It used to always be about the more overt numbers. The original "murderers' row" of baseball was the top six in the 1918 Yankees lineup. However, following the epic performance of the 1927 Yankees, it became historically associated with that crew. It's been 84 years since that lineup hit .307, slugged .489 and outscored their opponents by 376 runs.
Baseball still places a premium on the big offensive numbers, but also places a premium on pitching. With teams now insuring that their best pitchers are kept as healthy as possible by employing rigid pitch count limits, offenses are being tested by some of the better pitching performances the league has seen in years.
There are currently 15 starting pitchers with earned run averages of under 3.00 in the majors. In 2009 11 pitchers finished under 3.00, in 2008 the number was only 8, and in 2007 only one starting pitcher finished the regular season with an ERA of under 3.00. Baseball is experiencing a resurgence of excellent pitching and that's making it important for teams to figure out a way to neutralize the great arms they will inevitably face.
Enter Theo Epstein and the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox philosophy isn't based on acquiring hitters who can maintain their offensive success against even the best arms. Instead, the philosophy is to acquire hitters who force pitchers to throw so many pitches that eventually they won't have to face the most dominant arms. This season, it seems to be working quite well.
This season, no team in baseball has seen more pitches than the 18,238 pitches seen by the Red Sox. In second place is their division rival, the New York Yankees, who have seen 17,398 pitches. That 840 pitch gap represents the largest gap between two sequential places in the entire ranking of all 30 major league teams.
Where does it start? Well, naturally, it starts right at the top of the order where Jacoby Ellsbury, who has seen the sixth highest amount of pitches in all of baseball, leads off. Dustin Pedroia follows, and to no one's surprise, he's seen the second highest amount of pitches in all of baseball.
The Red Sox will quite simply ride out a good pitching performance. They figure eventually they'll break through and score some runs. This is how they've built the lineup and the team. Before this season started, plenty of naysayers pointed out that the Red Sox lineup had too many lefties. The Sox do, in fact, count five lefties in their starting lineup. However, none of it has mattered to this point. The Red Sox currently lead all of baseball in runs, hits, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
Gone are the days when aces like Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver threw an endless string of dominant complete games regardless of how many pitches it took. This season, James Shields leads baseball in complete games with eight. While impressive by modern standards, this looks fairly pedestrian when one considers that Carlton had more than 10 complete games in every season from 1967 through 1982.
Epstein's offense is prolific. The hitters are going to be there all night—working the count, fouling off good pitches and not swinging at bad ones. If a manager is forced to use three guys out of his pen in the first game of a three or four game set, who does he bring in the next night if his starter has to come out early?
The Red Sox offensive philosophy and execution doesn't just wear down starters. It can effectively impact the workload of an entire pitching staff over the course of a few games. That starter that looked so good through five or six innings? He's leaving and once he does those Sox bats that were quiet earlier in the game may just explode.