I was across the street from Fenway Park the other day, enjoying lunch at Tasty Burger, one of Boston’s hippest and best burger joints. Afterwards, I took a stroll around Fenway’s exterior, where all of the Red Sox championship banners hang along the side of the ballpark.
Although I’m a Bostonian and I enjoy attending games at Fenway, I don’t call myself a Red Sox fan. I called it quits back when they jettisoned Manny. I was really hoping that in eighty years, sports fans would look back on the 2008 trade deadline as the beginning of “The Curse of the Manny.” But that would not happen.
Nonetheless, I still have fond memories cheering on the Sox. The first major sporting event I ever attended was the famed Pedro Martinez-Roger Clemens duel in Game 3 of the ’03 ALCS. You might remember that game as the one where Martinez hurled Don Zimmer to the ground in one of the two brawls of the night. God I miss when baseball was like that.
I never forget walking down those zig-zagging ramps during Game 3 of the ’04 ALCS. The Red Sox were getting drilled by the Yankees so bad that my dad and I were leaving before the 7th inning ended. Yet a week later we were walking down those same ramps after Keith Foulke sealed the final out of Game 1 of the World Series. Sports can be funny sometimes.
But my favorite Red Sox memory by far came in 2007. The Los Angeles Angels, attempting to avoid an 0-2 hole in the ALDS, decided to intentionally walk David Ortiz in the bottom of the 9th inning. With K-Rod on the mound, they figured they would pitch to Manny Ramirez. Wrong answer.
I enjoyed reflecting on these memories as I finished my loop around Fenway. But there’s one other thing that I couldn’t stop thinking about: which of the recent Red Sox championship teams was the best?
I think the immediate answer is the 2004 team. After all, they stole the hearts of New England when they rallied from an 0-3 deficit to beat the Yankees and broke the 86-year curse. They had powerful bats (Manny, Big Papi) and powerful arms (Schilling, Martinez). And they had an unforgettable supporting cast of guys like Orlando Cabrera, Derek Lowe, Doug Mientkiewicz (did I spell that right?), and Dave Roberts.
But what about the ’07 team? Go back and watch some highlights of Josh Beckett from that year and tell me if he didn’t have the best single season from a Red Sox pitcher since Pedro in the early 2000’s. Plus, Boston had that right mix of youth (rookie of the year Dustin Pedroia plus Jacoby Ellsbury) and experience (Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling) that made them one of the more dominant championship teams of the 2000’s.
And then there is the 2013 Band of Bearded Brothers. On paper, their roster might not stack up to the ’04 or ’07 teams. Yet they weren’t in a 3-0 or 3-1 hole like those teams were; point being- the ’13 team was the best team in baseball from beginning to end and there was never a point in time when their backs were against the wall.
But I’m going to need to dig deeper to determine whether the ’04, ’07, or ’13 Red Sox was the best, so let’s get to it.
What Do the Numbers Say?
The numbers say…that it is too close to call which team was best in the regular season.
Take a look at these records and run differentials:
’13 Red Sox: 97-65 +197, .530 Relative Power (1st), .507 SOS (5th)
’07 Red Sox: 96-66 +210, .526 Relative Power (1st), .504 SOS (8th)
’04 Red Sox: 98-64 +180, .530 Relative Power (2nd), .505 SOS (7th)
The 2007 Red Sox had the best run differential, but the lowest relative power among the three teams. The ’04 Red Sox had the best win-loss record, but the lowest run differential. These numbers are so even that is wouldn’t be smart to say one team was better in the regular season because it would be too easy to argue against. Since these three teams were all tremendous, it will be up to other measures to determine who was best.
The numbers say… that the 2013 Red Sox, surprisingly, had a more dangerous lineup than the ’07 and ’04 juggernauts.
I was surprised to come to this conclusion. The ’13 Red Sox had the highest WAR and highest Weighted Runs Created out of the three teams. In terms of WAR, the ’13 Red Sox posted a figure of 36.0, higher than the ’07 team (29.7) and much higher than the ’04 team (24.7) that featured Ortiz and Ramirez in, arguably, the prime of their careers.
What made the ’13 Red Sox the best hitting team of the bunch? Mainly, it was their depth. The ’13 Red Sox lineup boasted eight regular players with offensive run totals above 10, according to Fangraphs. In contrast, the ’07 Sox only had five players with offensive run totals above 10 while the ’04 team had six such players. While the ’04 and ’07 Red Sox teams benefitted from top heavy lineups that included superstar seasons from the likes of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the ’13 Red Sox flourished because they were more balanced from top to bottom, making it the best Red Sox lineup out of the championship teams.
