The Boston Red Sox have done it again. The franchise once synonymous with a curse now casts spells on everybody else.
Four World Series titles in 15 seasons? Behold. Boston is strong. Boston is stronger and strongest. No other franchise, not even the San Francisco Giants, has won four championships this century.
Chris Sale blasted an 84 mph ninth-inning slider past a flailing Manny Machado—a final indignity in a fall full of them for the fallen Oriole—and the Red Sox stormed the field after thoroughly dominating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 114th World Series.
It was the second consecutive autumn in which the World Series champion was crowned in Dodger Stadium. A tidy five games this year, seven last. Both ended 5-1. Both finished with the Dodgers slumping back to their clubhouse.
“This is what we came for,” said Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez on the field just after the trophy presentation, holding his niece, surrounded by family and teammates. “This is what we came for. This.
“This is why I signed here. This was the idea. Dave Dombrowski [Red Sox president of baseball operations] told me last spring, ‘This is a championship team, and you’re the missing piece.’
“This was the mission from day one when I signed.”
From day one, these Boston Red Sox were too good to be true, and as Steve Pearce slugged his way to the series MVP trophy, David Price aced another October test and Sale closed it out, history’s furnace already was heating up to forge this team among the all-timers.
They weed-whacked their way through the American League this season to a franchise-record 108 wins. They punched a 100-win New York Yankees team smack in the nose in the division series. They whipped a 103-win Houston Astros club in the championship series.
“Has anybody ever done that before?” Martinez asked.
No. The answer is no, and not even close. Nobody has run an October gauntlet as stacked with W’s as the Red Sox to reach this point.
A mind-bending 108 regular-season wins, plus 11 more in the postseason to rack up 119 for the year. Including the postseason, only the 1998 New York Yankees (125) and 2001 Seattle Mariners (120) have won more in major league history.
They employ the presumptive AL MVP (Mookie Betts), another MVP contender (Martinez) and another who was on track to win the Cy Young Award before August shoulder trouble lightened his workload (Sale).
And yet, other names kept popping up like lobster rolls throughout greater Boston: Brock Holt hit for the cycle in a division-series game against the Yankees. Jackie Bradley Jr. slugged his way to the ALCS MVP award. Pearce, who, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is the first position player to win World Series MVP with 50 or fewer regular-season games for the champions in his career.
The top four spots in their lineup suffered through a hideous 0-for-41 from Game 3 to late in Game 4, and the Red Sox were five outs Saturday from falling into a 2-2 tie in this World Series when Pearce ambushed Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen with an eighth-inning Boston cream pie to the face to even the score at 4-4. Then the Sox scored five more in the ninth to run away 9-6.
The talent, depth and level of play have been staggering all summer.
So, we must ask: How does this Boston squad stack up against history’s greatest champions? Let’s put the Sox to the test using the same metrics we employed to judge another recent all-time champ, the 2016 Chicago Cubs. There, we looked at teams according to a handful of criteria:
- Winning percentage. With a regular-season mark of .667, Boston ranks 17th all-time among eventual World Series winners. MLB hadn’t seen a 108-game winner since the 2001 Mariners, and no team that had won so much had captured the World Series since the 1998 Yankees. In other words, on wins alone, seasons like that of the 2018 Sox are exceedingly rare in baseball history.
- Pythagorean record. Perhaps a better judge of a team’s performance than raw W-L record is its underlying run differential, as measured by the Pythagorean expectation. And by this standard, the 2018 Red Sox do drop down a bit — falling to 30th among all-time champs. According to Pythagoras, Boston really “only” played like a 103-win team that saw somewhat good fortune in close games.
- Wins above replacement. Digging deeper into a team’s performance, we can also look at WAR (averaging together the versions found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs) to get a sense of how well its roster played at a player-by-player level. For Boston, WAR per game splits the difference somewhat between winning percentage and Pythagorean record, ranking the 2018 Sox 27th among champions. Their 53.3 total WAR during the regular season was almost exactly the same as Houston’s last season.
- Elo ratings. Here at FiveThirtyEight, we also have our own pet metric for judging a team’s performance — the Elo rating. In a nutshell, it tracks a team’s estimated skill level over time, updating after every game and accounting for things like home-field advantage and starting pitching in each contest. Just as my former colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum did when rating MLB teams a few years ago, here I’m blending a team’s final end-of-playoffs Elo with its peak and average daily Elo from throughout the season.2 As we noted before the game, Boston ranks ninth all-time in final Elo, and its blended Elo comes in 12th among historical champs. Elo is the category in which Boston looks best, since it gives credit for both wins and margin of victory while also crediting the Red Sox for their outstanding playoff run.
Pulling it all together, we can add up a team’s ranking in each category — winning percentage, Pythagorean record, WAR and blended Elo — to get a master ranking of world champs since 1903:
According to this measure, the 2018 Red Sox just edge out the 2016 Cubs (a team built by former Boston general manager Theo Epstein) to take 18th place among all-time champs. That also puts them right next to the 1975 Cincinnati Reds — the best version of Cincy’s “Big Red Machine” dynasty — and makes them the second highest-ranking World Series winner since the ’70s, trailing only the 1998 Yankees.
Sure, you can complain about tanking having helped to produce an imbalanced era where the elite teams are vastly better than the bottom-feeders. But even so, this Red Sox season was historic. And unlike its two championship predecessors — the Cubs and Astros — Boston didn’t really bottom out to help get there. The Red Sox finished with a truly bad record only once since last winning the World Series in 2013, and even that was only an ordinary-bad season (71 wins), not the sub-60-win atrocities some of today’s tankers are forcing their fans to endure.