Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Taking Stock: How to Beat the Halos

Now that the dust has settled, it's time to start contemplating the next step: winning the American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Three years ago, of course, the Sox bent the Angels over a chair for a series that was ultimately exciting for two reasons: it really started the Legend of Senor Octubre for David Ortiz, and it turned Curt Schilling into the gimpy warrior of bloody sock fame. But that was before the Halos gave Anaheim the shove and started claiming they were from Los Angeles - also, they're a different team - so we probably shouldn't expect a rollover coming into the series. So how do things stack up this time around? Let's break it down:

Season Record
The Sox won the season series six to four, but there are two things that are even more interesting:
  1. Boston won five of the seven games in Boston, and lost two of the three games in Anaheim. With home field advantage, Boston's looking at three games in Boston and two in Anaheim; based on this small sample, winning three of them should be doable.
  2. Four of Anaheim's six losses to Boston came at the hands of their starters; the other two were the responsibility of the bullpen. Boston has a good shot at getting the wins if they score the runs early.
Batting versus Pitching
When Boston puts the ball in play against Anaheim, they get hits about one-third of the time, but that one third of the time looks even better when you realize that Boston gets about 1.65 walks or hits per inning against Angels pitching - papa like that, let me tell you. About 46 percent of those base runners turn into runs, which ain't half bad; Boston's 2007 overall success rate is 39 percent, and higher equals better, especially when the playoffs are concerned. Meanwhile, the Halos got hits from about 30 percent of the balls they've put in play against Boston this year, and generated 1.26 walks and hits per inning in the process. Los Angeles turned about 38 percent of those base runners into runs, falling about a percentage point shy of their 2007 overall success rate.

Boston not only has a more potent offense (the higher percentage of runs scored overall), they actually become more likely to score runs against Angels pitching, while the Los Angeles rate not only has lower overall success rate but even becomes slightly less effective when facing the Sox. On the pitching side, Boston gives up a half run less per game than Los Angeles, and the ERA of Boston's ever-so-important bullpen is more than a full run lower than that of its starters (3.10 versus 4.22), while the both Angels starters and relievers give up about 4.23 runs per nine innings. Neither team has proven itself to be particularly effective pitching in the other team's ballpark, so - especially with the home field advantage - Boston seems to have the clear edge heading into the series.

Boston's definitely the clear winner on paper; they've not only got the better team, but they've done better in all aspects of head-to-head play. However, we all know stats aren't the be-all end-all predictor of success; plenty of factors will appear at the last second - like Tim Wakefield not being to pitch because of back pain - that could make the paper predictions as worthless as a stack of Monopoly money. Maybe John Lackey will buck his previous record against Boston and pitch the Angels in a game one loss. Maybe the gaps between games will throw off everyone's rhythm, and turn each team into bizzaro versions of themselves. Maybe J.D. Drew will become a playoff god. I say Red Sox in four, with a round 2 clinch in sunny LA. GO SOX!!!