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.


*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".

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