Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 30, 2003
BASEBALL: Slugging Sox

Through Monday night, the Red Sox -- as a team -- are slugging .501. No major league team has ever slugged .500 before. The team slugging average record is a prestigious one; the record is currently held by the original "Murderers' Row," the 1927 Yankees, who slugged .489.

But of course, raw slugging averages aren't everything; slugging averages have varied widely over the years, from a low league average of around .300 in the pit of the dead-ball era to a high of almost .450 in the NL of 1930 and the AL of the late 1990s.

So, if you divide a team's slugging average by the league's slugging average, you get a relative number -- how much above or below the league a team is. Now, let's see how the 2003 Sox stack up to the all-time leaders; I've listed every team that finished 15% or better above the league average:

Year/TeamSLGLg SLG% Above Lg
1. 1884 Chicago White Stockings.446.34031.2
2. 1875 Boston Red Stockings (NA).407.31130.9
3. 1876 Chicago White Stockings.417.32129.9
4. 1884 St. Louis Maroons (UA).394.31624.7
5. 1927 New York Yankees.489.39922.6
6. 1874 Boston Red Stockings (NA).410.33721.7
7. 1873 Boston Red Stockings (NA).435.36220.2
8. 1885 Chicago White Stockings.385.32219.6
9. 1888 Chicago White Stockings.383.32517.8
10. 1872 Boston Red Stockings (NA).409.34817.5
11. 1976 Cincinnati Reds.424.36117.5
12. 1965 Cincinnati Reds.439.37417.4
13. 1886 Chicago White Stockings.401.34217.3
14. 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates.374.31917.2
15. 2003 Red Sox.501.42817.1
16. 1884 Philadelphia Athletics (AA).379.32516.6
17. 1947 New York Giants.454.39016.4
18. 1997 Colorado Rockies.476.41016.1
19. 1930 New York Yankees.488.42115.9
20. 1879 Providence Grays.381.32915.8
21. 1996 Colorado Rockies.472.40815.7
22. 1995 Colorado Rockies.471.40815.4
23. 1950 Boston Red Sox.464.40215.4
24. 1931 New York Yankees.457.39615.4
25. 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers .474.41115.3

Like a lot of "relative to the league" lists, this list is dominated by 19th century teams, some of them from short-season leagues (less than 120 games) and/or leagues of dubious "Major League" status like the Union Association or the National Association (which is not officially classified as a "major" league). There are also some severe park effects at work. So let's re-run the list with just the teams from after 1888, and for good measure we'll leave off the Coors Field teams:

1. 1927 New York Yankees.489.39922.6
2. 1976 Cincinnati Reds.424.36117.5
3. 1965 Cincinnati Reds.439.37417.4
4. 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates.374.31917.2
5. 2003 Red Sox.501.42817.1
6. 1947 New York Giants.454.39016.4
7. 1930 New York Yankees.488.42115.9
8. 1950 Boston Red Sox.464.40215.4
9. 1931 New York Yankees.457.39615.4
10. 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers .474.41115.3

Now, we're talking about a much more exclusive club -- this list is a who's who of famous great teams, including three Ruth/Gehrig Yankee teams. The 1927 Yankees, of course, were just playing a different game from everyone else. The surprise entry is the 1965 Reds, the last year for Frank Robinson in Cincinnati and Vada Pinson's last big year, as well as Pete Rose's breakout season, the rookie season of Tony Perez and a career year from Deron Johnson, who drove in 130 runs. (For Sox fans who are wondering, the 1977 "Crunch Bunch" just missed the list, at 14.8% over the league). If these Red Sox can keep up with this crowd, they're in excellent company.

UPDATE (Through 2004 season): The 2003 Red Sox slid to a .491 slugging percentage at the end of 2003, breaking the 1927 Yankees' record but falling short (compared to a league average of .428) of the 15%-above-the-league threshold to earn a place on the chart above.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:30 AM | Baseball 2002-03 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (3)

Interesting. I had no idea that the Red Sox were on that kind of pace or that the '27 Yankees record had thus far withstood the offensive explosion of the past few years...

Posted by: The Mad Hibernian at July 30, 2003 9:02 AM

Is it fair or acurate to compare teams at the turn of the last century and teams in the 30's with todays teams.

Changed factors:

Relief pitching

Livelier ball

The DH

Night Ball vs Dayball

Ballpark sizes

I am not so sure that those comparisons are fair.
This is not your Grandpappy's ballgame.

Posted by: David Weinfeld at July 30, 2003 10:10 AM

An interesting observation, but it might be better to start after the dead ball era, since that's when slugging really started to matter. That 1902 Pirates team was great, won the NL (no WS in those days), but the team slg% was only 88 points higher than the team batting average. Clearly it was their propensity for hits, that allowed them to be on this list, not so much for "power".

Also, most of these teams have at least two Hall of Famers, and some pretty consistently strong supporting castmembers (two RoY's, several MVP's, MVP-types and perennial All-Stars). This BoSox team is different. It's two great, maybe HoF players (Manny and Nomah) and a bunch of guys having career years: Mueller, Varitek, Ortiz and Nixon are all slugging between 50 and 165 points above their career averages.

None of which is to say that they're not racking up some impressive numbers, but there's a good chance that this team is gonna be sort of a flash in the pan.

i.e. don't expect Bill Mueller to hit like this in '04.

Posted by: Travis M. Nelson at July 30, 2003 1:55 PM

Is it fair or acurate to compare teams at the turn of the last century and teams in the 30's with todays teams.

It's absolutely fair and accurate to do so the way it's being done here, since apples are being compared to apples and oranges to oranges. This year's Red Sox are 17.1% above the rest of the league, which is playing by the exact same rules the Red Sox are.

Posted by: Christian Ruzich at July 30, 2003 4:47 PM

Regarding "Slugging Sox" (July 30th,2003)

A friend of mine postulated that the pecentage over league average technique might create a misleading number.

Such as the case of the 1927 Yankees who, he says had the top three pitchers (ERA) in the league.

The significance of this would be that the top slugging team (Yankees) would not have to face their own pitchers.

This of course is not their fault and the resulting adjustment for this (if possible) may not be of a magnitude that it would change any ranking.

Is this a valid comment?

Regards, Lance Finskars

Posted by: Lance Finskars at October 15, 2003 2:30 PM
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