On Base Percentage
- Slugging Percentage
- and thus OPS
- Runs Created
- wRC+ (explained here)
- Stolen Base Percentage
- Caught Stealing (they were caught just 19 times, fewer than any other team)
- Total Beard Length
That's a pretty good list. It's a pretty good list because this was a pretty good team. And, as you may have noticed, that list was just for the hitters. Nothing about Koji Uehara, or Jon Lester, or Clay Buchholz was in there. Also it didn't include that the Red Sox were second in batting average, PA, and VORP, third in defensive WAR (BR), fifth in walk percentage, and sixth in home runs. This was an excellent hitting team that could attack an opponent in about any possible way. They worked counts, hit for power, took walks, hit for average, and stole bases. They were without a doubt the best hitting team in baseball.
The pitchers weren't the best staff in baseball, but they were still good. They finished third in pitcher WAR via FanGraphs and 12 via Baseball Reference. They were 14 in ERA in baseball. Their bullpen was tied with the White Sox for the third most valuable in baseball according to FanGraphs.
This was a team without a weakness, a stark contrast to last season's squad who seemed to be composed only of weaknesses. That's why the 2013 Red Sox won: Because they were a terrific baseball team. Terrific across the board, good at everything, great at some things. That they loved each other like brothers, displayed an obvious and infectious joy for the game, and did so following such dark times on and off the field only made them more extraordinary.
We shouldn't lose sight of what made the Red Sox such an enjoyable team to follow, and given the recent stories in the media and the interviews given by players, I sense we won't. But similarly we shouldn't forget why the Red Sox were in the World Series in the first place. It was because they were an excellent baseball team, the best in the majors. That's worth remembering, too.