That’s right. I’m predicting that the Sox will wrap this ALDS series up in four games. (Actually, I think they could do it in three with the injuries the Angels are facing right now, but I’m hedging my bets). The seven factors that will influence in this series (and which team has the edge in each) is the subject of this week’s Metro column.
This was a tricky column for me to write. I jotted the seven factors (starting pitching, bullpen, closer, defense, baserunning, overall offense, and power hitting) down in my notebook and then set out to evaluate each team independently. I was very much surprised by my findings: in every category, the teams are either even or the Red Sox have an edge. I struggled with writing such an apparently biased column, especially since I’m an unabashed Boston homer—would anyone take me seriously if I didn’t give the Halos an edge somewhere? But in the end, I had to go with what the data was telling me. To be sure, the Angels are a very good team, and in the playoffs anything can happen—a five-game series seems especially keyed to the possibility of upsets. But I was surprised at the edge the Red Sox have heading into this series, which starts tonight.
The most controversial call I made in the article was giving the Red Sox an edge in baserunning. Every talking head I’ve heard so far has handed this category to the Angels with ease. It seems like common sense. After all, the Angels love to steal. As a team, they’re second in the league in steals at 139 (all those double-steals helped them out here). Boston, with 96, is seventh. And Boston has never been known as a fast team. But as I looked at the numbers, the way the media is handing the Angels the edge in baserunning began to seem less like common sense and more like laziness.
With Coco Crisp, Julio Lugo, and Jacoby Ellsbury on the team, Boston’s slow days are over—at least temporarily. And when I looked at each team’s stolen base percentage, Boston had a huge advantage over Anaheim. Boston is actually first in the league with an 80% success rate, while Anaheim is eleventh, with a 72% success rate. (These numbers have changed slightly since I wrote the column—not sure what’s up with that, since the regular season is over. Thanks, ESPN.com! But the basic comparison is the same.) Smarter people than I have argued that, on an individual level, a player who can’t maintain a 75% stolen base percentage shouldn’t be stealing bases, because he’s actually hurting his team. Where the Angels are concerned, however, stealing makes up for a lack of power hitting on their part. They clearly know how to get on base: they’re third on OBP and fourth in the league in hits. But they’re fifth in doubles (Boston is first) and eleventh in triples (and they’re a supposedly speedy team! even “slow” Boston ranks sixth in this category). When you look at home runs, the Angels are twelfth in the AL, ahead of only Minnesota and Kansas City. Clearly, Mike Scioscia feels that small ball is the way for this team to go—and it’s gotten them this far.
However, Boston’s better stolen base percentage tells me that baserunning could be a factor that tilts in favor of the Red Sox this postseason. They’re not stealing to make up for a lack of extra-base hits. They’re stealing from a position of strength, not a position of competitive weakness. They’re stealing situationally, strategically—and successfully. And that makes them more effective baserunners in the playoffs.