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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Everything Went Right For The 2018 Red Sox. Are The Champs Destined To Regress?

It’s hard to imagine things going more right for the Boston Red Sox than they did last season. Boston jumped out to a scorching 17-2 start, was 38 games over .500 by the All-Star break, posted the most regular-season wins (108) by an MLB team in 17 years, and then steamrolled through the playoffs with an 11-3 postseason record en route to a World Series title. Statistically, it was probably the most impressive performance any major team had in 2018.1

But now the calendar has flipped to 2019, and as spring training warms up for the Sox in Fort Myers, Florida, Boston must focus on defending its crown — and staving off the inevitable regression that comes in the wake of a season as charmed as the one the Red Sox just enjoyed.

As a rule, clubs that win a crazy number of ballgames in one season tend to come back down to earth quickly in the next. Of the 32 teams that cracked the century mark in wins (per 162 games)2 since 1990, 28 had an inferior record the next year,3 and 24 failed to return to the 100-win club. (Thirteen failed to break even 95 wins.) On average, these 32 triple-digit winners declined by 9.6 wins the following season.

A study in regression from the folk at FiveThirtyEight.

QLE Posted: February 21, 2019 at 04:40 AM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: red sox, regression to the mean

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. bbmck Posted: February 21, 2019 at 05:58 AM (#5817002)
there's a little rainbow waiting at the end. You can't see it, but you know it's there. It's there. It has to be there. So you believe. Of course, there's one catch: You might never get there. Every fan's worst fear. All that energy over the years just getting displaced, no release, no satisfaction, nothing. Season after season, no championship ... and then you die. I mean, isn't that what this is all about? Isn't that the nagging fear? That those little moral victories over the years won't make up for that big payoff at the end -- that one moment when everything comes together, when your team keeps winning, when you keep getting the breaks and you just can't lose.

12 titles since 2001 but the Sox might regress.
   2. Starring RMc as Bradley Scotchman Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:52 AM (#5817006)
Whaddya mean everything went right? The Sox lost 57 games last year! Fifty-seven!

Checkmate, atheists!
   3. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: February 21, 2019 at 08:48 AM (#5817016)
If the Sox don't regress that would be glorious. It's incredibly unlikely of course. The Sox other recent World Series season winning seasons had 98, 96 and 97 wins. Those would all be excellent seasons even without the WS win but all of those would represent a double digit decrease in wins.
   4. villageidiom Posted: February 21, 2019 at 09:23 AM (#5817021)
Every now and then a question-asking headline comes along for which the answer is "yes".

That aside...

1. Will they have more regression due to injury this year? Let's see. They were around average in the league in terms of DL time. But they lost their starting 2B for the season; and the other starting batters (other than JDM) each missed at least one DL stint's worth of time. Chris Sale missed a bunch of time; they effectively didn't have a healthy 5th starter in the rotation for most of the season; and Kimbrel sure pitched like someone who wasn't entirely well. While they certainly could be more injured, or have greater impact from injury, in 2019 than they did last year I think it's just as likely they could improve.

2. Will they have more regression due to shifting personnel? The only material changes (as of now) are the replacement of Kimbrel with Colton Brewer, in roster spot if not in role. Arguably they gain a former MVP second baseman, but I'll believe it when I see it. Maybe this costs them a win or two.

3. Will they have regression due to outlier performance? It's certainly possible Betts and JDM slip back a bit, but they're both the real deal, and both seemed to have benefited from having each other around. I think it's more likely we see greater improvement from JBJ and Devers - isn't Devers still only like 14 years old? - than we see lost from Betts and JDM. If there's regression perhaps it will come from Bogaerts who quietly had a fantastic season. In the rotation the only (positive) outlier performance they had was from players who have a career of being positive outliers. So, yeah, it always feels like there should be regression but it's hard to point to a particular spot and say yes, THAT'S where they'll see it.

4. Will they regress because of luck? In terms of how runs translate to wins... Yeah, probably. I can state neither the reason this will be, nor the reason it worked out so well last year.

I know we haven't fired up the CFBPS yet, but I feel like the team will (a) play just about as well as they did last year and (b) that will translate to fewer wins regardless.
   5. Rusty Priske Posted: February 21, 2019 at 10:03 AM (#5817032)
Yes.

Because every team is destined to regress. The only question is 'when?'
   6. SoSH U at work Posted: February 21, 2019 at 10:06 AM (#5817036)
Statistically, it was probably the most impressive performance any major team had in 2018.


Probably?
   7. Nasty Nate Posted: February 21, 2019 at 10:09 AM (#5817038)
Statistically, it was probably the most impressive performance any major team had in 2018.

Probably?
I was going to post something similar, but maybe the awkwardly-phrased "major team" was meant to include other sports and leagues.
   8. SoSH U at work Posted: February 21, 2019 at 10:17 AM (#5817041)
I was going to post something similar, but maybe the awkwardly-phrased "major team" was meant to include other sports and leagues.


