ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 26: Daniel Nava #29 of the Boston Red Sox is out at second as Pete Kozma #38 of the St. Louis Cardinals turns the double play on a ball hits a by Xander Bogaerts #72 of the Boston Red Sox during Game Three of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 26, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The World Series this season matches the highest-scoring teams in their leagues. The Red Sox led the American League with 853 runs, 151 more than the league average, and the Cardinals led the National League with 783, 134 more than the league average.
Both teams were strong at preventing runs, too. The Red Sox allowed 656, 40 fewer than the average AL team, and the Cardinals allowed 596, 59 fewer than the average NL team.
On the surface, both are more above their league average on offense than on pitching and defense. For the Red Sox, the story isn’t much different if, instead of runs, you break the offense down into on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjust for ballpark effects and normalize to league average.
The result is called OPS-plus, and you can find it at Baseball-Reference.com. The Red Sox stand at 117, which means they’re producing at 117 percent of an average team. You can do the same normalizing for league and ballpark for earned-run average. The Red Sox have a 108 ERA-plus, above the league average, but not by as much as on offense.
It’s a slightly different story for the Cardinals. Their OPS-plus is 104 and their ERA-plus is 107, so they show up as a slightly better pitching team.
Of the 40 Series teams from 1992 to 2012 (there was no series in 1994), 29 were better than their league average in both runs scored and runs allowed. Three were above their league average only in runs scored and eight only in runs allowed, though some of the margins were minimal. The 1996 Yankees and 2008 Rays missed their league average by one run, and the 2000 Mets and 2010 Giants missed by four.
The Red Sox’ two Series champions during that time both had powerhouse offenses and strong pitching. When the Red Sox broke their 86-year championship drought in 2004, they had an OPS-plus of 110 and an even better ERA-plus of 116.
In 2007, the Red Sox bettered the AL average by 73 runs scored and 124 runs allowed, leaning toward pitching with an outstanding 123 ERA-plus against a 107 OPS-plus.
The Cardinals also have two Series titles during that time, most recently in 2011 with a lean toward offense (94 runs above the NL average, 19 more runs allowed than the NL average, 112 OPS-plus, 99 ERA-plus). And the 2006 Cardinals were one of the most unusual champions in history, an 83-78 team that got hot in the postseason. That shows in their totals, bettering the NL average by only 10 runs scored and 23 runs allowed and below the NL average at 97 OPS-plus and 98 ERA-plus.
There’s no single-best formula for reaching and winning the World Series. Pitching-heavy teams win, and so do offense-heavy teams. But it works best if you’re solid on both sides.