Boston featured an incredible offense last season, posting 853 runs (Detroit was next with 796, St. Louis third with 783). But Boston did more to wear down opposing pitching staffs than simply score -- the team got on base at a .349 clip, tops in the majors, and was also among the league leaders in pitches per plate appearance (4.01 P/PA).
As a result, there was no lineup that dominated opposing pitching staffs last season like that of the Red Sox. The team's hitters saw a grand total of 25,667 pitches, which was well above the second-highest total (Twins, 25,027) and well above the third-best mark (Athletics, 24,500). The 1,167 pitches seen advantage over Oakland was greater than the difference between Oakland and the 20th place team (St. Louis, 23,345).
The mean number of Pitches Seen was 23,664, putting Boston 2,003 pitches ahead of average, good for an incredible 2.8 standard deviations above the mean. In second place, Minnesota's number was just 1.9 standard deviations above the mean, and while Milwaukee saw the fewest pitches in baseball last season (22,583), the Brewers' total was off the mean by just 1.5 standard deviations. I can't think of any drawbacks of racking up so many pitches and plate appearances -- there are only positives. But what did the Red Sox get out of it?
The benefits of a high team on base percentage are self-evident, but the benefits of a high P/PA are not. After all, the Cardinals did score the most runs in the National League in 2013, despite a P/PA of 3.76 that ranked just 13th in the NL (27th overall). As the theory goes, P/PA might help a team win on a particular day by wearing out the starting pitcher early, exposing the other team's soft middle relief underbelly. We would expect that to lead to a higher-than-average rate of runs scored by the Red Sox in innings that might be pitched by middle relievers, especially innings 6 and 7. Here's how the Red Sox stacked up against the league average rates for each inning, with the final row the difference between the MLB averages and Boston's averages:
|Avg R - MLB
|Avg R - AL
|Avg R - BOS
It does not seem like the Red Sox had a meaningful advantage in innings typically pitched by middle relievers, with an average runs scored close to average in innings 6 and 8. The bump in 7th innings is interesting, but not more impressive than what the Red Sox accomplished in innings 1-4.
But what about the cumulative effect of wearing down a pitching staff? Surely wearing out a pitching staff paid dividends as series progressed, right? In game 1 of each series, the Red Sox went 31-21; in second game of each series, Boston fared no better, going 30-21. The team did have a bit more success in games 3 or 4 of each series, at 36-23. Overall, Boston had a .592 winning percentage in games 1 or 2, and a winning percentage of .610 in games 3+. But that was only a difference of a single win, and not enough to draw conclusions.
Are pitchers getting better?
Over the last ten years, league ERA is down and strikeouts per nine innings are up. But, can we definitively say that pitchers are getting better?
Here's where it gets interesting. If Boston truly abused pitching staffs, then it stands to reason that teams might fare worse than normal just after playing the Red Sox. For instance, after the Yankees opened the 2013 with a three-game set against Boston, they played the Tigers, promptly losing the first game. Next up for the Red Sox was the Blue Jays, who also then lost game one against Detroit. Then the Orioles, who lost to New York. And the Rays. And the Indians. And the Royals. And the Athletics.
It was not until April 29 that a Boston opponent won its first game against another team, when Houston turned around to beat the Yankees. And the trend continued. All told, Boston opponents went 17-34 in their next games, for a .333 winning percentage. Although no MLB team managed a winning percentage as good as .600 last season, the team that stood in just after Boston won two-thirds of its games.
The teams that staggered away from the Red Sox had an average winning percentage of .492 overall (an average of the W% of each of the 51 teams), so the drop to .333 is no less significant than it would be for any team that had played about a third of a season's worth of games.
As you would expect, a pretty big chunk of the 51 post-Boston games were played by AL East foes, and the Rays were the only team in baseball to have at least 2 of the 51 games and still manage a winning percentage of over .500 in those games (Tampa Bay went 5-2 in post-Boston games). And Boston spread the wealth; 24 different clubs got the chance to play an opponent who had just played Boston, with 19 of the 24 teams winning at least one of the total 51 games. The biggest beneficiaries were the Orioles, who went 6-1 in their seven games against teams that had just played Boston, and the Tigers, who went 4-1 in the same circumstances.
Some of the games in the sample above came after off days, so that there was a day to recuperate after playing Boston. Only 36 of the 51 games were played the day after the relevant series against Boston was completed (which diminishes an already small sample), but the post-Boston hangover was even greater in these 36 games. When a team had no off day after facing the Red Sox, their winning percentage in their very next game dropped to an incredible .278 (10-26). You're welcome, Next Team.
In 2013, it seems that Boston's vaunted offense did have an effect on an opposing team's ability to win games the next time out. It has clearly been a priority for the Red Sox to combine OBP skills with P/PA tendencies -- Boston has topped the 25,000 pitches mark now seven times in the last ten years, ranking first in the league six times, second twice, and third once -- but not once in the nine years before 2013 did the Red Sox top the league average for Pitches Seen by more than 2,000. Even among Boston seasons, therefore, 2013 was a bit of an outlier -- and with such a small sample, it's impossible to know how much of this post-Boston effect was luck. Still, while OBP and probably P/PA are helpful in winning games, it appears, based on 2013, that the cumulative toll on opposing pitching staffs may inure more to subsequent teams' benefits more than to Boston's.
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All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Ryan P. Morrison is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score, and co-author of Inside the 'Zona, a site on the Arizona Diamondbacks with a sabermetrics slant. You can follow him on Twitter: @InsidetheZona.