Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best Sox Players of the Decade: 2003

2003 was a year of heartbreak, a year the Sox should have made it to the World Series but didn't because of Grady's inexplicable decision to leave Pedro in during Game Seven. But it was also the year that, after that GD homer and the hated Yankees began to celebrate, I said (and my wife can back this up) "The Sox are winning it all next year."* Because the Yankees didn't win that game as much as the Sox let it go. And that was a sea change in how those two teams interacted. 2003 was also the year you could see the Sox becoming a genuine contender, a pretender no longer.


Best Players For Boston: 2003


3. Trot Nixon: I said it before and I'll say it again; Trot doesn't get enough credit for what he brought to the table when healthy. In 2003 Trot had the single best season of his career. He hit .306 with a .975 OPS (OPS+ 149: best among right fielders in the AL) and tallied 28 homers to go with 87 RBI. He also led all AL right fielders with an ISO of .272** and was routinely among the top five in most other offensive categories. His glove was a little off; his fielding percentage was slightly lower than the league average. But Trot was a huge part of Boston's success in 2003. The highlight was his 11th-inning pinch-hit homer to win Game Three of the ALDS against the A's, staving off elimination and setting the stage for a three-win comeback.


2. Pedro Martinez : This wasn't Pedro's best year. He didn't go to the All-Star game or win 20 games. All he did was go 14-4 in 29 starts with a 2.22 ERA. He led the AL in win percentage, ERA, ERA+, WHIP, H/9 and K/9. Yup, this was an off year for Pedro. He was one of four starters for the Sox to win 11+ games in 2003 (Lowe led the team with 17 wins). Pedro, however, led the team in tossing insane bald men who have no business being in a brawl during the post-season.***


1. Manny Ramirez: After an injury-riddled 2002 (where he still hit like a monster), Manny kept up the pace in 2003. He hit .325 (2nd best in the AL behind teammate Bill Mueller) with 37 homers and 104 RBI. He had a 1.014 OPS (OPS+ 160) and led the AL with a .427 OBP. He racked up 185 hits (a career high) and 117 runs scored (also a career high). His glove that year wasn't atrocious, just a little beneath the league average for left field. But he more than made up for that with his bat. And this was the first year we saw the Ramirez/Ortiz tandem in action. They combined for 68 homers and 205 RBI that year. It would have been more but Papi was platooning at DH at the beginning of the season until management realized this was incredibly stupid.


This was also the year that "Manny being Manny" kicked into gear. Remember how he was "sick" but spotted in a bar with Enrique Wilson? The result was Theo putting Ramirez on irrevocable waivers after the ALCS. And no one took the deal. In retrospect, not a smart move on the part of the 29 other teams as far as keeping the Sox from winning titles. But the drama factor ratcheted up 1000% over the next few years in Boston.


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*This is the greatest prediction I ever made in my life and I still brag about it whenever the opportunity comes up. Of course, nailing something this huge rarely happens for me. I'm also the guy who said earlier that year that no one would want to watch a movie made on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. So there you go.


** Isolated Power, abbreviated as ISO, is a measure of a hitter's raw power, in terms of extra bases per AB. Trot had some pop.


*** That is still the craziest post-season game I have ever seen. Not only did you have the brawl and Zimmer getting planted like a deranged garden gnome, but you had Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia attacking a Sox groundskeeper for having the audacity to cheer for the Red Sox. And please don't say they didn't do it. One year later Garcia and Shane Spencer (then both with the Mets) were in an altercation with a pizzy delivery guy. As Pedro famously said, "Who are you, Karim Garcia?" The answer is "a guy with major control issues".

Monday, December 28, 2009

Best Sox Players of the Decade: 2002

2002 will be remembered not for what happened on the field (a very respectable 93-69 second-place finish) but for what happened off the field. The Harrington Trust sold the Sox to the ownership group headed by John Henry and Dan Duquette was fired as GM. That set the stage for the most successful period in Boston Red Sox history since the First World War. And although the Sox missed out on the playoffs again in 2002, they had some strong contributors on the team.


Best Players For Boston: 2002


3. Derek Lowe: This was the year Lowe transitioned back into a starting role. To say it was a success would be an understatement. Lowe went 21-8 with a 2.58 ERA over 32 starts. He pitched 219.2 innings and had a WHIP of 0.974. His ERA+ was 177, good for second in the AL behind Pedro. Lowe made his second All-Star game that year and finished third in the Cy Young voting behind Pedro and the 2002 winner...Barry Zito.*


2. Manny Ramirez: Manny's name will appear often on these lists for the simple reason that he is one of the greatest hitters in the history of the sport. He makes batting look like anyone could do it and that is how you know he is one of the greats. In 2002 Manny put up decent numbers for Manny...the kind of numbers any other hitter would kill for. Manny hit .349 with 33 homers and 107 RBI and lead the AL in batting average. He had an OPS of 1.097 and an OPS+ of 184. And he did all this despite playing in just 120 games that year; Manny injured his hammy and missed most of May and all of June. He still made his 6th All-Star game that year and finished ninth in the MVP voting.


