Boston-St. Louis World Series

October 21, 2013

It’s fitting that Boston and St. Louis are in the World Series. The Red Sox had the best record in the American League and the Cardinals had the best record in the National, both with 97 wins. Boston led the AL in scoring (853 runs), the Cardinals led the NL (783). The Red Sox had the best run differential in baseball with 197 more runs scored than they allowed; the Cardinals were second with a 187 run differential.

In terms of runs allowed, the Red Sox finished 13th overall in Major League Baseball allowing 656 runs on the season. The Cardinals were fifth with 596 runs allowed. But keeping in mind that allowing runs is broken into pitching and defense, let’s look at them separately starting with defense. (We’ll use the term defense to just count fielding, though technically you can say that pitching is a defensive activity as well.)

The Red Sox were a good defensive team in 2013. Their defense saved them 24 runs on the season compared to an average team defensively. An average team would have zero Defensive Runs Saved. That ranked Boston tied for 11th in MLB. The Cardinals were very poor defensively. Their defense cost them 39 runs (-39 Defensive Runs Saved). They came in 23rd overall in baseball out of 30 teams and 14th out of 15 teams in the NL.

Now, using Defensive Runs Saved we can isolate pitching. We can determine how many runs each pitching staff would have allowed if they had an average defense behind them. For example, St. Louis allowed 596 runs. If their defense cost them 39 runs, that means that the Cardinals would have allowed only 557 runs if they had an average defense. We call this stat Team Pitching Runs.

Normally, when someone would say that the Cardinals came in fifth in baseball in runs allowed, everyone thinks pitching. But it’s actually pitching and defense, and when you remove the defensive component, the Cardinals had the best pitching in all of baseball.

Here are the top five pitching staffs in baseball based on how they would have fared with an average defense.

Team Pitching Runs, 2013
Team Runs Allowed
Rank Runs Allowed
with Average Defense
Cardinals 596 5 557 1
Tigers 624 7 561 2
Athletics 625 8 578 3
Braves 548 1 594 4
Nationals 626 9 612 5

As you can see, the Tigers pitching was just four runs behind the Cardinals, after adding back in the 63 runs their defense cost them.

To summarize, here is where the Red Sox and Cardinals ranked among all 30 teams in baseball in these various key categories:

Team Ranks, 2013
Red Sox Cardinals
Wins 1 (tie) 1 (tie)
Run Differential 1 2
Runs Scored 1 3 (Tigers 2nd)
Runs Allowed 13 5
     Pitching Runs 15 (tie) 1 (Tigers 2nd)
     Defensive Runs Saved 11 (tie) 23

COMMENTS (7 Comments, most recent shown first)

The Cardinals certainly played 1 as if to prove that John Dewan was right about their defense. . . .
7:35 AM Oct 24th
Fireball Wenz
For the Series, you'll get more Ortiz and Drew, less Napoli, and no Iglesias.
10:09 PM Oct 22nd
Right, if you are going to go to the trouble or removing the fielders, you definitely need to also adjust for DH and park if you are going to rank who has the "best" pitching team.

2:59 PM Oct 22nd
I thought about this some more and I have a comment for John Dewan.

The isolation of defensive runs and pitching runs is very interesting but it's only relevant to certain purposes. Thus if you are the Cardinals' or Tigers' GM it's very important to know that your pitching is great and you can improve substantially by strengthening your defense. But with respect to figuring out who might win the World Series, it seems to me that the only numbers that matter are park-adjusted runs allowed and runs scored. The Red Sox will be facing the Cardinal pitching and the Cardinal defense at the same time, not one at a time.

Home runs are very important in the postseason. The Red Sox hit 178, a bit above the AL average; the Cardinals hit 125, below the league average. Again, we could use park adjustments, but I think that's a big edge for the Red Sox.

10:57 AM Oct 22nd
Season stats have limited utility at this point. The Red Sox spent half the season looking for a closer. The Cardinals had one, but he's not pitching in the postseason. Each team has added a major piece to the rotation: Wacha and Buchholz.

Anyway when two teams are as close as these two appear to be, it'll come down to execution and luck.

My only prediction is that this will be a very entertaining World Series.
9:36 AM Oct 22nd
It has recently occurred to me that any comparison between leagues should include an adjustment for the effects of the DH. The 80 additional runs the Red Sox scored (which also need to be adjusted for park effects) are probably roughly equivalent to the number of runs created by David Ortiz minus the number of runs created by Cardinal pitchers and pinch-hitters. (They may be even less.) On the other hand, it seems to me that, all things being equal (park effects, etc.) the Tigers pitching must have been significantly better than the Cardinals pitching because they had to face DH's instead of pitchers.
8:57 AM Oct 22nd
It doesn't seem like the author took park effects into account. Busch Stadium is a pitcher's park, and Fenway favors hitters. Win shares say two teams are virtually twins; they both have extremely good offenses, better than average defenses and barely average pitching.
8:14 PM Oct 21st
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