The “2013 Red Sox Model”
The incredible Red Sox turnaround; going from a 69-93 team in 2012 to a 97-65 this season has left observers baffled. The explanation that you hear most is the easy one; “by getting rid of the bad eggs, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Bobby Valentine and replacing them with good “character guys” it’s obvious why they are so good… We see it a little differently.
The Red Sox came into 2013 with a clear plan for what they wanted to do regarding offense, defense, pitching and base-running. Most importantly the Red Sox players executed the plan and that is why they won the most games in baseball.
The 2013 Red Sox hitting philosophy was based on appreciating the importance of every single pitch seen. Every pitch thrown is a scoring opportunity for an offense, and the 2013 Red Sox were build, educated and expected to appreciate that. Therefore, there is a direct positive correlation between pitches seen and amount of scoring opportunities.
The Red Sox felt that if they saw a ton of pitches here is what would happen:
- They would walk more.
Believe it or not, most pitches thrown are outside of the strike-zone. In 2013 only 44.7% of pitches thrown were inside the strike-zone. By seeing more pitches (inherently more out of the strike-zone) you have a higher likelihood of getting walked, and we all know the importance of getting on base. So, how do you see more pitches? By not swinging… The Red Sox ranked last in the MLB in swing% at only 43.7%
- They would see more fastballs.
Not only is the fastball the most common pitch thrown in baseball, by getting deeper into counts the Red Sox felt they would ultimately see more fast-balls. One, because fastballs are typically the easiest for a pitcher to locate. And two, If opposing pitchers were getting into deeper counts they would be forced to throw more fastballs. So what did the Red Sox do? They comprised their lineup of great fastball hitter’s. Using the Fangraphs stat “w/FB/c”, or weighted averaged fastball value, the Red Sox (.69) ranked 1st in baseball against fastballs by a large margin. (Tigers 2nd .47)
- They would start to see more pitches inside of the strike-zone.
With relation to seeing more fastballs, by increasing your number of “hitter’s counts” you are also more likely to see pitches inside of the strike-zone. The simple baseball truth is that if a pitcher is in a 3-1 or 2-0 count they are more likely to throw a pitch inside of the strike-zone because they need to get a strike. What happens to fastballs that are left inside of the strike-zone? They get crushed. This hypothesis was true to a certain extent as the Red Sox saw more pitches inside the strike-zone than most teams at 45.3%, a slight increase over the above-mentioned league average zone% of 44.7%.
Furthermore, the 2013 Red Sox were built to hit left-handed pitching. For years teams have build their offense without much concern for hitting left-handed pitching. Because only 8-10% of humans in the world are left-handed, most baseball teams have neglected the importance of being able to hit lefties. Old-school GM’s would reserve only a bench spot or two for hitters that were effective against lefties, but the 2013 build their entire line-up with hitters that were more than capable against left-handers. Left-handed relievers are becoming more than just “specialist’s” and with a general undervaluing of the ability to hit lefties, the Red Sox found a way to stay ahead-of-the-curve without breaking the bank. For the season the Red Sox were 5th best in the MLB against left-handed pitching, with a .330 wOBA. (weighted on-base average=the most important batting statistic)
Red Sox 2013 Hitting Ranks:
W.A.R.: (wins above replacement) 1st
wOBA.: (weighted on-base average) 1st
Total offense: (fangraphs) 1st (121.1)
-Tigers 2nd with 76.6 total offense rating.
The 2013 Red Sox has three rules when it came to pitching:
1. Throw strike’s.
If ever pitch throw is a scoring opportunity, what can you do to limit the opposing team’s opportunities? Throw less pitches. The Sox took their offensive philosophy, turned it upside-down and used it as their pitching model. It’s simple, if you want to limit runs you also have to limit pitches thrown, and you do that by throwing more strike’s. The Red Sox ranked 4th in the MLB in zone%, or the percentage of pitches that were thrown inside of the strike-zone.
2. Diversify your pitch type’s.
The most common pitch in baseball is the fastball. As a batter, on average you have a 57% chance of seeing a fastball for ever pitch that you see. Numbers show that the fastball is a very “average” pitch in terms of pitch values. Obviously you have to be able to throw fastball’s, but the fastball is a very hittable pitcher if you throw too many. By looking at their pitch types it is evident that the Red Sox wanted to diversify their pitch types, making it harder on opposing teams to make educated guesses on which pitches are more likely to be seen in certain situations. By remaining relatively balanced in your pitch types you can limit the opposing team’s ability to research and find favorable match-ups. Besides the fastball at 55.3% the Red Sox were within +/- 3% pitches thrown between the rest of their pitch types. Additionally, the 2013 Red Sox, as well as other playoff teams like the Dodgers, Rays, Tigers, Rangers and Reds ranked in the bottom-half of the league in fastball%.
3. Strike batter’s out.
The importance of the strikeout has been validated in recent years and the 2013 Red Sox saw that as an area where they needed to improve. The numbers show that for the most part, unless you are striking out 7.5 batters per 9 innings you are generally going to allow too many runs to make the playoffs. With a generally healthy starting rotation and acquisitions of strike-throwing bullpen arms like Koji Uehara and Craig Breslow the Red Sox managed to rank 7th in K%, as opposed to 19th in 2012.
Red Sox 2013 Pitching Ranks:
Starter rating: (fangraphs) 3rd
Reliever rating: (fangraphs) 3rd
W.A.R.: (wins above replacement) 3rd
While defensive metrics are confusing and sometimes flawed there is something that they have taught us; individual defense just isn’t that important. A team could rank last in most defensive metrics but still make the playoffs. The #10-#25 ranked teams in terms of UZR are within +/- 5 points from each other, which simply doesn’t equate to much in terms of wins. Defense is important however; it is important to have players that are capable of playing multiple positions, but the caliber at which they play is not very important. As long as you can find the position on the field you will not be hurting your team very much. What does this mean? By having multiple players that are capable of playing multiple positions you are opening up your team to a number of interesting possibilities, mainly because you can:
1. You can manage rest/playing time.
2. More options means more data, which means creating more favorable match-ups.
Built from versatile positional players such as Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, Xander B, Brock Holt, Brandon Snyder and Ryan Lavarnway, the 2013 Red Sox were able to ride the hot players and get the most out of their assets.
Red Sox 2013 Defensive Rankings:
Total defense: (fangraphs) 7th
The 2013 Red Sox had determined that good base running is more valuable than good defense, and they exploited that knowledge. For a team that is known for “not running into outs” the Red Sox were one of the most aggressive/efficient base running teams in baseball. It isn’t just the “surprise steals” that are important, sometimes you need to be able steal a bag even when the other team knows that you are stealing. Being a team that steals a lot of bases and being a good base running team are two different things, and the 2013 Red Sox were both.
Red Sox 2013 Base-running Ranks:
Speed Rating: (fangraphs) 1st
wSB: (weighted stolen bases) 1st
Total base-running: (fangraphs) 5th
CS: 1st (least in MLB)
2013 Red Sox
Pythagorean W-L: 100-62
-Runs scored: 853
-Runs allowed: 612
The Red Sox had a plan, bought into that plan and executed that plan. We don’t pretend to know what will happen in the playoffs, but in terms of having a vision and implementing it, the 2013 Red Sox were a work of art and truly a pleasure to watch.