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Favorites of the Decade: The Top Five

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We finish up our look at the fan favorites of the 2010s

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

You can see the bottom half of the top ten here.

5. Koji Uehara

Koji Uehara is my favorite pitcher of the decade. He’s my ideal pitcher. Old, crafty, and bewilderingly effective. You read his Brooks Baseball page and see his stat line and wonder “how?” and don’t understand it until you’ve seen it yourself. He’s like Mariano Rivera in that sense, that you can’t believe there’s a pitcher who gets everyone out by throwing one pitch. Koji struck out 33 percent of hitters during his tenure as a Major League reliever throwing slower than 90 MPH. That’s not how pitching was supposed to work in the 2010’s.

He was signed to be the setup man to Joel Hanrahan. When Hanrahan got hurt and needed Tommy John, Andrew Bailey took his place. When Bailey proved ineffective, Koji was given the job. Fans had become familiar with the high fives he would reign down upon teammates in the dugout after a successful outing. Those high fives in the dugout turned into high fives on the mound. Uehara’s run as closer was ruthless: 44.1 innings pitched, 0.41 ERA, batters hitting .097/.108/.152, and a stretch where he retired a franchise record 37 consecutive batters. (Ed. Note: I’d be remiss not to add my favorite Koji Fun Fact: That time he struck out 55 batters in between walks.) His dominance would continue in the postseason, where he tossed a 0.66 ERA in 13.2 innings and claimed ALCS MVP en route to striking out Matt Carpenter to clinch the first World Series at Fenway Park in 95 years.

Koji stayed aboard for three more seasons, handing down the closer’s job to new acquisition Craig Kimbrel. He remained effective through the end of his career and retired last May. Highlights of his hold up and they will for a long time. Flamethrowers are here to stay, making Koji’s run just that much more significant.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

4. Xander Bogaerts

Xander has always played second fiddle to Mookie Betts, but that’s not a fair representation of his contributions. A tippy-top prospect, Bogaerts was thrust into the spotlight, starting World Series games as a 20-year-old after frustrations with Stephen Drew. There were some growing pains, most notably when the team tried to shift him to third base after re-signing Stephen Drew. Bogaerts was disappointed, but took the task head-on without much success, committing a staggering ten errors in 111 chances while hitting .177/.211/.291. He’d return to shortstop later that year and has retained the job despite some defensive metrics hating his defense.

The shape of Bogaerts’ production would ebb and flow over the next few years. Scouting reports pegged him as someone who would hit for power and average, aided by an advanced approach. 2015 saw him finish fifth in hitting while hitting only seven home runs and drawing 32 walks. The next season saw him give up 26 points of average for some power, hitting .294 with 21 homers. His ascendance to becoming a routine all-star was halted on July 6th, 2017 when he got hit in the right wrist by a Jake Faria fastball. He was hitting .308/.363/.455 at the time and finished the season .273/.343/.403 after playing through the injury. Things have come together for Xander the past two seasons, particularly last year when he eclipsed 30 home runs for the first time. With the six-year, $120 million extension, he’s set to be the first franchise shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra and a worthy face of the franchise should the team decide not to extend Mookie Betts.

3. Dustin Pedroia

Like many kids, I wanted to be a baseball player. The problem was that I was not good. I was short, light, and had no strength to speak of. I could run, but that’s about it. So, Pedroia became someone I looked up to. There wasn’t anyone else that looked like me that was playing in baseball. I tried to model my stance after his, I tried to swing like him, and I wanted to play second base. In my mind, Pedroia was a guy who won an MVP solely due to hard work. Of course, Pedroia worked hard to get where he was but I had this idea in my head that he was devoid of natural ability, which was a projection put on by me because I had no natural ability. The part of the equation that I missed was that Pedroia is loaded with talent. A lot of it was glossed over due to his slight frame, but you’d have to be blind to see that he wasn’t a great hitter.

Unfortunately, a lot of his decade was lost due to injuries. Even when he was on the field, he was usually playing through some sort of injury. I’ve kept track of Red Sox’s injuries over the years. Take a look at Pedroia’s sheet:

6/25/10: Nondisplaced fracture of navicular bone in left foot. Returned 8/27/10 for 2 games before being put back on DL.

7/29/12: Revealed after the season that he had played with a torn ligament in his right pinkie finger while fielding a ground ball in the 7th inning. Underwent offseason surgery.

9/30/12: Broke left ring finger. Played through final series with injury.

11/13/13: Underwent surgery to repair torn UCL in left thumb. Pedroia had been playing with the injury since opening day.

9/11/14: Underwent season-ending left wrist surgery. Procedure was a “first dorsal compartment release and a tenosynovectomy of his left wrist.”

6/25/15: Placed on 15-DL with a right hamstring strain. Activated 7/17.

10/12/16: Underwent a partial medial meniscectomy and chondroplasty for his left knee.

4/21/17: Spiked by Manny Machado on a DP. In an interview with Pedroia on 5/2/18, Jen McCaffrey wrote that this slide tore cartilage off the tibia and created the need for surgery and the need for microfracture surgery.

