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The Monday Flyby - Gone, But Not Forgotten

Lucky number 7. That’s how many entries we had in this week’s FanPost Friday, over double what we had in the first week, let’s keep the momentum rolling!

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox
Can Drew Pomeranz escape from being underrated in 2017? One FanPoster tries to answer this question.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Thank you to everyone who participated in our second FanPost Friday. With one week of the format out of the way, it seems people have embraced how to respond to the prompts, and nothing could make me happier. This past weekend, we asked you to tell us who the most underrated players were in the history of the Red Sox. So now I’m going to name drop those players: Mike Greenwell, Reggie Smith, Tim Wakefield, Daniel Nava/Harry Hooper, Rich Garces, John Valentin, and Drew Pomeranz. These were the names you gave us, and you left suitable arguments to back up your claims.

The first article on tap, the leadoff batter, of sorts, was “The Gator’s Case”, by Ricochet!. And yes, it was their first FanPost, so congratulations to them for stepping into the exciting world of FanPosting. Ricochet! starts by utilizing a name drop of his own, running down a list of famous left fielders in our history. Among such visionaries as Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, and Manny Ramirez, stands the legendary Mike Greenwell.

Greenwell played his entire US career with the Red Sox. Drafted in 1982, he would stick with the Sox until the end of the 1996 season. Finding himself without an MLB job, “The Gator” would end up in Japan with the Hanshin Tigers. He would play seven mostly unspectacular games in Japan before retiring suddenly, after a stray foul tip would fracture his left foot.

Mike Greenwell heads for the dugout
Mike Greenwell returning to the dugout in 1988. In 1988, Greenwell would finish 2nd in the MVP voting, in large part thanks to his incredible amount of game winning RBIs (still an AL record).
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

As for why he would be nicknamed “The Gator”? He captured an alligator during Spring Training (apt time of year to be remembering Greenwell), taped its mouth shut, and shoved it in Ellis Burks’s locker. Yeah, this guy was definitely a member of the Boston Red Sox.

We will transition from that to a magnificent piece by JimEdsRight, titled “Underrated? See if you can even NAME this guy...”. As you would imagine, this FanPost takes the style of a guessing game, as Jim manages to make us think of multiple players he could be talking about. Personally, I thought he was talking about Dominic Dimaggio, and I was thinking I was pretty smart. Wool pulled over my eyes, I am a fool.

I won’t spoil the other names he brings up, but this is a definite worthwhile read, and was featured on the main page for a time (if you want to get your stuff on the main page for whatever reason, FanPost Friday is a wonderful chance to get that to happen!) for good reason.

I will spoil one surprise, the ultimate name in the end that Jim discloses as his pick for underrated: Reggie Smith, otherwise known as Carl Reginald Smith. Reggie Smith didn’t play his entire career in Boston like Greenwell, but Reggie Smith is definitely a worthy pick here himself. Between 1966 and 1973 (his years in Boston) Smith would find himself with a .281/.354/.471 line, 149 home runs, and 84 stolen bases. He would finish 2nd in 1967 Rookie of the Year voting to Rod Carew, denying him a unanimous victory by a single vote. Whether Carew was the deserving player depends on who you ask in retrospect, as Smith would carry a superior bWAR, but Carew had the better triple slash line in his favor.

USA World Baseball Classic team v Philadelphia Phillies
Reggie Smith talks hitting with GM Bob Watson before a game against the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009.
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Ultimately, Smith emerges with a highly successful career, both inside Fenway Park, and elsewhere. Interestingly enough, we can tie him in with Mike Greenwell in one more way besides being underrated: time in Japan. Reggie Smith would play two seasons for the Yomiuri Giants before calling it quits for good.

We have another debut to speak about: On to Lansdowne Street’s FanPosting debut! His response, “I Didn’t Choose Daniel Nava”, is as funny as it is interesting, proving you don’t need to necessarily have a serious piece, and it is 100% ok to have a little fun with your entries. In this piece where he kinda sorta talks about Daniel Nava, but chooses not to talk about Daniel Nava, he discusses the merits of Harry Hooper, who had a really good stat line back in the early 1900s.

Obviously, OtLS probably isn’t over 100 years old, so he never saw Hooper play, but he does bring up a good argument whether he intended to or not. Hooper was probably a rather forgotten player, despite averaging 3.2 bWAR per season in Boston.

