Monday, November 4, 2013

A true World Series winner - Red Sox (MLB) vs. Rakuten (JAPAN)

By PATRICK GORDON | Managing Editor

Though he is now out of the sport, Bobby Valentine undoubtedly remains one of baseball's most controversial figures.

Aside from his time managing the Mets and Red Sox, "Bobby V" spent parts of seven seasons managing the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan's Pacific League, leading the club to a Japan Series win in 2005. 

We could go on and on about Valentine's behavior in the majors, but instead I'm honing in on specific comments he made following his 2005 Japan Series victory where he challenged Major League Baseball and the then World Series champion Chicago White Sox to a seven-game series. 

Senichi Hoshino, manager of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, is tossed into the air Oct. 21 after the professional baseball team clinched a spot in the Japan Series. (The Asahi Shimbun)"I'm not talking about all-star exhibition games," Valentine said. "I'm talking about two battle-proven teams who have played a season together and know how to play baseball - pitting them against each other.

"If the people making all the big decisions in baseball don't know the difference between all-star exhibition games and a competition between true champions, they shouldn't be in the decision-making process to begin with."

Valentine's invitation was ignored and his comments never received much play in America.   

It's now eight years later, but let's imagine the two leagues - Major League Baseball and the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan - came together and allowed their respective champions to face each other in a seven-game series. What would happen?

Everyone knows the Red Sox knocked off the Cardinals last week in the World Series, but few baseball fans in the States know the Rakuten Golden Eagles topped the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday in a thrilling Game 7  to clinch the club's first championship in franchise history.

We've gone over this before [comparing the 1939 Yankees and the 1951 Yomiuri Giants], but comparing clubs across leagues and eras is not a simple task. Quality of play fluctuates and rules sometimes differ. Knowing this, numbers in comparison to competition are really all we have to work with.

The chart below shows how the two clubs - the Boston Red Sox and the Rakuten Golden Eagles - compared against their league opposition.  The chart below stems from the method conceived by Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein to rank clubs via standard deviations [read more about Neyer & Epstein's formula]. For those wondering, "la" stands for league average, S.D.S stands for standard deviation scored and S.D.A. stands for standard deviation allowed.

The formula to find S.D. Total:

((Scored - la scored) / S.D.S) + (la allowed - Allowed) / S.D.A)) 


Great, so we have some numbers, but what does it mean? Well, for starters we can clearly see the Red Sox were the more dominant champion. The numbers show the Red Sox were a combined 2.65 standard deviations (in terms of scoring) better than their opponents in the American League. Meanwhile, the Eagles were 1.97 standard deviations better than their counterparts in Japan's Pacific League.

We also can infer the Red Sox offense was far superior than the Eagles, scoring 1.11 standard deviations higher.

Going a step further, let's see how the Red Sox and Eagles compare via the Greatness Number.

Of the 783 clubs that have played in Japan since 1950, the Eagles have a Greatness Number of .558 and rank 170th.
  • G.N. for Japan (updated following the 2013 season) = (.492)+(RDiffPG*.089)+(WHIP*-.076)+(OPS*.149) 
The 170th spot of 783 clubs means the 2013 Eagles rank in the 78th percentile in Japanese baseball history. 

Meanwhile, the Red Sox put up a Greatness Number of .627 and placed 101st out of 2370 major league clubs dating back to 1900. The 101st spot of the 2370 clubs means the Red Sox rank in the 96th percentile in American baseball history.
  • G.N. for MLB (updated following the 2013 season) = (.504)+(RDiffPG*.096)+(WHIP*-.050)+(OPS*.089)
So, with all of this data, what do we know?

For one thing, the Red Sox were an extremely dominant team. ranking between the 1931 Cardinals and the 1917 White Sox in our Greatness Number ranking - both, the '31 Cardinals and the '17 White Sox were 100-win clubs and won the World Series. 

Secondly, though the Eagles won the Japan Series, they were not the best club statistically in Japan. In fact, two clubs from 2013 ranked higher than the Eagles in Greatness Number - the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (.567) and the Yomiuri Giants (567).

I wonder what Valentine would say if this were the year the two champions actually played each other. All indications are the Red Sox would breeze past the Eagles. 

- Patrick Gordon is Managing Editor of the Philadelphia Baseball Review. Follow him on Twitter @Philabaseball.

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