Good businesses make money in the margins. Think about a restaurant. Think about a medium-rare filet mignon with potatoes gratin, sautéed broccolini, horseradish cream and port reduction that costs 28 dollars. Sure, that gets you in the door but it is not where the establishment is paying its bills.
What is the first thing a server asks you when sit down at a table? “What can I get you to drink?” Why is the desert menu usually separate from the rest of the menu? Because flour, sugar, syrup and water are cheap and not labor intensive. The profit on that steak may be 40 to 50 percent after labor is included in its preparation but the soda you have been chugging down in the mean time nets a 98 percent gain.
Where Theo Epstein truly makes his money is with the players on the margins, the soda and German chocolate cakes players who propel an 81 win team to a 96 win team.
Epstein and a general managers like Brian Cashman have an advantage because their margins are a lot larger than then small market teams, like the Rays. More dollars, more flexibility, better ability to throw money at the edge of the roster to increase Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at each position.
Outside of payroll concerns, the creation of the 2010 Red Sox is distinctly aimed at trying to create a situation where it takes less runs to generate wins. The Sox believe that there will not be a huge drop in runs scored this year, despite what the pundits think and Epstein sees his roster as having good offensive potential.
In his primer about how to convert runs to wins Dave Cameron at FanGraphs notes that good pitchers create run environments that make each run more valuable in creating a win. The Sox scored 872 runs in 2009 that averages to 5.38 runs per game and 9.18 runs per win.
It is not just the fielders and the run prevention model that help the projections along, it is the run environment that the Sox starting pitchers create neutral of outside factors that is the big spur in the numbers.
The top three of Lackey, Lester and Beckett each project to good to great Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers this year which brings down the total number of runs that the Sox will need to score 60 percent of the games they play this year, barring any major setbacks. But as discussed earlier, it is the margins where the pitching staff is expected to thrive.
Between Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield the average FIP of the trio is 4.21 (according to the Bill James projections). None of the projections are bullish on Wakefield, his sample size is so large and he is so remarkably consistent that everybody knows what to expect, but the potential breakout of healthy and viable tandem of Matsuzaka and Buchholz gives the Sox a better back end rotation than just about anybody.
Between the two their average James projected FIP is 3.99 (3.94 for Buchholz, 4.04 for Matsuzaka). That is a full half run higher than the No. 4 and 5 starters for the Yankees (3.47 between Phil Hughes and Javier Vazquez) but a full run higher than the Rays (4.47 between David Price and Wade Davis, similar if Jeff Niemann is added into the equation as his James FIP projection is 4.45).
Raise your hand if you have a sneaking feeling that the order of those No. 4 and 5 starter FIP projections will be the eventual order those teams finish in the East. The difference of that half run each way over 360 to 400 innings or so expected from those pitchers adds up to a swing of 18 to 20 wins depending on innings pitched and run value of a win. Now, that is not saying that the Yankees are going to be 18 to 20 wins (runs scored has not been factored in) better than the Red Sox because their fourth and fifth starters are projected to be that much better but it does provide a good example of where the Yankees are capitalizing the marginal wins on their roster and where the Rays fall short in overall depth.
Hence, the Red Sox and Yankees have created great situations to maximize the impact of their runs scored by creating run environments with their starting pitching staffs that put more or a premium on runs scored.