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Whose extreme start is a more reliable indicator of future performance: the Red Sox or the Rangers?

Apr 12, 2011, 1:08 PM EDT

Terry Francona

We’ve seen all kinds of “teams who start 0-X on the season have only made the playoffs Y times since nineteen dickety-seven” stats in the past week and a half. Here’s one more look at that from ACTA Sports, who looked at the first ten games of the season for every team since 2002, with an eye for what that means for the¬†slow start of the Red Sox and the fast start of the Rangers.

Click through for the analysis, but know this much: it ain’t over anyplace. But it’s far less from over in the AL West than it is in the AL East.

  1. Kevin S. - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    I think Dave Cameron made the best point over on Fangraphs last week. While we might not be changing our evaluations of the team’s true talent level, these games have altered our projections of where they will finish. Assuming we thought the Red Sox were a .600 (97-win) team before the season, we’d now expect them to win 2 + (152*.6) = 93 games, even if we think they’re exactly as good as we thought they were before. If, on the other hand, we had the Rangers pegged as a .550 (89-win) team, we’d now expect them to win 9 + (152*.55) = 93 games. Effectively, the Rangers have already made up an eight-game expected gap.

    • Kevin S. - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:14 PM

      And of course, that was without using any Bayesian Inference based on what we know so far to adjust the expectations going forward.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:25 PM

      Why does the first 10 games really matter all that much in the grand sceme of things, if you are not going to change your evaluations of the team’s true talent level? I mean, I can understand saying “The Red Sox aren’t as good as we thought they were, so they won’t win 97 games” But if you still think they are every bit as good, then why would you back off the 97 wins?

      If you consider the season 16 10-game seasons, then coldn’t thi just be the worst 10-game stretch for them?

      To win 97 games, they can do the following 16 10-game stretches…

      9-1
      9-1
      8-2
      8-2
      7-3
      7-3
      7-3
      7-3
      7-3
      6-4
      6-4
      5-5
      5-5
      3-7
      2-8
      1-9

      Maybe they already got the 2-8 out of the way. Are they really expected to go 6-4 every single 10-game stretch to get to 96-97 wins?

      • Kevin S. - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:34 PM

        Because those ten games are in the bag – they aren’t an expectation anymore. People say that if they had a 2-8 stretch in June, nobody would care. That’s true, but the fact that they’ve had one now doesn’t prevent them from having another one. It’s awkward, looking at this stuff in season. When we look at preseason projections, we’re talking about expectations and probabilities. When we look back in October, we’re seeing the results. When we look at this in-season, we’ve got to merge what happened with what we think will happen – those two aren’t going to necessarily line up. Put it this way – for the Red Sox to get to 97 wins, they’d need to play .638 ball from here on out. That’s a 103-win pace over a full season. It’s not inconceivable that they do this, but is there any reason for us to expect it? No, not from either their preseason projections nor from what they’ve shown us so far.

        By the way, I swear I made my post before I saw Dan Szymborski’s article on ESPN.

      • Vincent - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:40 PM

        If you’re going to use that argument, wouldn’t it be just as practical to pin them as the .200 team that they currently are and have them winning 33 games by season’s end? (I know that’s silly… I just want to hear your response.)

      • Kevin S. - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:47 PM

        Are you talking to me, Vincent? If so, it’s because ten games doesn’t destroy our evaluations of the Red Sox roster before the season.

      • Vincent - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:00 PM

        Yea Steve, I was– and I completely agree with that, but don’t you think that these first 10 games should also have a negative impact on what is expected from the team for the rest of the season? I understand that you made the assumption that the expected level of play from the team is still worthy of finishing .600 for the rest of the season (making Boston a .574 team), but is it really safe to assume that this team is as good as everyone was expecting?

        As a side note: I think that Boston is completely capable of finishing with 93 wins (They really need to do something about their pitching though… maybe Curt Young needs a little more time), I’m just bored at work and looking for conversation.

      • Vincent - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:01 PM

        I definitely said Steve when I meant Kevin…. I have a reason for that, but it’s not important. Sorry! haha.

      • Kevin S. - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:17 PM

        Actually, I don’t disagree with that. As I said, that was without using Bayesian Inference to adjust our expectations. I was trying to point out that even if one were to say these ten games mean absolutely nothing in terms of how good we think the Red Sox are, it still adjusts our expectations. Szymborski actually does a much better job with this in his ESPN piece – if you have Insider, I’d recommend checking it out.

      • Vincent - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:23 PM

        Ahhh. So I was simply over here rambling when you had already given the answer. I will definitely take a look into that.

  2. cur68 - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    I’m not getting all eggheaded about this; the trend is that the teams that finished the season playing well have continued to do so this season and will probably do so for the rest of the season. That’s the Rangers and the Orioles. The Sox are showing way too much age in their pitching rotation and keep getting creamed for it.