The numbers say… that the 2007 Red Sox had the best fielding team, while the 2004 squad had the worst.
The ’07 team had a higher WAR (22.1) than the ’13 team (16.2), making it the best defensive club of the title teams. However, after analyzing the numbers a little deeper, I could make the argument that the ’13 Red Sox team was stronger defensively in more positions. The ’07 Red Sox benefitted from a sensational defensive season from CF Coco Crisp, but were ordinary defensively in every other position. The ’13 Red Sox, on the other hand, featured five players who had higher defensive runs saved than Jason Varitek in ’07, who had the second highest defensive runs saved on the Red Sox that year. So even the though the final number says the ’07 team was stronger defensively, the ’13 Red Sox were deeper defensively, just like they were deeper at the dish as well.
You might be wondering where the ’04 team figures into the fielding discussion. I never realized how bad that team was in the field, posting the league’s 2nd worst defensive WAR- a putrid -59.9- bettering only the Yankees. That Red Sox team had five starters post negative defensive runs saved. In order from worse to worser, those starters were Bill Mueller, Mark Bellhorn, Kevin Millar, Johnny Damon, and the Ozzie Smith of left field, Manny Ramirez. No wonder why the Red Sox upgraded defensively at the trade deadline that year because they would’ve had a sixth name on that list in Nomar Garciaparra. Even so, did you know that the ’04 Red Sox set a World Series record by making eight errors in the first two games? It’s a good thing that World Series was played back in 2004 because with the way baseball is played these days, that Red Sox team wouldn’t have had a chance to win after making that many mistakes.
The numbers say… the ’04 pitching staff was the best.
So that’s why the ’04 Red Sox managed to overcome such bad defense. The Red Sox had the 3rd best WAR (20.7) and FIP that year, including the second best starting pitcher WAR. Compared to the other championship teams, the ’04 Sox trumps both of them. The ’13 Red Sox ranked 14th in WAR at 16.1; although they did post a higher FIP (3.84) than the ’04 team, that disparity has a lot to due with the fact the ’04 Red Sox were pitching against hitters in the steroid era. The ’07 team had a very respectable WAR of 18.4, good for 7th in the league that year. But while the ’07 team was carried by one ace, Josh Beckett, the ’04 team packed two future hall of famers in Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez.
In terms of bullpen strength, the ’13 Red Sox takes the top crown. This is thanks to Koji Uehara, who posted the better WAR’s than both Jonathan Papelbon in ’07 and Keith Foulke in ’04. The ’13 bullpen was also very deep, featuring elite set-up men Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, and Craig Breslow.
The numbers say… that the ’13 Red Sox had the most impressive postseason run, even though they didn’t sweep a single series.
While the ’04 and ’07 Red Sox both went 11-3 in the postseason and made memorable comebacks from 3-0 and 3-1 in their respective ALCS’s, the ’13 Red Sox had the most impressive postseason run. The main reason their run was the most impressive was because they had the toughest road of the three teams. The average run differential of each opponent they faced was +138, higher than the average opponent the ’07 team faced (+103) and a tad higher than the ’04 team’s average opponent (+129). The ’13 Sox were able to defeat two heavyweights on their run to the title. In the ALCS, the Red Sox snuck by Detroit, who won 93 games, had a +172 run differential, and featured a terrific pitching staff led by Cy-Young winners Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. In the World Series, the Red Sox overpowered a terrific St. Louis team that was second in baseball that year with a +187 run differential. That ’13 Cardinals team was the second toughest opponent any of the championship Red Sox teams of the 2000’s had to face behind the ’04 Cardinals (the ’13 Tigers were the third toughest).
In terms of run differential, the ’13 Red Sox finished at +28, which was second to the ’07 team’s +53 mark. However, what makes the ’13 team’s postseason run more impressive than the ’07 team was the quality of the opponents. The ’07 team didn’t have an easy run to the title, but beating a Cleveland team that lacked a good pitcher after C.C. Sabathia and a Colorado team that barely managed to make the postseason isn’t nearly as impressive as what the ’13 team did.
