The Red Sox Are Basically Last Year’s Blue Jays

Last year’s Blue Jays didn’t win the World Series. They probably could’ve, though — they were absolutely good enough. They certainly gave the Royals fits. And the Blue Jays appealed to me in particular because I’m a little bit of a contrarian, and the Blue Jays could hit the crap out of the ball. Every October, we hear about the importance of pitching. And, you know, the Blue Jays had pitching. But what the Blue Jays really had was hitting. I liked them because they were an offensive juggernaut, and even in the playoffs they showed flashes of that ability.

The Blue Jays this year aren’t all that different. Much of the personnel is the same. But if we’re looking for a comparison to last year’s Jays, the closest comp isn’t this year’s Jays. Rather, it’s this year’s Red Sox. Like hitting? Like trying to argue ever so slightly against narratives? The Red Sox’s lineup is about as productive, and it stands to be the team’s strength as it tries to win another title.

Last summer I read an article by Tony Blengino arguing that the Jays’ offense was historically fantastic, based on how much better it was than the average. I’m going to follow a similar route, using a different statistic. What I’ve chosen to focus on is our Offense metric, which combines batting value and baserunning value. That shouldn’t be controversial. The next step in the calculation was figuring out z-scores, reflecting number of standard deviations from the league average. For simplicity, I’ve examined only the 30-team major leagues, stretching back to 1998. Here’s a table of the top 10 team offenses:

Top Offenses Since 1998
Team Season Offense Z-Score
Blue Jays 2015 2.7
Red Sox 2016 2.6
Yankees 2007 2.5
Yankees 2006 2.4
Yankees 2009 2.3
Red Sox 2003 2.2
Pirates 2014 2.1
Yankees 2005 2.1
Mariners 2001 2.1
Dodgers 2014 2.1

Last year, the Jays were 2.7 standard deviations better than the average offense, excluding pitchers to try to balance the leagues. That, as you can see, is the highest mark in the sample, but right after the Jays you get this year’s Red Sox, at 2.6. If you’re a huge fan of needless precision, then we have numbers of 2.67 and 2.58. You could say the Jays were still better, but that margin isn’t really worth anything. As exceptional as those Jays were, these Sox are no different.

The Jays did walk a little more often than the Red Sox have. And where the Jays ranked first in isolated power, the Red Sox rank fifth. But where the Jays were seventh-best in strikeout rate, the Red Sox are third. And the Red Sox have the superior BABIP, thanks in part to hitting fewer pop-ups. If you step back, away from the details, you’re talking about two disciplined lineups with the ability to make contact and hit for power. For good measure, there’s even net positive baserunning. Power can win games in the regular season; contact is a bit more of a priority in the playoffs. Both teams have had each.

With the Jays, of course, the difficulty was navigating through Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion, all of whom slugged without striking out too much. David Ortiz slugs without striking out. Mookie Betts slugs without striking out. Hanley Ramirez slugs without striking out too much; Dustin Pedroia doesn’t slug, but he also doesn’t whiff. In general, the parallels are there, even if Betts doesn’t feel as intimidating as one of the Blue Jays anchors. The results speak for themselves.

It’s funny — it’s just about impossible to make the Red Sox look even average, by any split. Overall, they’ve hit the best. They’re best against righties, and fourth against lefties. They were best in the first half, and they’ve been third in the second half. They’re first at home, and third on the road. They’re best when ahead in the count, and second when behind. They’re third with the bases empty, and best with runners on. They’re best against starters, and second against relievers. They’re best against finesse pitchers, and best against power pitchers. They’re best against ground-ball pitchers, and second against fly-ball pitchers. They’re third against fastballs, and best against non-fastballs. The Red Sox offense does everything against everybody. It’s not completely in another universe, but outside of a player or three, there’s no weakness to be found. It’s as frightening as a lineup can get.

Just offensively speaking, then, the Red Sox match up as well as you could imagine with last year’s Blue Jays. But even on the pitching side, the parallels are apparent. David Price is David Price — the two teams have had him in common. Rick Porcello stands in for Marco Estrada. The somewhat questionable Drew Pomeranz stands in for the somewhat questionable Marcus Stroman. Eduardo Rodriguez, I guess, passes for the R.A. Dickey stand-in. The rotation wasn’t the strength of the Blue Jays, but it was competent, and perfectly useful toward the front. The Red Sox can feel good about at least the top two.

And though last year’s Blue Jays had some early bullpen issues, by year’s end it had been greatly solidified. The Red Sox bullpen has chopped most of a run off its first-half ERA. Brad Ziegler has been a critical get, and he doesn’t profile too dissimilar from what Aaron Sanchez was. Koji Uehara has looked good since his return. Craig Kimbrel has shaken off his command problems and inconsistent mechanics. When the Blue Jays got into the playoffs, their bullpen was almost completely overlooked. No one’s going to overlook Kimbrel, but the Red Sox’s unit has turned into something strong and deep. They just don’t offer much of a let-up, at this point.

I guess I don’t have a banger of a conclusion — again, like most teams, last year’s Blue Jays fell short of winning the championship. This year’s Red Sox are also more likely to lose than to win. That’s what happens when you pick one out of 30. But if you liked how the Blue Jays played, the Red Sox now are almost the same damned product. And they stand to challenge the belief that pitching is what gets you to glory. The Red Sox do have pitching, sure. It’s even pretty good. But it’s the offense that sets them apart. Few teams in memory have looked quite so potent.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Anon21
Member
Anon21

They were best in the first half, and they’ve been best in the second half.

Jeff, I know you know this isn’t right, because it was your tweet of like an hour ago that led me to this stunning revelation. Highest wRC+ among non-pitchers, second half: the Atlanta Braves, at 113. Highest Offense value among non-pitchers, second half: the Atlanta Braves, at 34.3.

Baseball!

ChippersJonesing
Member
ChippersJonesing

Ha, the Braves are so weird. They’ve also turned me into a cynic, so now I think I should just write off all that improvement to baseball being baseball, but I don’t want to do that.

Damn you Braves.

Anon21
Member
Anon21

I will assume it’s baseball being baseball for a while yet.