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Why not to worry

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  April 14, 2009 01:05 PM

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April lies. One month – let alone one week, which is what has elapsed in the Red Sox’ season – is an inadequate measure of a team. If the Red Sox were playing an NFL season, they would be about halfway through the third quarter of the first game. Maybe 2-5, Boston's worst seven-game mark since 1996, is unsettling, but there’s a good chance it’s a mirage.

First, there is one indicator that favors a turnaround. The Red Sox have a .250 batting average on balls put in play. (This means that if you take away home runs, sacrifices, and strikeouts, the Red Sox are batting .250.) The .250 mark is worst in the American League and better than only the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. The league average is .300. That means the Red Sox have run into some good defense, gotten unlucky, or both in relation to the rest of the majors.

The Red Sox have been built for a marathon. By the time June comes and attrition forces other team to wedge guys who should be in Triple A into their starting rotations, the Red Sox will be bulwarked by a fresh John Smoltz. Name another rotation where Clay Buchholz could have the spring he had and not make the roster. That advantage won’t be revealed in the standings for another 40 games or so.

And anyway, seven games is such a ridiculously small sample size to base any kind of conclusion on. Look at the seven-game records for every World Series champion since the strike:

2008 Phillies: 3-4
2007 Red Sox: 4-3
2006 Cardinals: 4-3
2005 White Sox: 5-2
2004 Red Sox: 4-3
2003 Marlins: 2-5
2002 Angels: 3-4
2001 Diamondbacks: 3-4
2000 Yankees: 4-3
1999 Yankees: 6-1
1998 Yankees: 3-4
1997 Marlins: 6-1
1996 Yankees: 4-3
1995 Braves: 6-1

Five of the past 11 World Champions failed to start better than .500 after a week’s worth of games, and only three post-strike champs had a start worth getting excited over. Would it be better if the Sox were hitting and Jon Lester was cruising through starts and they were in first place? Yes, of course. Would it really matter to the final outcome of this year if those things were the case? Probably not that much.

I’m not trying to ignore the fact that the Red Sox have played below expectations for the first week. And there most definitely comes a point when “It’s early” ceases to be a valid excuse. But Dustin Pedroia is not going to finish with a 52 OPS+, and Lester won’t have a 1.82 WHIP, and the Red Sox aren’t going to hit .180 with runners in scoring position, etc. You can go on and on. It's just too soon to worry.

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