Why The Red Sox Will Win The World Series
After two thrilling League Championship Series in which the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals successfully defended their regular season crowns, the two squads will meet in this year’s Fall Classic. This is the first time that the regular season champs of each league met in the World Series since 1999, when the Yankees swept the Braves. This year’s matchup is also a rematch of the 2004 World Series, where the Red Sox swept the Cardinals to finally break the curse of the Bambino.
Does this mean that the Red Sox are bound to sweep? If you’re a believer in the baseball gods then a sweep might be a good prediction, but at numberFire we are concerned with what the numbers say. So let’s take a look at the numbers in a position by position approach and find out who has the edge in the World Series.
Game One: Adam Wainwright vs. Jon Lester
Game Two: Michael Wacha vs. Clay Buchholz
Game Three: Joe Kelly vs. John Lackey
Game Four: Lance Lynn vs. Jake Peavy
Game Five: Wainwright vs Lester (if nec.)
Game Six: Wacha vs. Buchholz (if nec.)
Game Seven: Kelly vs. Lackey (if nec.)
Clinching the NLCS in Game Six was crucial for the Cardinals, as it allowed them to reset their rotation and send ace Adam Wainwright to the mound in Game One. Wainwright is the third-best starting pitcher in the National League in my opinion, behind only Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw. He was injured during the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series Championship run but has been the clear ace of the Redbirds’ staff this season, especially due to Chris Carpenter’s injury. A 22.7% K rate, 3.7% BB rate, and 0.56 HR rate coupled with a 2.94 ERA, 2.55 FIP and 3.01 SIERA prove that Wainwright is truly elite and should be counted on to shut down the Sox in Game One and Game Five.
Jon Lester had an up-and-down season, but has gotten stronger in the second half and into the playoffs thus far. He had a respectable first two months of the season, but followed them with a disastrous June in which he posted a 7.62 ERA. Every ensuing month, however, Lester’s ERA improved: 3.13 in July, 2.97 in August, 2.57 in September, and 2.33 thus far in the postseason, though his advanced stats suggest he has been the beneficiary of good fortune in October.
Game Two will feature NLCS MVP Michael Wacha opposing the Sox Clay Buchholz. The rookie Wacha was featured on college baseball’s biggest stage in Omaha last season with Texas A&M, but now finds himself on Major League Baseball’s biggest stage as the Cardinals’ number two starter. Wacha was effective during the regular season where he split time between the bullpen and the rotation, posting a 2.78 ERA with a 3.42 K/BB rate. In the postseason, however, Wacha has posted numbers that rival October legend Mariano Rivera's success. His lethal fastball/changeup combo has baffled hitters to the tune of a .114 AVG, 12.5% LD rate, and a minuscule 0.43 ERA. His continued success or potential lack thereof will be one of the major storylines of this series.
His counterpart, Clay Buchholz, had an injury-filled campaign but was very successful when he was healthy, highlighted by his 1.74 ERA. This postseason, however, Buchholz has been inconsistent, stringing scoreless innings together at times but also falling victim to the big inning. His ERA stands at 5.40 after three starts, which is interesting considering his K/BB ratio has slightly improved in the postseason. The reason for his struggles instead can be found in his batted ball data, where opponents have raised their AVG from .198 during the regular season to .284 in the postseason. The Sox did win both of his starts during the ALCS but those wins were due to late inning grand slams, not elite pitching performances by Buchholz. Assuming Wacha can stay hot, the Cardinals will hold a pitching advantage in Game Two.
Game Three will feature Joe Kelly of the Cardinals against John Lackey of the Red Sox. At first glance, Kelly seems to be yet another elite arm in the Cardinals never-ending stable of quality young arms, but a closer look at his stats show that much of his success can be considered a fluke. His 2.65 ERA is not supported by any of his advanced metrics, including tERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and WHIP, as each of these statistics show that the skillset Kelly demonstrated this season is in line with a 4.00 ERA at minimum. Such pitchers still have significant value to their clubs (see Edwin Jackson’s 52 million dollar contract), but there is a significant distinction between the two. Not surprisingly, Kelly has posted an ERA north of 4 this postseason, 4.41 to be exact, and we can expect this to continue against the Red Sox elite offense.
The Sox will counter with John Lackey, who enjoyed a productive season after missing all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery. His 3.52 ERA is his best since 2007 with the Angels, and his advanced metrics suggest that a 3.52 is in line with his skillset. Lackey is a postseason veteran, having started a total of 14 games, and his career ERA of 3.10 is very close to this season’s 3.00 postseason mark. His 6.2 scoreless innings in the Sox 1-0 win in Game Three of the ALCS were essential for his club to gain an edge in that series and he will look to do the same against Saint Louis. It is worth noting that the Sox have yet to formally announce their rotation and it is possible that Lackey could start Game Two instead of Buchholz.
