Ortiz Betts

Is This Red Sox Juggernaut Offense Sustainable?

You may not have noticed, what with all the winning around here, but the Red Sox have quite the offense. Through last night’s sweep of the Orioles, the Red Sox have scored 850 runs. There are nine games left and Boston is averaging 5.55 runs a game, so through the magic of math we can guess that the Red Sox will end up with around 900 runs. That would be the most by the franchise since the 2005 Red Sox scored 910.

That year, 2005, was the third consecutive season the Red Sox managed to score over 900 runs. The 2003 team was the high water mark in that stretch, scoring 961, a number out of reach for this year’s team. Two things about that 2003 team. First, they remain the second-highest-scoring Red Sox offense ever, behind the 1950 team which scored 1,027 runs. Two, they played in an era that we’ll charitably and opaquely call a high-offense era, and that brings us back to the current iteration of the team. The 2016 Red Sox and their 850 runs are 29 more than the second place Rockies, 95 more than the better-than-everything Cubs, and 110 better than the second-best-in-the-AL Indians. The Rockies offense is good but there is something very Coors Field about that total, especially since they rank first in runs scored at home but 21st in runs scored on the road. Other than that exception, the Red Sox are lapping the field, leading the Cubs and the Indians by about 100 runs. That’s insane.

Jeff Sullivan did a piece at FanGraphs on Wednesday that concluded this year’s Red Sox are tied (roughly) with last year’s Blue Jays as the best offense since 1998. He based his analysis on the difference in standard deviations of runs scored from the league average. As you can see above, the Red Sox are much better than the closest competition, so this makes sense. They might even pass last year’s Blue Jays if the Rockies Coors Field effect were baked in.

But last year’s Blue Jays are an interesting point because this season they’re seventh in runs scored with 722. Last season they were first with 891 runs scored. The season isn’t over yet but that’s a severe drop-off even if they manage a strong run to finish out the year. This year’s Blue Jays are not, in effect or ranking, last year’s Blue Jays. They are demonstrably worse at hitting, and that made me wonder: will that happen to this year’s Red Sox next season? In other words, how sustainable is the Red Sox offense into the future?

Of course players come and go. There will be trades and free agent signings and so on, but it strikes me that this year’s Red Sox have several advantages over last year’s Blue Jays. First and foremost is age. The Jays’ best hitters last season were Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson. All of those players are 30 or older this season. In contrast the Red Sox’s best hitters are David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and Hanley Ramirez. Ortiz is 40 and will be retired next season, but beyond him, only two of the non-Ortiz hitters are older than 30, and really, only three of them are older than 26.

There is a real possibility that next year’s Red Sox could feature Betts, Bradley, and Andrew Benintendi in the outfield for an average age of 23.3 years. Of the three possible starting catchers in Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, none are older than 27. The infield figures to be the old folks home with Pedroia and Ramirez (both 33 next season) on the right side and Bogaerts (24 next season) at short. There is uncertainty at third, but even there, Travis Shaw will be 27, Pablo Sandoval (remember him?) will be 30 and Yoan Moncada, who could factor in later in the season, will be 22.

So age is a big factor. It’s a big factor because we know about aging curves and when ballplayers get better and when they get worse. The Blue Jays best hitters are getting worse and the Red Sox best hitters are getting better.

But this isn’t about the Blue Jays. It’s about the Red Sox this season and beyond. This season we know they are great. Whether it’s 2.6 deviations great or 2.7 deviations great doesn’t really matter. They’re going to have the best offense in the playoffs and the better offense on the field regardless of the identity of their opponent. We can’t predict the future, but it seems fair to say that youth is the big factor here. Youth factors into aging curves, but also injuries, which can keep good players off the field. The biggest indicator of future injuries is past injuries, and so far, the core of this Red Sox offense has been remarkably injury-free this season. Pedroia and Hanley have had struggles with injuries in the past so this isn’t the perfect team from that standpoint, but it’s pretty darn strong.

Looking at a more granular level, the Red Sox have benefited from some performances that will likely be difficult to duplicate next season. Chris Young has hit .285/.367/.527 and he’s unlikely to copy that next season. Sandy Leon looks more and more like a regression candidate, and I’m not sure I’d bank on Travis Shaw even coming close to average next season after the way he’s looked in the second half. Still, that’s not a tremendously long list, and the team already has some built-in answers to these questions in the return of Sandoval, the rise of Benintendi and the return from injury and the minor leagues of Swihart and Vazquez, respectively.

It’s impossible to predict the future. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow let alone next season or the one after that. The only thing we can do is guess and base our guess on what has happened before. By that measure, the future of the Red Sox offense looks impressively strong. The loss of Ortiz will loom large, but given their ages, it’s entirely possible that Betts, Bogaerts, Benintendi, Bradley, Swihart, and Vazquez improve next season.

But let’s not worry too much about 2017 and beyond. The 2016 Red Sox offense is scary good and that’s yet another reason to like their chances as they move towards the post-season.

Photo by Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports Images

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