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.


*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 get the idea.

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