In a lot of ways, I think of this as Manny's most impressive year. He put up a full season's worth of hitting in 3/4 of a season. He was a pain in the ass and I do think he had to move on, but that shouldn't stop us from recognizing his massive talent or what he did for the team.


1. Pedro Martinez: I cannot emphasize enough what a unique experience it was to watch Pedro Martinez in his prime. Rarely do you ever get to see someone so dominant in his profession play for your team. Pedro had another amazing year in 2002 after an injury-plagued 2001. He went 20-4 with a 2.26 ERA. He struck out 239 batters and walked just 40 for a K/BB ratio of 5.98. His K/9 ratio was 10.8 and he had a WHIP of 0.923. His ERA+ was 202, the third time in four years that his ERA+ was over 200. And all those stats I just mentioned – except for wins – led all pitchers in the AL. He went to his sixth All-Star game in seven years and finished second in the Cy voting behind Barry Zito.** It was also the last time Pedro would win 20 games in a season.


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*That's not a misprint, folks. Has a pitcher from the AL ever gone to the NL and gotten worse?


** For the record, Pedro got screwed. Everyone looked at Zito's 23 wins and 200+ innings and ignored the fact that Pedro led the AL in WHIP, ERA, winning percentage and strikeouts. He was the first pitcher to lead a league in all four categories and not win the Cy Young. And Zito was racking up those wins against weak sisters like Texas, Tampa, KC and Seattle. Meanwhile, Pedro beat the Yankees twice, Cleveland twice and Anaheim twice.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best Sox Players of the Decade: 2001

Ah, 2001...what a crap year for the Sox. They took second-place in the AL East with a pathetic 82-79 record, which still stands as their worst finish since 1997. Jimy Williams wore out his welcome before the season was over and Joe Kerrigan led the team to a 17-26 finish. No pitcher finished with more than 13 wins and no batter hit better than .306. Nevertheless, there were some decent performances that year.


Best Players For Boston: 2001


3. Brian Daubach: Referred to at the time by my wife as "the ugliest man in baseball"*, Daubach had a solid year for the Sox at first base. He hit .263 but had an OPS of .859, which translated into a OPS+ of 122, a better number than Tino Martinez put up in New York that year. He hit 22 homers and racked up 71 RBI, both third-best on the team. And he had a good glove at first, along with that "Dirt Dog" mentality that made him a crowd favorite during his time in Boston.


2. Trot Nixon: Speaking of "Dirt Dogs"...Nixon could still walk into any bar in Boston and not pay for a single drink. He gave 100% on the field all the time, which was why he found it so hard to stay healthy in his last few years in Boston (he never played more than 152 games in any season and averaged 105 games played over his last four years in Boston). But 2001 was one of Trot's two best years in Boston. He played 148 games and hit .280 with and .881 OPS. His OPS+ of 128 was fifth-best among outfielders in the AL that year.** Trot's 27 homers and 88 RBI were both second-best on the team and he set career-highs for himself in hits (150), runs scored (100), walks (79) and total bases (270). Was his glove the best? No...but you'll never get me to say a bad word about Nixon. If everyone played the game with his level of dedication, it would transform the sport.


1. Manny Ramirez: The inaugural year of Manny-mania. After spending the off-season watching Duquette prostate himself on ESPN in a desperate bid to bring Manny to Boston, we all found out his effort was worthwhile. Manny stepped in primarily as a DH in 2001*** and promptly began beating the hell out of the ball. His 41 homers and 125 RBI were the most by any Boston batter since Mo Vaughn put up 44 and 143 in 1996. He hit .306 and posted a 1.014 OPS (OPS+ 161), best among all DHs that year. Manny did play 55 games in left in 2001, and he had a fielding percentage of 1.000...yes, Manny was perfect in left.


What was stunning about Manny for fans in that first year (at least for me) was how he made hitting look easy. When Mo was crushing the ball in the 90s, there was visible effort. When Manny smacked one over the Monster, it looked like he was barely trying. All his other foibles aside (and they are legion), he is one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen.


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*I don't know if that's 100% true ... but do you remember when Dauber had that Abe Lincoln beard going? Upped the ugly factor about five times. Shaving that thing was the best thing he ever did.


