The Red Sox Offense Has Been Better Than the 1927 Yankees

The Boston Red Sox played the first game of a series versus the Houston Astros last night, and they scored 11 runs, eight of which came against Houston starter Dallas Keuchel. The day before that, they played the Oakland A’s, and they scored 13 runs. The two days prior to that — also against the A’s — they scored 13 and 14 runs, respectively, with one of those games coming against Oakland starter Sonny Gray. In the span of four days, Boston torched last year’s Cy Young Award-winner and the third place runner-up for a combined 15 earned runs. Pitching in the major leagues tends to be a matter of razor-thin margins, and that margin is made even more razor-thin in the pitcher-unfriendly confines of Fenway Park; regardless of that fact, the Red Sox offense is currently in the equivalent of a brightly-colored baseball fever dream, going berserk on anything and everything in its path.

We’ve seen a couple articles about this offense in the past few days. The sheer number of offensive categories they currently lead in baseball is wildly impressive. We’re going to dig a little deeper today, however, and get a little historical perspective before trying to pin down the processes this offense has taken to cause such an incredible run of form.

First, let’s take a look at where this offense would rank if it finished the season with this type of production. Let’s compare the 2016 Red Sox to every team since the start of the live ball era (1920) by wRC+. wRC+ is adjusted for parks and leagues, so it allows us to easily compare offenses from different years to one another. Take a look at the top 10 teams of all time by wRC+ — with each point above 100 representing a percentage point above league average:


I added the 2016 Braves at the end, as they have been the all-time worst offensive team, but we can see the magnitude of the Red Sox’ achievement through the first two weeks of May. The 1927 Yankees were the lineup most commonly referred to as “Murderer’s Row,” and it featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at the height of their powers (25.5 combined WAR), sitting among ballplayers like Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, and Bob Meusel — all of whom had 4+ win seasons. The traditional statistics associated with that team are mind-boggling: four players with over 100 RBI, with Ruth and Gehrig chipping in 339 just between them while smacking 107 combined home runs. That team won 110 games, and if anyone has ever wondered what it was like to watch a lineup that produced like those Yankees, well, you’re currently getting that chance.

That makes the 2016 Red Sox all the more impressive, mostly because it gives us perspective. This Sox team is almost unimaginably hot, but there’s no one claiming they (or anyone, really) could keep up this level of production. Even with batted-ball propensities that could lead to an elevated rate, the Sox’ team Batting Average on Balls in Play is .346, 18 points higher than the next-best 2016 team (Pirates), and 14 points higher than any other team since 1920 has carried over an entire season. They’ve slugged .579 with runners on base, including a league-leading Home Run/Fly Ball rate of 18.1% in those situations. Those averages are going to come down simply by virtue of the fact that they almost certainly must come down. To do what the Red Sox have done for over a month of baseball is remarkable; to do it over an entire season is god-like, which is the reason the 1927 Yankeees are as revered as they are.

It’s hard not to focus on the concrete reasons the Red Sox have done so well in the early going, though. They’ve shown almost no platoon split, hitting righties and lefties at almost the exact same clip (129 vs. 127 wRC+, respectively). And, so far, they’ve also shown a remarkable blend of contact and power: they have the fourth-best swinging strike and overall contact rates in baseball, and unlike the rest of the contact-heavy teams, they haven’t sacrificed power to do it — they are also fourth in baseball in Isolated Power (.190). That’s a rare combination of abilities, as contact rate and power are strongly inversely correlated. Whether they can keep that up remains to be seen, but decreasing strikeouts while maintaining elite extra base hit output is never a bad thing.

The biggest strength thus far, however, has been the relative lack of any weakness in the lineup. Take a look at the offensive ranks of Red Sox players by position, along with their wRC+:

Red Sox Positional Ranks by wRC+, 2016
Position wRC+ Rank
C 59 22nd
1B 126 9th
2B 135 6th
SS 138 3rd
3B 147 3rd
RF 93 23rd
CF 168 2nd
LF 108 10th
DH* 188 1st
*Out of 15 American League teams

The only true weak spots have been catcher and right field, the latter of which features Mookie Betts, who is a safe bet to perform above-average offensively for the rest of the season. Catcher will probably remain in a hole in the lineup, but the top 10 ranks of every other position (most of which are ~30% better than league average) speak to the depth of the team. Yes, David Ortiz has been a man possessed this season, but everyone with the exception of two have been absolutely raking.

The Sox probably won’t hit like this for very much longer, which is the reason why we’re here, reflecting on the colossal nature of the lineup’s current clout. It’s almost folly to put anyone in the company of the 1927 Yankees, but here the 2016 Red Sox are, having performed better than that godly lineup through the first 6-7 weeks of the season. Even when they do inevitably cool off, we can look back and remember: that’s what it must have been like to watch one of the greatest teams of all time play. The difference between that team and the current Red Sox? The ’27 Yankees did it for an entire season. Now all the Red Sox have to do is hit this well for the next five months.

Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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free-range turducken
7 years ago

OOOOH BOY are you guys asking for it!!!

7 years ago

Can’t win with the “herp derp Fengraphs” crowd. If Owen said they’ll improve then “herp derp Fengraphs”. If he says their peripherals are unsustainable and they’ll regress (as should be obvious, and as he actually does) then “herp derp Fengraphs”.

Jacob DaBomb
7 years ago
Reply to  slm12345