Game Four could be the best chance for a high scoring affair as the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn will oppose the Sox Jake Peavy. Lynn is the only carryover from the Cards’ 2011 Championship team, when he was a rookie and threw exclusively out of the bullpen during the postseason. This year, he completed his second full season in the rotation where he as proven to be solid but unspectacular. Unlike Kelly, Lynn’s 3.97 ERA is a bit inflated for the skillset he displayed and had luck not been against him, Lynn likely would have posted an ERA in the mid-3s. Despite this, the playoffs have been a different story for him, where his career 4.81 postseason ERA has not been helped by this season’s 5.40 mark. Lynn’s K’s have been higher in the playoffs, but so are his BB’s and AVG Against, suggesting he may be tired after logging over 200 innings for the first time this season.
He will be opposed by trade deadline import Jake Peavy, who has been a great fit in Boston since his acquisition. Peavy has been slightly above league average since the trade, as suggested by his ERA- and FIP- of 97 and 92, respectively. This postseason, however, he has been quite ineffective, evidenced by his 8.31 ERA in 8.2 innings over 2 starts. Righting the ship and returning to their regular season levels of effectiveness will be the goal of both Game Four starters.
The Cardinals have the advantage in Game One and Game Two, but the Sox have the advantage in Game Three. Game Four is a tossup between two struggling starters and could quickly turn into a battle of the bullpens. Thus the net advantage for starting pitching goes to the Cardinals, though it is slight.
In short, the battle of the bullpens will be a battle of Cardinals’ rookies against Japanese-born Red Sox. Five of the available arms in the Cardinal pen are rookies, including closer Trevor Rosenthal, setup man Carlos Martinez, top lefty Kevin Siegrist, righty Seth Maness, and rookie of the year candidate Shelby Miller, who spent most of the year in the Redbirds’ rotation. Rosenthal and Martinez generate the most publicity among this group since being promoted to their current roles and rightfully so, especially while John Axford is clean shaven. Rosenthal throws his fastball over 87 percent of the time, which is a tremendous pitch averaging 96.4 MPH and reaching triple digits at times, while Martinez has starter’s stuff in addition to a blazing fastball of his own averaging 97.6 MPH.
The Sox pen is led by ALCS MVP Koji Uehara, his sub-90 fastball and phenomenal splitter. Uehara’s K/BB ratio is off the charts at 11.22, and does not have a K/BB ratio in the postseason because he has not walked a batter (13 K’s). Only nine men drew a walk against Uehara this season (as a point of reference, 12 men have walked on the moon), which further demonstrates his brilliance when combined with his 41.9% K rate. In short, Uehara is enjoying a season for the ages and his postseason dominance brings back memories of Yankee legend Mariano Rivera. Righthander Junichi Tazawa and lefty Craig Breslow have been effective this postseason in a setup role, combining to throw 12 innings of one run ball. Rookie righty Brandon Workman has settled into a role as first out of the pen for manager John Farrell, with lefty Franklin Morales also likely seeing action primarily against left handed hitters.
The Sox hold the edge at closer, but the Cardinals hold the edge for the rest of the pen. Tazawa and Breslow have done well for the Sox but the quantity of quality relief arms in the Cardinals’ pen is greater than what the Sox bring to the table. Martinez, Axford, Mujica, and Siegrist are all trustworthy to get big outs in big situations, and will certainly be asked to do so in this series.
To decide who has the better offense, let’s go through the positions using wRC+ and Total Offensive Runs Above Average (Off), which combines Park Adjusted Batting Runs Above Average with Baserunning Runs Above Average, as our metrics. To those who are unfamiliar, wRC+ stands for weighted runs created plus. This sabermetric statistic combines all offensive contributions into one number that is then put on a scale where 100 is average and higher is better. Additionally, this number is adjusted for ballparks and league averages to take away any sort of external advantage players may have.