I read "major" and filled in "league", the natural thing to do. Considering all sports, I suppose the Warriors had a stronger claim.
   9. Rally Posted: February 21, 2019 at 10:22 AM (#5817044)
More went right for them than any other team in 2018, but there are a few glaring spots where things did not go right:

All star 2B, a tremendous player for over a decade, missed almost the entire season to a knee injury. His replacement had -1.1 WAR.

The 3 catchers were all below replacement, combining for -1.6 WAR and 4.2 wins below average.

The 2nd year 3rd baseman struggled at the plate and on defense, and was exactly replacement level.

Has there ever been a team that won so many games despite replacement level or worse production from 3 positions?
   10. Baldrick Posted: February 21, 2019 at 11:23 AM (#5817063)
Has there ever been a team that won so many games despite replacement level or worse production from 3 positions?

I looked through them and couldn't see any obvious comparisons. The closest might be the 1975 Reds, who gave roughly half of their starts to replacement level pitchers.

But the Red Sox had the 29th or 30th worst production from three different positions. It's kind of bonkers, actually.
   11. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: February 21, 2019 at 11:38 AM (#5817069)
Probably?


The Fangraphs groupthink was that the Yankees and Astros were actually better than the Red Sox last year. FWIW. Of course, they've all been falling all over themselves to praise the Padres since way before the Machado signing, which I'm sure has nothing to do with their friend now being an executive there.
   12. Nasty Nate Posted: February 21, 2019 at 11:40 AM (#5817071)
Has there ever been a team that won so many games despite replacement level or worse production from 3 positions?
They probably were not as extreme in either direction, but I'd guess some of those 90's-00's Braves teams had multiple weak spots.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: February 21, 2019 at 03:40 PM (#5817161)
But the Red Sox weren't particularly impressive on offense in WAR terms -- 6 WAA, certainly solid but not 108-win spectacular. Those crappy players were balanced by 3 players having outstanding seasons and good work from Benintendi, Pearce, Holt. Given Mookie was 9 WAA all on his own, there's no reason to get overly excited about the "non-regression" possibilities of the Sox offense. They suffered badly from those atrocious positions ... and haven't done anything to address them. And c'mon, Mookie could put up 8 WAR and that's 3 lost "wins" right there.

On the pitching side they were 16 WAA and I'll believe that happens again when I see it. They got 113 starts from their top 4 which is excellent and 11 fine starts from Eovaldi. The bullpen went quite deep with the crazy ERA+ and even the AAA brigade had some nice numbers. Then there's the 5 wins of pythag "luck."
   14. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: February 21, 2019 at 04:53 PM (#5817187)
The thing about the Sox is that they remind me of another 108 win team, the 1986 Mets. It's not so much that they had a lot of outlier seasons, no one really had a season that looks completely out of line with their career, it's that they also didn't have any real disasters. You can point to Pedroia but because of the timing of that they were able to go out and acquire Nunez and they already had Holt to cover that up, the Pedroia injury would have been a bigger deal if it happened on Opening Day or something (like Ellsbury in 2010) when it gets tougher to fill a hole.

I think I set the over/under at 97.5 last year and I'd say that's a realistic place to set it for this year too.
   15. Baldrick Posted: February 21, 2019 at 05:04 PM (#5817191)
The thing about the Sox is that they remind me of another 108 win team, the 1986 Mets. It's not so much that they had a lot of outlier seasons, no one really had a season that looks completely out of line with their career, it's that they also didn't have any real disasters.

Yes they did?

As noted above, they got the worst production in all of baseball at two positions and second-worst at a third. Those are disasters. Even the Orioles only had one position where they were the worst, with two where they were second-worst.
   16. Fancy Pants Handle struck out swinging Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:17 PM (#5817210)
I think I set the over/under at 97.5 last year and I'd say that's a realistic place to set it for this year too.

Not far off. Vegas seems to have them 95.5. (Yankees 96.5, Astros 97.5)
   17. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:30 PM (#5817217)
As noted above, they got the worst production in all of baseball at two positions and second-worst at a third. Those are disasters.


I disagree that those are disasters, at least as I'm using the term. I addressed Pedroia and their ability to deal with his loss already. I don't think the performances of Devers or the catchers is really outside of what was expected. To me a disaster is a star having a terrible year or getting injured and missing significant time or an average player coming in well below replacement level. Devers was a 21 year old kid with flaws (and promise) asked to hold down an every day job and the catchers are a couple of good field/no hit guys who fielded well but didn't hit.

There are guys who can be better but I think everyone's performance last year was within some range of expected performance. There was no Carl Crawford in 2011 being about 5 wins worse than expectation and conversely there were no Shane Victorinos being 4-5 wins better than expected.

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