** That's not a misprint. Better than Ichiro, Beltran, Shannon Stewart and Paul O'Neill. If Nixon had been able to stay healthy, he'd have put up some decent career numbers.


*** Left-field was primarily divided between three players: Manny got his 55 games, Troy O'leary started 45 and Dante Bichette started 37. Remember Bichette? We paid him $7M that year for 12 homers, 49 RBI and some of the worst fielding performances ever in right field. He played 16 games there (started 15) and had a fielding percentage of .909. Thanks, Dan!****


**** Yes, I know Duquette made some great trades, especially the Slocumb for Varitek/Lowe deal that stands as one of the all-time greats. But he also saddled the Sox with a lot of deadwood. Bichette, Kevin Mitchell, Jose Canseco, Jim Leyritz...you get the idea.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Sox Players of the Decade: 2000

I figured with the cold weather and slowdown of the hot stove, combined with what everyone else considers to be the end of the decade*, that it may be fun to look at the best players who have played for Boston over the past 10 years. We'll go year-by-year and then end with a Top 10 for the decade before the New Year...maybe.


Best Players For Boston: 2000


3. Carl Everett: What? Jurassic Carl? The man who decided dinosaurs didn't exist but graciously conceded that we may have landed on the moon? Yup. People remember the controversy (most memorably his dustup with Ron Kulpa on national television**) and the quotes ("curly-headed boyfriend" may be the best thing Everett gave Boston), but in 2000 Everett also had a monster season. He hit .300 for the season and posted a .959 OPS, which translated into an OPS+ of 135. He hit 37 homers and collected 108 RBI, leading the Sox in both categories. He was also a deadly clutch hitter that year, breaking up scoreless games late with a frightening regularity. And his fielding was good enough that the Sox didn't lose anything with him patrolling center. The result was that Carl went to his first All-Star game in 2000.


2. Nomar Garciaparra: This was Nomah! at the height of his powers. He hit a hellacious .372 for the year, the best season in Boston by anyone not carrying the surname of Williams or Speaker. He also posted a 1.033 OPS (OPS+ 155) while racking up 197 hits, 21 homers and 96 RBI. He led the AL in batting average and the Sox in hits, OPS and total bases (317). He was voted into his third All-Star Game in 2000 and finished ninth in the MVP voting. It's almost impossible to remember now that at this point in his career, we all thought he'd be a lifer for the Sox and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. How times change...


1. Pedro Martinez: Speaking of first-ballot Hall of Famers... In 1999, Pedro had one of the greatest single seasons by any pitcher in the history of the game. That year he won the Cy, went to the All-Star game and came within a whisker of the MVP***. In 2000, Pedro actually topped himself. He went 18-6 in 29 starts with a ridiculous 1.74 ERA. And no, that is not a misprint. The only pitchers since the end of WWI that posted a better seasonal ERA have names like Gibson, Maddux, Koufax, Chance, Hubbell and Tiant.**** Most impressive was Pedro's WHIP, which was a minuscule 0.737 and the best season for WHIP by a starting pitcher in the history of the game. Pedro racked up 284 strikeouts and walked just 32 batters for a K/BB ratio of 8.88, the sixth-best season for K/BB in MLB history. His K/9 number of 11.77 was ninth-best in MLB history. Pedro's H/9 ratio of 5.33? Fourth best in MLB history. Pedro's ERA+ for 2000 was 291, the best number of the modern era. Only Tim Keefe had a better number (294), and he set that mark in 1880.


If you were lucky enough to watch Pedro in 1999-2000, you saw one of the best pitchers in the history of the game put together two monster seasons back-to-back. It was like getting to watch Gibson pitch in 1968, Koufax in his jaw-dropping final two years (1965-66) or Bob Feller from 1939-41. Pedro owned the mound, the crowd and the opposition.


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* Look, the first year was the year 1, not 0. Therefore the decade begins in 2001 and ends in 2010. But since the cultural zeitgeist demands we simplify everything down, I'll bow to the erroneous standard for the purposes of writing these posts. But the Yankees still aren't the Team of the Decade. We have one more year to go.


** If you remember, the argument was over the line for the interior of the batter's box. Everett said he could have his foot on the line, Kulpa said it had to be inside the line. On a 2-2 count in the second inning, Kulpa called Everett on his stance and then drew a line with his foot. Everett though Kulpa was showing him up (which he was), threw his helmet down and...head-butted Kulpa. Well, supposedly head-butted Kulpa. If you look at the film, Everett's seems to knock Kulpa back 10 feet with his nose, not his forehead. But it looked bad and it was a national game, so Everett got a 10-game suspension and that began his slow decline in Boston.


