Thursday, September 5, 2013
How things have changed in 10 years
By David Schoenfield
The Red Sox scored 20 runs last night, which prompted me to check the last they did that: It was 2003, against the Marlins. Here's the box score. Pretty crazy game. Carl Pavano started for the Marlins and gave up six hits and in a row and was removed. Michael Tejera came on and gave up four hits and a walk to the first five batters he faced and was removed. Finally, Allen Levrault entered and retired the 12th batter of the inning for the first out.
And then gave up a single, walk, flyball, walk, double, walk and single, only escaping the inning when Bill Mueller got thrown at home plate. The Red Sox sent 19 batters to the plate -- Johnny Damon got three hits in the inning -- and got 13 hits and 14 runs. Imagine if you couldn't find a parking space and showed up in the second inning. The Red Sox would pound out 28 hits that and the Marlins would throw 252 pitches. The game took 4 hours and 7 minutes to play (some things about the Red Sox haven't changed).
The Marlins, of course, went on to win the World Series.
What struck me, however, was the potency of that Red Sox lineup, a reminder of how much the game has changed in just 10 years. Bill Mueller hit eighth that day (he hit seventh or eighth much of the time that season); he would be the American League batting champion in 2003. He had a .938 OPS, which would rank fifth in the majors right now. Jason Varitek hit ninth. He would finish the season hitting .273 with 25 home runs and a slugging percentage over .500. His .863 OPS would currently rank ninth in the AL in 2013. He hit ninth for the Red Sox that postseason. Repeat. Ninth. Six members of that lineup would rank in the top 10 of AL hitters this year based on their OPS.
That 25-run outburst came in the middle of an amazing stretch of offense for the Red Sox. In an 11-game period from June 24 to July 5, they hit .347 and averaged 9.5 runs per game, scoring 10 or more six times. They scored 10-plus runs 24 times that year, compared to 15 this season when they lead the majors in runs scored.
Of course, to be fair, that was an all-time great offense -- their .851 OPS is the highest of any team since 1950 (edging out the 1996 Mariners at .850). The Red Sox scored 961 runs, eighth-most since 1950. Still, the average AL team scored 788 runs in 2003 compared to 721 in 2012.
Across the majors, 48 players slugged .500 in 2003 compared to 20 doing it right now.
Anyway, you get the idea, and you can formulate your own reasons as to how and why the game has changed -- better pitching, fewer PEDs, too much home run-or-nothing approaches at the plate. But it's clear: 2003 was a different era, and it wasn't that long ago.