Monday, July 11, 2011

I Play When I Wanna Play

I've heard that the Red Sox, as constructed, were destined to take their place on Immortality Peak and unseat the 1927 Yankees as the greatest team of all time.

This might be true.  As Eric Ortiz infamously predicted, with a healthy Beckett, Pedroia, and 46, this team is a pretty good baseball team.  Perhaps they are the best team ever.  Looks like that right now, as they have pulled off the following stretches of wins:

8 out of 9
13 out of 15
12 out of 13
9 out of 10

Please note that none of these stretches overlap each other.  These stretches account for 42 of the Red Sox' 53 wins.  The rest of the stretches, of course, they are 9-28.  You can accuse me of saying that the team is 0-35 in games when they aren't winning, but this is four hot streaks accounting for nearly 80% of the wins.  This team either sweeps series or loses them - it's like they can't win two of three.

This is at least a small indicator that the 2011 Red Sox, while they could be the best team of all time, has a switch very much like the 2009-10 Celtics or Randy Moss, as they play when they wanna play.  I'm starting to think that the Red Sox might very well be significantly better than the Yankees - more than the paltry one-game lead they have - and the Yankees are just plain better than the teams they play.  The Yankees play a more even brand of baseball, as Pat had pointed out about a month ago, and this has remained true until they decided they want to take a vacation from losing throughout July.

During their losing streaks, the Red Sox have exhibited sloppiness, bad pitching, questionable managerial moves (such as making the entire Pittsburgh series a "sandwich game" before playing Philadelphia, and lack of focus, instead of crying about how their lives suck or how the team is suffering from a competitive disadvantage against the Pirates.  As you guys who have been reading this for a while know, that drives me absolutely nuts.  JD has done this his entire career.  Not completely different, 46 goes through these stretches where he thinks he's a power hitter (nice at-bat while trying to complete that cycle on Saturday...swing for the fences much?), and the times when 46 is playing for the fantasy stats instead of playing within his abilities seems to be coinciding with the times they're scuffling.

Not that this should be much of a surprise.  At the beginning of the season, there was a question of whether this team is "hungry."  A lot of them have already won titles.  Almost all of them have big contracts.  One of them is JD Drew.  I feel like if this team could keep the focus, they really could run up the score on the American League East, including a very good Yankees team.  It's very good fortune for everyone else that the Red Sox only play when they wanna play.


The GM said...

Also, and I missed this, this weekend alone they showed that they can beat you in nailbiter shutout games when the pitchers show up. They can beat you in blowouts. And they can beat you in shootouts. They win on their own schedule and on anyone else's schedule. It's just a matter of whether they want to.

Anonymous said...

good post gm. i have been thinking recently that these teams look like the graph on a lie detector test. the yankees are the baseline that run right across the middle of the page. the red sox are the volatile lines jetting above and below that baseline as the move across the page.

as far as what this means for the red sox, i come out slightly differently than you. i think the red sox are an excellent team, who at their peak are probably better than any team in the american league. but i don't think they are a runaway from the field. first, consistency is a distinct trait, not a random quality. could the red sox develop consistency in the second half? absolutely. does it have something to do with turning it on and off? probably. but there are other things at play, i think.

namely, look at the red sox roster. when you look at (at the very least), right field, shortstop, catcher, rotation spots 4/5, and every reliever not named bard (and perhaps albers and aceves), does this team scream "the best team by a mile" or "really good"?

that isn't meant to be a criticism. it's a relative analysis. the sox have at least one elite talent in all three phases of the game, and are otherwise built around depth more than they are a hoard of superstars. and depth they have. but they have some soft spots, and don't have a wide variety of superstars they can call on to carry them, instead reliant on a select few. when that depth is clicking on all cylinders, they are a complete team and unbeatable. when that depth is slowed, they are reliant on only a few superstars to carry them, and if they can't get that those soft spots are really exposed. i think that's why you see a lot of stretches of double digit scoring and a lot of stretches where it seems like they go a week without cracking more than 4 runs. coupled with pitching inconsistency at the back of the rotation, i think that's why you see stretches of winning and stretches of losing. more so than the flip the switch element, although i do think that's at play.

if they are able to add another superstar or plug 1-2 of those soft spots before the trade deadline, i think that will help cure the inconsistency more than focus. if they do that, that's when they go from one of the two best teams in the AL to really scary/runaway from the field. hopefully that does not happen.

- pf

Anonymous said...


Since the 2-10 start the Sox are 53-25. Not a small sample size, and it's a 109 win pace. Now I don't think they'll win 100 games. And I'm 50/50 that they'll win the division. But it does show, as you pointed out, that they can be an absolutely dominant team.

But I'm not sure that's the losses they've had are a result of a lack of focus or effort. Those first twelve games? Maybe the focus was lacking then. They may have taken their talent for granted and thought they could just show up and win. Or, maybe they just didn't play well. That said, as Pat has mentioned on more than one occasion, baseball is a very, very long season. It's hard to be awesome every single day. In football a team can win 85/90% of their games. It happens almost every year. In basketball the best teams often win 75/80% of the games they play. It just doesn't work like that in baseball. If a team won 80% of their games, they'd win 130 games. A great, great baseball team may win 98 games and that's less than a 61% win percentage, which is the equivalent of winning fifty games in an NBA season, something that NINE NBA teams did this year. I don't think we're going to see nine 98 win teams in baseball anytime soon.

I've been as critical of this team and it's management over the years as anybody else, but they're playing great baseball, they're going to win a ton of games this year, and the hope is that once the playoffs roll around they play their absolute best.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

I think the Gunn's last statement is the most relevant. Can they make the playoffs and get hot once they get there?

That's ultimately what matters here. Ideally, if they "play when the want to play" then they show up and play well in the playoffs and make a run. As long as they have a shot to do that I don't care how their wins come to during the season.

The danger is if they get bored in late July/August (or get injured) and piss away a chance at the playoffs. As long as that doesn't happen I don't care.

the gm at work said...

I'll try to go argument by argument here:

1. Pat - the right field position, let's just say that's a place where the guy being paid to play there is one who can turn it on and off. This guy has not turned it on in over a full calendar year. In the last 365 days (thank you, he is hitting .230. He's on-basing .324! This guy doesn't even care about walking anymore!
2. Your points about shortstop, relief pitching, and the back end of the rotation are fair. The catcher position has been more than adequate and, in fact, probably a topic for a future blog post this week. But there are pitchers in this rotation who have absolutely seemed like guys who have turned it off (rainy Wednesday afternoon against San Diego, Monday night against Tampa) when they didn't want to play baseball. That illustrates my point. And yes, if Lackey decides that life is worth living, he can help this team become "the best team my a mile." The almost-decade in Anaheim is not a fluke here.
3. Gunn - the ups and downs happen in a baseball season, we know. That's part of the law of averages. And I'm glad you and Bandi brought up the basketball part of this whole thing. I think I cited the Celtics specifically when talking about how plenty of basketball teams can "play when they wanna play" and make it to the playoffs. But despite Bud Selig's best efforts, in 2011 baseball is not yet basketball with the regular season being so meaningless that it's a glorified seeding process. You need to get one of two playoff spots in the East, basically. With Tampa not going away again, they can't just coast to that.