Both measures are used to determine the expected numbers of wins and losses given how well a team hits, pitches and defends. Pythagorean estimates are based on runs scored and allowed, while third-order records are based on the components that go into scoring and preventing runs.
The quality of competition, meanwhile, is a factor -- but not as drastic as it may seem. While the Red Sox played in the tougher American League, they also played in a division with two bad teams. Meanwhile, Colorado's five-team division featured three teams that were in playoff contention until the last day of the season and another that finished with a winning record.
Still, the gap between Boston and nearly every other team, in terms of regular-season performance, is dramatic. The Red Sox finished fourth in the Majors and third in the National League in runs scored with 867. And despite playing in the designated-hitter league, they lead all of baseball by allowing only 657 runs. Their plus-210 scoring margin was baseball's best.
Colorado, meanwhile, was the National League's second-highest-scoring team in the regular season, behind only the Phillies. But even with the humidor in use, Coors Field remains a hitters' haven. The Rockies scored 382 runs in road games, fifth in the league and closer to the 13th-place Nationals than the fourth-place Padres.
Then again, that same split tells you something about Colorado's pitching and defense. While the Rockies rated eighth in the league in runs allowed, they were fifth in runs allowed in road games.
Speaking of home-field, both Boston and Colorado ranked among the best home teams in the Majors. The Rockies' 51-31 home record was second-best in the NL, while the Red Sox were fourth in the AL at 51-30. But the flipside is that Boston also played superbly on the road. With 45 wins away from home, the Red Sox were the best road team in the American League and second-best in baseball. Colorado, meanwhile, was 39-42 away from Coors Field.
And the defenses? Colorado's may be a little overrated, but it's legitimately excellent. The Rox set a Major League record for team fielding percentage, but that's a dicey way to measure a team's defense. Errors are subjective, and you can't make an error if you don't get to the ball.
Still, Colorado ranked eighth among 30 big league teams in defensive efficiency, which tells you what percentage of balls in play a team turns into outs. Moreover, despite not allowing all that many baserunners (Colorado was 12th in the Majors in opponents' on-base percentage), the Rockies turned the second most double plays in baseball.
But the Red Sox played exceptional defense as well. Boston finished third in the Majors in defensive efficiency, ahead of the Rockies and closer to first place than eighth. They finished third in fielding percentage. Boston was sixth-to-last in double plays, but that results in part from allowing very few baserunners.
The World Series presents the matchup that you can only hope for when the postseason begins -- the National League's best team is, in fact, going up against the American League's best squad. And the AL champion is, top to bottom and start to finish, the better team statistically.
But the thing to remember in October is that the best team doesn't always win. When two good teams play seven games, they've both have almost an even-money shot of popping champagne. If they were playing 162, the Red Sox would be heavy favorites. Over seven, it's Boston by just a hair.