Park Adjusted Batting Runs Above Average is exactly what it sounds like, each player’s total offensive contribution formulated into runs above (or below) average. Baserunning Runs Above Average is very similar but is only concerned with each player’s value on the basepaths through taking extra bases, stolen bases, and getting caught stealing. These numbers compliment each other well, since wRC+ is a rate stat while Total Offensive Runs Above Average is a counting stat boasted by longevity. The players listed below are the tentative starters for each team, but I have included some key reserves that may see a few starts during the series at the bottom of the list.
|Yadier Molina||134||18.6||Jarrod Saltalamacchia||117||10.1|
|Matt Adams||136||11.9||Mike Napoli||129||17.6|
|Matt Carpenter||147||42.3||Dustin Pedroia||115||13.0|
|Pete Kozma||50||-25.2||Stephen Drew||109||3.8|
|David Freese||106||1.6||Xander Bogaerts||86||-0.4|
|Matt Holliday||148||35.1||Daniel Nava||128||17.6|
|Jon Jay||104||3.7||Jacoby Ellsbury||113||20.5|
|Carlos Beltran||132||22.4||Shane Victorino||119||14.8|
|Allen Craig||135||16.2||David Ortiz||152||30.9|
|Shane Robinson||93||-0.3||Jonny Gomes||109||4.3|
|Daniel Descalso||80||-5.8||Will Middlebrooks||83||-6.9|
It is amazing that only two positions, shortstop for the Cardinals and third base for the Red Sox, feature players that have provided below average offensive value this season. Kozma is a replacement level player (he actually provided 0.0 WAR this season) but Bogaerts one of the top five prospects in all of baseball and will be a good bet to continue his hot hitting and provide positive value during the World Series. If nothing else, his superior batting eye gets people like me excited and is worth watching in awe. Bogaerts took Tigers’ ace Max Scherzer to a full count in all three of his plate appearances in Game Six of the ALCS, which ended in one hit and two walks. The discipline he showed in taking Scherzer’s final pitch of the game, a beautiful 3-2 changeup on the black, still has me amazed. When combined with his tremendous hitting skill of balls thrown in the zone, it’s easy to foresee Bogaerts being a major factor in this series.
The Cardinals’ offense is led by second baseman Matt Carpenter, master of getting on base and hitting doubles, the latter of which he was the best in the league. Left fielder Matt Holliday, right fielder Carlos Beltran, and catcher Yadier Molina have played significant roles as well and should continue to do so against the Sox. First base will be an interesting situation to monitor, especially in Games 3-5 when the DH will not be used. Adams has proven himself to be valuable with the bat hitting fourth in Manager Mike Matheny’s lineup since usual first baseman Allen Craig has been sidelined with a foot injury. Craig is now full strength and will be on the World Series roster, though his defensive ability since the injury remains to be seen. Neither Adams nor Craig are good defenders at first when healthy, but uncertainty about Craig’s foot leads me to believe Adams will start at first while Craig will DH. In Saint Louis, expect Craig to see at least one start in the field with Adams taking a seat, assuming he proves in Boston that his bat is game ready. Craig has not had the opportunity to go on a rehab assignment meaning his first plate appearances since returning will be on baseball’s biggest stage. His contributions will be essential for the Cardinals to match the Red Sox’ high powered 1B/DH combo of Mike Napoli and David Ortiz.
Dustin Pedroia’s power numbers may be down this year, but he still has a great beard and is the heart and soul of the team. His .301/.372/.412 triple slash line shows that he still provides great value in the middle of the lineup and is able to get on base in front of David Ortiz. Ortiz enjoyed a typical Ortiz season, walking almost as much as he struck out, hitting 30 home runs and not needing to own a baseball glove. This series, however, Ortiz might have to make a trip to his local sporting goods store and pick up a new first baseman’s mitt since John Farrell is planning on playing him there in Saint Louis. If for nothing else, be sure to tune into Games 3-5 just to see Ortiz try to play the field.
Mike Napoli will likely be relegated to a pinch hitter role, although its worth noting that he does have catching experience if Farrell really wanted to get all of his big sticks into the lineup. I doubt this will happen, however, since the Cardinals are projected to throw righthanders Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, and Adam Wainwright and starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a left handed hitter. The first two hitters in the Sox lineup, Ellsbury and Victorino, provide good speed and batting average, but their low walk rates keep each player’s OBP hovering around .350.
One way to find out which offense provided more value is through simple runs per game, a number in which both teams led their respective league. The Sox scored 5.27 runs per game and Cardinals scored 4.83, but we must factor in the disadvantage of the Cardinals having to use National League rules. The easiest way to do this is to compare the team total to the league averages, which is 4.33 in the AL and 4.00 in the NL. This means that the Sox league leading offense scored runs at a 21.7% better rate than league average, while the Cardinals scored runs 20.7% more often than their NL counterparts. These numbers are very close, so lets try a different method to decide which team has the superior hitters.
