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Another Ride On The Red Sox Roller Coaster

Last April, we previewed the Boston Red Sox’s 2015 season by focusing on the franchise’s wild ups and downs in recent years. Although they posted only 71 wins in 2014, advanced-stats outlets such as FanGraphs projected Boston to win 90 games, which would have been a 19-win increase — and would have come on the heels of a 26-win decrease, after a 28-win increase, after a 21-win decrease. Boston was shaping up to be on MLB’s craziest roller-coaster ride ever.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The Red Sox spent most of 2015 playing just as poorly as they had in 2014, finishing with 78 wins only thanks to a strong push in the season’s final two months, and the fallout was a total front-office shake-up. But more than one-third of the way into the 2016 season, the Red Sox appear to have made the leap that was expected of them a year ago: They have a 34-25 record, are only two games out of first in the American League East, and have a full-season FanGraphs projection of 90 wins. If that last number holds up, Boston’s past five years will once again represent the most up-and-down stretch in modern MLB history:

WIN DIFF. IN NO. OF SEASONS EARLIER
SEASON TEAM WINS 1 2 3 4 5 AVG. ABSOLUTE Δ
1 2016 Red Sox 90 -12 -7 +26 -28 +21 18.8
2 2010 Mariners 61 +24 -24 +27 -10 -9 18.8
3 2004 Mariners 63 +30 0 +23 -25 -12 18.0
4 2002 Cubs 67 +21 -23 +2 +22 -21 18.0
5 2007 Diamondbacks 90 -14 +1 -26 +33 +14 17.6
6 1997 Giants 90 -22 +8 +2 +25 -31 17.6
7 1992 Orioles 89 -22 +9 +11 -33 +13 17.4
8 1983 Athletics 74 -6 +25 -10 -29 +15 17.1
9 1994 Reds 92 -19 +17 -16 +17 -16 17.1
10 1999 Padres 74 +24 -22 +15 -12 -12 17.1
11 1988 Indians 78 -17 +23 -24 +15 -5 16.8
12 1984 Angels 81 -11 +23 -17 -10 +22 16.7
13 1992 Dodgers 63 +30 -7 -8 +17 -22 16.6
14 1989 Cardinals 86 -10 +19 -16 +22 -17 16.6
15 1972 Indians 75 -15 +16 -14 +24 -12 16.0
16 2003 Angels 77 +22 -24 +7 -12 +15 16.0
17 1985 Reds 90 -20 +4 -13 +36 -8 16.0
18 2000 Marlins 79 -15 -10 +38 -12 -4 15.9
19 2002 Astros 84 +9 -21 +25 +5 -18 15.6
20 1970 Mets 83 +17 -27 -12 +5 -16 15.6
MLB’s biggest roller-coaster rides (1962-2016)

2016 win totals based on rest-of-season projections. Seasons under 162 games were regressed to 162 games. Results were filtered so that duplicate stretches including the same team-season twice were discarded.

Source: FanGraphs, Lahman DB

What has changed for Boston since the past two disappointing seasons? Mainly, they’re getting better performances from the lineup. The Red Sox were pretty much a dead-average hitting and fielding team a year ago, which added up to a mediocre record when combined with an unspectacular pitching staff. But this year, no team in the majors — not even the vaunted Chicago Cubs — has gotten more wins above replacement from its position players than Boston, a development headlined by drastic improvements from Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, a bounce-back season from Dustin Pedroia and the general agelessness of David Ortiz.

The Red Sox will probably still spend the summer in a division dogfight with the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays; our power ratings say they’re basically a coin flip (48 percent) to win the East. But even that represents an improvement over the past two seasons and could provide more twists in the roller-coaster track the franchise has been riding. Things are never dull when it comes to baseball in Boston.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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