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Looking back at our preseason superlatives

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How wrong were we?

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox
A simpler time
Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

What a difference a half-a-year makes. Things were so bright and cheery back at the end of March, and not just because it was my birthday. The Red Sox were the reigning champions (technically still true!) and the sky was the limit for their preseason performances. Spring is a time of optimism for baseball fans, of course, but it was entirely reasonable to be optimistic about this Red Sox team. At least that was what we thought. In hindsight, basically all of us were wrong about how this season would go.

Today, we’re going to look back at some of those preseason predictions. We’re not going to look at predictions on how the season as a whole would go, mostly because we didn’t do that! Instead, we’ll look back at our preseason superlatives series. In case you forget or are new to the site, every spring the staff and the readers pick who they believe will end the year with these titles: MVP, Best Pitcher, Defensive Wizard, Biggest Surprise (positive), Biggest Disappointment and Unsung Hero. Let’s see how we did!

Team MVP

Staff Picks: Mookie Betts (6), J.D. Martinez (1)

Readers Pick: Mookie Betts (52%)

There was almost a consensus here before the season, with Jake Devereaux being the one dissident voting for Martinez. Both of these players had great seasons, but they were also both steps back from their 2018s. They were far from being problems for the 2019 Red Sox, but they weren’t the MVP either.

Actual Winner: Xander Bogaerts

By the numbers, there’s a pretty fair argument to make that Betts was the better player than Bogaerts in 2019. I wouldn’t make it (obviously, based on my pick here), but the numbers are probably closer than you think. That being said, watching this team all year it’s hard to argue that Bogaerts was anything but the most consistently impactful player on the roster all season.

Honorable Mention: Betts

Best Pitcher

Staff Picks: Chris Sale (7)

Readers Pick: Chris Sale (59%)

There was a consensus here, and while it doesn’t look good now this was the clear and obvious choice coming into the year. Sale was a clear top-five pitcher in the game when healthy and was coming off a Cy Young caliber season the year before, again, when healthy. It would have been wild to pick anyone else before the year in this writer’s opinion.

Actual Winner: Eduardo Rodriguez

When we did this poll originally, of the 450 votes cast by readers only 28 of them went to Eduardo Rodriguez. In the end, he was the clear and obvious winner. Rodriguez took a massive step forward this year and while he didn’t get his 20 wins he did throw 200 innings with a 128 ERA+ and finished as a six-win pitcher on Baseball-Reference. He’s obviously not going to win the Cy Young, nor should he, but it’s not hard to envision a handful of down-ballot votes for the lefty.

Honorable Mention: Brandon Workman

Defensive Wizard

Staff Picks: Jackie Bradley Jr. (3), Mookie Betts (3), Xander Bogaerts (1)

Readers Pick: Jackie Bradley Jr. (69%)

Before the year I was among those who picked Betts over Bradley. I think if you’re asking me who is the better technical defensive player right now I would still say the same thing. But dammit if Bradley isn’t just so fun to watch. Not that Betts isn’t, of course, but the things Bradley does out there are just ridiculous. I will say that I was surprised Vázquez didn’t get more love before the year.

Actual Winner: Jackie Bradley Jr.

The numbers here say Betts is the right choice, and again I can’t sit here and argue that Betts isn’t absurdly great defensively. He is. But watching all year Bradley’s defense stood out more than anyone else’s. That might be unfair because Betts’ offense takes plenty of the attention away and Bradley’s defensive game has more flash, but life is unfair.

Honorable Mention: Betts

Biggest Surprise

Staff Picks: Eduardo Rodriguez (2), Eduardo Núñez (1), Dustin Pedroia (1), Rafael Devers (1), Jackie Bradley Jr. (1), Blake Swihart (1)

Readers Pick: Blake Swihart (30%)

I so badly want to rag on you, the readers, along with Mike Walsh for picking Swihart here, but I was the one who picked Núñez. I was all in on Núñez before the season. He did outlast Swihart, so I’ll take solace in that. Anyway, I’m not picking any of these names above for my actual winner, though there’s certainly a fair argument for Rodriguez and Devers. I would argue they had higher expectations than the actual winner (and honorable mention for that matter) but you can disagree if you so choose.

Actual Winner: Christian Vázquez

Before this season I think I was among the highest on Christian Vázquez and his ability at the plate. I say that because even I never saw a season like this coming. He certainly benefitted from the juiced ball and possibly even more so than most players around the league. That being said, everyone used the same ball and even adjusting for offense around the league he was a league-average hitter. That may not sound super impressive, but it’s really rare for a good defensive catcher to hit that mark. By Baseball Prospectus WARP, which best takes into account catcher defense, he was the fifth most valuable catcher in baseball.

Honorable Mention: Workman

Biggest Disappointment

Staff Picks: First Base Platoon (1), Jackie Bradley Jr. (1), Bullpen (1), Dave Dombrowski (1), Catchers (1), Chris Sale (1), Rick Porcello (1)

Readers Pick: First Base Platoon (18%)

This obviously brought the biggest disparity of responses because it’s sort of a wide-ranging question. There is a matter of not only predicting performance but evaluating expectations. Anyway, I went with Bradley here and I certainly don’t think I was right. The center fielder wasn’t great by any means, but he was exactly what he’s always been. You guys picked the first base platoon, which doesn’t look horrible in hindsight. Steve Pearce barely played this year and Mitch Moreland was banged up by injury. That said, Moreland was good enough for stretches that I don’t think this is the pick. The actual winner was selected by Mike Carlucci, though.

Actual Winner: Chris Sale

I don’t think anyone would argue this. The rotation as a whole was the single biggest reason this season did not go according to plan for the Red Sox this year and Sale was the most disappointing among them. Him finishing the year on the IL certainly was a major blow, but even before that he was wildly inconsistent. I think I’m more optimistic than many that he can come back strong next year, but we’re only looking back here. He is the clear choice unfortunately.

Honorable Mention: Nathan Eovaldi

Unsung Hero

Staff Picks: Jackie Bradley Jr. (2), Steve Pearce (1), David Price (1), Andrew Benintendi (1), Rick Porcello (1)

Readers Pick: Jackie Bradley Jr. (23%)

This is always my favorite poll of the year because I’m always interested to see what people think is undervalued and who people think will fly under the radar. It’s kind of an unfair question, but I already told you life is unfair. Anyway, Bradley was the popular pick here, and again I don’t think he qualifies. He was exactly what we expected and I don’t think his defense is underappreciated by any means. I went with Pearce because I thought he’d be great in the short end of the platoon, but he was not.

Actual Winner: Marcus Walden

This was really hard to pick. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but this was a very top-heavy roster. Everyone who was good was noticeably good and the same goes for those who were bad. No one really flew under the radar. That said, I’m going with Walden because I think it’s easy to forget how good and important he was early in the year. The righty faltered as the year went on, but for the first few months he was absolutely nails, and often in multi-inning situations.

Honorable Mention: Brock Holt