5/29/17: Left game with a left wrist sprain after colliding with Jose Abreu. Put on 10-DL. Activated 6/9

6/18/17: Hurt ribs after getting hit by a pitch. MRI was negative but it hurts to breathe.

8/11/17: Left knee inflammation flares up again. Considering DL.

9/18/17: Fouled ball off his face; left game.

9/26/17: From an Evan Drellich article: “Meanwhile, Pedroia’s been managing a left knee injury all season and didn’t play.”

10/25/17: Underwent cartilage restoration surgery on his left knee. Also underwent a microfracture procedure to his tibia. Expected to be out at least 7 months. Announced on 5/2/18 that he was targeting 5/25/18 for a return. Began rehab assignment in Pawtucket on 5/14.

6/2/18: Placed on 10-DL with left knee inflammation retro to 5/30 only a week after being reactivated. On 7/11/18 he said that he was going to get his knee MRI’d in 4-5 weeks.

8/4/18: Transferred to 60-DL.

3/7/19: Played in first spring game.

4/4/19: Began rehab assignment in Greenville. Activated 4/9/19.

4/19/19: Placed on 10-IL with left knee discomfort. Retroactive to 4/18/19.

5/2/19: Began rehab assignment with Portland. Shut down 5/12, restarted 5/17 with Pawtucket, shut down 5/27.

Playing second base is tough on anybody. It’s the most difficult position for a player to stay healthy besides catcher, but this is something else. The man was just starting a Hall of Fame career. Instead, he’ll be remembered as a dirt dog who was tough as nails and embodied the spirit of the team.

I’m hoping he goes 2-2 and retires so he can get his lifetime average back to .300. It’s his body and he can do what he wants with it, so I’m not going to preach. He’s my favorite ballplayer of all-time and a huge reason why I’m as big of a fan of baseball as I am, so all I hope is that the decision is left in his hands and not forced upon him.

My favorite moment of Pedroia from this decade was his three home run game that would come a day before he fractured his foot in San Francisco. I almost went to this game, but I had gone to the previous two games. Ah, well. At least I got to see John Lackey hit a double.

2. Mookie Betts

Your second favorite Red Sox of the decade is the undoubted face of the franchise, Mookie Betts. Betts became the face of Ben Cherington’s youth movement, despite not being “his” selection (which happens all the time during rebuilds; see Astros, Houston.) Guys selected in the middle rounds of the draft typically aren’t being seen by the heads of the front office, so that’s a bit of an unfair characterization to begin with. As you might know, Betts was selected in the 5th round on the recommendation of area scout Danny Watkins, who saw Mookie on the high school showcase circuit, He was small and raw, two things that typically don’t go together. After struggling in short-season Lowell in 2012, Mookie turned it on and demolished the minors in 2013.

He continued smashing the ball in the high-minors and earned a promotion to the Majors at 21 years old. This would make a good retrospective that’s out of my depth, but a lot of the public case for Mookie as a top prospect in 2013 was based on his outrageous statistical profile. During this point in my life, I was particularly wary of statistical evaluation of minor leagues (something I still carry, for what it’s worth) and had my doubts about him, but it became obvious that the tools were legit. After 2015, there wasn’t any doubt that this was an impact player right now, not in four years. The next year, he finished second in MVP voting. He’s established himself as the second best player in baseball behind Mike Trout, possibly the greatest player of all time. He’s eminently rootable, playing every game with a smile. Just about everything he does is cool. He’s Mr. Perfect, but real. For all of these reasons, it’s going to be crushing if the Red Sox don’t meet whatever his demands are. He should be more than the face of Ben Cherington’s former youth movement. He should be the face of the franchise for the rest of his career.

1. David Ortiz

No surprise here. I’m sure Big Papi is a big reason a lot of y’all reading are Red Sox fans. I said above that Pedroia is my favorite Red Sox of all time, but Papi is my runner-up and it is close.

Papi was a capital-S Superstar (and still is), something that MLB currently lacks. He was a crossover giant that people on the streets knew about due to his heroics and his unique charisma. He was released by Minnesota after hitting 20 home runs as a salary dump and was only signed thanks to a phone call by Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox front office. Competing with Jeremy Giambi, Kevin Millar, and Shea Hillenbrand for playing time, Ortiz wasn’t a true, everyday player until mid-August and would stay one until his retirement in 2016. After times in 2008 and 2009 where he looked like he was toast, Ortiz never showed signs of weakness in the 2010’s. I know there were times where I was waiting and looking for them, but he was ageless. Even at the age of 41, he led baseball in OPS and SLG%. Remarkably, he continued to perform deep into October despite his old age, leading the offensive charge to another World Series in 2013. I’m sure he could have continued to play but he retired on top on his own terms, something few athletes get to do. His legacy in Boston will last forever not just because he was a phenomenal hitter and postseason heroics, but due to his humility and his love of Boston, worn on his sleeve in his promo after the Boston Marathon bombings.

If you’d like to view the full voting data, click here.