Led by the reliable Dustin Pedroia, the healthy combination of David Ortiz and Mike Napoli and lockdown starting pitching, the 2013 Boston Red Sox are off to a flying start. At 18-7, they lead the American League East by 2.5 games, boast a +40 run differential and sport the best record in baseball through the first 25 contests of the season.
Red Sox on pace for 116 wins— Erik Milton (@EMilton1993) April 29, 2013
Coming into the season, it was clear that the Red Sox had improved from the 69-win disaster of 2012, but few could predict a team playing .720 ball and putting themselves on pace for around 117 wins, which, of course, would ensure a summer of sellouts at Fenway and one of the most amazing turnarounds in the history of baseball.
Through 25 games, Boston is very good, but a look at every team to win 100-plus games in a season since the 2001 Mariners gives very little indication as to how much stock fans should put into a hot start.
#redsox league leaguers: ellsbury 3B (3), SB (11), Napoli 2B (13), pedroia times on base (49). also nap 2nd in rbi (27)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) April 29, 2013
Including those 116-win Mariners of 2001, 13 teams have won at least 100 games through the end of last season. After analyzing those 13 seasons, including comparing their starts to Boston's 18-7 sprint this April, the current Red Sox are near the top of the class, but hardly a lock to play this kind of baseball moving forward.
Of the 13 squads to win 100-plus, the average start through 25 games was 15-10, with an average run differential of +11. In other words, those teams were good, but not as good as this current Red Sox group.
Of course, there were many outliers.
The 2001 Mariners, on their way to a record 116-win season, sprinted out to a 20-5 start, sporting a +49 run differential along the way. On the other hand, the 2001 Athletics, in the same division as the Mariners, won more than 100 games despite an 8-17 record and -25 run differential early on.
Of those 13 teams, four had negative run differentials, two had losing records, and just two—the 2001 Mariners and 2003 Yankees—were better than the 18-7 record of the current Red Sox.
If anything, the hot start should embolden Red Sox fans to think that their team is better than average, but it's hard to point to recent history as a reason why they'll play great baseball the rest of the way.
Instead, look to a remade roster, improved health and bounce-back performances as areas in which this Red Sox team can continue to improve and hold their prowess throughout the season.
Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz look like co-aces atop the rotation. As a group, Red Sox starters have pitched to a 3.14 earned run average, blazing their way to a franchise record for victories in April. The hot start hasn't been luck, but rather the residue of design. Along with the co-aces, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront have given Boston a quartet of arms that have produced the following FIP marks, respectively: 2.68, 2.31, 3.26, 2.87.
Despite uneven returns from Will Middlebrooks (.232 OBP) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.725 OPS), the offense is third in baseball with 128 runs scored. Much of that production can be attributed to hot starts by David Ortiz (1.400 OPS since returning from the DL) and Mike Napoli (27 RBI), the latter of which might turn out to be the best one-year contract in baseball.
Also Congrats to @mikenapoli25 for most extra base hits in April for a Red Sox! Pretty amazing considering the below average beard!— Dustin Pedroia (@15Lasershow) April 27, 2013
The hot start and great individual performances have almost made fans forget how poor this team was last year. To be fair, it's a drastically different team between players returning from injuries and free agent acquisitions, but don't forget the glaring 69-win total from last summer.
If these Red Sox can somehow continue to play .720 ball throughout the summer, they will defy history by completing a 48-game improvement in just one season.
As Mark Armour pointed out a decade ago in Baseball Prospectus, 20-win improvements aren't very rare, but seeing a team improve by 30 or more games is eye-opening. Asking these Red Sox to improve by 40 or more is probably an unrealistic goal.
How many games will the 2013 Red Sox win?
The AL East is tough from top to bottom, Buchholz and Lester have to stay healthy and productive through a full season and the team only has three more games against the Houston Astros this season.
So bottom line, can Boston pull off the seemingly impossible? Are 116-plus wins in their future?
There may be a 90-plus win team in Boston again, but 100-plus or the challenge of the single-season win record would be a magnificent and historic leap that the numbers don't back up.
Are the 2013 Red Sox a great team?