Friday, September 30, 2011

Anatomy of a Meltdown - Red Sox: 2nd Greatest Crash in History

Boston Red Sox September Schedule via ESPN
(Re-bigulates on click)
The Boston Red Sox did not win two games in a row in from August 27th to September 28th,

I went back over the Boston team schedule looking for series wins and loses; there's nothing in those columns that foreshadow September.

On Sun, June 12th the Sox  completed a season high 9 game win streak with a 3 game slaughter of the Toronto Blue Jays (5-1, 16-4, 14-1) - they were playing .600 ball and held a 2 game lead over the Yankees for 1st place in the AL East. The team was scoring runs like crazy - in two series that month they put up similar 14 run blow-out tallies.

Searching for Indicators

Inter-league play didn't go so well for the Bostons in the second half of June...

Fri, Jun 17 vs Milwaukee W
Sat, Jun 18 vs Milwaukee L
Sun, Jun 19 vs Milwaukee W

Mon, Jun 20 vs San Diego W
Tue, Jun 21 vs San Diego L
Wed, Jun 22 vs San Diego L

Fri, Jun 24 @ Pittsburgh L
Sat, Jun 25 @ Pittsburgh L
Sun, Jun 26 @ Pittsburgh W

Tue, Jun 28 @ Philadelphia L
Wed, Jun 29 @ Philadelphia L
Thu, Jun 30 @ Philadelphia W

..but everything went back to normal as the calander flipped to July. Before the All-Star break the Sox swept the Astros, beat the Blue Jays and then swept the Orioles in a 4 gamer. After the All-Star break things continued to go as expected - the Bostons continued to play .600 ball.

In mid August another hiccup:

Fri, Aug 12 @ Seattle W
Sat, Aug 13 @ Seattle L
Sun, Aug 14 @ Seattle L

Tue, Aug 16 vs Tampa Bay W
Tue, Aug 16 vs Tampa Bay L
Wed, Aug 17 vs Tampa Bay L

But then the ship righted and all seemed correct again in bean town - Boston beat both Kansas City and Texas 3 out of 4, and then won a series over Oakland losing the first and winning the last two. The date was Saturday, Aug 27th - Boston had just won 4-0 over the Oaklands and had a record of 82-51 - 15.5 games over .500. They held a 2 game lead over the Yankees - and a 9 game lead over Tampa Bay Rays for the Wild Card with 28 games to go

This would be the last time the Boston Red Sox would win 2 games in a row in 2011.

September can be a cruel month

Boston went to New York on Tuesday, August 30th and lost 2 out of 3, the first of 7 more series loses in September. The Sox went from a club playing .617 ball to a club playing .276 ball - from the first division to basement dweller in the blink of an eye.

There was no warnings, no sputtering - no injury(s) to account for a sudden change in fortune... . The Boston Red Sox just all of a sudden became a bad baseball team!

The Numbers

In an article by Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus from September 27, 2007 - titled, "Lies, Damned Lies Blowing It", Silver (with the help of an earlier article by Clay Davenport) works up the 13 worst collapses of all time,
"...defined by the teams that had the highest percentage chance to reach the playoffs at some point during the regular season who then failed to do so."
The percentage point, starting point 'A' on the time line, is a variable that makes it hard to compare over the different collapses that have happened in history - so I broke down the losing using ironically, team 'Winning Percentage' - from the beginning of the collapse until the end of the season: Below I chart 5 chokes from history that Nate Silver lists in his worst 13. I choose them based on lowest winning percentage during the collapse. To determine what is the best kind of collapse I feel that 3 qualities define a truely great collapse:
  • winning percentage on the dive
  • lead squandered
  • quickness of the about-face
The number of games over which the dive happened is important - the longer you play with a low winning percentage the further you fall against your rivals - but we're talking collapse here, which entails a sudden catastrophe. So in ordering this list I gave a low winning percentage and the size of the lead they squandered more weight than the number of games in the collapse:

Top 6 Collapses of All Time

#EpicFail   Team   D-Day    Peak     Situation        Games(W-L)  W%

#1    1964  PHI    17/Sept  89-58    6.5 up NL        15(3-12)   .200
.................................    No Wild Card
#2    2011  BOS    27/Aug   82-51    2.0 up AL-E      29(8-21)   .276
.................................    9   up WC(TBR)
#3    1995  CA     20/Aug   66-41    12.5 up AL-W     38(12-26)  .316
.................................    12   up WC
#4    1969  CHI-NL 19Aug    77-45    8   up NL        40(15-25)  .375
.................................    No Wild Card
#5    1921  PIT    22/Aug   76-40    7.5 up NL        37(14-23)  .378
.................................    No Wild Card
#6    1983  ATL    10/Aug   69-45,   6.5 up NL        48(19-29)  .396
.................................    No Wild Card


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