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Comparing the champs

Posted by David D'Onofrio  November 1, 2013 07:00 AM

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By the time Shane Victorino strode toward the batter's box with the bases loaded during the third inning in Game 6 of the World Series, his walk-up song, Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," had become one of the unofficial anthems that served as the soundtrack to the Red Sox' postseason run. It had become a fun Fenway moment: As the right fielder would step in, the song would cut out, and the fans would finish the song.

"Every little thing," they yelled, "gonna be all right."

But by the time Victorino got to third base, after clearing the bases with a double and taking 90 more feet as Jonny Gomes slid safely into the plate, those words had come to be more than a fun moment or a new coming-together feature of the Fenway experience. They'd come to encapsulate the mentality of Red Sox fans in this era.

A decade ago -- and for most of the 86 years before that -- Fenway in that moment would've been filled with fans wondering what was going to go wrong. How they were going to blow it. What brutal error, or dreadful decision, or act of God was going to intervene.

But those days are gone. As Victorino came up in the third, then again when he knocked a run-scoring single in the fourth, the place erupted with a sense that a third title in 10 seasons was coming to Boston. The first two having erased so much of the fretting in these circumstances, there was confidence. There was anticipation.

There was a feeling that, indeed, every little thing gonna be all right.

"I had a lot of confidence," Victorino said, discussing the approach he took throughout his first season in Boston. "The pieces of the puzzle were here. The guys that were added to that puzzle, we were just trying to be complementary players. I didn't come with the mindset that I'm going to be this guy, that guy. All of us, we went with the mindset that we were going to be one team. We're going to go out there, we 're going to have fun.

"And this year we're the world champs."

They're a different breed of world champ than either of the two title winners that preceded them in this century, that's for sure. But what's less certain -- and will likely be a subject of debate over the hot stove this winter -- is how the three championship clubs compare to each other, and, ultimately, which is the best team of the bunch.

In some ways it's an unanswerable question, considering baseball has transitioned to another era since Boston boarded the duck boats in 2004, even though the time span in question is only nine years. Numbers must be viewed in a completely different context because of testing for performance-enhancing drugs, and different parity-driven rules have changed the way rosters are built.

The case could be made the unexpected nature of this latest title separates it from the others, and David Ortiz, the only player to be part of all three clubs, did just that after collecting MVP honors. "This is a team that we have a lot of players with heart," he said. "We probably don't have the talent that we have in '07 and '04, but we have guys that are capable to stay focused and do the little things. And when you win with a ballclub like that, that's special."

But is it the most special? Is 2013 the best team? Was that 2004 team really the most talented? We'll let you draw your own conclusions, but here's a look at some of the various factors you may want to consider as you do. Click on each category to open up a comparison between the three teams, and keep in mind that stats are for the regular season (unless noted).

Analysis: We remember the 2004 champs as an offensive juggernaut, and justifiably so. The lineup was stacked from top to bottom, and with Ortiz and Manny Ramirez the Nos. 3-4 hitters, the middle was pretty darn good, too. But while the 2013 lineup may not have been as loaded, it was arguably better in relation to what the rest of the league had to offer. You can see above that this year's team had a higher OPS+, and while it scored 96 fewer runs, the 2013 team scored 0.94 runs per game more than the average AL team, which equates to 22 percent; the 2004 team scored 0.85 runs per game more than the average AL team, which equates to 17 percent. When factoring era into the equation, it's hardly absurd to say the 2013 team had the best offense of the three.
Starters' ERA4.314.213.84
Relievers' ERA3.923.103.70
Quality start %535259
Save %737958
Opponents' OPS0.7270.7050.710
Analysis: The common theme here is that all three clubs received a career year from their closer, and all three of those relievers piled up high strikeout-to-walk ratios. The 2007 team had the best bullpen, led by Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima, but the best overall staff probably goes to 2004. That group had three starters post an ERA+ of at least 120 (Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and Bronson Arroyo), had five hurlers make at least 29 starts, and had a good, reliable cast of veteran relievers.
Fielding %0.9810.9860.987
Gold gloves012
Analysis: The 2007 and 2013 were similar defensively, both decent -- and both far ahead of the 2004 team, whose stats live up to the memory that it was something of a slow-pitch softball team. It made 38 more errors during the regular season, then made eight more over the first two games of the World Series. Suffice it to say, run prevention wasn't the priority back then. (Admittedly, these numbers don't take into account the runs this year's Red Sox saved themselves by shifting far more often than either of those two earlier iterations did.)
Extra base %343439
Analysis: Led by a remarkable 52-for-56 from Jacoby Ellsbury, much was made of the Sox' success rate when attempting to steal bases this season, but the 2007 team was a bit underrated in that regard, successfully swiping four of every five prospective bags. What the 2013 club did better than the others was take the extra base, as 39 percent of the time they moved up two bases on a single or three bases on a double. They were aggressive -- somewhat overly at times early in the year -- but they put pressure on defenses, and more often than not, it paid off.
Offensive bWAR30.329.339.4
Pitchers' bWAR24.430.916.2
Team bWAR54.760.255.6
MV PlayerDamonOrtizPedroia
MV PitcherSchillingBeckettBuchholz
Previous All-Stars10913
MVP types*963
Cy Young types*422
Analysis: First things first: The WAR numbers are based on the Baseball-Reference calculation; "All-Stars" reflect the number of players named to the AL All-Star team that season; "Previous All-Stars" reflect the number of players who'd been named to an All-Star team before that season; and both "MVP types" and "Cy Young types" refer to the number of players on the team that received votes for those awards over the prior three seasons (so, for this year, in 2010, '11, or '12).

