If I had told you on Dec. 31, 1999, that the next decade for the Red Sox would include seven 90-win seasons and, yes, the end of “The Curse” as well as a second World Series championship, I’m pretty sure the news wouldn’t have come as a galloping shock. Why would it?
I know, the Yankees were in the middle of a dynastic run, but did they have Nomar Garciaparra, who was 25 years old and hit .357 in 1999? Or how about Pedro Martinez? Just 27, entering his prime. He went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA in 1999.
OK, Jimy Williams was quirky, but he did lead the Sox to 94 wins and the ALCS in 1999. And Dan Duquette? Won’t be filming any sitcom pilots soon, but between the Pedro trade, the Jason Varitek/Derek Lowe deal and the ability to find guys off the street (Reggie Jefferson, Troy O’Leary, Bret Saberhagen, Tim Wakefield), it sure would have seemed that he was the right guy for the job.
The core was in place.
Well, things have a way of changing.
What was Theo Epstein doing in 1999? Passing the California bar exam. Terry Francona? Just finished his third (losing) season as Phillies manager. He’d be fired in 2000 after winning 65 games. David Ortiz had 20 at-bats for the Twins in 1999. His batting average? How about .000? What kind of odds would you have given me on 12/31/99 that these guys would be a huge part of the first Red Sox World Series winner in 86 years?
So here’s a look at the decade that was for the Red Sox. We’ll hand out a few awards, ask a few questions and try to figure out what it all meant.
(Just one thing before we get started. I’ve decided to ignore the steroid factor when dealing with the last 10 years. Before the e-mails come in blasting me for being inconsistent (I’ve written plenty about how toothless baseball has been on the issue), let me say that I am very well aware that some guys on the Red Sox took performance-enhancing drugs over the last decade. But the truth is that (a) I have no idea who did what when, and (b) you don’t either. Time may very well change all that, but for now we are still in the dark. Sort of weak, I know, but for this kind of thing it’s the best I can do.)
So here we go (and, as always, feel free to e-mail away to firstname.lastname@example.org).
C: Jason Varitek
1B: Kevin Youkilis
2B: Dustin Pedroia
SS: Nomar Garciaparra
3B: Bill Mueller
LF: Manny Ramirez
CF: Johnny Damon
RF: Trot Nixon
DH: David Ortiz
SP: Pedro Martinez
SP: Curt Schilling
SP: Josh Beckett
RP: Jonathan Papelbon
A couple of thoughts:
Bill Mueller hit for a higher average (.303 to .295, almost a wash), had a better OBP (.378 to .350) and OPS (.853 to .829) in his three seasons with the Sox than Mike Lowell has in four seasons in Boston. Sure, Lowell was the World Series MVP in 2007, but Mueller was every bit as good in the 2004 World Series (Mueller batted .429, Lowell .400). I was surprised, but it was a pretty easy choice. If you had asked me before I started the column I would have assumed Lowell.
You could also make a case for J.D. Drew in right field, but I think the volume of Nixon’s work (six years vs. three, during which Drew has better numbers but not by enough) gives him the edge. No other position has anything even close to a debate.
If I had chosen four starters, Derek Lowe probably would’ve made the cut. If I had picked two relievers, Derek Lowe probably would’ve made the cut. Some say that if they had nominated six for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2004, Derek Lowe probably would’ve made the cut for his work in “Still We Believe.”
The best season by an eligible player not on this list? Would you believe Carl Everett in 2000 (34 homers, 108 RBI, .300 batting average, .587 slugging)?
Do any Sox make my all-decade MLB team?
C: Jorge Posada (Maybe never the best catcher in baseball, but never outside the top three or four at any point this decade. And a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.)
1B: Albert Pujols (player of the decade)
2B: Chase Utley
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Barry Bonds (Yeah, I know, but tough to ignore a .517 OBP from 2000-07. Plus if I leave him off for the steroids, Manny is next in line at LF.)
CF: Carlos Beltran (Not a great crew here. Not sure there’s a Hall of Famer in the bunch. Jim Edmonds? Andruw Jones? Torii Hunter?)
DH: David Ortiz
SP: Roy Halladay
SP: Johan Santana
SP: Pedro Martinez (2.99 ERA is the best of any starter during the decade.)
RP: Mariano Rivera
Think the Diamondbacks got equal value in the Curt Schilling trade?
Casey Fossum: One season in Arizona. A 4-15 record with an ERA of 6.65. Traded after the 2004 season for Jose Cruz, who hit .214 in 64 games.
