The Boston Red Sox of 2016 have won the AL East thanks to a loss by the Toronto Blue Jays last night. The team had a celebration in the clubhouse last night seemingly largely driven by advertising and less by an interest to party. That’s a good sign for a team more interested in what comes next, but I have to ask how good is this team and how good are they really?
Normally when I ask that question it’s in the other direction. I’m looking at a 97 win team in 2013 and wondering were they really that good and perhaps should they have fallen a bit lower. This year I think the opposite has happened and yet they still have won the division. The FanGraphs projections for the remainder of 2016 see the Red Sox finishing 2016 with 94 wins which is a solid finish and likely second place in the American League to the Texas Rangers.
If we peak behind the numbers though 94 might end up being a “disappointment” for this team and hidden by a division win with four games to go. If we go by Pythagenpat method which uses run differential there is some reason to believe the Red Sox should have been better. The first method uses actual run totals for and against and says the Red Sox should be 97-60 at this point with still four games and a shot at 100 wins. If you begin to use expected values of run totals and underlying stats (This is called second and third order win percentage) you can see the team was even better than their results with a projected current record of 101-56.
The Boston Red Sox based on their performance should be anywhere from 5-9 games better than where they are right now. Only two teams have been worse on the projections and that is Tampa Bay at 9-14 games worse than projected and the Chicago Cubs at 4-11 games worse. Interestingly the Texas Rangers have been 13 to 16 games better than their projection and wouldn’t even be in the playoffs.
So why is Boston under performing what their run differential and stats suggest they should be? The obvious choice is manager where a small change here and there can easily lead to a swing of 5-10 games in either direction over the course of 158 games. Has his handling of match ups and bullpen really been enough to do it or has it been down to players like David Price pitching well when you look at the underlying stats, but having an “off” season when you look at ERA and Wins?
I don’t have access to the Pythagenpat stats for the entire time Farrell has managed Boston, but ESPN does have an expected win for historical timelines. I’m not sure of their calculations, but believe it to be a basic run differential calculation. While a manager of the Boston Red Sox only one season (2014) did a Farrell led team match it’s expected win total with 71 wins. Otherwise over 4 seasons he has totaled 13 wins less than his expected win total (5,0,2,6 wins less than expected from 2013-2016).
He was better in this regard with Toronto where he won a game more than his expected win total. Is Farrell the only blame for a team failing to meet it’s expected win total? No. A team can be really good at pouring on runs in blowouts and losing a lot of close games and that’s not always up to the manager. That said when your team continues to average 3 games a season less than what is expected there is plenty of reason to question the manager even when your on the way to the playoffs.