Now, you'll see that the WAR numbers suggest the 2007 team was the most balanced between offense and defense as far as value, and the proven experience of the 2013 team is illustrated in an impressive 13 players who'd previously been All-Stars, but it may have been the 2004 team that had the most players in (or at least at the end of) their prime. That club had nine players who'd received MVP votes between 2001-03, and four pitchers who'd merited Cy Young consideration over that span. That's a lot of star power.
Overall record109-67107-69108-70
Days in 1st45172164
Largest lead2.511.59.5
Largest deficit10.513
Worst month11-14 (June)13-14 (June)15-15 (May)
Best month21-7 (August)20-8 (May)18-8 (April)
Analysis: The progression of the season was most similar between the 2007 and 2013 teams -- though that the 98-win Red Sox at one point trailed by 10.5 games in the division speaks to how good the Yankees were, and how hot Boston got late. Give the 2013 team credit, too, for being the only of the three clubs not to suffer at least one losing month.
3-loss streaks 465
4-loss streaks330
5+-loss streaks100
3-win streaks141614
4-win streaks879
5+-win streaks1237
Analysis: The most impressive indication of the one-day-at-a-time approach of this year's Red Sox is that they never let their struggles roll into each other, and thus never lost more than three games in a row. The 2007 team was nearly as consistent, losing four straight three times, and never letting it get to five, while the 2004 champs had a knack for carrying momentum forward. They won 10 in a row at one point, and won at least five straight on five different occasions.
Combined record298-188280-207282-205
Offensive rank181917
Pitching rank343023
Games needed141416
1-run games1 (1-0)2 (2-0)6 (3-3)
2-run games5 (4-1)1 (0-1)3 (2-1)
Analysis: The 2004 team beat the 101-win Yankees in the ALCS, then the 105-win Cardinals in the World Series. That's darn impressive. So is the fact that although both were pushed to seven games in the league championship series, both of Boston's two earlier title winners swept two series. However, when adding together where their three opponents ranked among major-league teams in runs scored/allowed during the regular season, the 2013 team faced the best collection of offenses and pitching staffs. The Tigers and Cardinals were the second- and third-best offenses in baseball this season, while the Rays were 12th. St. Louis was No. 5 in runs allowed, Detroit was No. 7, and Tampa Bay was No. 11. The 2013 team was certainly tested.
Batting average0.2840.3130.227
Home runs181810
Analysis: To illustrate the difference nine years later, know that the '04 team's 4.47 postseason ERA was just 0.05 away from being the best in those playoffs -- while three teams finished this postseason with an ERA of 2.90 or better, including the top-ranked Sox. Of the three champions, the team that had the best postseason was the 2007 club, which finished with the highest batting average, the second-best ERA, was successful in all nine of its steal attempts, and led all playoff teams in defensive efficiency. Of the three runs, that middle one may ultimately become the afterthought. But, despite the valiant efforts of the Indians, was the most dominant.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Dave D'Onofrio is a sports journalist who focuses on the Red Sox and Patriots, and also writes's "Off The Field" blog about what Boston's sportsmen do away from the More »

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