Baseball Player Won-Loss Records
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How Much Does Context Matter: The 1975-76 Boston Red Sox



The 1975 Boston Red Sox won 95 regular-season games and came within one run of winning the franchise's first World Series in 57 years.

The 1976 Boston Red Sox won 83 regular-season games and finished a disappointing third in the AL East, 15.5 games behind the New York Yankees (and only 0.5 game ahead of the 4th-place Cleveland Indians).

When I was writing an article comparing Jim Rice to Dale Murphy, I learned something I'd never realized about those two teams: except for actual wins, these two teams were very similar statistically

The 1975 Red Sox batted .275/.344/.417 as a team and scored 796 runs. Their opponents batted .265/.325/.401 and scored 709 runs. That translated into 88 Pythagorean wins. Baseball-Reference credits the players on the 1975 Boston Red Sox with a combined 41.0 WAR.
The 1976 Red Sox batted .263/.324/.402 as a team and scored 716 runs (the average American League team scored 47 fewer runs in 1976 than in 1975). Their opponents batted .267/.318/.383 and scored 660 runs. That translated into 87 Pythagorean wins. Baseball-Reference credits the players on the 1976 Boston Red Sox with a combined 41.2 WAR.


The table below compares the 1975 and 1976 Boston Red Sox as measured by Player won-lost records.

Player Won-Lost Records by Team, 1975 vs. 1976 Boston Red Sox
Net Wins by Factor
Team pWins pLosses pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL Batting Baserunning Pitching Fielding
255.0225.015.1
36.3
236.5232.52.2
23.0
5.2-3.40.70.6
245.0241.02.2
22.9
248.6245.02.1
23.0
4.8-2.0-0.60.9
Difference
10.0-16.012.9
13.4
-12.1-12.50.1
-0.1
0.4-1.41.3-0.2


When one controls for context, the 1976 Boston Red Sox were essentially as good as the 1975 Red Sox. In a way, this shouldn't be too surprising: the 1976 Red Sox had essentially the same personnel as the 1975 Red Sox.

The next table breaks this down by player. The data shown here are (context-neutral, teammate-adjusted) eWins. Players who played for both the 1975 and 1976 Red Sox are shown here, sorted by 1975 eWORL; the final rows then combine the results for players who only played for one or the other team.

Player Won-Lost Records, 1975 and 1976 Boston Red Sox
1975 Boston Red Sox 1976 Boston Red Sox
Player Age Games eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL Age Games eWins eLosses eWOPA eWORL
2314520.715.32.5
3.9
2413219.415.71.7
3.0
284114.312.31.1
2.4
29244.97.0-1.0
-0.4
2214416.614.70.7
2.2
2315317.919.2-0.9
0.7
343513.912.90.7
1.9
353815.714.80.6
1.9
2710611.69.70.8
1.6
28161.31.00.1
0.3
2312614.512.80.5
1.6
2414619.015.91.2
2.5
251058.56.70.7
1.6
2612211.911.10.1
1.2
27797.55.81.0
1.5
2813414.312.51.3
2.3
2415817.319.5-0.0
1.4
2515219.218.41.2
2.6
293514.014.8-0.3
1.1
303412.412.10.3
1.4
3514914.513.8-0.2
0.9
3615518.616.40.7
2.0
27318.78.7-0.0
0.9
28418.37.60.3
1.1
27744.24.1-0.0
0.3
281029.39.4-0.1
0.6
3211510.411.6-0.6
0.3
33856.57.7-0.6
-0.0
3630.50.10.2
0.2
37150.61.0-0.2
-0.1
26242.02.0-0.1
0.2
27544.33.80.1
0.6
2410.20.10.1
0.1
2520.00.1-0.0
-0.0
24184.45.3-0.4
0.1
25316.26.7-0.3
0.4
2620.10.10.0
0.0
2781.61.9-0.2
0.0
2410.10.2-0.0
0.0
25525.15.5-0.1
0.4
2310.10.1-0.0
-0.0
24767.28.5-0.7
-0.1
281007.59.4-0.8
-0.1
29463.24.5-0.5
-0.2
31623.95.0-0.5
-0.1
32312.22.20.0
0.2
28633.44.3-0.4
-0.1
29321.72.2-0.3
-0.1
31899.111.9-1.3
-0.4
3211711.713.1-0.3
0.6
Others28.831.4-1.5
1.5
26.226.7-0.3
2.3
-----------------------------------------------------------------
Team Totals236.5232.52.2
23.0
248.6245.02.1
23.0


Fred Lynn was not quite as good as in his MVP season, which is not terribly surprising. But, in terms of position players, this was more than made up for by improvements from Dwight Evans, Rick Burleson, Carlton Fisk, and even 36-year-old 1B/OF/DH Carl Yastrzemski.

On the pitching side, Bill Lee saw his ERA jump from 3.95 to 5.63, but Rick Wise improved his ERA from 3.95 to 3.53, Reggie Cleveland improved from 4.43 to 3.07, and the 1976 Red Sox even added a Hall-of-Famer to their starting rotation, Fergie Jenkins (12-11, 3.27 ERA in 209 IP).

So what happened to the Red Sox?
Most simply, the 1975 Red Sox were better than expected at translating player performance into team wins while the 1976 Red Sox were somewhat worse than expected. I have a very long article elsewhere on my website that goes into great detail about the various aspects of context that go into converting player performance into team performance.

Baseball-Reference has some breakdowns of batting and pitching performances that are illuminating. One of their splits is by leverage. Baseball-Reference divides plate appearances between high-, medium-, and low-leverage situations. In 1975, Boston Red Sox batters' OPS by leverage was .814/.778/.725 high/medium/low. That's pretty much exactly the pattern you want to see to best translate player performance into team wins: the more important the situation, the better the Red Sox hit. In 1975, Red Sox opponents' OPS split by leverage was .697/.733/.731, not a perfect mirror-image, but close. In large part because of the timing of their performance, the 1975 Red Sox went 23-13 in one-run games and 8-4 in extra-inning games.

In 1976, Red Sox batters' OPS by leverage was .715/.756/.706 - fairly normal, actually, and Red Sox opponents' hit .741/.701/.680, which is pretty much exactly the pattern you don't want to see to best translate player performance into team wins. And, because of that, the 1976 Red Sox went 22-29 in one-run games and 5-12 in extra-inning games.

It's all about context.



All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.

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