As I wrote about yesterday, the past decade was a wild one for the Red Sox with lots of swings from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Through all of that there were some great pop-up performances as well as some constants through most of the decade to carry the roster. With that in mind, I thought today was as good a day as any to look at the All-Decade team.
I’m going to do things a little differently, though, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, everyone is doing or is going to do regular all-decade teams. I have nothing new to really add to that discussion. The other thing is it’s pretty boring, with fairly obvious choices at nearly every position.
So, instead I am going to draw inspiration from an exercise we completed a couple of years ago. It is still one of my favorite posts I have ever done, not because I thought I had any incredible insights but because it was just fun to do the work for that one. The catalyst to all of this, if you’re too lazy to click the link, comes from Russell Carleton, who at the time wrote for Baseball Prospectus and is now a member of the Mets front office.
Pick one franchise. One guy from each of the last 25 years. No repeated players. Must form a coherent 25-man. Don't cheat on positions. Go.— Russell A. Carleton (@pizzacutter4) January 27, 2017
It was something that seemed simple at first but took a really long time to get what I thought was the best possible roster. So, I’m going to do it again for the decade. Obviously, with only ten years to choose from I can’t form a full roster so I am going to pick a full starting lineup plus one pitcher. Just to clarify, because there was a lot of confusion last time, you can only pick one player from each season. So, for example, I picked Adrian Beltre from 2010 as my third baseman, so I could not also pick Víctor Martínez from that season as my catcher. Got it? Good. Let’s get into it.
Christian Vázquez, 2019
We just so happened to start with the most recent season. Of all the weirdness from this season, Vázquez emerging not only as a legitimate power threat at the plate (albeit with a boost from golf balls masquerading as baseballs) but also as a guy who can play multiple positions to keep himself in the lineup is at or near the top of the list. By Fangraphs War the aforementioned Martínez season is tops on the list for the decade at this position, but Vázquez is second and only 0.2 wins behind. Really, that’s a rounding error. Vázquez was had the fourth-best hitting season for a catcher by wRC+ of the decade combine with the best defense. I feel good about this one.
Mike Napoli, 2014
This was the last position I filled in and was probably the biggest reach. Napoli was good in 2014, but it wasn’t even his best season with the team and was far from the most valuable from a Red Sox first baseman. By Fangraphs WAR, his 2014 was the sixth-best from a player at this position in the decade. Some of that was defense, though, which I’m not as concerned about at first base. In fact, by wRC+ he was only very slightly worse than he was the year before. Napoli hit .248/.370/.419 on the year for a 123 wRC+, but he also only played in 119 games. Given the choices I made at the other positions, I feel good about sacrificing here even if it doesn’t look great in a vacuum. That’s what makes this hard!
Dustin Pedroia, 2012
I think we would all prefer if we could just pretend the 2012 season never happened, but that is not how this works unfortunately. We all knew Pedroia would be the second baseman for this team, it was just a matter of what year we’d choose. This was his fourth-best season by fWAR of the decade, but A) the margin between this (4.3) and the second and third (both 4.9) is very small — number one in 2011 was way ahead at 7.9, but there’s a clear other choice from that year — and B) it’s another case of making sacrifices for big seasons elsewhere. Pedroia was still at the peak of his defensive game in this season, and while he weirdly didn’t walk a ton in that year he still put up a solid 114 wRC+. This was also his final season with at least 20 stolen bases.
Adrian Beltre, 2010
In the discussion of the greatest what-ifs in this franchise history is what happens if they decide to keep Beltre after that 2010 season. That’s a big wormhole and a discussion for another day. What did happen was that Beltre had an absurd season in his one year in Boston and catapulted a second half of his career that will one day land him in Cooperstown. That 2010 season was the best of any Red Sox third baseman by fWAR, besting this past year from Rafael Devers by a half-win. While playing out-of-this-world defense at the hot corner, Beltre hit .321/.351/.553 for a 140 wRC+. On top of all that, he did so in the most fun possible way. Aside from being one of the best, he was easily one of the most enjoyable Red Sox players of the decade.
