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When it comes to runs created, Red Sox well ahead of the game

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  August 8, 2011 02:21 PM

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Few would argue with a characterization of the Red Sox batting order as “top-heavy.” Woe to the Sox, the thinking goes, should any ill befall one or more of their best hitters, as the bats available to replace their extraordinary production appear to range from the cold (looking at you, J.D.) to the cryogenically frozen (too late for a comeback, Ted?). Yet the offense has scored more runs than any other team this season. Can the bottom of the order really be nothing more than dead weight?

runscreatedchart.jpgTo evaluate the fairness of this view, let’s take a look at runs created, a statistic developed by Bill James, father of sabermetrics and senior adviser of baseball operations for the Red Sox. Runs created takes into account virtually every outcome an offensive player can produce on the field -- grounding into a double play, hitting a triple, bunting a runner over, etc. -- to approximate a hitter’s individual contribution to his team’s scoring. The accompanying chart shows what the lineup has produced this season, through Sunday's game.

That amounts to an average of 85.2 runs created from the first five hitters and 51.25 from the 6-9 hitters, or a 40 percent decrease. At first glance, this disparity only confirms the futility of the bottom of the order. But before you pile on Marco Scutaro or Carl Crawford, consider the embarrassment of riches at the top; Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia all rank in the top ten in the majors (third, seventh, and eighth, respectively) in runs created. It’s almost impossible not to look bad by comparison.

The platoon system, the product of injuries and inconsistency, has actually produced some fairly decent results. The median runs created among MLB regulars this season (minimum 350 PA) is 54. Given that the combinations we see at the bottom of the Sox order have about the same number of plate appearances as the regulars at the top, the team still gets reliably average production from the 6-9 holes — a serviceable level with such firepower from the 1-5 spots.

The Mariners and the Astros don’t get those numbers from their best hitters.

There’s no telling when Crawford, the biggest individual drag on the offense not named Drew -- whose 25 runs created are fewer than Reddick’s total in half the plate appearances -- will finally shake his severe case of MCS (Mike Cameron Syndrome) at the plate. Remember, there’s a reason this guy got paid in the offseason; he’s averaged 101 runs created/year over his career, and he’s still in his prime at age 30. If Pedroia or Ellsbury were to go down, he’s capable of earning those checks and picking up the mashing right where they left off.

Let us not waste our breath, then, praying for an exorcism of J.D.’s Louisville Slugger. The offense will be there the rest of the year. Rather, let us direct our pleas for divine intervention toward Clay Buchholz’s back, or Erik Bedard’s knee, lest the increasingly fragile-looking pitching staff shatter any dreams of postseason glory.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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