Brandon Lyon: Missed the 2004 season (elbow) and was awful in 2005 (6.44 ERA). Actually bounced back and was OK in 2006 and 2007, but struggled again in 2008. Signed as a free agent with Detroit in 2009.
Michael Goss: Doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. Never a good sign.
Jorge de la Rosa: Packaged a few days later and sent to Milwaukee in a deal for Richie Sexson.
So Arizona got two years of decent pitching from a middle reliever in the trade -- and the Diamondbacks were the ones who proposed the package to the Sox. The Sox won a couple of World Series in the four years Henry Cabot Schilling was in town, and No. 38 finished his tenure in Boston with a regular-season record of 53-29 and a playoff record of 6-1. Probably they win the Series without Schilling in 2007, but it’s possible that without that trade the Sox are still looking to end the “1918” chants.
I can’t sign off on the Eric Gagne trade as the worst, considering that (a) everyone thought it was a steal at the time, (b) David Murphy would never be more than a fourth outfielder with the Sox and (c) the Sox won the World Series in 2007 even with Gagne wasting a spot on the playoff roster. No real harm done.
But the Jeff Suppan trade in 2003? This had a lasting impact.
I still think Freddie Sanchez could’ve been an everyday shortstop, something you may have noticed the Sox have sort of been looking for over the last five years or so. He doesn’t fit the Theo mold perfectly (career .334 OBP), but he’s won a batting title and is a pretty safe bet for at least a .280 average each season. At worst he’d be a “leave alone” guy at shortstop.
And Mike Gonzalez has a career ERA of 2.57 and 330 strikeouts in 280.2 innings pitched. He has the fifth-best ERA among relievers since 2004 and will be a closer somewhere in 2010.
And unlike Gagne, not a lot of people thought the Suppan addition clinched a World Series. There were a lot of first-guessers on this one. And they were right, as Suppan had a 5.57 ERA for the Sox in 10 starts and never appeared in a postseason game.
You could throw the Doug Mirabelli for Cla Meredith and Josh Bard trade in the mix, I guess, but if I were a GM I would trade Meredith and Bard for Sanchez and Gonzalez in a flash. Bard has done nothing the past two years and Gonzalez has significantly outperformed Meredith since 2006.
BEST SEASON (PLAYER):
Sure, he only played in 120 games, but Manny’s 2002 season is the standard here. He won his only batting title (.349) and led the American League in OBP (.450) as well. His slugging percentage for the season, .647, was his highest in his Boston career by 28 points and was 139 points better than that season’s MVP winner, Miguel Tejada.
The rest of the top 10:
2. Manny Ramirez — 2006
3. David Ortiz — 2007
4. Ortiz — 2006
5. Nomar Garciaparra — 2000
6. Manny — 2001
7. Manny — 2002
8. Ortiz — 2005
9. Kevin Youkilis — 2008
10. Bill Mueller — 2003
The truth is that I could’ve put Ortiz’s 2004 season in over Mueller (or Youkilis’ 2008) but I decided to throw in a different name. The only MVP season of the decade, Dustin Pedroia’s 2008, falls somewhere in the 12-16 range.
BEST SEASON (PITCHER):
Well, a lot of folks who know a lot more than I do about this stuff think that Pedro Martinez in 2000 had the best season of any pitcher in history, so I think we can go ahead and hand out the consolation prize to the other folks.
Here’s what I wrote about Pedro's 2000 season a few months ago …
(1) Martinez led the AL with a 1.74 ERA, almost beating runner-up Roger Clemens (3.70) by a full two runs. Clemens was in fact closer to 38th place (Rolando Arroyo) than to first place.
(2) If Jimy Williams had left Martinez in for another inning during his final start of the 2000 season and Pedro allowed 45 earned runs without recording an out he STILL would have won the ERA title.
(3) His ERA in his six losses was 2.44.
(4) His WHIP for the season (.737) is the best single-season total in MLB history.
And this was at the peak of HGH madness (the average AL WHIP for the season was 1.49). Of the top 100 WHIP seasons all time, just six have been from the 2000s (three from Pedro). This season would have been dominant in the dead ball era, much less 2000, when the league ERA was 4.91. Forty-seven AL players hit at least 20 home runs in 2000. In 1910 (pretty much a typical dead ball season) the entire league hit 147 homers, which goes a long way in understanding a league ERA of 2.52.
(5) His batting average against was .167.
(6) He had 15 games with at least 10 strikeouts. In those 15 starts he had a total of 16 walks.
(7) How about these road numbers?