Xander Bogaerts, 2015
Just like at second base, it was obvious that the shortstop was going to be Bogaerts and again it just came down to which year it was. Also like Pedroia, this was far from Bogaerts’ best season of his career but it fit better. I would have loved to use this past year, but then I’d have to shuffle a lot around to get a viable catcher. Last year was much better too, but I think you know who I’m choosing from there. In the end, this was just the best way to make it work. Bogaerts was still, to be a fair, very good in this season finishing with a 111 wRC+ and a nearly five-win season. It was also the first real emergence we saw from the guy who would emerge as one of the faces of the franchise.
Daniel Nava, 2013
Did you know that in the past decade of Red Sox baseball, among players with at least 250 plate appearances as a left fielder no one had a better season than Nava did in 2013? Even though he’s a folk hero in this city, he still managed to be incredibly underrated throughout that season as a force against right-handed pitching as part of a dynamite platoon with himself and Jonny Gomes. On the year, Nava hit .303/.385/.445 for a 127 wRC+. With guys like David Ortiz and Pedroia and Koji Uehara and Jon Lester and Napoli getting most of the shine from that season, Nava was a huge part of the success and I’m thrilled I was able to include him on this all-decade without feeling like I just shoehorned him in for the sake of it.
Jacoby Ellsbury, 2011
When I started this exercise, there were two seasons I pencilled in before doing any research whatsoever: this one and the next one. Ellsbury’s 2011 was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had watching an individual season, even if it wasn’t explicitly the best of a Red Sox player this decade. His combination of out-of-nowhere power and speed was captivating. This was also, in my mind, where his defense peaked. He came up very raw in the outfield but with the speed to make up for it, and later lost the speed but was much better at taking efficient routes to the ball. This was the point of his career when he had both abilities. In this season where he absolutely should have won MVP Ellsbury hit .321/.376/.552 with 32 homers, 39 stolen bases and he was worth 9.5 wins on Fangraphs. Among all non-Mike Trout players of the last decade, only two position players (the next player on this list and 2012 Buster Posey) finished a season with a higher fWAR than 2011 Ellsbury.
Mookie Betts, 2018
This was, of course, the other season I pencilled in at the start of the exercise. Betts in his MVP-winning 2018 season was not only one of the two non-Trout players to finish a year with a higher fWAR than 2011 Ellsbury, this was the highest single-season fWAR season of the entire decade. That includes Trout, too. As the main cog on the best team baseball saw in the decade and the best the sport has seen since 1998 (results-wise, at least), he was great at everything in 2018. Betts finished the year hitting .346/.438/.640 for a 185 wRC+ while playing arguably the best defense in the sport and providing huge value on the bases. Betts’ floor is so high because of his well-rounded skillset, but just as importantly his ceiling is the best player in baseball, even if he hasn’t done it consistently enough to actually be part of that competition. Settling for number two ain’t too bad, though.
David Ortiz, 2016
Who ever could have guessed David Ortiz would be the DH for the all-decade Red Sox team?? J.D. Martinez has been great in his two years in Boston, of course, but come on. We finish off our lineup with the last year of the franchise great’s career. It still stings a bit that the Red Sox couldn’t send Ortiz out with a ring, but we saw the best the slugger had to offer in that last season at the plate. In 2016, he hit .315/.401/.620 for a 163 wRC+, his second-best season behind only his 2007 campaign. By both wRC+ and fWAR it was actually second to J.D. Martinez’ 2018 season, but both for legacy issues as well as Betts’ 2018 being the clear choice, Ortiz had to be chosen here.
Chris Sale, 2017
Things seem a little bleak for Sale right now, but there’s no questioning his impact in his first year in Boston. The ace electrified Fenway like no pitcher since Pedro and was an easy choice here. Sale in 2017 was by far the best Red Sox pitcher of the decade, tossing 214 1⁄3 innings with a 2.90 ERA, a 2.45 FIP and a 2.51 DRA. He struck out 13 batters per nine while walking fewer than two. There’s really not much else to say. He was incredible, and it’s a nice reminder of what he can be. It wasn’t that long ago!
So, there you have it. The full team is as follows:
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (2011)
- Mookie Betts, RF (2018)
- Adrian Beltre, 3B (2010)
- David Ortiz, DH (2016)
- Daniel Nava, LF (2013)
- Mike Napoli, 1B (2014)
- Xander Bogaerts, SS (2015)
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B (2012)
- Christian Vázquez, C (2019)
SP: Chris Sale (2017)
What would you change?