You’re probably wondering how I am not arguing that the ’04 team, which completed a historic comeback against the Yankees and then a shocking World Series sweep of one of the best regular season teams in recent memory, had the most impressive postseason run. Well, the ’04 team certainly had an impressive run, but I would argue that it was much more memorable than the ’13 team. Sure, the ’04 team’s sweep of the 105-win Cardinals is a major argument in favor of the ’04 team’s postseason run. But the ’04 team did not have to go through two outstanding teams to win the World Series like the ’13 team did because the Yankees that year were overrated. The ’13 Tigers run differential was close to 100 runs higher than the ’04 Yankees even though New York won 101 games. Plus, the ’13 team had a higher run differential than the ’04 team even with a slightly tougher slate.
Imagining a Seven Game Series Between Each of the Three Teams
I could use numbers to tell the whole story, but as you can see, the numbers are so close that I will need to hypothesize which team would win in a seven game series.
2004 Red Sox vs 2007 Red Sox
Projected Pitching Match-ups:
Game 1: Curt Schilling vs Josh Beckett
Game 2: Pedro Martinez vs Curt Schilling
Game 3: Derek Lowe vs Daisuke Matsuzaka
Game 4: Tim Wakefield vs Jon Lester
Game 5: Curt Schilling vs Josh Beckett
Game 6: Pedro Martinez vs Curt Schilling
Game 7: Derek Lowe vs Daisuke Matsuzaka
Why the ’04 Team Would Win: The combination of Curt Schilling (assuming he’s healthy) and Pedro Martinez pitching back to back games is deadly. The Red Sox lineup is dangerous at the top and could tee of on an aging Schilling, an erratic Daisuke, and an inexperienced Lester. The ’04 Team has more “big guns” (Ortiz, Ramirez, Schilling, Martinez, Damon) than the ’07 team. The ’04 team has more mojo.
Why the ’07 Team Would Win: They had much better fielding than the ’04 team and they could make up for slightly weaker pitching with their defense. Their offense was better than people gave them credit for and certainly deeper than the ’04 lineup. Josh Beckett was as good in ’07 as Schilling was in ’04, maybe better.
Verdict: ’04 Red Sox in Seven.
2004 Red Sox vs 2013 Red Sox
Projected Pitching Match-ups:
Game 1: Curt Schilling vs Jon Lester
Game 2: Pedro Martinez vs Clay Buchholz
Game 3: Derek Lowe vs John Lackey
Game 4: Tim Wakefield vs Jake Peavy
Game 5: Curt Schilling vs Jon Lester
Game 6: Pedro Martinez vs Clay Buchholz
Game 7: Derek Lowe vs John Lackey
Why the ’04 Team Would Win: They have better starting pitching. The ’13 team’s starters would have trouble pitching around Ortiz and Ramirez.
Why the ’13 Team Would Win: They have better relief pitching. Their lineup is good enough to expose the ’04 team’s defensive weaknesses and their quality starting pitching. They have better defense. The ’13 team had as much mojo as the ’04 team.
Verdict: ’13 Red Sox in Six
2007 Red Sox vs 2013 Red Sox
Projected Pitching Matchups:
Game 1: Josh Beckett vs Jon Lester
Game 2: Curt Schilling vs Clay Buchholz
Game 3: Daisuke Matsuzaka vs John Lackey
Game 4: Jon Lester vs Jake Peavy
Game 5: Josh Beckett vs Jon Lester
Game 6: Curt Schilling vs Clay Buchholz
Game 7: Daisuke Matsuzaka vs John Lackey
Why the ’07 Team Would Win: The ’07 team can hit the ’13 team’s starting pitching. The ’07 team had strong fielding. Josh Beckett is the best pitcher in this series.
Why the ’13 Team Would Win: Stronger bullpen. The ’13 team has a very good defense to neutralize the ’07 lineup. The ’13 team could definitely hit every starter for the ’07 team, including Beckett.
Verdict: ’13 Red Sox in Six
The ’13 Red Sox were the best of the recent Red Sox championship teams. In a narrow decision, I think the ’13 Red Sox, both statistically and hypothetically, were better than the ’04 and ’07 teams. As I said at the beginning of the article, my expectation and I think the expectation of many was that the ’04 team was the best. Even though the ’04 lineup had the best starting pitching and the ’07 team were stout in all three aspects of the game, the statistics don’t lie. The ’13 team not only had the toughest lineup, but they had the most balanced fielding team and an outstanding bullpen to overcome an average starting rotation. They also had a slightly more impressive postseason run based on the quality of opponents they defeated. For those reasons, I think that is what gives them the slight edge over the ’04 and ’07 squads.