12-1, 1.66 ERA, 150 Ks in 119 innings
Road OBP against was .206
(8) The only season in history in which a starting pitcher struck out more than twice as many batters (284) vs. hits allowed (128).
(9) His highest ERA for any month was his 2.60 in August. Tough to call that month a struggle, though, as he had a .622 WHIP, a 3-1 record and a 25.5 K/BB ratio.
Hard to believe that Pedro won just one AL Pitcher of the Month Award in 2000 (April). I had a sneaking suspicion that the voters may have just looked at won/loss records to make the determination (shock), so I decided to have a look ...
Yup, the five other winners (James Baldwin in May, Cal Eldred in June, Clemens in July, Steve Sparks in August and Tim Hudson in September) combined for a 25-1 record. That's a huge edge over Pedro's 13-6 record (remember, his 5-0 record in April doesn't apply here.) So the voters got this one right, huh?
Well, maybe not.
Pedro Martinez (final five months): 13-6, 1.83 ERA, 234 Ks, 24 walks, .716 WHIP
The five winners: 25-1, 2.24 ERA, 143 Ks, 63 walks, 1.05 WHIP
Take out the win/loss and it's not even close. That's how great Pedro was in 2000. He was that much better than 25-1.
The rest of the top 10:
2. Pedro — 2003
3. Pedro — 2002 (Zito’s Cy Young season)
4. Jonathan Papelbon — 2006
5. Derek Lowe — 2002
6. Curt Schilling — 2004
7. Josh Beckett — 2007
8. Lowe — 2000
9. Papelbon — 2007
10. Keith Foulke — 2004
And a little Player A/Player B before we move on…
Player A: 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 227 strikeouts in 217 IP, 1.17 WHIP, 125 ERA+
Player B: 17-6, 3.86 ERA, 199 strikeouts in 212.1 IP, 1.192 WHIP 123 ERA+
Player A? Pedro Martinez in 2004.
Player B? Josh Beckett in 2009.
If you remember, one of the big stories of 2004 was how Schilling, not Pedro, was the alpha dog of the staff. And there were more than a few whispers about how Pedro was finished. And while there is no doubt that his 2004 season wasn’t nearly vintage Pedro, can the passage of time at least give us a little perspective?
Beckett was a legit Cy Young candidate for most of the 2009 season. Pedro’s 2004 season was better. A.J. Burnett has signed both a $55 million and $82.5 million contract in his career. He has never had a season as good as Pedro’s in 2004.
BEST FREE-AGENT SIGNING (NON-MANNY OR BIG PAPI DIVISION):
No long hair. Didn't coin "Cowboy Up." No nickname. No bloody sock. Wasn't the captain. Never tried to release an album. No embarrassing pictures with college girls popping up on Barstool Sports. No sick grandmother or sore throat or midnight meeting at the Ritz with Enrique Wilson.
Nope, what Bill Mueller did was play baseball and keep his head down. And in three seasons with the Sox he managed to win a batting title and deliver the biggest regular season hit AND postseason hit of 2004. Plus you could've easily made a case for him as World Series MVP (he hit .429 in the St. Louis sweep.) The final line for his three seasons in Boston? .308/.378/.474. And the price for that effort was $6.7 million. Not per season. Total. A steal at twice the price. (Or, if you believe this story, five times the price.)
WORST FREE-AGENT SIGNING:
Another way to look at how much of a bargain Mueller was for the Sox: His total contract was $3 million less than the Sox paid Matt Clement in 2006 (a 6.61 ERA in 12 starts.)
I'm going with Clement, but three other candidates did enough (or didn't do enough) to earn consideration.
(1) David Wells — Truth be told he was OK in 2005 (15-7, an ERA of 4.45 that was just about the league average) and was the one starter that pitched well in the White Sox series. But he showed up to spring training in 2006 looking remarkably like Mr. Belvedere and made only eight starts (with a 4.98 ERA) before getting shipped off to San Diego. Still, a season of decent production and a reasonable contract ($4 mil in 2005) eliminates him from the top spot on the flop chart.
(2) Edgar Renteria — When can you score 100 runs and still manage to have a lousy season? How about when you spend most of the season (129 games) batting second in a lineup that included David Ortiz (47 HR, 148 RBI, .300 BA, .397 OBP) hitting third and Manny Ramirez (45 HRs, 144 RBI, .292 BA, .388 OBP) in the cleanup spot?
Both Manny and Ortiz were in the top five in slugging and top seven in OBP for the 2005 season. Renteria had an OBP of .335 that season (and slugged just .385), right at the league average. So almost any player in the American League that season would’ve scored at least 100 runs in that spot.