Harry Hooper’s legacy, at least to me, is one of letting others shine. The moment I remember Harry Hooper for is an anecdote passed down to me through numerous texts, the true “birth” of one of the greatest baseball players (if not the greatest) of all-time: Babe Ruth.

Up until Harry Hooper’s intervention, Babe Ruth was a pitcher, and he also happened to be a really good one at that. Harry Hooper spoke with the manager, Ed Barrow, and convinced him to transition the Babe from the mound to the outfield. And thus, a legend was born.

He’s no Daniel Nava, though.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
Daniel Nava (who is not Harry Hooper) high-fives David Ortiz after Nava scores against the Blue Jays in 2012.
Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images

jimbotomy (lot of Jims in these parts) isn’t to be forgotten though, and neither is his own opinion, that Rich Garces is the most underrated Red Sox player. In “Underrated: Rich Garces”, Jim B tells us the tale of the second to last player to wear the number 34, Rich Garces. Obviously, 34 is about to be retired, thanks to the player pictured above being a legend. But before a legend donned the number, there was a lesser known reliever by the name of Rich Garces who owned it.

“El Guapo”, as his nickname went, (Google tells me that it translates to “The Handsome One” in English) sure pitched pretty, especially towards his prime, which happened to land in his time in Boston. Joining the Red Sox in 1996 at the age of 24 (about to be 25), he would remain with the Sox through the middle of the 2002 season, before the Red Sox would release him to pursue other ventures.

One of those ventures would involve a brief dalliance with the Colorado Rockies (in 2003), which would result in exactly zero major and minor league games being added to his ledger. He would attempt a comeback in the 2005 season, and the Red Sox would help facilitate this. However, after three innings in the GCL (in which he allowed one hit, and struck out four batters), he would be released, and find his major league (and minor league) career over.

Red Sox v Yankees
A shot of Rich Garces, the second to last owner of #34, on the mound against the Yankees in 2001. This would be Garces’s last season with an ERA+ above 100.
Photo by: M. David Leeds/Getty Images

Garces represents something of an anomaly in these compilations of underrated players: he was a reliever, one with only seven career saves to his name (five of which came in Boston). But his impact wasn’t irrelevant, as he would provide seven solid (if unspectacular) seasons overall with Boston. He may not have been the one to have his uniform number retired, but he can rest easy knowing he was only succeeded by the biggest Boston legend of the 21st century, and possibly more than that.

While we’re on the subject of underrated pitchers, let’s turn an eye to the player who pulled a reverse Babe Ruth: Tim Wakefield. Rick Bentsen writes about him in “Underrated: Tim Wakefield”, in part because Wake is underrated, and in part because I stole his choice of player (That’s still to come, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten).

Before reading what I have to say about the greatest knuckleball pitcher in Red Sox history, please, read Rick’s thoughts, and especially his post to Wakefield (which he wrote upon hearing of his retirement).

Before you can write about Wakefield the player, I think you have to talk about Wakefield the person. As a player, Wakefield’s numbers just aren’t going to blow you away. He would compile 200 wins in his career, one that seemed to last 80 years (that’s not an insult, I could have watched him pitch for 8,000 more), but he never made it look easy, like so many pitchers these days seem to be able to. Tim Wakefield was a paragon of effort and persistence, and his existence was actually crucial in my becoming the fan I am today.

In 2003, I was going through my first season as a true fan of the sport. I had heard of the Red Sox, and was happy if I heard they did well, but I couldn’t tell you who was on the team besides Pedro and Nomar, and I was fine with that. The 2003 ALCS was a whirlwind of emotion for a new Red Sox fan, especially since The Rivalry was still in effect, and still super serious. Even I could tell you, as a new fan, that Pedro was left in way too long. Of course we were about to blow Game 7. Of course it was now tied. Of course it was now extra innings.

Then Tim Wakefield came on the mound.

Tim Wakefield is pulled
Tim Wakefield pulled from Game 1 of the 2003 ALCS, after 6 innings of 2 hit, 2 walk baseball, making the decision to leave Pedro out to dry in Game 7 even more disappointing.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Wake would try his best, he would even get through the 10th inning unscathed, but it was clear that he was about to become the target of a lot of anger. Then it happened. You know how the story goes by this point, if you somehow don’t, then I both pity and envy you.