*** That Pedro didn't win the MVP that year still infuriates me. He was the entire reason the Sox reached the post-season. He got more first-place votes than anyone else. He won the pitching Triple Crown (wins, Ks, ERA). But two knuckleheads (LaVelle Neal of the Minneapolis's Star-Tribune and George King of the New York Post) decided that they could ignore the rules for MVP voting and left Martinez off their ballots completely. And then they gave that lame "he plays every fifth day" bullshit excuse even though that isn't in the rules for voting! Just a travesty all the way around.


**** Let it be noted, however, that the lowest seasonal ERA posted by any pitcher since 1968, and the second-lowest since 1919, belongs to Doc Gooden. He posted a 1.53 ERA during his amazing 1985 season for the Mets. See Mets fans, I can say something nice about your team. Of course, you have to go to the history books to do it...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It All Starts To Come Together

The Hot Stove season began with a lackluster start. The Sox signing Marco Scutaro to a two/three year deal - when he isn't that much better than the guy who manned short at the end of 2009 - was not exactly inspiring. In fact, it downright bummed me out.


Scutaro is 34 years old and coming off surgery. His admittedly stellar 2009 season is an anomaly in his career. It stands out like a newbie at a Vegas blackjack table who splits his 10s. Scutaro's best batting average prior to last year was 2004 when he hit .273. His best OPS was in 2006 when he reached .747. His current 162 game average is hitting .265 with 13 homers, 50 RBI and a .721 OPS. Those numbers are marginally better than Gonzalez's 162 average (.247/15/69/.689). But even that average is influenced heavily by his anomalous 2009 season. Oh, did I mention he's 34? Let me do it again: he's a 34-year old shortstop! Unless your last name is Jeter* or your first name is Ozzie, I'm not trusting you at short at that age.


And then things got very interesting. The signing of Mike Cameron was a nice compliment to trading for Hermida. And while I would have liked Bay to come back, Cameron does have a better glove and strikes out less. Plus, it saved the Sox somewhere around $8M a year and freed up money for 2011 and beyond.


What I didn't see coming, but was kind of hoping for, was the Sox swooping in for John Lackey.


Make no mistake, this is a huge deal. The Sox have adequately answered the Yankees' move for Sabathia last season. You could solidly argue that the Sox front three of Beckett, Lester and Lackey is superior to the Yankees' Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte. And I'll take Daisuke and Wakes/Tazawa over Joba and a spare part on the back side any day of the week.


And for those who keep saying Lackey can't beat the Yankees, between 2007-2009 Lackey is 2-1 in six starts with a 3.14 ERA against the Yankees. They hit at a .255 clip off of Lackey over those games, which is to say they aren't exactly killing the ball. So Lackey is a little better against New York as of late, better than the stats would lead you to believe.


So Theo came through, deciding to go with pitching and defense as opposed to crafting a slugfest lineup. Which isn't a bad plan; the truth is that since Yankee Stadium is practically a Pitch 'Em Cage right now, trying to outslug the Yankees is not practical or even smart. Good defense is good everywhere; mashing bats can die in certain stadiums and against certain pitchers.


That said, the Sox still need one more piece. And I am praying it is Adrian Gonzalez.


Yes, the Padres don't need to deal him. And yes, he will cost a load. But he would put the Sox over the top and even the playing field with the Yanks without sacrificing defense. The one caveat to trying to deal for Gonzalez is that the Sox should not add Ellsbury as part of any deal. That is subtracting strength from one area to add in another and wouldn't improve the team overall. If I was Theo, I'd make an offer like this: Buchholz, Hermida, Lars Anderson, Ryan Westmoreland and either Ryan Kalish or Josh Reddick. The final four players are Boston's 2nd-5th best prospects. That's just an idea; I would wager there are other players and other variations that could work. Yes, it would be costly. But for a player like Gonzalez, you make that kind of deal.


With Gonzalez at first, the Sox would have a deadly lineup. Your top five would be Ellsbury, Pedroia and then a mix of Gonzalez, V-Mart and Youk. That matches any lineup in the game, including New York's. The single biggest obstacle to this is the simple fact that San Diego doesn't have to deal Gonzalez at this point. But the Sox have the parts to craft a deal if they are willing to move the prospects.


Even if that doesn't happen, Theo has made some solid moves this off-season and put the Sox right back in the hunt. And he did so while weakening the team that knocked Boston out of the post-season in 2009. You have to like a two-fer like that.


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* Yes, okay? Even I have to admit Jeter had a great 2009 at the age of 35. Damn it....