There’s a lot of ways to contextualize what the Red Sox have done this year. You can simply show somebody the standings, which show that Boston is currently tied for the worst winning percentage in all of baseball along with the Rangers and the Pirates. You can show them pretty much any pitching statistic, which would likely put them in some historically bad context. You can just pick a random inning from any random game this season and chances are there will be one moment that makes one throw their hands in the air, and not like they just don’t care. For me, though, I think the best way to illustrate how bad this Red Sox team has been is that the most interesting story of the season just may be how badly a player on another team destroys them.
I speak, of course, of Rowdy Tellez. Tellez is not a bad baseball player. He is a big slugger at the plate with legitimate power. He has a 146 OPS+ this season. He plays a substantial role on a team that is coming on strong and is looking like a good bet to make the postseason. They may even finish ahead of the Yankees! The point is, he’s not some scrub. Tellez is a legitimate major-league player.
That said, if you ask Red Sox fans about Tellez, their opinion of him may not match up with any other fan base in baseball. The Blue Jays’s big beefy first baseman turns into one of the best hitters in baseball against the Red Sox. Toronto just played five games at Fenway, of which Tellez started four. In those four games, he had three hits in two of them, two hits in another and smacked a pair of homers. A couple weeks ago he started one of two games the Red Sox played in Buffalo and in it he went 3-4 with a pair of homers.
The simple come back to all of this is that the Red Sox pitching staff can make anyone look like Barry Bonds. In a way, this is their super power. I mean, just this past week they allowed three-homer games to two different players on back-to-back days. The issue is that for Tellez, it hasn’t just been a 2020 thing. This has been his entire career. Overall in his career, the Blue Jays first baseman has hit .251/.311/.492. Against the Red Sox in his career, he has hit .377/.451/.857. Baseball-Reference has a stat called tOPS+ which compares a player in any given split relative to their overall batting line. So, for example, a tOPS+ of 110 would mean that in the given split Player X is ten percent better than they are overall. Tellez’s tOPS+ against the Red Sox is 219. That means Tellez is 119 percent better against the Red Sox than anyone else.
I don’t need to tell you that this is ridiculous. I also don’t think it’s that much of a surprise, either, because we all know Tellez always kills the Red Sox. If you’ve watch enough Red Sox baseball the last few years, you know this. I was curious to know where Tellez ranked in terms of destroying Red Sox pitching. So, I looked at things in two ways. First, I just looked at straight OPS. Now, we need to add a caveat that OPS can be era-dependent, and Tellez’s only full season was 2019 when MLB was using a golf ball that flew out of the park at an astounding rate.
That said, among players who have at least 50 plate appearances against the Red Sox, literally nobody has a higher OPS than Tellez. It is worth noting that Brandon Lowe, current Rays second baseman, is number two on this list. I think this reflects both the run environment in recent years as well as the Red Sox pitching staff in recent years. But, just looking at pure production without worrying about league context, Tellez is literally the best hitter against the Red Sox of all time.
The difference between Tellez is Lowe, though, is that the latter is a very good hitter against everyone. Tellez is fine, but in his aforementioned lone full season he was still below average with a 95 OPS+. This is where tOPS+ comes in. I wanted to see where Tellez fit in the history against Boston in terms of performing above their baseline production level. Again setting the minimum to 50 plate appearances, Tellez’s tOPS+ is the fifth highest against Boston ever.
However, if we parse the list a bit, there is an argument to put Tellez back at number one here as well. Numbers three and four were Denny McLain and Sam McDowell, respectively. They both hit the Red Sox more than any other team, but they were also pitchers. Their OPS’s against the Red Sox were both below .600. It wasn’t so much that they were crushing the Red Sox. It was just that they had a couple extra base hits and their baseline performance was so bad that’s all it took to stand out. I’m not particularly impressed by that.
Numbers one and two on the list, meanwhile, were Gene Freese and Ron Clark, respectively. Freese was a solid player who carved out an every day role for a few years, but almost all of his career was in the National League. This basically just comes down to one full season in 1960 that he spent with the White Sox and then a couple partial years in ‘65 and ‘66. Clark, meanwhile, was mostly a bench player, so it wasn’t as consistent domination as Tellez.
Your mileage may vary on how much you want to discount the factors for Freese and Clark, but if we all agree to get rid of the pitchers here, at the very least there’s only been two players ever who have raised their performance so dramatically against the Red Sox more so than Tellez. And, by pure OPS production, nobody has ever hit better against Boston pitching than the Blue Jays first baseman. As sports fans, I think we have a tendency to over inflate the performances of guys we perceive to destroy our favorite teams. With Tellez, though, this is no illusion. We’ve basically never seen anybody hit the Red Sox like this.