Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Talking Offense: The 1999 Tribe and the 2003 Red Sox

Last night, I dropped a note in passing about how the 1999 Indians were the best offensive team I have ever seen. This was not hyperbole. Consider that they scored 1009 runs over the course of the season. To put that in perspective, the two best offenses of this decade have been the 2007 Yankees who scored 968 runs and the 2003 Red Sox who scored 961. Clearly, that Indians offense was superior to the other two, and the other two were outstanding.

So what does a 1009 run offense look like? Check out these numbers:

4, 100+ RBI guys:
Jim Thome, 108
Richie Sexson, 116
Robbie Alomar, 120
Manny Ramirez, 165

5, 20+ HR guys:
David Justice, 21
Robbie Alomar, 24
Richie Sexson, 31
Jim Thome, 33
Manny Ramirez, 44

6 guys with a .397+ OBP:
Omar Vizquel, .397
Kenny Lofton, .405
David Justice, .413
Robbie Alomar, .422
Jim Thome, .426
Manny Ramirez, .442

Of all those stats, the six guys with the .397+ OBP is what gets me. Basically what that says is that two-thirds of their lineup got on base two times out of five. Or even more impressive to me, for every four times the lineup flipped over, between fourteen and fifteen guys would have reached base. Incredible.

And one more thing. Of the seven players above, only Robbie Alomar played in over 150 games. Therefore it could be said that the lineup probably did not even reach it's potential. Imagine if just a couple more guys topped the 150 mark? They'd probably be looking at the 1050 neighborhood and lapping the aforementioned Sox and Yankees teams by 100 runs. Check out the games played for those mentioned above:

Robbie Alomar - 159
Manny Ramirez - 147
Jim Thome - 146
Omar Vizquel - 144
Richie Sexson - 134
David Justice - 133
Kenny Lofton - 120

Between those seven players, they missed a total of 151 games total or between 21 and 22 games a person. Conversely, the top 7 players on the 2007 Yankees (Jeter, Posada, A-Rod, Damon, Matsui, Cano, Abreu) averaged about 151 games a person and they still scored 41 fewer runs. That means that their seven best players played on average 11 more games each than the Indians 7 best players and still were beaten by a healthy margin. Again, imagine what the Indians could have done if their guys averaged 151 games played per person that year instead of 140? Amazing isn't it?

The 2003 Red Sox are actually a slightly different beast as their starting 9 averaged 144 games played and that would have probably been higher if David Ortiz was not splitting time with Jeremy Giambi and Shea Hillenbrand (never gets less weird to write that) for the first two months of the season. As a result, Ortiz only played in 128 games. The only other regular under 140 games played was Trot Nixon who clocked in at 134 and in quite a harbinger of things to come spent time on the DL in September.

Another interesting thing about that Sox team as opposed to that Cleveland team, was that that Sox team was a model of top to bottom consistency and a study in an offense doing 100% what it was designed to do with a bunch of matching parts. This was of course to get on base and score runs. That 1999 Indians team obviously had similar attributes but the lineup was so incredibly star-studded and power hitter heavy that they could score at will and top 1000 runs with their best guys missing 21 or so games on average which is of course exactly what they did. Again, incredible. Meanwhile Bill Mueller, the Sox 9th place hitter won the batting title for them in 2003 and players like him, Kevin Millar, and Todd Walker were all vital cogs in the offensive machine. Not quite Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Robbie Alomar eh?

Here is what really gets me about that Sox team though:

Nomar lead the team in RBI that year with 105. Only two other players on the team drove in over 100 and they were not surprisingly Manny with 104 and Ortiz with 101. So where did all the runs come from then? Well five additional guys drove in 85+ meaning that the only starter for that team without 85+ RBI was Johnny Damon, the leadoff hitter who still managed to drive in 67. Again, incredible but in such a different manner than the 1999 Indians. The balance and efficiency there just amazes me. Sure the Indians lineup featured arguably 6 of the best at their positions in the mid and late 1990's but I think the Sox lineup intrigues me more on account of the relative lack of star power and sheer top-down efficiency.

I could talk about this all day though. I guess the lasting point is twofold. First, if the Indians Top 7 guys had been able to play on a more consistent basis, there is no telling how many runs they would put up, and second the Sox lineup maximized their ability to such an extent that I doubt if you played that season over and over again if they could manage to score 961 or even come that close to it. It was really a perfectly executed offensive attack and the chance of duplication there seems almost impossible. Meanwhile, that Indians team was so good, they set a very high bar as far as offenses go and the scary thing is that that bar probably could have been set a lot higher and would have been if they could have just averaged 145 games for their Top 7 guys. Okay, I'm fawning like Tim Kurkjian after that 30 spot was put up on the Orioles last year. Let's just appreciate the diversity - and greatness - of those two offenses and call it a day. Sound good?

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