Fair or not, the 2011 Red Sox have been compared to the 1946 Red Sox since before the season began. The reason why is clear: the 1946 Red Sox was the last Red Sox team to win 100 games, going 104-50, good for a .675 winning percentage. The 2011 Red Sox are currently on pace to win 101 games (100.602 actually, but I’ll round up). They would have to go 32-16 the rest of the way to equal the win total of the 1946 squad, a .666 winning percentage, unlikely, but not impossible.It’s interesting to see how the 2011 Red Sox stack up to the ‘46 squad statistically both as a team and individual performances. I’m going to mostly stay away from the counting stats and focus on rate stats, since 2011 isn’t completed.
Not surprisingly, both teams have prolific offenses, leading the AL in many statistical categories. The ‘46 team hit .271/.356/.402 leading the AL in all three categories. The ‘11 squad is hitting .281/.353/.456. The impressive thing about the ‘46 offense is that they did not have a DH. So those offensive numbers have the Red Sox pitchers, who batted .175/.232/.198, dragging the numbers down. Obviously, the ‘11 squad has a DH, and a pretty good one at that, to help raise the numbers. Not surprisingly both teams score runs in bunches 5.14 per game in 1946 and 5.43 per game in 2011, both leading the AL.
The typical batting order for the Red Sox in 1946 (based on most ABs at each spot in the order) was: George Metkovich RF, Johnny Pesky SS, Ted Williams LF, Bobby Doerr 2B, Rudy York 1B, Dom DiMaggio CF, Rip Russell 3B, Hal Wagner C with the pitcher occupying the 9-spot. Interestingly, and in contrast to the 2011 Red Sox, the 1946 team lacked a consistent lead-off hitter. George Metkovich played the most games at that spot but even he only played 60 games leading off. Red Sox lead-off men hit only .264/.335/.369 with only 6 HRs and 62 RBIs, which doesn’t even begin to compare to the monster year Jacoby Ellsbury is having.
Another striking similarity, though it comes as no surprise, is the strength of the number 2 and 3 hitters in both line-ups. Johnny Pesky had perhaps his best season in 1946 hitting .335/.401/.427. Dustin Pedroia is not far off of those numbers at .309/.402/.476. Hitting mostly third in the batting order, Ted Williams had an astronomical 1946 season hitting .342/.497/.667 with 38 HRs and 123 RBIs on his way to an MVP award. Williams walked an amazing 156 times in 1946 compared to only 46 so far for Adrian Gonzalez. Even more impressive was that Williams struck out only 44 times for the whole season leading to a 0.28 K/BB ratio. To put it in perspective, Dustin Pedroia leads the 2011 Red Sox with a 0.77 K/BB ratio and the 2011 league average in 2.19 So far this season Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .348/.409/.551 with 18 HRs and 92 RBIs. He currently stands at 163 hits and 258 total bases. Williams had 176 hits and 353 total bases in 1946.
Four pitchers started over 20 games for the Red Sox in 1946 and I’m not sure I could have named any of the them before writing this article: Tex Hughson, Dave Ferriss, Mickey Harris, and Joe Dobson. Obviously, the role of relief pitchers in much different now than in the 1940s but Bob Klinger, Earl Johnson, Bill Zuber, Clem Dreiseward and Mace Brown (who’s he?) made the most appearances out of the pen for the Red Sox in 1946. The more traditional pitching statistics favor the ‘46 squad. Their team ERA was 3.38, good for 4th among the 8 AL teams. The 2011 team ERA stands at 3.91 ranked 8th among 14 AL teams. But, the peripherals favor the current edition of the Sox. WHIP (1.274 vs. 1.332), H/9 (8.3 vs. 8.8), K/9 (7.3 vs. 4.3), SO/BB (2.29 vs 1.33) all favor the 2011 pitching staff. Coincidentally the teams are dead even in BB/9 at 3.2. ERA+ give a slight edge to 1946 staff, 109 vs 106.
It goes without saying that defense is the hardest thing to evalulate in baseball. That is especially true for 1946 for which the more advanced defensive statistics are not avaliable. So really all I have to go on to compare the two teams is errors, fielding percentage, caught stealing percentage and reputation. The 1946 Red Sox committed 139 errors, best in the AL. The 2011 Red Sox have committed 57 errors, 3rd in AL. Not surprisingly, the fielding percentage for both clubs ranks near the top of the AL: .977 in 1946, 1st in the AL and .987 in 2011, 2nd in the AL. Catching-wise, in 1946 Red Sox catchers Eddie McGah, Roy Partee, Frankie Pytlak, and Hal Wagner threw out 27 of 67 or 40.3% runners trying to steal. Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have thrown out 37 of 139 or 26.6% of runners trying to steal. Reputation wise, the 1946 defense was great up the middle with Johnny Pesky at SS, Bobby Doerr at 2B, and Dom DiMaggio in CF. This is not dissimilar to 2011, as Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are having excellent defensive seasons up the middle.
This analysis has showed that the 1946 and 2011 teams are very similar. The foundation and strength of both teams is the super powered offenses. The pitching staffs are both decent, around the middle of the pack in the AL. The pitchers are helped along by solid defense especially up the middle. Obviously, it will interesting to do this comparison again once the 2011 season concludes, something I hope to do. At that point there is really only one statistic that matters: wins in World Series. The 1946 team heartbreakingly fell one game short, losing Game 7 to the Cardinals when Enos Slaughter dashed around the bases. Here’s hoping the 2011 team one ups them and gets that 4th win.