As this season slogs on, I’m having trouble determining whether or not each loss is becoming increasingly painful or increasingly innocuous. I’m inclined to say increasingly painful, primarily because of how tantalizingly close the Sox come to winning some of these games. Obviously, this season, the Sox aren’t all that close to winning any given game, as indicated by their -66 run differential, but some of these games feel like they should be won handily, or at least would have been last year, during that magical run. This season is an entirely different beast, however, and not just in terms of general offensive ineptitude, which the Sox have in spades, but in terms of their utter inability to perform in high to medium leverage situations. The Sox are dead last in the major leagues in every major win probability-related statistic. They are worse than the historically offensively anemic Padres. They are worse than the Cubs. They are worse than the Astros. And they are worse than the league’s most pitiful team, the Rangers.
While the Red Sox are not one of the absolute worst context-neutral offensive teams in the majors, along with the likes of the Padres, Mets, Rangers, and Phillies, they do lead the league in shooting themselves in the foot. The Red Sox are mostly middle of the pack, in terms of K% and BB%, but they blow the competition out of the water (in a bad way) when it comes to performing with men on base and in scoring position. The Red Sox are last in win probability added (WPA) by two whole points (-11.12), the biggest gap between any two teams on the entire major league leader board (the next worst team is the Cubs, with a WPA of -9.08). Win probability is described defined by FanGraphs thusly:
WPA is the difference in win expectancy (WE) between the start of the play and the end of the play. That difference is then credited/debited to the batter and the pitcher. Over the course of the season, each player’s WPA for individual plays is added up to get his season total WPA…WPA takes into account the importance of each situation in the game. A walk off home run is going to be weighted more then a home run in a game that has already gotten out of hand. This makes it a great tool for determining how valuable a player was to his team’s win total.
The Red Sox have been so bad in important situations that their collective RE24 is nearly 30 runs worse than the next worst team (the Red Sox’ 2014 RE24 is -85.09 and the Padres’ 2014 RE24 is -59.44). FanGraphs defines RE24 as follows:
RE24 is context-dependent and assigns more credit for hits with men on base than with the bases empty. With league average set to 0, hitters with positive RE24 are creating more runs than we would expect given the situations they have been placed in and pitchers with positive numbers are preventing more runs than average given the situations in which they have been placed…RE24 is a measure of how well hitters are capitalizing on their opportunities while also not assigning extra credit (like RBI) to hitters who happen to come to the plate with men on base very often…The number “24″ refers to the potential number of base-out states (zero, one, two outs and eight different baserunner arrangements).
If you’ve watched the Red Sox at all this year, you don’t really need all of these statistics, as they’re essentially just reinforcing what’s so abundantly obvious. That being said, the Red Sox’ collective inability to cash in is actually pretty staggering, especially when you compare them to the rest of the league. Now, in the Red Sox defense, at least they’re putting themselves in a position to cash in, whereas teams like the Padres, Mets, Rangers, and Phillies can’t even get to that point, but it’s all for naught if the Red Sox can put men on base but cannot drive them home.
Because most of us have one or two favorite teams, we’re usually only exposed to the play of those one or two teams. And with limited exposure to other teams, we tend to think that our team(s) is the “worst” at any given negative play, or “x” negative event “always” happens to our team. That’s a convoluted way of saying that sometimes we (read: I) think the Red Sox strike out more than any other team or pop up more than any other team, etc. (we’re actually about average in those areas). It may also feel like the Red Sox ground into double plays with runners in scoring position more often than any other team. It may feel that way just because we tend to be fatalistic about our floundering team, or it may feel that way because it’s true. In this case, it’s true. With men in scoring position, the Red Sox have grounded into 48 double plays, which is three more double plays than the second place team; incidentally, this is also a larger gap than any other two teams on the leader board. With men in scoring position, the Red Sox are 25th in OPS, 21st in isolated power (ISO), and 26th in wRC+.
So who is chiefly responsible for killing the Red Sox’ rallies? Well, unfortunately and unsurprisingly, it’s their struggling rookies: Jackie Bradley, Jr. (who was recently demoted to AAA) and Xander Bogaerts. Jackie Bradley, Jr., sadly, has just been awful in any and all situations, but Xander Bogaerts is kind of an interesting case because he has a better wRC+ than A.J. Pierzynski, David Ross, Stephen Drew, and Will Middlebrooks, and others, but his WPA is more than twice as bad as any of them. Perhaps he’s being pitched to differently with men on base or pressing at the plate in high leverage situations, but his inability to come through in clutch situations has been detrimental to the Sox’ success this season.
With the season lost, it’s sometimes difficult to know what to root for. Wins are fun, but they mean nothing. Losses hurt, but they can be advantageous, in terms of draft position. And then there are different kinds of losses. There are the blowouts that are boring, but largely painless because they bludgeon you over the head and induce numbness. Conversely, there are the heartbreaking losses, where the lead is traded back and forth or where the Sox hold a slim lead or are behind, but within striking distance. Those losses hurt, and it feels like we’ve borne witness to too many of those. As I’ve said before in other columns, as far as 2014 goes, at least we have the individual performances and continued development of our stud prospects to look forward to, but even so, I can’t help but feel like 2015 can’t come soon enough.