    • mannistats - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:24 PM

      What? Cur68 makes no sense. Two data points do not a trend make. The Rangers had a postseason too, in which they went out like a lamb vs the Giants. The Cubs and Giants also performed well in the last part of the season, and both are stumbling out of the gate. There is little correlation from the last month of previous season to the start of the next. Correlation does not imply causation.

      • cur68 - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:54 PM

        Yeah, that’s why I didn’t say ‘correlation’. It’s an association. I didn’t express that well in the first sentence. The Rangers had one bad set of games and lost the series. Otherwise they played very well and continue to do so; winning trumps all the rest. The O’s under Showalter were drastically better and continue to be better. You can consider the Rangers and the O’s 2 data points, this is not incorrect (and within the scope of the original question), but what I’m trying to say that I am considering who played consistently well to finish last year, is playing well this year and why that is so based on the games won vs lost not number of teams doing so. Does the trend now mean anything for the balance of the season for the O’s and Rangers? I say yes because the 2 teams I cite are carrying their last season success with them. The other’s are not.

  3. BC - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    Yeah, it does seem that a lot more teams get off to fast starts and then crater, than teams that get off to horrid starts and rally.

  4. Ari Collins - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    I’d say the Rangers are more predictive, since their really great performance is closer to the very good performance we’d expected. Boston’s really bad performance is pretty far from the very good performance we expected.

    Doesn’t mean that the Red Sox aren’t in deep trouble, but they aren’t going to play anything close to .200 ball going forward, while .900 ball is at least SOMEWHAT close to the possibilities for the Rangers.

  5. yankeesfanlen - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    I have this secret formula that I just blow out from any available orifice:
    Yanks vs Red Sox=9 wins, as outlined earlier
    Blue Jays=12
    Birds= 12
    Rays= 14 =47 W vs. AL East
    vs AL Central= 22 (extra credit for Twins and Royals)
    AL West= 16 (less credit for Rangers)
    Metropolitans=6 (credit for nothing, sorry BC)
    Rest of interleaugue=4
    This leaves us with 95. Subject to audit by Funk and Wagners.

    • yankeesfanlen - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:32 PM

      I guess it’s Funk and Wagnall’s, or Walgreens, or WalMart, or whatnot.

  6. Vincent - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    “Whose extreme start is a more reliable indicator of future performance: the Red Sox or the Rangers?”

    I’ll give you an easy answer to an easy question: The Rangers.

  7. toosoxy - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    i am getting really tired of saying this: but it’s early.
    i think we’ll see an upswing with the sox. its problem (well, one of its problems) is adjusting to a new catcher and a new pitching coach.
    it’s too good of a roster to be playing this badly. nowhere to go but up.

    rangers have been pretty impressive. i think that’s a pattern we’ll see all the way through.

  8. deathmonkey41 - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    I’m hoping to see Carl Crawford having a Bobby Bonilla moment at this locker when he continues to struggle and keeps getting asked the same thing by reporters. It’s a lot different when you’re expected to win and have fans that actually show up.

  9. Jonny 5 - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    The Red sox are obviously in trouble, and in need of pitching. I’d like to change my predictions on the season standings at this point. They need their long reliever and he’s coughing up tons of runs too. It’s not good, I don’t see how Offense alone will get them out of this.

    • seanmk - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:15 PM

      regression to the mean is one way they’ll get out of it. cole hamels last year after 5 starts had a 5.28 era, the rest of the way it was more inline with his career levels

  10. seeingwhatsticks - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    I think the Red Sox are probably a little better than they’ve shown but teams that rely too heavily on either pitching or offense are generally not the ones that win 95+ games. It’s too early to make any declarations about where the Sox will end up at the end of the year but I think it’s fair to say their pitching is an issue that doesn’t seem like it’s going away. This is a team that will live and die by its ability to outscore the opponent 3-4 out of every 5 days, and even if they do make it to the playoffs those types of teams generally do not fare as well when they face a consistently high level of pitching.

  11. seanmk - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    regression to the mean is one way they’ll get out of it

  12. tolbuck - Apr 12, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    Sometimes the simplest explanation is the correct one. Look at who the Red Sox opened against-Texas and Cleveland. The 2 hottest teams to start the season. It may be they were unlucky in who they drew to begin the season.

  13. toosoxy - Apr 12, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    Tolbuck: Then what about Tampa?

    • tolbuck - Apr 12, 2011 at 3:37 PM

      I’m not going to read too much into Monday’s game right now. If they continue to get shelled, then all bets are off. My point is, Boston’s schedule may be playing a large factor in their struggles. Ultimately, it may not be a factor, but I think it merits more consideration than it is being given.

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