To those with sensitive ears, eyes, and hearts, avert all of them from this link of when 11 year old OOLF’s heart got broken for the first time, not by a girl, but by baseball, the cruel mistress of a life-long love.

Aaron Boone. That’s the name I grew to hate more than anything, and for a while, given I was 11, I had also felt that way about Tim Wakefield, and his knuckleball. I would eventually grow up (as some 11 year old boys tend to), and realize that Wake shouldn’t have been in that situation at all, and he was only out there because of the type of player he was, the type of player who would never say “die”, and always try to just do what he was best at, play baseball.

When he retired, I admit, it was both a happy and a sad moment. We had all known it was coming, and many of us were even actively hoping for it. He was on his last legs, and it was clear he was no longer a viable starting pitcher. But he fulfilled a role, even in these poor years, and it was one that I personally believe is relatively unnoticed. He serves as a reminder that persistence can be what puts you over the top. He was a good player, never a terribly flashy one (besides the knuckleball thing), but he came to work, he did his job, and he had a lot of fun doing it.

And he’s also a reminder that even if things aren’t working out, sometimes a fresh perspective can be all it takes to get to where you belong. After all, he was drafted as a first baseman, and ended up a pitcher with a knuckleball. You couldn’t get further apart on the baseball field in terms of talents.

In the model of guys who played for the Red Sox, and found their stride in the mid 90’s, John Valentin is another player who seems to be forgotten, despite being a relatively recent ball-player. BobZupcic makes another appearance in this past weekend’s FanPost Friday to make a case for Valentin as the most underrated Red Sox player in “Underrated: The Infielder Who Was Super-Ceded by Another”.

I don’t consider it stealing to utilize the same resource he used, so take a look at this list of career fWAR leaders (for the Red Sox). At the top there are a lot of familiar names, and as you trail down the list, you’ll see some names listed earlier in this discussion, including Reggie Smith and Harry Hooper. You’ll also note a few pleasant surprises, like Dustin Pedroia being in the top 10, and Mookie Betts already being 44th, so early in his career.

But this isn’t about Pedroia or Betts, this is about Valentin, a player who spent about half of his games at shortstop (mostly early in his career) and a third at third base. He would hit 121 home runs in 991 games in Boston, which works out to roughly 20 per 162 games, which is an awful lot of home runs for a shortstop type player to be hitting. But Valentin’s strength was never his bat, even though his bat wasn’t unimpressive. He was worth 11.8 dWAR in his 992 games in Boston. For a contrast, Dustin Pedroia has been worth 15 dWAR in 1398 games in Boston. While we must be fair to Pedroia (as he’s been a second baseman for almost his entire career, whereas Valentin moved from short to third), that’s an impressive feat, to be able to be favorably compared to such a hustle bound defender like Pedey.

Valentin is often forgotten however, because he wasn’t even the best Red Sox shortstop of the mid 90’s. That honor belonged to one Nomar Garciaparra (who ranks at 12th on the above list of career Red Sox fWARs).

Boston Red Sox v Chicago White Sox
John Valentin during a game against the White Sox in 1998. At this point he had transitioned into being a third baseman full-time, to make way for Nomar at short and Mike Benjamin at second.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

We’ve got one more story to cover, and it came in right at the buzzer. “Drew Pomeranz, the fourth ace in the Red Sox rotation” and its author, theloganscorpion, make a bold claim that I find curious, and possibly, true.

Take this claim, however, with a grain of salt, as there are two things that must be true for Pomeranz to be an ace, that I’m not sure he has attained yet:

  • The ability to go beyond 6 innings consistently (he averaged a little under 5 13 innings per start post-trade).
  • The ability to throw at least three pitches at a level that is higher than average.

Pomeranz has numerous pitches that can garner swings and misses on any night, from his fastball, to his knuckle-curve, to his slider, but the problem for him has been putting it all together. When he only has one of those working, you get painful nights where he departs after three innings, and a huge score. When he has everything working, however, we get a snapshot of what Pomeranz could be.

This game in particular is probably the best game Pomeranz threw in a Red Sox uniform. He found a way to go deep against a dangerous team (a team that blew the World Series), going 7 23 innings on 104 pitches. He didn’t strike many guys out, compared to his 6 inning, 11 strikeout game against the Rays ten days later, but he found a way to be more economical with his pitches, and played an overall stronger game as a result.

