Boston Red Sox got very lucky during last year’s World Series run


(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Boston Red Sox were projected to win 83 games last season and finish second in the American League East but instead finished 97-65 and won the World Series. This season, things aren’t going as well.

But no franchise in baseball history has ever gone from last to winning a World Series to last again in a three-year span. So the Red Sox find themselves in this odd spot, with glory in their immediate past, unexpected misery in their present – and hope running out there onto the Fenway Park diamond for the rest of the summer in the form of players in their early 20s.

Barry Svrluga does a good job in that piece listing “the individual culprits” that are part of why Boston finds itself where it does, but he left just how lucky Boston was last season in terms of batting average on balls in play, or BABIP.

BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, was originally designed to measure a pitcher’s ability to prevent hits on balls in play. Today it’s widely used to evaluate both pitchers and hitters, and it’s a calculation of a hitter’s batting average — or pitcher’s batting average allowed — on batted balls put into the field of play. That means walks and strikeouts don’t count; those aren’t batted balls. Nor do home runs; those don’t land within the field of play.

The formula: Hits minus home runs, divided by at-bats minus home runs minus strikeouts plus sacrifice flies (H – HR)/(AB – HR – K + SF).

In any given season, the average starting pitcher will have his BABIP determined roughly 75 percent by luck, 13 percent by his team’s defense/park and 12 percent by his own skill. Let that sink in for a minute: two-thirds of putting a ball in play has nothing to do with skill or defense.

Back to Boston. During the 2013 season, they saw a huge jump in BABIP on fly balls (0.159 vs. league average of 0.098) and grounders (0.267 vs. league average of 0.243).

Overall, the Red Sox had a BABIP of 0.329 in 2013, which is the best mark seen in all of baseball over the last 20 years. And not surprisingly, they are seeing that more in line with the league average (0.299) this season.

This isn’t to say Boston didn’t deserve its World Series title last year, just that when you get the lucky breaks you can’t expect to keep a dominant run alive for long.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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