Of course, not every player in the league was making $8 million. Renteria was just a bad fit in Boston. If Bill Mueller (.369 OBP) hits second in 2005 he might’ve scored 120 runs.
(3) Julio Lugo — Almost put him in the top spot, but he has a huge edge over Clement in postseason play. Lugo hit .385 in the 2007 World Series (after hitting .300 in the ALDS). Clement’s playoff ERA with the Red Sox? 21.60.
THE ‘WAIT, HE ACTUALLY PLAYED FOR THE SOX THIS DECADE?’ WINNER:
How about Steve Ontiveros? He hadn't pitched in the majors since 1995 when he joined the Sox in September of 2000 at the age of 39 after two Tommy John surgeries to reconstruct his pitching elbow.
You know the deal — everyone had given up on him, he had labored through the minors, all that stuff. And after all that he finally gets the call to pitch for the Red Sox in the middle of a pennant race.
Great story, right? Wondering why there was no Disney movie made about it? Well, I'm not sure, but giving up six runs in the first inning of a comeback start isn't something that goes well with a John Williams score. After that Ontiveros pitched two more times out of the bullpen for the Sox in 2000 and that was it. He never pitched in the major leagues again.
FLOP THAT TURNED OUT TO BE A BLESSING IN DISGUISE:
If Jeremy Giambi had even put up average numbers — something in the .270/.365/.450 range — he likely would have stayed in the everyday lineup for the 2003 Red Sox. And that probably would have meant that you and I would never have had, among others things, the immense pleasure of reading “Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits.”
CAN YOU MAKE A CASE FOR THE RED SOX AS TEAM OF THE DECADE?
Not if the Yankees win the World Series. Nope. That would eliminate the only advantage the Sox have. If the Phillies win, then you have to ask yourself this question: What is the value of one World Series?
The Yankees won eight division titles in the decade, the Sox just one. Four pennants for the Yankees, two for the Red Sox. If all you grade by is World Series titles then you’ve got your answer. I think any other standard would point to the Yankees, however.
(I’m sorry, but the Phillies are not allowed in this debate. The most games the Phillies won in any season this decade is 93. The Yankees have averaged 96.5 over the last 10 years, the Red Sox 92. Three playoff appearances for the Phillies. Nine for the Yankees, six for the Sox. The Phillies are 11th in baseball in wins from 2000-09. Sure they’ve had a nice run the last three years, but before that they were middle of the pack for seven years. Am I giving Robert Downey Jr. Actor of the Decade? Sure, if I’m starting the decade in 2007. But it doesn’t work that way. Gotta give him a hit for “Ally McBeal” and “Gothika.” Same goes for the Phillies. A 65-win season in 2000 counts the same as a 93-win season in 2009. And my Actor of the Decade? Maybe a little bit of a surprise, but I’m going with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Has anyone over the past 10 years given more good performances in good films? A few of the more notable efforts:
"State and Main"
"Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead"
"Charlie Wilson’s War"
"Synecdoche, New York"
A free copy of “Deep Drive: A Long Journey to Finding the Champion Within” if you can guess the movie on this list during which Rob Bradford fell asleep in the theater while watching.)
MOST BIZARRE STORY OF THE DECADE:
Two words: gorilla suit.
How crazy was the three months that Theo Epstein was out of a job? There was a period of about 24 hours or so during the whole saga when it looked like Jeremy Kapstein was going to be the general manager of the Red Sox. And I remember not being at all surprised. Everything seemed to be in play. If they had signed Jimmy Fallon as a consultant I would've read it in the paper the next day and quietly nodded.
PLAYER OF THE DECADE:
Manny Ramirez. Only other name that even warrants a glance is Ortiz, and he falls short in the categories that matter most.
Manny (eight seasons in Boston): .312 batting average, .411 OBP, .588 slugging
Ortiz: (seven seasons in Boston): .288 batting average, .388 OPB, .578 slugging
PITCHER OF THE DECADE:
Pedro Martinez. Here’s a line of his WORST numbers from 2000-03.
2.39 ERA, .700 winning percentage, 1.039 WHIP, 7.1 hits allowed per nine innings, 9.9 Ks per nine innings.
Not bad, huh? The WHIP, hits per nine innings and Ks per nine all led the American League. At his worst he was the best. Don’t forget, from 1999-2003 Pedro was to pitching what Babe Ruth was to hitting in the 1920s. If he could have played outfield three days a week and hit .270 or so he would have been Babe Ruth.