If you believe in what he was able to do with the San Diego Padres, where games like the above were more common (he had 6 games of 7+ IP with the Padres, and only one with the Red Sox), then you have to be excited that we got him for only Anderson Espinoza, who saw his star fall ever so slightly in 2016.

Boston Red Sox v San Diego Padres
Drew Pomeranz, 28, still has room to grow, but has made strides in recent years. He stands here, giving up a home run to Adam Rosales in his former park, home of the San Diego Padres.
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

On a personal note, Pomeranz is also a key part of my fanhood, much like how Wakefield was for me back in 2003. I attended my first Red Sox game last season, and it was Pomeranz’s third start with the Sox. I had been hoping to see Price, or Porcello, but fate had other plans. While I got to see some amazing things (like a Mookie Betts homerun in my first at bat at a major league park!), I also got to see Pomeranz’s stuff in action, first hand.

While he has a lot of talent, he also has a lot of holes in his game, enough for me to say he isn’t an ace. But maybe that’s just me underrating him! The other players on this list are done and gone, and cannot really do anything to change their stock. Pomeranz, however, has a chance to change perceptions in a way none of these other players can.

Before we finish our Monday Flyby, I promised, and am now delivering my personal choice for the Most Underrated player in Red Sox history. Drum roll, please...

Jason Varitek. That’s who.

Where do you even start with the former captain of the Boston Red Sox? Do you start with how he was part of the 2004 team that broke the curse? Do you start with how he was the first captain of the team since Jim Rice? What about his batting line (19th among 92 qualifiers in OBP from 1998-2011, Varitek’s playing years)?

No, I think we start with one indisputable fact. Jason Varitek caught four no-hitters, from four very different pitchers, which is a major league record (which he shares with Carlos Ruiz). He caught Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester’s no-hitters, between 2001 and 2008. That’s four no-hitters in a span of seven years. His defensive numbers were also pretty neat. In DEF (Defensive Runs Above Average), Varitek ranked 16th out of the 92 qualifiers who played during the same time period as him. Taking a look at the names above him, you get an idea of why he wasn’t higher. Pudge, two of the Molinas, Ausmus: defensive competition at the position was stacked in the early 2000s.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles
Jason Varitek, he of four caught no-hitters, walks in from the outfield before the start of a game in 2011 against the Orioles.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

But Jason Varitek did it in a way that just defied common sense. While these players, the Molinas and Pudge, were physically gifted, and were able to throw out any runner they wanted, whenever they wanted, Varitek never did enjoy their level of success, because his game wasn’t built on being the most physically strong and fit guy in the locker room. His rSB (basically stolen base prevention) score is far lower than that of the top tier defensive catchers. In fact, Varitek is last among the qualifiers in that category. He was not good at catching runners stealing. Every season of his career, he was below the league average in CS%. Every single season.

And yet, Varitek emerges with such a high DEF score, in comparison with his contemporaries who were excellent at stopping stolen bases. Time for a comparison. Varitek’s career CS%? 23%. Ivan Rodriguez’s (who is often seen as the best defensive catcher of all time) was 46%.

The first argument against what I’m about to argue is that Pedro Martinez was largely responsible for his defensive scores being as high as they were. But one pitcher can only do so much. For every Pedro pitching to Tek, there was a Frank Castillo, a Julian Tavarez, or a Daisuke Matsuzaka. He had to work with a variety of pitchers, and managed to get on the same page quickly with all of them.

There’s a reason he caught four no-hitters. And it’s not because of Pedro.

And that brings an end to the Monday Flyby. I certainly hope it was as fun to read as it was to type. I want to give a shout-out to all of the people who wrote FanPosts this weekend, and to all of the people who read those individual FanPosts as well. This community rocks.

I’ll see you all on Friday again, and this next prompt is going to be a bit of a doozy!

Edit: 2/20/17 4:14 PM ET

There was an additional FanPost was posted after the deadline for entries, but is worth looking at: KTOWNE’s “Most Underrated Player in Red Sox History... Bill Mueller, and it’s not even close”. I finish my recaps early, but even so, all opinions are always welcomed!