We can calculate a team's wRC+ for the players projected to be significant contributors this series by combining each player's plate appearances with their individual wRC+. In this scenario, we will set the average for wRC+ at 0 instead of 100, and multiply that number by each players total PA's this season. I repeated this process for each hitter on the chart, summed them together and then divided by total PA's. By this method, we are able to find the net wRC+ for only the specified players (i.e. Jose Iglesias is not included in the data) and scale each player's contribution to the total relative to their significance in the form of receiving plate appearances. The results of this calculation show that the Cardinals exceed the Sox' total, 21.167 to 18.807.
Much of the reason for this is that the Cardinals wisely gave their best hitters the majority of the plate appearances, led by Matt Carpenter's 147 wRC+ in 717 PA's. They did give Jon Jay, a merely average hitter, 628 plate appearances, but plate appearances are also earned by staying healthy, something that Carpenter and Jay were able to do this season. Contrarily, the first two hitters in the Red Sox lineup, Ellsbury and Victorino, posted a wRC+ of 113 and 119, respectively, which was not close to being the highest on the team. Increased plate appearances from David Ortiz, Daniel Nava, and Mike Napoli would have increased the Sox' run expectancy, assuming the trio would maintain their value in the extra PA's.
While it may seem that this number proves that the Cardinals are the superior offensive team, out of curiosity I recalculated the wRC+ for these offenses using Mike Carp instead of WIll Middlebrooks as one of the two relevant Red Sox reserves. This substitution may seem insignificant, but it raises the Red Sox team wRC+ from 18.807 to 22.302, a higher number than the Cardinals' team total. This tells us that these offenses are very similar and to make a blanket statement about one offense being superior to the other would be shortsighted and not accurate.
To measure defense we will use Fielding Runs Above Average, which is based on each player’s UZR, or Ultimate Zone Rating. Instead of measuring players on fielding percentage of balls which they have a chance to field, advanced metrics such as UZR consider a fielder’s ability to make a play on a ball that others at his position may not get to.
|Yadier Molina||7.7||Jarrod Saltalamacchia||-1.2|
|Matt Adams||-0.5||Mike Napoli||9.7|
|Matt Carpenter||-0.9||Dustin Pedroia||10.9|
|Pete Kozma||6.0||Stephen Drew||5.3|
|David Freese||-16.5||Xander Bogaerts||-0.2|
|Matt Holliday||-5.1||Daniel Nava||-12.2|
|Jon Jay||-7.3||Jacoby Ellsbury||10.0|
|Carlos Beltran||-15.3||Shane Victorino||24.0|
|Allen Craig||-0.5||David Ortiz||-1.2|
|Shane Robinson||4.0||Jonny Gomes||-2.7|
|Daniel Descalso||-10.0||Will Middlebrooks||-3.7|
These numbers tell us two things very clearly. First, the Cardinals are a really bad defensive team, below average at every position but Catcher and Shortstop. Second, Shane Victorino is a really good outfielder. Other takeaways from the fielding data include Napoli being surprisingly effective at first and Freese being surprisingly poor at the hot corner. Ortiz’s relatively respectable -1.2 is only respectable due to his extremely limited playing time at first, a mere 39 innings over six games. Though his innings are low, Ortiz has not made an error since 2009, recording a grand total of four assists since that time. I also find it interesting that Holliday is better at left field than Jay is at center field, since Holliday is routinely scrutinized for his poor defensive play. Jay’s poor defensive play was on display during the NLCS, which was likely part of the reason he was benched in favor of Shane Robinson.
Advantage: Red Sox
Odds and Predictions
The oddsmakers are able to overlook a slight disadvantage in starting pitching to make the Red Sox favorites to win the World Series at 57.24%. Home field advantage also plays a significant role, especially in a somewhat oddly shaped park such as Fenway where the Cardinals’ outfielders may struggle to immediately adjust to the unfamiliar environment. If the Cardinals win, they will need their rotation to carry them and not be victimized by their inferior defenders. A six-game victory for the Sox is the most likely scenario at 17.98%, with a Game Seven win (16.67%) and a Game Five win (14.63%) being the second and third most likely outcomes, respectively.
If the Cardinals can pull off the upset, the odds say that they will need all seven games to do so. The odds for a Cards clincher in a do or die Game Seven are 13.96, with their second most likely victory scenario a six game series win, at 13.1%. Will the Red Sox repeat history and sweep or will the Cardinals reverse their fortune and repay the Sox for their 2004 drubbing? The odds do not support either scenario but it is much more likely that the Sox continue their postseason dominance over the Redbirds this century. The odds for a Sox sweep are 7.96% while the Cardinals have a 5.03% chance of returning the favor. No matter what the outcome is, this series should be a fun one to watch. But in all seriousness and putting the Black Sox scandal aside, has there ever been a World Series that was not fun?